Senators Leahy & Collins Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Combat Youth Homelessness and Trafficking

Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Leahy2009[1]Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) recently reintroduced bipartisan legislation to curb youth homelessness, which affects 1.6 million teens throughout the country who are among the most likely to become victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) joined as original bill cosponsors.

The winter snowstorms in the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions currently threatening the safety of thousands of Americans spotlight the importance of passing this bipartisan bill to ensure that homeless children are not left to face such challenges alone. Leahy said:

Homelessness is on the rise for youths and young adults. Too many young people around the country find themselves without safe places to sleep at night. These programs, offering outreach and early intervention for runaway and homeless teens, are the last line of defense for teens in crisis. Youth homelessness also can be a pipeline to chronic homelessness, victimization, sexual exploitation and trafficking in urban and rural communities. It’s our job in Congress to do what we can to counter this tragic reality, this scandal in the shadows.

“I am proud to say that last year, 95% of teens receiving services from the Vermont Coalition for Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs were able to exit to safe living situations.

Today, 39% of the homeless population is under the age of 18, and the average age at which a teen becomes homeless is 14.7 years old. A 2013 study by  Convenant House offers startling details about the connection between youth homelessness and human trafficking.

The Leahy-Collins Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act reauthorizes programs that help youth obtain housing, education and job training. The bill includes training for service providers to identify victims of trafficking, and it includes a new provision that prohibits grantees from denying services based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sen_Susan_Collins_official[1]Leahy and Collins introduced similar legislation last year, which earned bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee but stalled in the Senate. Leahy has long been a champion of youth services provided by the original Runaway and Homeless Youth Protection Act and fought for its reauthorization in 1998 and again in 2003. He has also worked for years to counter the tragedy of human trafficking, most recently by including a reauthorization of the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Act as part of his Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act in 2013, and by supporting increased appropriations for trafficking victims under last year’s Omnibus Appropriations Bill.

Collins said:

As Chairman of the Housing Appropriations Subcommittee, one of my goals is to address chronic homelessness. We must make sure our nation’s homeless youth have the same opportunity to succeed as other youth. The programs reauthorized by this bill are critical in helping homeless youth stay off the street and find stable, sustainable housing.

The bill is supported by the National Network for Youth, the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, the True Colors Fund, the Center for American Progress, and the Human Rights Campaign, among many others.

Reforming Juvenile Justrice Requires Belief in People’s Capacity to Change

With youth crime rates and numbers of incarcerated youths declining, now is the perfect time to review how juvenile incarceration meets the needs of youths, their families and society. A recent study by the Justice Policy Institute reports that incarcerating a youth can cost $148,767 per year, and the most recent Juvenile Residential Facility Census found that 66,322 people under the age of 21 reside in 2,111 facilities in the U.S., ranging from 26 youngsters in Vermont to 10,908 kids in California. That is a lot of money to pay for incarceration practices that likely increase the risk of recidivism.

California is in the process of allocating $80 million in funding for counties to build juvenile facilities. To ensure that these facilities are rehabilitative, they need to originate from a belief in the capacity for people to change. Psychologists refer to this belief as “mindset.” It is a well-established phenomenon in education and is equally applicable to our juvenile justice system.

Mindset applies to everyone. Despite the adverse economic and social backgrounds many incarcerated youth come from, do policymakers believe that, given the right guidance, youths can learn to make better decisions? Do youths believe that, given the right tools, they can develop new skills to help them succeed? Psychologists have been investigating whether both students and their teachers can develop this positive mindset. The outcomes of interventions designed to achieve this are encouraging.

Parental mindset has been shown to be influential in motivational frameworks for even very young children; parents who praise the effort required to learn and succeed encourage those values. Researchers have shown that increasing a belief in the ability to change reduces aggression as retaliation in adolescents by 40%; believing that negative traits are not fixed results in less punitive views towards assailants.

Expectations affect educational outcomes

Examples of successful educational programs are underpinned by a theory of change that target not just students and teachers, but also families and communities. Furthermore, it is well documented that expectations affect educational outcomes and that assumptions based on stereotypes or cultural misunderstanding may contribute to racial disparity in academic achievement. Looking at consequences of previous juvenile justice practices highlights why fostering a positive mindset is crucial in our treatment of juveniles.

In Susan Mdden Lankford’s book Born, Not Raised: Voices From Juvenile Hall, Dr. Diane Campbell is quoted as saying: “A good enough someone” is needed in a youth’s life.” Empathy, curiosity, further desire for learning all stem from this connection.

In California’s last round of funding for juvenile facilities, all 14 counties that applied for funding received it — hardly a competitive process. Most counties added beds to their existing juvenile halls or camps, or simply replaced existing facilities, thereby perpetuating existing flaws in our juvenile justice system. Addressing previous weaknesses, the revised funding application now requires stronger justification of how facilities will be rehabilitative and includes an appendix on best rehabilitative practices.

Antonia Cartwright, a postgraduate fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, based in San Francisco, says:

I have visited a facility built with 2009 funding and the lack of accountability is concerning. Applications receive points for the rehabilitative programing proposed. Yet while new facilities may be funded based on these prospective accounts, state officials do not ensure these promises are fulfilled.

“While facilities such as day reporting or education centers are eligible for this funding, and perhaps better reflect the rehabilitative aims of our juvenile justice system, residential facilities still dominate. It is therefore imperative that they are held to high rehabilitative standards.

A vast body of research details the components of rehabilitative practices, not limited to non-institutional furnishings, bathroom privacy, small-group living arrangements and opportunities for therapeutic physical and leisure recreation. Programming should meet specific needs of different populations, such as girls, and include treatment, education and skill-building that acknowledge difficult backgrounds.

Cartwright adds:

Looking to fields outside criminal justice for innovative strategies can build new pathways to success. That is why it is important that policymakers come from diverse backgrounds and foster relationships with practitioners, researchers and advocates.

It is not enough to simply roll out new facilities and programs, nor to expect youths to engage in pro-social behavior because they have been told to; they must believe they can. Criminal justice leaders must not only provide the tools to facilitate change; they must believe youths can succeed. A reform of thinking may be required before meaningful juvenile justice reform can be achieved.

Since 2000, Incarceration Rate for White Women Has Soared by 47%

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Since 2000, the incarceration rate for women has increased by 20% and the rate for white women increased by 47%, while for white men it rose only 8.5 %. Hispanic women and men showed a similar disparity of increase: 23.3% for women and 2.2%  for men.  Surprisingly, incarceration rates for African-American women decreased by more than 30 % (while rates for black men also showed a decrease of almost 10%).


There are several theories explaining  these disparities. Most notably, changes in drug-sentencing policy contributed to change in female incarceration. In many states, statistics show an increase in prescription drug use and methamphetamine offenses among white and Latino women as contributing to their incarceration rates. In New York, 99% of the decline in female drug offenders was seen in black and Hispanic women.

The uniqueness of what leads these women to prison is also what makes solutions to their reentry into society that much more difficult, and increases the chances of repeat offenses.

While the need for drug treatment is apparent, the issues which lead to the drug use also have to be addressed. These women need extensive mental health counseling, education and job training, just to name a few. The availability of programs is far from guaranteed, and the quality varies from state to state – both of which are dependent on funding, which has been reduced. Access to health care (both inside of prison and out) also plays a key part in reversing the trend. Life expectancy for poor, uneducated white women has decreased by five years, in the only group that has seen a decline.

Solutions to problems as complex as these will not come quickly. Small changes, such as increased counseling in prison, behavioral therapy and allowing women to serve their sentences in facilities that make it easier for them to maintain contact with their children have happened in varying degrees. Nevertheless, the increased incarceration of women should ring alarm bells throughout society, as this will have a ripple effect for generations.

The 1980s were a time of widespread, severe tough-on-crime laws, which ushered in an era of mandatory-sentencing and three-strikes laws. At the start of the decade, approximately 13,000 women were in prison, representing 4%  of inmates in state and federal prisons. Over the next 20 years, the rates of incarceration accelerated, with the rate of increase for women surpassing that of men in the same time period. By 2010, women represented 7%  of the prison population.

Most of the more than 200,000 women currently in prison are there for non-violent offenses. A quarter of women in prison are there because of drug-related crimes (compared with only 17%  of the male population). The remaining female non-violent crimes include DUIs, robbery and property related crimes (all of which could be related to drugs). The war on drugs and related enforcement policies directly contribute to the increase in the numbers of women.

Though, some of it is just plain old sexism. Women are often arrested as an accomplice to a partner who is involved in criminal activity, like being a drug dealer. As is common in criminal cases, leniency in sentencing is offered in exchange for information on those higher up the food chain or details on the operation. The problem is, the woman is just the girlfriend and may not have much, or any, information to exchange; there’s a glass ceiling in criminal enterprises, too. Her boyfriend, however, would be more directly involved and be able to negotiate a deal. In the end, he could end up serving less time than her, even though he is guilty of a greater number of offenses. This is symptomatic of other issues contributing to women entering prison at alarming rates.

The policies driving the increase in the female prison population have a greater impact on the most vulnerable. The majority of these women have not finished high school, which means they were less likely to be employed when arrested. The vast majority of incarcerated women reported a history of physical and sexual abuse prior to incarceration, with 25% reporting the abuse occurring while they were minors. They are also more likely than the general population to suffer from mental health issues.

Needless to say, abused and unemployed people with psychological issues are not strong with coping skills. Nearly 75% of incarcerated women reported using drugs regularly prior to their arrest, with 40% of them under the influence at the time. This leads to risky behavior, like theft to support their habit, and relationships with abusive men – who are probably participating in criminal activity – like dealing drugs.

As with everything in America, race matters. More than 60% of the total prison population is African-American or Latino. In 2000, black women were incarcerated at six times the rate of white women. Law enforcement policies that targeted poor minority communities led to dramatic increases in arrests. Mandatory sentencing laws also directly affected these women since nearly two-thirds of the women have had prior convictions.

In an unexpected twist, changes in policies are contributing to the increase in female prisoners and changing the racial makeup of the population.

After three decades of tough-on-crime tactics, advocacy groups, legislators and researchers have learned that these policies do little in curbing incarceration rates and have only led to prison overcrowded with a large number of people who have committed nonviolent crimes. The decrease in violent crimes and an increase in initiatives that have focused on treatment for addiction, reduced sentencing for participation in prison programs and increased in reentry support have slowed the growth of incarceration since 2000 – except for women.

“The Daily Show” Features Salt Lake City’s Solution to Homelessness: Homes

On January 7, Comedy Central’s (generally excellant) “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”  did a wonderful feature on how Salt Lake City, UT solved it’s homessness problem: by providing apartments for all its street people.

Comedy Centrals's "The Homeless Homed"

Comedy Centrals’s “The Homeless Homed”

The 5.5-minute comedy feature was powerful, throught-provoking and funny and well worth watching (via the links above, below or at the show’s website).

It starts by saying that many communities have found way to fight the homeless problem–by “fining them for body odor, banning them from sleeping outdoors or arresting them for sitting down.” But Salt Lake City, Utah has taken the next step, be removing them from their streets altogether.”

The interviewer asked two people if they had seen any homeless people or anyone sleeping in a cardboard box, and the passers-by answered “no.” Then he asked the program’s director Pendleton how SLC had reduced homelessness by 72% since 2005 “without hiding them underground, converting them from Mormon to gay or gay to Mormon.”

Answer: the city provided apartments for them. Director Pendleton admitted providing the homes costs $12,000 per person, vs. $20,000 when they live on the street–and much more of they have to use the emergency room, jails and/or mental hopitals ($200,000).

The show quoted Fox news segments claiming providing homes would be prohibitively expensive and disincentivize people from working, making them moochers. The interviewers than spoke to “one of these moochers in his moochatorium.” Russell Flowers, a first-time home recipient, who now has a job, a home and self-esteem,  said all this will allow him to move back to Chicago and be with his children.

The feature’s final line: “If you meet a homeless person, they can now have a second chance: all they have to do is live in Utah.”

Here’s the link:


Veteran Homelessness Continues to Decline Across the U.S.


Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

A year ago, HUD, the VA and U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) reported that there were 49,933 homeless veterans in America, a decline of 33% percent (or 24,837 people) since 2010. This included a nearly 40% drop in the number of veterans sleeping on the street.

A year later (January 2015) Veteran homelessness has continued drop all across the country. Fourteen of the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. reduced veteran homelessness by 50% over the past three years, some by as much as two-thirds. Phoenix and Salt Lake City have already eliminated it.

HUD, VA, USICH, and local partners have used evidenced-based practices like Housing First and federal resources like HUD-VASH (the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher program) to get veterans off the street and into stable housing as quickly as possible. Since 2008, the HUD-VASH program has served a total of 74,019 veterans.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said:

We have an obligation to ensure that every veteran has a place to call home. In just a few years, we have made incredible progress reducing homelessness among veterans, but we have more work to do. HUD will continue collaborating with our federal and local partners to ensure that all of the men and women who have served our country have a stable home and an opportunity to succeed.

To accelerate progress on meeting the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, First Lady Michelle Obama, HUD and the VA launched the Administration’s “Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness” last year, and so far more than 210 mayors, county and state officials have committed to ending homelessness among veterans in their communities.

The federal government has provided significant new resources to help communities pursue the goal of ending homelessness among veterans. Communities that target these resources strategically are making significant progress and can end veteran homelessness in their communities in 2015.

These strategies include: a) Using a Housing First approach, which removes barriers to help veterans obtain permanent housing as quickly as possible, without unnecessary prerequisites; b) prioritizing the most vulnerable veterans—especially those experiencing chronic homelessness—for permanent supportive housing opportunities, including those created through the HUD-VASH program; c) Coordinating outreach efforts to identify and engage every veteran experiencing homelessness and focus outreach efforts on achieving housing outcomes; d) targeting rapid rehousing interventions, including those made possible through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, toward veterans who need shorter-term rental subsidies and services in order to be reintegrated back into our communities; e)leveraging other housing and services resources that can help veterans who are ineligible for some of the VA’s programs get into stable housing; f) increasing early detection and access to preventive services so at‐risk veterans remain stably housed; g) closely monitoring progress toward the goal, including the success of programs achieving permanent housing outcomes; and h) aligning local goals and strategies with Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

On Aug. 8, Pittsburgh launched the Pittsburgh Rapid Results Veterans’ Homeless Boot Camp, an outgrowth of the national Mayors’ Challenge to End Veterans’ Homelessness. The boot camp is a joint effort of many local service providers. Each 100 days, the boot camp sets an aggressive target to permanently house homeless veterans. The participating groups meet frequently to talk about strategies, progress and new ways to reach veterans and engage the community.

This commitment has produced impressive results. During its first 100 days, the boot camp had provided 125 homeless veterans with permanent housing, and a total of 274 veterans have received some form of service through the boot camp. Although 500 veterans remain homeless in the Pittsburgh area, the Pittsburgh region is making rapid progress toward the national and local goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.

Today solutions are based on evidence–on data about what works. The evidence shows that getting even the most severely disabled people housed with rent subsidies and intensive social services provides lasting results and saves taxpayers $25 a day, or just over $9,000 a year, as compared to prison at $45,000, nursing homes at $50,000 or psychiatric hospitals at $200,000.

The results are dramatic. In one study, 97%  of people with serious mental illness, addiction and five years of homelessness retained their housing for at least a year. Previously they had been the frequent-flyers for jails and police calls, ER and psych ward visits.

Veteran homelessness has dropped dramatically around the country because collective action and the right menu of programs is paid for through a blend of philanthropy, volunteer work, faith communities and public dollars.

Congress has also committed itself to ending veteran homelessness by 2015. Compelled by the moral imperative combined with scientific evidence, Republicans and Democrats together appropriated sufficient funds for rental assistance and services, and it’s working.

As 2015 gets underway, two opportunities exist to obtain adequate funding. First, when members of Congress go back to Washington they can match public charitable donations with funds to end homelessness among children, youth and families as they did with veterans. Second, when state legislators and new governors arrive in state capitols, they can vote additonal funds. In PA, that is the State Housing Trust Fund, establised in 2010 and funded by impact fees from drilling in the shale region. It is proven and successful.





2014 Gains and Losses in Juvenile Justice Struggle

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

In 2014, the campaign for improved juvenile justice systems enjoyed several steps forward and two big steps backwards. First, Pay For Success (PFS) ideas become plans in New York City, MA, CA, IL, OH and several other states. PFS projects use private financing to aim at social goals with the agreement that local government will reward successful achievement in agreed-upon areas.

This was the year the PFS movement went from “crawl” to “walk” in juvenile justice. For instance, PFS projects aimed at lowering the recidivism rates for juveniles and young adults in Massachusetts and New York City. And a slate of juvenile justice-related projects are well into the planning stages in California, Illinois, Ohio and several other states.

The National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) has emerged as an early leader for youth-specific work in the PFS space. NCCD is poised to run point on a number of PFS projects after assisting firms with a broader focus, such as Third Sector Capital Partners.

This is still a very new and untested approach to pushing public policy toward the best solutions, but it’s fair to say that 2014 marked the point at which money started to flow and real plans were made.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) continues to have its influence sapped by dwindling appropriations, at least in the accounts that have anything to do with juvenile justice. Fiscal 2014 brought with it the elimination of the Juvenile Accountability Block Grants, and that will now hold up at least through 2015.

But 2014 was the first full year on the job for Bob Listenbee, OJJDP’s first non-interim director since 2008. In June, he made it clear that OJJDP’s priority would be racial disparities in the system.

At a Congressional field hearing in June, Listenbee stated:

The one we have made the least success with is disproportionate minority contact, but I think there are a lot of new and innovative approaches that are available now through OJJDP, and so we’re concentrating our resources, our training and technical assistance on this particular requirement.

The shooting of Ferguson, Mo. teen Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson had nothing to do with juvenile justice, and everything to do with the use of deadly force by police officers, but there were several attempts in opinion pieces and policy discussions to make this relevant to juvenile justice.

Lisa Thurau, who leads Strategies for Youth, wrote that the shooting could easily have been prevented if police departments made serious efforts to train police on interacting with adolescents. Marc Schindler, the executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, noted the calls for more black police officers after the shooting. He cautioned that in his experience reforming Washington, D.C.’s juvenile facility, diversity was trumped by training.

It was announced in December 2014 that the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s final Models for Change conference will be held next year. After years of support for research, organizing and advocacy, MacArthur is out of the juvenile justice funding business, at least for a time. Models for Change began with support for research on adolescents that helped influence major Supreme Court decisions, and then turned toward the notion of fostering state-level juvenile justice reform that could be replicated elsewhere.

The success of all that spending will be assessed over time, but the immediate impact of Models coming to a close will be fiscal, as grants to its many nonprofit partners will end in 2015.

MacArthur’s grants are and were a significant chunk of revenue for lots of juvenile justice organizations, all of which will now have to adapt to a funding landscape that does not include the Chicago-based grantor.

Among the organizations with holes in their future budgets is the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), which gets $500,000 each year to put on the Models for Change conference. CJJ will get that funding in 2015, along with a separate two-year grant for $300,000 to spread Models for Change lessons among states. But after that, one of the oldest national juvenile justice organizations in the country will have to find a new way to sustain. CJJ used to be buffered by an annual federal appropriation, and MacArthur really saved it from impending doom when that was cut off in the mid-2000s.

It is unknown whether another philanthropic entity enter the juvenile justice fray in 2015. A hopeful indicator: one unlikely donor voiced an interest just days before the new year.

Iowa Leaders Join Fight Against Female Incarceration

Iowa authorities are Photo by Susan Madden Lankfordbanding together to combat the 600% increase in female incarceration in the US over the past 30 years. About 7,000 women in Iowa are either on probation or parole, according to a recent report.

Des Moines law enforcement leaders and the Polk County attorney met at the city’s police station recently, encouraging Congress to renew a federal program designed to prevent women and their children from entering the criminal justice system.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said:

The key is prevention. We don’t want moms wearing jumpsuits. We want them wearing caps and gowns.

Invest in Kids, a national organization, is leading the charge for the reauthorization of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, in which nurses and other mentors work inside the home in neighborhoods that are often poverty-stricken and violent, teaching mothers about healthy pregnancy and safe discipline practices.

The organization’s state-by-state report, titled “Orange Is Not Your Color,” showed more than 600 women are currently incarcerated in Iowa and thousands more are on probation or parole. Two-thirds of women in state prisons nationwide are mothers.

Des Moines Police Chief Doug Harvey doesn’t want to see anyone wearing orange, because then, what happens to the children?

A study of a home-visiting program in New York reported that high-risk mothers who did not receive visits had three times more convictions 15 years after the program began, and their daughters had nine times more convictions by the time they reached 19.

Twenty-seven Iowa law enforcement leaders and prosecutors are among the 1,000 who signed a letter, asking Congress to restore $400 million in federal funding for the program next year. Iowa received $7 million last year with the capacity to support around 700 families in 17 counties. That money supports 75 percent of the state’s three programs.

Des Moines’ Nurse-Family Partnership serves pregnant women in the area until their child turns 2 years old. Jennifer Boeding, a maternal child health nurse with the partnership, said it serves mostly teens referred by Des Moines Public Schools or doctors. The nurses work alongside the mother, building trust and directing her toward education and health resources.

Some of these women never had a trusting relationship in their lives,

Boeding said.

These programs also save taxpayer money, said Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy. The Nurse-Family Program of Des Moines saved its client families about $17,000, which in turn is a savings for law enforcement if fewer children and mothers are entering the criminal system, he said.

Mass’s New $3.5 Million Housing First Program Gives Permanent Housing and Support Services to Half of State’s Homeless

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Masachusetts just launched a $3.5 million “social impact bond” initiative–one of Gov. Deval Patrick’s last official acts. It is devoutly hoped that Gov.-elect Charlie Baker will carry  it forward.

More than two years in the making, the program will provide permanent housing and support services for 800 of the Bay State’s most intractably homeless adults, more than half the state’s chronically homeless population. These are the really tough cases: people whose turbulent lives include drug or alcohol addiction, mental illness, poor educations, and/or criminal records. The program immediately gets them into a subsidized apartment and provides case management, job training and other needed services.

The initiative is funded not through direct taxpayer dollars but via private funders who assume the risk if the program doesn’t produce results. The investment comes from some of the usual suspects — the United Way and a national housing nonprofit organization — but also from Santander Bank, which is betting $1.25 million on the proposition that getting a person out of a shelter and into a stable home will not just prevent a return to the streets, but save millions in emergency room visits, Medicaid costs and police activity.

Mike Joyce is one beneficiary of this approach. He arrived in Framingham about three years ago, broke, addicted and sleeping in his car. Now under treatment, he spoke at the announcement of the new initiative, describing needs that are heartbreakingly simple but out of reach for so many: “a stable place to live and shower and shave and keep my clothes clean.”

The event was held at Framingham’s South Middlesex Opportunity Council, a pioneer in the concept of “housing first,” which tries to skirt the shelter system by getting homeless people into apartments right away — without necessarily requiring sobriety or job prospects. Council director Jim Cuddy started working on the issue in 1985, back when the homeless were mostly taken in by armories and soup kitchens. He recalls:

Many of us involved in this work never saw 30 years later we would still be here. Shelters can become semi-permanent homes by default. But now it’s time for a new model.

The social-impact bonds are sometimes referred to as “pay for success,” an attractive idea the state has already used to reduce recidivism among juvenile offenders through the Chelsea youth violence program Roca. In this case, the goal is to keep the chronically homeless in secure housing for at least a year. If (and only if) the South Middlesex Opportunity Council and the other providers in the program reach that goal, the state will reimburse the investors with a small return.

The number of homeless is soaring in Massachusetts, according to a survey released in October by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development. Fewer than four percent of the roughly 21,000 people without permanent homes are on the street. Still, anyone who has visited a crowded, often chaotic emergency shelter knows it’s not a real solution. The idea is not to manage homelessness, but to end it.

Under Gov. Patrick, Massachusetts was the first state to enter into pay-for-success contracts to fund human services. At the recent program-launch event, Patrick declared:

This is about how we — all of us — share responsibility for a problem that is about all of us. This is about ending the notion that the homeless are somebody else’s problem, somebody else’s relative. And it’s not just about getting someone like Mike out of the cold on a terrible day like this, but about helping them get back up and staying on their feet.

Incoming Gov. Baker may not come naturally to this kind of heart-tugging oratory, but he doesn’t have to. He just has to embrace the radical logic that saving lives can save a lot of money.

Native American Youths are Imprisoned in Large Numbers and Badly under-served There

Indian reservations are sovereign nations, so when juveniles commit minor crimes, their cases are usually handled by the tribes. But when they commit a serious felony, their cases are generally handled by federal prosecutors, and they can be sent to either federal prison or a federal facility. In the federal system, there is no juvenile division, and no court judges, rehabilitation facilities or probation system for juveniles.  Last year a commission recommended that tribes be given full jurisdiction over Indian children who should be released from “dysfunctional federal and state controls.” Advocates say Native American youths have essentially been forgotten.

Troy Eid, the chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission, said:

There is no systemic program to educate kids or provide services for them in detention centers. They don’t have computer instruction. They don’t have classrooms. They have nothing, and their services are lacking because Congress hasn’t appropriated the funding. They just sit in a cell all day.

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, attorney general, Tatewin Means, the daughter of the late American Indian Movement leader Russell Means, works out of a run-down building with a broken toilet and no heat or air conditioning. Means said there is no funding for behavioral health services for children who have been sexually or physically abused, and when, as teenagers, some get caught up in the juvenile justice system, the tribe has few resources to help them. She reports:

For the last two years, we have applied for federal grants for public safety and child protection and were absolutely shut out.

The Pine Ridge reservation is larger than the state of Delaware, covering more than 2.7 million acres, but the tribal communities  are racked by 87%  unemployment and crippling poverty. Located within Pine Ridge, Shannon County has one of the highest numbers of people living below the poverty line in the nation. Families live in rotting and overcrowded public housing.

In an environment plagued by sexual assault, domestic violence and substance abuse, it is a struggle to protect children, law enforcement officials say. Many young people turn to drugs or otherwise run afoul of the law.

There is no place for kids to get help. The one Boys and Girls Club is often closed because of a lack of funding. The nearest population center, Rapid City, with a population of about 70,000, is more than 100 miles away.

Although Pine Ridge is technically a “dry” reservation, just over the line in Nebraska is the tiny town of White Clay, which is lined with stores that sell alcohol to Pine Ridge residents; day and night, they can be found leaning against buildings or lying on the ground intoxicated.

Tony Ghost-Red Feather, 18, said he grew up surrounded by alcoholism and violence. He said he was bullied at school and that some of his friends and relatives ended up in the juvenile detention center. He considered suicide on two occasions. The only things stopping him were his younger siblings, whom he was mostly responsible for raising.

At the juvenile detention center for offenses including disorderly conduct and running away, a criminal violation. youths just looked at cement walls. There were no teachers or counselors. Young inmates were woken us up to take showers and clean up, and then they were just sat there.

On reservations, at-risk Native American youths find few places to turn. On Pine Ridge and Rosebud, two of South Dakota’s largest Indian reservations, many Native American teenagers find themselves caught between broken homes and a broken justice system.

Detention facilities explicitly for Native American youths are operated by an amalgam of entities. The Bureau of Indian Affairs runs three of the 23 juvenile detention centers in Indian country. Fourteen of the facilities are run by tribes but are overseen and funded in part by the BIA. The remaining six are funded and run by tribes.

Several of the facilities operated by the BIA, an agency within the Interior Department, have been beset by problems. A facility in Lower Brule, SD has been closed for a year because of structural problems. On Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, a more than $7 million center constructed with Justice Department and tribal funds has been empty for more than four years because it was not built to code. The new building will continue to be run by the BIA when it opens.

Dozens of facilities that had been built are now vacant or seriously underutilized because operating funds haven’t been provided, according to a panel of Indian-country experts that presented a report last week to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

Juveniles arrested on those reservations have to be sent to other reservations, sometimes hundreds of miles away. Much of the criticism of the juvenile justice system for Native Americans is centered on the removal of young offenders from their communities, a practice that critics say makes it even more difficult to rehabilitate them. The BIA acknowledges the situation presents challenges for families but said there are not always alternatives.

In an environment plagued by assault, domestic violence and substance abuse, it is difficult to protect children.

Darren Cruzan, deputy director of the BIA’s Office of Justice Services, said:

If we had the ability to have a fully staffed juvenile detention facility at every reservation, that would be absolutely the best way to do it. But we know that is unrealistic based on the ability to build safe juvenile detention facilities and staff them appropriately.

A member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, Cruzan said the BIA is taking steps to try to improve services for juveniles in Indian country. But he stressed the difficulty of developing education programs, saying that “a lot of the juveniles that we’re getting are kids who aren’t in school or have dropped out of school.”

The Kiyuksa O’Tipi Reintegration Center, Pine Ridge’s juvenile detention center, is funded and overseen by the BIA but operated by the tribe. A BIA document indicates that there is an education program. Inside, there is a classroom with desks and computers. However, there are no teachers, no counselors and no academic programs. Funding ran out two years ago.

About an hour and a half drive across the northern Great Plains is a juvenile detention facility for Native Americans that looks and feels altogether different.

Unlike in Pine Ridge and other reservations, there is no barbed wire surrounding the center. Inside, students learn to carve in a woodshop, work out in a gymnasium and participate in “smudging,” a ceremony of burning sage and cedar to cleanse a person and keep away negative spirits and energy.

The Wanbli Wiconi Tipi Youth Wellness and Renewal Center, located on the Rosebud Reservation, houses about 250 teenagers each year and is run by Miskoo Petite, who grew up in the community. Unlike other juvenile centers, where a majority of the building is used for detention, 70 percent of the space is used for programs. Petite said:

We are trying to integrate traditional Lakota cultural information and rehabilitate our youth by bridging the gaps they might have with their identities.

Saome kids admit they would rather be in the juvenile detention center in Rosebud than at home.

Like Pine Ridge, Rosebud — home to an estimated 25,000 people living on about 900,000 acres of tribal land — is overwhelmed by dire poverty. Over a two-year period, 47 teenagers committed suicide on the reservation. At least two children a day are victims of a crime or exposed to abuse and neglect, school violence or domestic violence.

For all its problems, however, the juvenile detention center is striving to rehabilitate young offenders. Outside sits a traditional sweat lodge, a dome-shaped hut, for them to experience the ceremony of purification and prayer.

The juveniles attend classes and are taken on field trips to places like the Wounded Knee memorial on Pine Ridge, where they learn more about their history and the day in December 1890 when the U.S. Cavalry massacred an estimated 300 men, women and children of the Great Sioux Nation. (Many on the reservation prefer to refer to themselves as Lakota rather than Sioux, a term meaning “little snake” that they say was given to them by their enemies.)

“It’s jail, but they give you a chance to do things here — go to the gym, play ball, learn Lakota [the language] and go to school every day,” said one teenager who said he had been housed in three other juvenile detention centers.

Law enforcement officials credit Petite with running a facility that is considered among the most progressive in Indian country. At the same time, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson of South Dakota is working closely with the tribes to keep Rosebud juveniles out of the federal system whenever possible and allow them to be sentenced in tribal court.

“This is a really poor, very remote reservation,” said Eid, the chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission. “But when the tribes have some control over their systems, they don’t warehouse kids. They make sure there’s education, including for the ones who misbehave.”

Petite, however, is still dependent on grants from the BIA and the Justice Department to operate his programs. And as with many health, education and law enforcement programs throughout Indian country, tribes have to compete against each other for funding. Every couple of years they have to reapply to keep programs running — or they end. Petite will soon lose his clinical psychologist because the federal grant funding her has ended.

The panel of Indian-country experts that met with Holder this week said that tribal juvenile justice programs are “grossly underfunded,” saying it is “unacceptable” for federal agencies to provide grant money limited to three years. The panel recommended that grant-based, competitive criminal justice funding for Indian country be replaced with a permanent budget.

In Petite’s view, one the best programs at Wanbli Wiconi Tipi centers on an organic garden planted by staff and kids, a beehive and a greenhouse. The program is designed to remind tribal youth of their history of living off the land and to instill in them an appreciation of nurturing life.

“We donate the vegetables — tomatoes, chili peppers, cucumbers — to our elders or use them in the kitchen,” Petite said.

During a recent tour of the facility, however, Petite seemed reluctant to open the door to the greenhouse. When he did, there was a stench of decay. The greenhouse had been overtaken by weeds.

“Our federal grant for the program recently ended,” he explained. “We just don’t have the additional staff to keep this garden going.”

Photo from the Washington Post

Oklahoma, With Worst Female Imprisonment Rate in U.S., Issues Tulsa Report With Many Planned Improvements

In its recent report, The Mayor’s Commission oPhoto by Susan Madden Lankfordn the Status of Women calls upon the Tulsa community to support the efforts of local organizations that address issues surrounding female incarceration.

The Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women is comprised of 15 Tulsa women who work and serve in various disciplines. The Commission has focused on female incarceration as its primary issue for the past two years.

Commission Chair Carmen Pettie said the statistics regarding female incarceration are staggering. Oklahoma currently incarcerates 127 women per 100,000 population, more than twice the national average of 63. Pettie noted that two thirds of women in prison are there for non-violent offenses, which are often substance-related. In 2013, 1,152 Oklahoma women were incarcerated, 18.4% of them in Tulsa County.

Sentencing laws do not differentiate between the amount of drug or between acts of possession and distribution, so women are often sentenced to lengthy prison terms for offenses that would bring little or no punishment in other states, the report said.

Pettie explained:

Oklahoma is a tough-on-crime state, and we will continue to focus on sentencing guidelines that do not distinguish between the severity of the crime.

As the Mayor’s Commission, we all believe we should continue to shine light on issues that impact women in Tulsa. There are several groups that are already working on female incarceration issues, helping women re-enter the mainstream and work environments, ensuring they continue to have relationships with their children when appropriate, and assisting with education and healthcare. We would like to generate more awareness around the issue, around the organizations and encourage Tulsans to support these efforts.

The Commission’s work was divided into five committees: health, education, communications, business and legislative. Each worked independently and together to conduct forums and discussions that led to a set of action steps for each area of emphasis.

In Oklahoma, which is the U.S. leader in methamphedarine crime, risk factors for women include: poverty, histories of family dysfunction, domestic violence and relationships with men who engage in criminal behavior.

Also in Oklahoma, as in many other states, there is a direct correlation between the growing number of private prisons and number of women incarcerated. Fees paid to private prison corporations are directly tied to number of incarcerations, and
private prison corporations often make campaign donations to political candidates and lobby legislative leaders to continue the state’s tough sentencing guidelines.

Today, there is some current positive legislative news. Senate Bill 1278 will create a “Pay-for-Success” pilot program, and other  legislators are also working on this issue.

The report examines the impact incarceration of a mother has on children. Children are traumatized and feel sense of abandonment, and these children are more likely than the average child to end up in prison.

Each year, 8,000 ex-offenders are released from Oklahoma prisons. The obstacles facing women upon release include
reunion with children, re-entry into labor marketing, safe
and affordable housing, access to education and access to healthcare.

The Women in Recovery program costs $14,500 for three years, versus $40,000 for three years’ incarceration.

Here is what committees of the Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women are working on this year.

The Health Committee: Enhances and improve awareness and utilization of health resources, develops information graphics and
researches health resources in other states.

The Education Committee focuses on education for all Oklahoma women and seeks to enhance educational opportunities of formerly incarcerated women upon re-entry.

The Communications Committee: uses all forms of media to communicate the efforts of the groups working to solve the issue.
It is planning a 2015 follow-up Town Hall event continuing the group’s focus on incarcerated women. It aims to broaden
outreach and increase attendance at the event by again using all media, with emphasis on Social Media.

The Women in Business Committee endeavors to follow up roundtable discussions with additional businesses, distribute its “Uncheck the Box” DVD to human resource departments and
establish a central resource listing.

Finally, the Legislative Committee will contact state legislators to explore how to best address the impact of sentencing laws and
develop a flowchart to follow the paths of women incarcerated for non-violent crimes.

The report’s concluding challenge: Let’s break the cycle and invest in resources to ensure success.