Incarceration of Children, Especially Minorities, is Too Common

In the wake of a staggering mass incarceration problem that predicts one in three Black men will be involved in the criminal justice system at some point in his lifetime (in jail, on probation, paroled, or in a halfway house) politicians and civil society organizations frequently overlook

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what the so called race to incarcerate means for women and children. That is, while it is true that the United States incarcerates more men than any other nation in the world—the same should be said for women. And children are caught in the spiral too.

Three years ago there were are about 2500 young offenders serving life

sentences without the possibility of parole in the world–all in the United States. Notwithstanding the fact that in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences without the possibility for parole were unconstitutional for children, thousands remain locked up without the possibility of release. The United Nations issued a report urging reform and noting that incarcerating a youth for life amounts to cruelty and often leads to degrading and inhumane treatment, but the U.S. has failed to act.

Just a decade ago, it was still legal for states to kill children—even though we know that nearly 1 in 9 cases involving the death penalty will amount to a serious reversible error. As Bryan Stevenson recently asked, “imagine if we had that error rate with airplanes” that every ninth flight that took off would crash?”

This election provides a pivotal time to act on mass incarceration, but also the school to prison pipeline and children in the criminal justice system. The mass incarceration of our youth is virtually forgotten about.

One chilling example of backward criminal law policies that involve children is the incarceration of sex trafficked girls. Girls as young as ten and eleven are locked behind bars in the U.S. even though they are the victims who’ve suffered from devastating crimes—rape, sexual assault, sodomy and more.

Some states even have “John Schools” that allow their victimizers to attend what amounts to traffic school for sex offenders. The men who violate these girls go back home to their families, while the girls are locked behind bars. And too frequently children become the victims of sexual assault in our jails. One man recounts his story: the place he was sent to was a “dilapidated house of horrors.” Sometimes, the abuse is inflicted by guards.

Over the past two years, the Defense For Children International and the University of California Irvine Center of Biotechnology and Global Health Policy have taken up a joint initiative to study juvenile incarceration. This combined effort has already produced important research and more is to come. 

Michele Goodwin, Chancellor’s Professor at University of California, Irvine, says:

In our fifty state survey of juvenile detention, we observed racial disparities throughout the U.S. We also shine a light on female juvenile incarceration, a topic grossly overlooked and under examined in political discourse, and we examine how attitudes and practices at schools can be the gateway to incarceration or the school to prison pipeline. Indeed, the practices at far too many schools in the U.S. reflect the larger mass incarceration phenomenon.

In schools many disciplinary actions are discretionary, which sadly leaves room for subjectivity and sometimes bias. A Texas study revealed that when accounting for the same behaviors, African American kids were nearly three times more likely to receive an “out-of-school” suspension for their first offense. For Latino students, they were twice as likely as white students to be removed from school for their first offense. On the other hand, whites were more likely to receive in school suspensions. Researchers found that “seventy-five percent of the 133,719 African-American public school students (male and female) experienced involvement in the school disciplinary system.” The contrast is stark—less than 47 percent of white students experienced similar discipline.

Students with disabilities and students of color are disproportionately impacted by such practices according to the U.S. Department of Education. A study of school systems in Oregon revealed that students with special needs were four times more likely to be suspended than their counterparts.

Kicking kids out of school and locking them up for the rest of their lives does not make society safer. Indeed, we place our nation at risk of stereotyping, stigmatizing, and damaging future generations.

Goodwin continues:

Consider the case of Madisyn Moore, a six year old African American who was handcuffed and abandoned under a dark stairwell at her school, because a security mistook her candy for a stolen item. In defending his actions, the security guard said, “‘I’m teaching her a f — -g lesson. She took a piece of candy and I handcuffed her under the stairs.’” The guard was wrong and later fired; the little girl’s mother placed the special treat in her lunchbox.

In one case, elementary school students were arrested, handcuffed, and sent off to juvenile detention for not breaking up a fight off campus. In that case, arrest warrants were issued for African American kids ages 6-10 for an altercation they did not start nor participate in.

Yet, there are other troubling cases of arrests and handcuffing of little elementary school kids from Georgia where a six year old was detained because he was having a bad day—not because he brought a gun to school, harmed another child or teacher to Kentucky and even California where five year olds are just as vulnerable to having law enforcement arrest them without any call to the parents. In another case, a five year old diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was cuffed at the hands and ankles with zip ties, charged with assaulting an officer, and hauled off to a psychiatric facility in the back of a squad car. The child’s parents were not called.

Teachers have tough jobs and school administrators too. However, resolving student conduct issues through law enforcement is rarely the right answer.

As our nation turns to consider the overwhelming policy and political impacts of adult mass incarceration and its toll on families and communities, it’s worth considering how the culture of fear, which is answered by jailing and punishment trickles down to children in disparate, cruel, and inhumane ways.

Hamilton, Ontario Leads Canada in Lowering Homelessness, Using “Housing First”

Hamilton, Ontario made the biggest dent

Canadian paramedics approach sculpture "Homeless Jesus"

Canadian paramedics approach sculpture “Homeless Jesus”

in Canada in reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness over one year, even as the housing and rental market’s frenzy has some advocates fretting about the city having enough affordable places to live. The number of so-called “chronically homeless” people who’ve been experiencing homelessness for six months or longer dropped 35 per cent between 2014 and 2015.
And the number of unique individuals/families accessing an emergency shelter was down 11 per cent, to about 2,800 people last year.

These are the most dramatic drops measured since the campaign began by any of the 33 communities across Canada enrolled in the 20,000 Homes campaign launched by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, according to Tim Richter, president and CEO of the alliance.

“Achieving a 35 per cent reduction with little or no new resources tells you that they’re becoming very efficient,” Richter said. “What Hamilton’s doing is showing what works to reduce homelessness. It can certainly be looked at as a model for the rest of Ontario.”

The city’s success is in implementing a new approach to tackling homelessness, driven by changes to how federal funds are allocated. Funding to cities has changed in recent years, away from supporting shelter and other emergency and temporary services. The funding now pushes cities toward a treatment-focused approach, with an emphasis on stable housing first — before any of the other factors in someone’s homelessness can be addressed.

Locally, four contractors receive funding from the city, passing along federal money, to find those low-cost units for vulnerable clients and deliver the supports they need. Supports are tailored to the unique needs of each individual. The four contractors focus on single men, single women, youth and Aboriginal people. Already, a few hundred people have been housed this way since 2014.

The city is also attracting attention for being on the cutting edge of techniques to combat homelessness. Hamilton is one of three cities in the country to adopt an approach known as a “by-name list,” or a real-time, priority ranking of the people using services or experiencing homelessness who could be best served by a housing placement.

The by-name list is yet another step toward breaking down the barriers between non-profits and programs. In a previous era, someone who’d used a shelter run by one organization might be selected to graduate into that organization’s other programs. But the by-name list hopes to establish whether that placement is needed more by someone else, somewhere else in the city.

Amanda DiFalco, Hamilton’s homelessness services coordinator, said:

Historically, we’ve managed homelessness. But homelessness is in fact a solvable problem. It’s about using limited resources, prioritizing limited resources to the most vulnerable people. We’re thinking as a community not just as a service.

The city was selected to be a pilot community for the 20,000 Homes campaign in 2015. Since then, two “point-in-time” counts have served as a snapshot census, estimating how many people in Hamilton are homeless and what their needs are. The campaign wants to find permanent homes for 20,000 of the most vulnerable Canadians by July 1, 2018.

This year, 504 people were counted and surveyed one day in February, though the number of unique individuals using shelters throughout the year is closer to 3,000. In part, the new approaches have been motivated by a change in how homelessness programs are funded. In 2014, Hamilton’s federal funding for homelessness switched to a model that designates 65 cents out of every dollar of funding for “housing first” placements.

As of July 31, the city and its partners had found permanent housing-first placements for 68 people, about half of a targeted 138 people prioritized based on the findings of the census in February.

In housing first, people are evaluated based on medical conditions, mental health, length of time on the street or in shelters, and then they are prioritized for a housing placement with supports tailored to their needs provided by a social worker. Once a person is housed, the thinking (and research) goes, they can more effectively manage their health and lead a stable life.

Homelessness co-ordinator DiFalco said traditional homelessness programs lead to people finding permanent housing at a rate of just 33 per cent. But “housing first” programs have success rates of more like 80 per cent, she said. Hamilton’s initial housing first placements have led to 83 per cent of people remaining housed, two years later, DiFalco said earlier this year.

30,000 Prisoners Released from Philly Prisons Annually Without Medicare are About to Get Help

For 30,000 people released from Philadelphia

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

jails each year with five days’ medication and no medical coverage, getting benefits restored after incarceration can take weeks or even a few months – long enough for people to relapse.

Bruce Herdman, chief of medical operations at the jails, says:

 

 

Most people are not on medications, and are destabilized when they come in. We do a pretty good job tuning them up. But up until now, it’s been so frustrating, because we help people get healthy, and we send people out and they don’t have the resources to maintain their health.

That’s about to change though. A slew of new city- and state-level initiatives will preserve Medicaid benefits for people who have them, and sign up more of those who don’t – in particular, those leaving jail with serious mental illness and chronic disease. Together, advocates say, these efforts can decrease recidivism, save taxpayers money, and maybe even save lives.

Right now, three-quarters of all men and women arriving at Philadelphia jails are on drugs. About 28 percent have hypertension, diabetes, or significant seizure disorder. About a thousand each year will be treated for HIV. Fourteen percent have serious mental illness, and 40 percent will require psychotropic medication; Herdman notes the prison system is effectively the state’s largest psychiatric hospital.

But only about 8 percent, at last count, had health insurance – all of it Medicaid. Right now, that benefit is terminated in Pennsylvania when people are imprisoned; but, starting in November, it will instead be suspended for up to two years.

That’s important because applying for new coverage upon release takes time. “Eliminating the gap, that can be 45 or even 90 days, can make the difference in stabilizing people,” state Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas said.

It’s a fix more states are making. But it required a political and culture change – and, above all, technological upgrades.

“The biggest issue is you have these very large IT systems that determine eligibility, and getting changes to them, it’s not always an easy thing,” he said.

In the interim, a series of pilot programs at the Philadelphia Department of Prisons are focused on specific, high-need groups being released from jail.

One is targeting people with serious mental illness like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. They’re significantly more likely to be rearrested than other inmates, and they stay in jail an average of 25 days longer, according to the department’s statistics.

Through the pilot, people with serious mental illness can get Medicaid within two days of their release. And, they’re connected with a forensic peer specialist from the city Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services (DBHIDS) to help with everything from reconnecting with family to securing housing and benefits.

“If you’re not able to reconnect within the first 72 hours, it becomes more difficult,” said H. Jean Wright II, of DBHIDS. “This is a way of getting to a group of people who have historically fallen through the cracks.”

So far, he said, 45 people have gone through the program, with only four rearrests. Given that 38 percent of Philadelphia jail inmates are re-incarcerated within a year, that’s a remarkable success.

At the same time, Corizon, a contractor that provides health care in the jails, is running a separate pilot to connect people with chronic physical illnesses with Medicaid.

Herdman said:

These aren’t diseases that you cure, but you would reduce the number of times people get incarcerated. Say someone has a seizure disorder, and they are medicated when released and continue their medication. They can go to work without having their illness interfere. But if they don’t fill the prescription, maybe they have a seizure, they don’t show up for work, they lose their job and then go back to street crime.

The female jail population is especially needy, Herdman notes: 25 percent have serious mental illness, and 60 percent use psychotropic medication.

For everyone else leaving the jails – and there are thousands each month, leaving at all hours of the day and night – reentry services providers are cobbling together resources as best they can.

Soon maybe they won’t have to. Thanks to Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania in 2015, almost everyone passing through Philadelphia jails is eligible for coverage. Herdman said efforts are underway to presume eligibility for all inmates and fill out applications for them as part of the discharge process.

But coverage alone isn’t enough, said Maureen Barden, who’s been working on the issue with the Pennsylvania Health Law Project and agencies around the state. It’s just the first step:

The handoff to services in the community is a tremendously important part, which is still to be implemented in most places. Getting people the [insurance] card is not going to be enough for most people to turn the tide and have them not return to jail. Connection to care as this movement goes forward will be recognized as an increasingly important thing.

Virginia Making Genuine Progress Toward Juvenile Justice

For years, Virginia has spent up to $150,000 per year on each youth confined in its juvenile correctional centers. Historically, we know the longer youth stay in these centers, the more likely they are to reoffend: 75 percent were being rearrested within three years of release. We have failed too many young people and their communities for too long. This is why the administration, including the staff at the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), is dedicated to transforming the juvenile justice system. This transformation initiative will produce better outcomes for youth, for public safety and for Virginia taxpayers. 

During the 2016 legislative session, Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the General Assembly reached historic agreement in three critical areas. First, due to declining populations of youth in state custody, they agreed that DJJ could close one of two remaining oversized and aging juvenile correctional centers (JCCs) — Beaumont or Bon Air — both of which are located near Richmond. Second, they agreed that the state would reinvest the savings from downsizing into a statewide continuum of evidence-based services and alternative placements for juveniles. Third, to meet the needs of the many youth committed to state custody from the Hampton Roads area, they agreed on bond funding to construct a 64-bed, therapeutic JCC in Chesapeake and authorized planning funds to address the correctional needs for the rest of the state.
The legislature also established an interagency task force to make recommendations for optimal utilization of these new facilities, and directed the members to submit an interim report on its findings in order to receive planning money for the Chesapeake facility. The report was submitted this month and provides a road map for moving ahead with Chesapeake and designing facilities that are built for safety and rehabilitation, not just for securing youth.
The Chesapeake facility’s 64 beds make it 70 percent smaller than Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center, which will close by the end of June 2017. The new facility will be located near families and service providers of committed youth from Hampton Roads, and will provide a setting that supports DJJ’s rehabilitative goals.
The department is also creating community-based alternatives to JCCs. At the beginning of 2014, DJJ had only large centers available for youth committed to state custody. As of today, DJJ has added eight residential programs in local juvenile detention centers across the state. The new placements are in smaller settings, and closer to most youths’ homes. These, along with other policy and administrative actions, allowed DJJ to safely reduce its JCC population by more than half since 2014, to just over 270 youth today.
Additionally, DJJ will contract with regional service coordinators who will lead development of a statewide continuum of evidence-based services and additional alternative placements to effectively serve youth in their communities. This new initiative is budgeted using funds derived from reinvestment as well as administrative and operational efficiencies within the department.

Brian Moran, Virginia’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, says:

Unfortunately, some still misunderstand the certain benefits of the transformation plan and misrepresent the results of our progress thus far. What’s true is that there is bipartisan support for each change described here and the significant changes DJJ is making. What’s true is that we are dramatically shrinking our old, adult-style correctional footprint, and moving toward modern, small rehabilitative facilities and alternative placements. And what’s true is that there are some youth and some situations that will require time in secure custody in order to keep communities safe and provide the services and setting that will most effectively address their complex needs.
“These bipartisan-supported changes not only will produce better rehabilitative results for youth throughout our juvenile justice system but also will provide safer communities and savings for our taxpayers. Once this transformation is complete, we project reductions in our facility footprint by at least two-thirds, and substantial annual investments in the statewide continuum of services.
I am extremely proud of our progress, the hard work of the DJJ staff and the bipartisan support we have enjoyed. To secure our early gains, it will be critical that we maintain unity of purpose. This is a precious opportunity to make Virginia a safer and better place for our communities and for our children. We must not waste it.

Poverty and Homelessness? Richer States Have Higher Homeless Rates

Evan Horowitz, The Boston Globe:

Rich states — not poor ones — have the largest homeless populations. Why? It’s all about housing costs.

Think about the recession. While it stoked unemployment and devastated family budgets, it really began with the collapse of the housing market, which drove prices down to a level that made basic shelter more affordable for all.

You can’t beat homelessness with economic growth. In fact, you can actually make things worse, boosting housing prices in a way that heightens problems for the most desperate families.

But there’s a second takeaway: Policy matters. Massachusetts is one of those rich states with high housing costs and an outsize homeless population. But the number of “unsheltered” homeless — people stuck on the street — is extremely low, among the very lowest in the country. And one big reason is that Massachusetts guarantees homeless families a “right to shelter.”

Rich states have more homeless people. It’s not an iron-clad rule, just a loose tendency, but it cuts sharply against the grain of economic expectation.

Photo by Susan Madden Langford

Photo by Susan Madden Langford

 

The District of Columbia is the tragic leader on this score, with a rate of homelessness six times the national average and the highest per capita incomes in the nation. Close behind are other relatively wealthy redoubts: Hawaii (53 homeless/10k), New York (45), Oregon (33), and Massachusetts (31). Meanwhile, the states with the smallest homeless populations are Mississippi (7) and Alabama (8), two of the poorest places in the country.

Even if you take a simpler measure — just comparing the poverty rates across all 50 states — there doesn’t seem to be any connection between the number of poor people and the number of homeless people. And if you’re still skeptical, remember that the national figures provide a kind of corroboration. Poverty rates leapt during the great recession, homelessness didn’t.

The one thing that really does seem connected to homelessness rates is the cost of housing.

Look back at the list of places with the highest homeless populations: D.C., New York, Hawaii, Oregon, Massachusetts. Those are five of the hottest housing markets in the country (and California, slightly down the list, is another high-priced, high-homelessness state). And at the bottom, Mississippi and Alabama are cheap places to live.

If this connection between homelessness and housing costs seems obvious, think for a second how strange it is that poverty isn’t part of this equation. After all, there’s no “absolute” sense in which costs are high; they can only be high relative to how much money people have. So why isn’t homelessness equally about out-of-reach costs and limited means?

What’s needed is a story of homelessness that involves housing costs, but not income. And there, the academic research provides some assistance.

You can think of homelessness as being caused by a confluence of three things:

1. a sudden life shock, like a health crisis or unexpected unemployment

2. a breakdown in social support, with too few friends and relatives willing to lend their couches or share their homes

3. a lack of alternative housing at the bottom end of the rental market

Put these together and you can start to see why homelessness and poverty might not be so strongly connected.

Imagine a middle-class family in a rich state. They’re doing fine until the breadwinner is hit by a health or career crises. Bills begin to mount, and they quickly find they can’t afford to pay their rent or cover their debts.

So they reach out for support, sleeping on friends’ couches or in spare bedrooms. But eventually this dries up. If there’s no affordable housing, they may end up in a shelter.

In this account, your place in the income ladder is secondary. For poor and middle-class people alike, a serious life shock can break your financial life and lead to temporary homelessness.

This is just a theory, which you may well find unconvincing. Even so, you can’t wave away the puzzle that lies behind it. Homelessness seems to be driven by factors other than poverty.

Rich states have one big advantage: more resources. Wealthier states may have higher housing costs and larger homeless populations, but they also have more resources to combat the problem. And that really can make a difference.

Massachusetts is a prime example. When the Department of Housing and Urban Development did its most recent count, back in January, it found that there were 31 homeless people for every 10,000 residents. But 30 of those 31 were sheltered. Even with all the shortcomings and indignities that come with living in a homeless shelter, that’s an incredible achievement.

Now, to be fair, January weather certainly played a role. In general, colder states have higher shelter rates than warmer states; only about a third of California’s homeless population was sheltered on that same January night.

Still, few states can match Massachusetts’ ability to provide shelter for the homeless. And one reason is that Massachusetts guarantees shelter access for families (though not for individuals). There are restrictions and hurdles that make this guarantee less than universal, but it has nonetheless helped Massachusetts become a leader when it comes to keeping people off the streets.

What’s more, the state continues to explore new ways to help the most desperate. An innovative public-private partnership has raised money to move more people into permanent housing. And in recognition of the role poor mental and physical health can play in chronic homelessness, the state is trying to use federally backed Medicaid dollars to advance this effort.

Economic growth can’t end homelessness. Maybe that’s good news.

There’s a bright side to this story. If homelessness and poverty aren’t strongly connected, then you don’t have to solve poverty in order to solve homelessness.

Instead, you can take a more direct path: providing shelter for those who need a temporary safety net and permanent housing for those who lack the health or capacity to right themselves.

Done right, this approach needn’t be that expensive, because we’re not talking about large numbers of people.

A relatively small infusion of new money might suffice to provide homeless individuals with the same guaranteed shelter access we already offer families.

And to battle chronic homelessness, research increasingly shows that the best solution is simply to provide permanent housing. That may sound like a costly proposition, but we’re actually talking about a pretty small population: several thousand chronically homeless individuals in Massachusetts, a few hundred of whom consistently lack shelter.

With needs at this scale, you can make real progress with pilot programs and public-private partnerships — the kinds of efforts Massachusetts is already pursuing.

And unlike so many government programs, which struggle for resources when the economy goes sour, these programs should be more predictable. After all, homelessness doesn’t seem to be shaped by economic cycles.

Nebraska Funds Programs Prepping Inmates for Release

Nebraska recently pushed to reduce chronic prison overcrowding and improve public safety by better preparing an inmate for life beyond his prison sentence. By increasing job training programs and providing more help for inmates troubled by mental illnesses or drug addictions, the state is hoping that they return to society with the job and coping skills to avoid a return trip to prison. It is also funding job training, assistance and housing programs.

Because about 93 percent of prison inmates eventually are released, such re-entry programs are key to keeping them from returning to prison and adding to overcrowding.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Scott Frakes, director of the State Department of Correctional Services, has set a goal of reducing the state prisons’ recidivism rate — the percentage of inmates who return to prison within three years — from 30.1 percent to 28 percent.

State lawmakers, after hearing complaints from inmates and advocates about a lack of job training and other prison programs, allocated an extra $10 million to beef up re-entry programs in 2015 and 2016.

The funds provided about $3 million to create a re-entry services unit within the Corrections Department. Frakes said it marked the first time the agency had been able to dedicate staff solely to preparing inmates for their release.

The rest of the money provided grants for programs across the state that train inmates in construction and academic skills, help them apply for jobs and  overcome mental disorders and chemical addictions.

The programs are offered to inmates both inside prison walls and after release on parole, probation or work release at community facilities. They are also available to inmates discharged within the past 18 months.

You might want to check your preconceptions at the door when you enter one of the state’s newest programs to help inmates transition from prison to society. First, Honu Home looks like a typical home in the College View neighborhood, not like a treatment center for substance abuse and mental illness. It is staffed not by counselors and psychiatrists but by former inmates and addicts, whose tattoos and piercings speak of lives on the streets, not in classrooms.

And there’s not a long list of rules and requirements at Honu Home, as there are at a typical halfway house. No mandatory meetings, no mandatory bedtimes, no 7 a.m. wake-up calls — just a requirement that guests, with the help of peer-support specialists at the house, seek out jobs, mental stability and a place to live.

“We want people to be adults and develop those adult responsibilities that they’ll need when they leave here,” said Destenie Commuso, the houses’ re-entry coordinator.

At Honu Home, Commuso said she can recall only two inmates washing out of the program out of 196 guests over the past year.

The reason, she said, is the house’s peer-support approach: Guests live at a house run by peers who have already overcome addictions and struggles with mental illness who serve as companions on their transition to wellness.

“We’re able to relate, being on the same level as them,” said Commuso, a former methamphetamine addict.

To be sure, the problems facing Corrections are numerous: chronically overcrowded prisons, miscalculated release dates, high turnover of officers and mental health practitioners, an increase in assaults of staff, and a deadly riot a year ago.

When it comes to prison programs, almost everyone agrees there were more opportunities in the past.

A former inmate, James Jones, who now teaches victim-impact classes for inmates, said that when he served time in the late 1980s you could earn a two-year college degree or learn a trade such as carpentry, auto-body repair, auto mechanics, welding or heating/air conditioning technician.

“There was a tremendous difference,” Jones said. “You could actually be released from prison with skills and actually be able to take care of your family with a living wage. Funding cutbacks changed that.

But Vocational and Life Skills Program grants awarded recently by the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services include:

$777,808

Associated Builders & Contractors, for instruction in building trades for 224 inmates, OSHA training for 1,000

$111,185

Hope of Glory Ministries, for help with finding jobs, social skills and assistance with substance abuse for 72 inmates

$1.2 million

Mental Health Association of Nebraska (Honu Home), to help those with substance abuse and mental health issues find jobs

$1.4 million

Metropolitan Community College, for academic and welding courses for about 700 people

$377,281

ReConnect, to help 300 inmates find employment and overcome other re-entry hurdles

$429,000

ResCare Workforce Services, for workshops and one-on-one help for about 550 people in Omaha, Grand Island, Gering and Norfolk with job searches

$1.4 million

Center for People in Need, to help about 282 recently released inmates keep jobs though instruction on domestic violence prevention, communication skills, self-help and family outreach

$1.7 million

Western Alternative Corrections, to help about 168 people with skills such as basic money management, family reunification, cognitive behavior therapy and parenting, and

$154,000

Prairie Gold Homes, to finish a site-built home in Beatrice, providing hands-on training for inmates in construction.

Why Brit Prison Deaths, Self Harm and Assaults Way Up

Recently Britain’s Ministry of Justice published the Safety in Custody statistical bulletin on deaths, self-harm and assaults in prisons. It made grim reading. Deaths in custody were up 30% from 2015’s figures – self-inflicted by 28%. Self-harm incidents were up 27% and assaults 31%.

But one section hurtled out of the briefing. In the year to March 2016, 11 female prisoners had apparently killed themselves, the biggest such toll in 12 years. This figure accounts for more than 10% of all self-inflicted deaths in prisons, even though women make up less than 5% of the prison population. The week the report came out, another two female prisoners seemingly took their own lives. In 2003 14 women ended their own lives in a 12 month period, six in one jail, Styal, in Cheshire. The following year, 13 female prisoners killed themselves in England.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

 

It was hoped that those deaths marked a tragic turning point and they did, to a degree. In 2005, First Night centers opened in women’s prisons, the first, poignantly in Styal. The centers operate mental health assessment programs and detoxification units, aimed at better identifying women at risk when they arrive.

Then, as now, the particular problems facing women in prison were well known. Many female prisoners have been sexually or physically abused as children, and experienced domestic violence as adults. Around a third were in care as children.

Many female prisoners are mothers and primary carers. Every year, around 18,000 children are affected by their mother being sent to jail. As women are usually the main caregiver, many end up in care. We can only guess how much that adds to the anguish of mothers behind bars. When the First Night center at Styal opened soon after Mothers’ Day the then governor said that 41 women had tried to kill themselves in his jail on that day.

In 2006, the government commissioned Baroness Jean Corston to carry out a review of vulnerable women in the Criminal Justice system. Her report made 43 recommendations and all bar two were accepted by the then labor government. Prison sentences should be reserved only for “serious or violent female offenders” she argued and women’s jails should be replaced, over time, by “geographically dispersed small multi-functional custodial units” which would help with mental health problems, addictions, housing and employment. This would help keep families together.

Eric Allison, writing in The Guardian, said:

Although the government rejected her advice to scrap large women’s jails, for a time, it appeared as though things were improving. The death toll dropped, with the next decade averaging three self-inflicted deaths a year. But these latest figures show the system lurching back towards the death tolls we hoped Corston’s legacy had left behind for good.

Why the upsurge? We know the prison service is in crisis, staff cuts and overcrowding are a toxic mix, but with female prisoners particularly, we have to look at one glaring fault – one warning that was ignored.

Despite all the evidence that smaller jails are better at reducing reoffending among female prisoners, of the 10 closed women’s jails in England, only one holds less than 300 women (282), the rest house 300 plus, with the largest holding 527.

In May, Michael Gove told the Radio Times that the the Archers storyline, of a woman locked up for stabbing her abusive husband, “reinforced the case for reform of women’s prisons” and that “too many women are in jail”. But his planned prison reforms barely touch on the plight of women prisoners. All of the six new reform prisons are male institutions and, apart from the closure of Holloway, women inmates barely rate a mention in the proposed changes.

Another country, close to home, has shown us the way. Last year, Scotland’s justice minister, Michael Matheson, scrapped plans to build a new large women’s prison and replaced it with a smaller one, holding just 80 inmates. Other female offenders are being placed in five small regional units offering help with drugs, alcohol, domestic abuse and mental health problems. And this in a country that has seen just one recorded suicide of a female prisoner in 10 years.

It is widely accepted that female prisoners are disproportionately likely to die in jail, but successive governments have ignored all the warning signs. We now have a female prime minister and justice secretary. Will they work together to stem the tide of deaths of female prisoners that should shame us all?

Illinois Juveniles Will Get New Protections While in Police Custody

After a two-hour interrogation without a web-7-1170x780lawyer present, 17-year old mentally impaired Trevon Yates of East St. Louis, IL was charged with a robbery he denied committing and spent nine months in jail–until prosecutors saw the videotape and dropped the charges. Yates later was awarded $900,000 to settle a lawsuit against the sheriff’s department.

The Yates case is an extreme example of what juvenile justice experts say happens far too often: Under pressure by police, without a lawyer or parent present and lacking a clear understanding of their Miranda rights, children and teens can be easily led to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

“So many kids have confessed to things that are not true,” said Illinois state Sen. Patricia Van Pelt, who sponsored a recent bill meant to enhance the legal protections for children who are in police custody. “You can get a child to say anything.”

The Yates video, a “60 Minutes” story that reported on Chicago as the nation’s “False Confession Capital,” and the Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer” have raised public awareness and energy around the issue of false confessions and helped spur the push for the legislation.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force noted the need to give youth a stronger shield from police abuse. In its widely publicized April report that was sharply critical of police practices overall, the task force wrote that “CPD has not made the legal rights of juveniles a priority. We have heard that police frequently tell lawyers working on behalf of juveniles that their clients do not have a right to counsel or that the juvenile’s guardian must approve a visit by a lawyer. Youth should be receiving more, not less, protection.”

Chicago Reader reporter Melissa Sanchez wrote:

 

The task force found that attorneys filled out visitor request forms in less than 1 percent of all Chicago arrests in 2015. For minors, the Chicago Defender later found, the numbers were even worse: Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of arrested juveniles had an attorney.

African American youth are far more likely to be arrested and so more at-risk of potential abuse: Three-fourths of the 14,600 arrests of juveniles in Chicago in 2015 were of black children and teens, according to data from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

Experts point out that the bill, SB2370, is a modest step forward for protecting the rights of minors in police custody, though it still falls short of the protections provided in some other states and many western European countries. The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The provisions would:

A) Raise the age at which an attorney must be present during questioning in murder or sex offense cases from 13 to 15. Fewer than 100 cases fit this category each year, and most are in Cook County. Juvenile advocates initially wanted to raise the age to 17.
B) Require police to read a simplified version of Miranda rights to all juveniles under the age of 18. After reading the statement, police are required to ask the minor: “Do you want to have a lawyer?” and “Do you want to talk to me?” (In the Yates case, a clinical psychologist stated that, given his low IQ, Yates could not have understood his Miranda rights.)
C) Require police to videotape all interrogations of youth under the age of 18 in any felony case, as well as misdemeanor sex cases. No confession would be admissible in court unless it was videotaped.

Recording the entire interrogation is important to determine whether a child was coerced or pressured into giving a statement, said Benjamin Chambers of the Washington, D.C.-based National Juvenile Justice Network.

There’s no question that having an attorney present is crucial to defending a kids’ rights, and that doesn’t happen enough. But the recording of the entire interrogation is a way to look back and judge whether the kid was pressured or not. It’s an affordable step forward, a sensible and practical way for law enforcement to, frankly, show that they’re doing the right thing.

Elizabeth Clarke, president of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative, said the legislation is “a ridiculously modest bill that will ensure that very young children in incredibly serious circumstances have the protections they need. This helps to move us a little bit closer to really fulfilling the promise of Miranda 50 years later.”

Despite the national trend to provide more legal protections, the laws governing the rights of children in custody still vary widely from state to state. Several have no requirement at all for a lawyer’s presence or videotaping of interrogations, while other states go further than Illinois has thus far, according to data compiled by the Bluhm Legal Clinic on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law.

Connecticut and Montana, for example, offer additional protections for minors under the age of 16. Connecticut requires a parent to be present during any police interrogation, and both child and parent must be informed of the child’s Miranda rights. In contrast, Illinois only requires police to make a reasonable attempt to get in contact with parents or legal guardians when their children are in custody.

Richard Hutt, chief of the Juvenile Justice Division of the Cook County Public Defender’s Office, supports the bill but is also among those who say it doesn’t go far enough. He said:

I think we should be in the police station any time a kid is arrested.In more than two decades as a public defender for minors, I have never seen a case in which a child exercised his or her right to call an attorney during an interrogation. Kids just don’t understand they don’t have to talk to a police officer. When in a kid’s existence does he understand that [he] can say something and stop an adult, especially if the adult has a gun and a badge?

Delaware Shelter Head Explains Who Homeless are and What Needs to Be Done

In response to the concerns expressed in recent articles and comments about the homeless, Jeanine Kleimo chairwoman of Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing in Delaware offer some insight based on her experience.

Who are the homeless?

Our organization provides homeless men

Jeanine Kleimo

Jeanine Kleimo

with shelter, meals and assistance with regaining lives of productivity and purpose. We operate a 36-bed shelter along with 42 beds of affordable transitional housing. In addition, we see many male and female adults who are homeless and who come to our daytime Resource Center, which offers shower and laundry facilities, a mailing address, and assistance with accessing employment, registration for public benefits, and guidance with a host of other needs.

During 2015, we provided shelter to more than 280 men. We estimate that there are over one hundred homeless adults in the Dover area at any given time. Two other shelters also assist men and women.

Why are people homeless?

The most obvious answer is the cost of housing, which is not affordable to many at low wage levels —even with employment. Someone working full-time at minimum wage brings home about $300 weekly. Without savings, it is challenging at best and often impossible to save the down payment and first month’s rent on an apartment at these wages.

Finding a decent rental for less than $800 monthly is difficult. Those living in motels often pay most (if not all) of their income for the weekly charge. Families with two sources of income can succeed if they have access to housing to begin with; however, many have poor credit and other obstacles that make them less-than-appealing tenants to landlords in a tight rental market.

Many who are homeless have experienced an unexpected event that results in their homelessness. This includes eviction due to the loss of a job or the break-up of a relationship that centered on shared housing.

Often, those who work at low income levels live paycheck to paycheck, experiencing disaster when the next paycheck is not available. Illness or surgery and the time to recover are other frequent causes of homelessness. We have sheltered men who have become disabled on the job and who lack sufficient savings to sustain themselves and their families when they cannot work. Disability claims — at best — take time to process and often require persistence (and resources) over many months without income beyond food stamps and $79 monthly in general assistance — certainly not enough to pay for housing.

Many believe that “welfare” will provide all that is needed by those who are destitute. In reality, most are eligible only for food stamps, $79 in General Assistance, and Medicaid. Assisted housing has long waiting lists, with a two-year wait common for public housing and Section 8 vouchers.

Those with mental health and substance abuse issues are assisted with referrals to all available sources of help: the problem is that the demand for such services often exceeds the supply. Those who need urgent care for drug withdrawal, for example, may hope for access to a 72-hour detox facility.

As these two centers are in New Castle and Sussex County, transportation is an issue along with the obvious question of what is available after detox. For many with mental illness, very limited supportive housing situations are pursued while others may be moved from one shelter to another. Those who seek to continue illegal drug use or who suffer from alcoholism are among those who continue to make their own way outside of established shelter and housing programs.

How do homeless people get access to shelter?

Shelter beds are allocated primarily through the statewide “211” emergency call system, with referrals to shelters that report available beds. Some individuals do not choose to come into a shelter, where they will have to abide by rules and restrictions and risk eviction for their violation. Some who do come in cannot comply with the structure required and find themselves on the street again. Still others live outdoors or wherever possible during the warmer months and seek refuge in Code Purple sanctuaries on cold nights.

Many shelters provide access for 30 to 45 days. At Dover Interfaith, we have come to recognize that it takes many homeless men a longer time to get back on their feet. Our guests are expected to complete a checklist of tasks in order to have their stay extended beyond the first month, with other tasks required to extend their stay for up to ninety days. The average stay during 2015 was less than fifty days. While this includes those who broke rules and were evicted, the majority are successful in obtaining employment and stable housing before leaving the shelter.

A quick look at a recent set of 36 shelter residents reveals the following details: 24 were recently incarcerated. Most committed non-violent offenses involving drugs; however, most are not addicted now and seek to live drug-free lives. Having a criminal record makes it difficult to obtain employment and housing, even for the most highly-motivated individual who willingly admits to his past mistakes. Some of these young men lived without much parental guidance and got into trouble by befriending the wrong people. Many have limited education and skills, contributing to their challenges in finding employment that is sufficiently well-paid to cover housing costs.

Four suffer from levels of mental illness that limit their ability to maintain stable employment and self-reliant living. Some were discharged from mental health facilities when their limited Medicaid benefits expired. The shelter is not eligible to receive Medicaid payments, as it is not a medical treatment site.

Two men are skilled and have secured full-time salaried jobs that will provide benefits and sufficient income to support independent living. Both are awaiting reinstatement of their driver’s licenses, which were revoked when they were imprisoned. This step further delays their access to employment once they are released from incarceration. Once this is resolved, both will be able to live without assistance.

Two are veterans and are assisted with accessing veterans’ benefits. Three are disabled and in some stage of the application process for disability benefits. Most others have spotty work histories and weak educational backgrounds but are employable. We work with them to help them assess their skills and to prepare employment applications as well as coach them on interview skills and other aspects of their personal presentation.

How does someone move out of homelessness?

In most cases, it takes more than housing. Most of the homeless men we encounter are able to work but lack “soft skills” to enable them to get jobs. Some have prison records or fines to pay. Many have low levels of education and literacy. Most are able to work in jobs that require hard work, and most are able to secure employment in food processing, landscaping, manufacturing production, warehouses, and the like. A few have higher skill levels and simply need short-term assistance.

The Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing provides case management to address the comprehensive needs of shelter residents combined with efforts to encourage local employers to consider their applications. These efforts result in a better-than 60 percent “success rate” of employment for shelter residents. Along the way, many need medical care, encouragement, assistance with obtaining state-issued forms of identification, guidance with personal budgeting and banking, and help with a wide range of family and judicial issues.

We attempt to meet their needs with the help of many community supporters. The network of faith communities, organizations, and individual volunteers operating as the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing becomes an effective substitute for the set of individual relationships that many adults build in order to make sustained employment and personal success possible.

What does it cost to help the homeless?

Lots of numbers are being tossed about. A better question is what does it cost not to help the homeless? There is considerable evidence about the cost of emergency room treatment and public services needed to make it possible for those who live on the street to survive, not to mention the social costs of drug and alcohol abuse that affect many of them. More directly, the cost of providing shelter and basic staffing for Dover Interfaith is approximately $5,000 per bed annually. That’s $180,000 to keep the building operating with utilities, insurance, and basic staffing 24/7 so that 36 men have a place to sleep at night. Meals are provided by faith communities and other volunteers.

This economic cost must be compared with the benefits generated. While valuing stability and the lack of substance abuse or reduction in crime is challenging at best, the “output” in the form of jobs secured and wages earned can be quantified. If 150 men from our shelter went to work last year at minimum wage (with many, in fact, doing better,) then at least $2.5 million was put back into the local economy in exchange for the funds it took to operate the shelter. This means a rate of return on the order of 750 percent or 7.5 times the total operating budget. Surely this is better business than leaving people on the street.

What about housing?

Most admit that there is little truly affordable housing available. The national policy of “Rapid Re-Housing” for the homeless may be a positive concept; but the reality is that few units are available. When possible, we encourage those who have obtained jobs to share housing or to move into transitional housing developed to make it possible for men to save and plan for future independent living. There is not enough available.

What needs to happen?

Those concerned about the homeless need to develop more collaboration and support with the community as a whole, its employers, its landlords, and its local governments. We need to come to a common understanding of the needs of the homeless and of the options and tools available to address them.

We have seen much progress in eight years among the 1,600 to 1,800 men sheltered and the organizations and faith communities we work with. We hope that many others will seek to contribute their ideas and their compassion so that a more inclusive and productive community may be the result.

 

San Diego Second Chance Program Lowers Recidivism

People serving sentences for nonviolent felonies in San Diego County custody recommit crimes less frequently than those who serve in state prison for similar crimes, according to new data from the San Diego County probation department.Before the 2011 state realignment shifting more nonviolent inmates to county facilities, people returning to San Diego County from state prison went back to prison at a higher rate than for California as a whole, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

It's More Expensive to Do Nothing - A documentary form Humane Exposures Films

Click image for larger size

 

Now, preliminary numbers measuring recidivism, or the percentage of people who reoffend, suggest that the county has been more successful in rehabilitating the nonviolent offenders.

Ricky Valdez, vice president of programs at Second Chance, an organization that helps people transition back to life on the outside, said:

In many ways San Diego as a community is ahead of the game if you compare to other communities across the country. Organizations involved in rehabilitation are launching programs that would have been unheard of even five years ago. Partners are starting to think outside the box and admit the way we have been doing reentry in our community is not working, so we need to look at other ways to do it.

Since California passed Assembly Bill 109, the public safety realignment law that shifted where sentences were served for nonviolent, non-sexual, non-serious offenders, San Diego County has been responsible for rehabilitating two groups: those who serve their sentences locally and those who serve their sentences in state prison but are supervised by the county probation department after release.

Fourteen percent of individuals released in 2015 who were supervised from start to finish at the local level committed new crimes while still under probation supervision, according to the probation department. That same year, of those who served in state prison but were supervised locally post-release, 36 percent committed new crimes while on probation.

Scott Huizar, a division chief with the probation department, said that the two populations are similar in terms of crimes committed, but they differ by when those crimes were committed. If they committed their crimes before the implementation of AB109, they served in state prison, but if they committed those crimes after AB109, they served locally. Huizar credited the low recidivism rate for those serving locally to the programming that they received while still incarcerated.

“It’s a collaborative approach to address the supervision effort,” he said. “They’re provided with a number of resources.”

He added that the ratio between supervising officers and supervisees is lower for the locally-serving group.

While recidivism is higher for the group that probation supervises post-release, he said it’s still doing better after AB109.

San Diego’s work in reducing recidivism has captured the attention of the federal government. The Department of Labor recently awarded the county one of 19 grants across the nation to establish a job center inside East Mesa Reentry Facility. Second Chance, along with the San Diego Workforce Partnership, helps run the program.

The job center, which launched in February, includes internet access to select websites for job hunting (an unprecedented move given security concerns), as well as a set of suits that inmates can wear as they practice interviews.

Many in county custody under the realignment program end up at the East Mesa facility, which is specifically for inmates with three years or less left in their sentences, so they can prepare to return to society. Officials said that after AB109, East Mesa had to add two new dorm buildings to house the influx of inmates.

So far, 139 people have participated in the new job center. According to Andrew Picard, director of adult programs at San Diego Workforce Partnership, the goal is to help 600 people over the grant’s two-year period, with 100 of those people receiving additional support after release.

The center does more than help with resumes. It works with participants to address other re-entry concerns, such as housing, to ensure that they can be successful in their new jobs.

The job center builds on the vocational programs already available at the facility, where inmates can participate in programs like a National Restaurant Association certification complete with barista training at the fully operational coffee cart inside.

A 54-minute documentary DVD and film IT’S MORE EXPENSIVE TO DO NOTHING, produced by Humane Exposures Films, executive produced by Susan Madden Lankford and directed by award winner Alan Swyer (Rebound), features the voices of criminologists, treatment providers and ex-offenders explaining how the criminal justice system has been failing to motivate incarcerated people to abandon crime and drugs, change their attitudes and live more productive lives. The film notes that when San Diego, California instituted a statutory requirement to provide services to non-violent criminals during and after prison, recidivism rates plunged from 75% to only 16%.

Executive producer Susan Lankford declared:

Diversion is always preferable to harsh detention, which has been shown not to work. Instead, before sentencing, we need to activate a risk/needs assessment of nonviolent offenders to educate, rehabilitate and prepare for re-entry into society.

The film focuses on a number of Southern California programs that have helped incarcerated people become literate, train for gainful employment and make positive life choices that turn them away from drugs and crime. These include juvenile camps such as Camp Bennett, therapeutic communities such as The Lighthouse and Second Chance, and programs for prison-prone homeless people such as Homeless Court and Veteran’s Village.