In U.K., Homeless Men Increasing “Survival Sex”

With Manchester, U.K. homelessness on the rise young men are increasingly selling their bodies as a way to survive. The number of men working in this dangerous trade, both gay and straight, has rocketed in the last decade. As homelessness mounts and austerity bites, a growing number of young men are selling sex online. The city’s male sex workers often use websites like Craigslist to advertise to clients. 

But, often, behind the image presented online, are personal struggles. Homelessness is still the biggest problem facing male sex workers across Manchester. And so called ‘survival sex’ is becoming increasingly common among the hundreds of young men selling their bodies. Many are homeless or unemployed, dozens have recently been released from prison – for them selling sex is a way of surviving.

Spice, the dangerous synthetic drug which has blighted Manchester city center, is one of the most commonly used drugs among ‘chaotic’ young men who sell sex to survive. For those who choose to do sex work, party drugs and those used during chemsex – such as crystal meth and GBH – are popular.
These men spend their lives hidden from view. Charity workers say they can look unremarkable, making it difficult to identify those who are vulnerable.

For those young men, the services provided by charity The Men’s Room represent a lifeline. Volunteers here try to expand their horizons by using amenities the men might otherwise walk past.

Visiting an art gallery or a trip to the theatre is a little luxury that many of us would take for granted. But the experience is completely new to many of these men. Charity boss Fergal McCulloch says this is the best way to reach out to service users and give them a taste of normality. He says how clients recently worked with a playwright and saw their work performed on stage at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

And just last month, they took part in a project creating art work which was exhibited at Manchester Art Gallery. McCulloch said:

None of them had ever gone into an art gallery in their lives. They were treated as experts and artists themselves. It gave them that sense of empowerment saying ‘we have every right to be here’. If you get the chance to do something uplifting you’re doing something different from your day to day struggles. It allows the men to have a space and just think differently. It makes them think there is a whole other life here and gives them something to aspire to. The feedback was amazing. We gave them postcards of the artwork so they can show it to people and say ‘I made that’.

Male sex work has become more widespread in recent years. Some in the trade have told charity workers they started doing sex work from as young as 14. Many of them have spent time in care. Almost all male sex workers in Manchester are British.

Contrary to their female counterparts, they don’t answer to a pimp or work in saunas or brothels. Instead, they advertise online. In 2016 researchers found 353 men selling sex online in Manchester through two specific websites. If you include men offering sex on classified sites like Craigslist and Backpage as well as social media sites, that figure rockets to almost 2,000.

McCulloch added:

It can’t be overemphasized how much of an impact the internet is having. There is a magnitude more doing it online compared to on the streets but quite a lot of those are not our traditional clients.

“The number of people prepared to do online work has really changed. I thought we would have seen a much bigger increase in survival sex. But we’re actually seeing a bigger increase of men who are bisexual or gay doing online work. Ten years ago the idea of sex work would never have crossed their minds. It’s all part of how culture has changed and young men’s attitudes to sex.

“Clients are not on the street anymore either – they are online too. There’s still a street scene but there’s been a huge explosion of online work and there’s a real blurring of the boundaries.

As such, volunteers at the Men’s Room have adapted their working practices so men can reach out to them through social media and instant messaging apps like Whatsapp.

Of course, sex with strangers can be a dangerous business and many of the clients who use the Men’s Room have suffered sexual abuse. Fergal recently worked with a young man who had been drugged and gang raped – but refused to report the incident to police.

“Most of those who experience sexual assault fail to report it,” he says. “For a lot of the guys we work with sexual violence is something that happens. Very rarely will they report an assault.”

Though its a disturbing issue, he says sexual assault is nowhere near as common a problem as it is among women working in the trade.

In fact homelessness is by far the biggest issue Fergal and his team of volunteers deal with on a daily basis.

“The hidden homeless are young men living chaotic lifestyles. They are not the guys you see on the streets.”

The grey areas of male sex work seem to make it a far more complex issue than the work carried out by their female counterparts. But charity workers have found that two common patterns have emerged.

There are the openly gay young men living ‘chaotic lives’, perhaps with a drug or alcohol dependency who are happy to work in the trade.

Many of those engaging in survival sex identify as a straight and find it degrading, Fergal says.

But male sex work is such a complex issue that the team at the Men’s Room find that no two cases are the same.

As such they develop a ‘bespoke’ service for each client to help them with advocacy support and signpost them to charities that can help with issues like housing and employment.

McCulloch explains:

Their needs are different, they don’t all have the same level of need. There’s that group of men who come from a place of chaos and survival and not from that place of choice. They may have issues with mental and physical health and they are homeless. It’s a twin track. We have the advisors who help with advice, guidance and signposting. We’re the bridge between them and other services. Then we also want to encourage men to get involved in our arts projects.

Thanks to a National Lottery grant the Men’s Room currently has enough funding to support its work for another three years. But the cash boost will only pay for 40 per cent of the work carried out each day and Fergal says donations are desperately needed.

“It gives us stability for the next three years, but we still need to fund the other 60 per cent,” he says. “I think the work we do is really valuable.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Black Imprisonment Plunges While White Imprisonment Rises:4 Possible Explanations

One of the most damning features of the U.S. criminal justice system is its vast racial inequity. Black people in this country are imprisoned at more than 5 times the rate of whites; one in 10 black children has a parent behind bars, compared with about one in 60 white kids, according to the Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality. The crisis has persisted for so long that it has nearly become an accepted norm.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

So it may come as a surprise to learn that between 2000 and 2015, the imprisonment rate of black men dropped by more than 24 percent. At the same time, the white male rate increased slightly, the BJS numbers indicate.Among women, the trend is even more dramatic. From 2000 to 2015, the black female imprisonment rate dropped by nearly 50 percent; during the same period, the white female rate shot upward by 53 percent. As the nonprofit Sentencing Project has pointed out, the racial disparity between black and white women’s incarceration was once 6 to 1. Now it’s 2 to 1.

Similar patterns appear to hold for local jails, although the data are less reliable given the “churn” of inmates into and out of those facilities. Since 2000, the total number of black people in local detention has decreased from 256,300 to 243,400, according to BJS; meanwhile, the number of whites rose from 260,500 to 335,100. There have been significant drops in the jailing of blacks from New York to Los Angeles, coinciding with little change for whites.

Taken together, these statistics change the narrative of mass incarceration, and that may be one reason why the data has been widely overlooked in policy debates. The narrowing of the gap between white and black incarceration rates is “definitely optimistic news,” said John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University and an expert on trends in prison statistics. “But the racial disparity remains so vast that it’s pretty hard to celebrate. How exactly do you talk about ‘less horrific?’”According to Pfaff, “Our inability to explain it suggests how poorly we understand the mechanics behind incarceration in general.” In other words, how much of any shift in the imprisonment rate can be attributed to changes in demographics, crime rates, policing, prosecutors, sentencing laws and jail admissions versus lengths of stay? And is it even possible to know, empirically, whether specific reforms, such as implicit bias training, are having an effect on the trend line?

“If we want to continue or accelerate [the trend], we need to acknowledge it and figure out why it’s happening,” said Adam Gelb, director of the public safety performance program at The Pew Charitable Trusts and an expert on prison data. “Maybe we can bottle it up and replicate it.”

In that spirit, here are four (not mutually exclusive or exhaustive) theories, compiled from our research and interviews with prison system experts, to explain the nearly two-decades-long narrowing of the racial gap in incarceration.

1) Crime, arrests and incarceration are declining overall.Those decreases benefit the most incarcerated group: African Americans. Crime rates have been on the decline since just after 1990, as have arrests. Given that both measures disproportionately affect the black community, one theory goes, the overall drop should shrink the racial gap in incarceration, too.According to the Marshall Project analysis of federal data, arrests for nearly every type of crime (one exception was prostitution, which peaked earlier) were on the rise until the early to mid-1990s, followed by a steep decline that affected African Americans more significantly than whites. From 2000 to 2009, for example, there was a 22 percent drop in arrests of black people for violent crime; for whites, it was 11 percent. Since these offenses are most likely to result in substantial prison sentences, the shift most likely transformed the racial makeup of incarceration, as well.

2) The war on drugs has shifted its focus from crack and marijuana to meth and opioids. As Michelle Alexander (author of “The New Jim Crow”) and many others have extensively documented, the so-called war on drugs has been waged more aggressively against people of color. The arrest numbers bear this out: The black vs. white disparity for drug crimes remains extreme.But the narrowing of that gap since the mid-1990s — right around the passage of the 1994 crime bill, which is often blamed for the spike in black incarceration — has been nearly as sharp. And in 2000, something else happened: White people started getting locked up for drugs more often. From 2000 to 2009, the black imprisonment rate for drug offenses fell by 16 percent. For white people, it climbed by nearly 27 percent, according to BJS.What explains this? There is no reliable national data breaking down how many drug offenders are in prison for which particular substances. But experts hypothesize that it may have to do with the waning of one epidemic — crack, which devastated black communities in the 1980s and 1990s — and the emergence of another — meth and opioids, both used in greater numbers by whites more recently. Such a theory may also explain why the narrowing of the racial gap has been more dramatic among women, who are disproportionately incarcerated for drug crimes, according to the Sentencing Project.

3) White people have also faced declining socioeconomic prospects, leading to more criminal justice involvement. Starting around 2000, whites started going to prison more often for property offenses: robbery, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft, forgery, counterfeiting and selling or buying stolen property, often categorized as crimes of poverty. From 2000 to 2009, black incarceration for those crimes dropped nine percent, the BJS numbers show. It went up by 21 percent for whites.Explanations for this shift are also speculative. But some analyses suggest that an overall decline in life prospects for white people over the past few decades has also led an increase in lawbreaking among that population, especially crimes of poverty. One much discussed study by economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton found that between 1998 and 2013 — precisely when these racial shifts in incarceration were occurring — white Americans saw their rates of mortality, suicide and alcohol and drug abuse spike acutely.Yet that cannot be the whole explanation for the rise in white incarceration rates. African Americans have long been worse off on most of those socioeconomic metrics: jobs lost to automation and globalization, homes lost to the 2008 mortgage crisis, declining unionization and wages, loans denied. Perhaps, says Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, whites are just newer to the experience of poverty, which could explain why their rates of drug use, property crime and incarceration have ticked up so suddenly.

4) Criminal justice reform has been happening in cities, where more black people live, but not in rural areas. Starting in 2000, the rate of prison population growth in the United States finally began to slow, thanks not only to declining crime but also to efforts at reform. These have included treatment alternatives for drug offenders, sentence reductions for inmates who participate in educational programming, reentry services for former inmates and reduced sanctions for technical violations of parole.Yet this is a tale of two Americas: urban and rural. From 2006 to 2014, according to a recent analysis by the New York Times, annual prison admissions plummeted in major cities such as Los Angeles and Brooklyn, due largely to criminal justice reform. But in counties with fewer than 100,000 people, the incarceration numbers have actually risen even as crime declined. People in rural districts are now 50 percent more likely to be sent to prison than are city dwellers, as local prosecutors and judges there have largely avoided the current wave of reform.

New York offers an illustrative example. It reduced its incarcerated population more than any other state during the 2000s — but almost entirely through reductions in the far more diverse New York City, not in the whiter and more sparsely populated areas of the state.Even with all of these factors at work, the racial inequity of the American prison system remains vast and continues to wreak devastation on black and Latino communities nationwide. At the current rate, the disparities would not fully disappear for many decades. Even more troubling, racial divides in the juvenile justice system are getting significantly worse. In 2003, black youth were incarcerated at 3.7 times the rate of white youth; by 2013, that number had grown to 4.3.

As Michelle Alexander wrote to The Marshall Project in 2015:

Until we learn the true value of the lives we have wasted, and until we truly reckon with our nation’s history… and until we muster, as a nation, a willingness to invest heavily in the communities that have suffered the most, we will find ourselves in an endless cycle of reform and retrenchment — periods of apparent progress followed by the creation of new systems of racial and social control.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

King County (Seattle) Bans Solitary for Juveniles

In a unanimous vote recently, the King County Council banned the use of solitary confinement for youth offenders. This comes less than two months after we first told you about a lawsuit filed by the families of four juveniles, who allege their children were put in solitary confinement for up to three days at a time, as punishment.



“It’s wrong and should not happen,” said Nick Straley, a staff attorney at Columbia Legal Services in Seattle.

The group filed suit against the county in October, but Vice Chair of King County Council Rod Dembowski said under its watch youth solitary confinement is now banned in King County.

“What we are trying to do with young people, it’s more about getting them back on track. A solitary confinement practice really causes permanent and irreparable harm,” said Dembowski.

In a news release, the County Council said there is a growing national consensus that placing juveniles in solitary confinement is inhumane. According to a the Council’s news release, “The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has noted that even short periods of isolation often have serious long-term mental health impacts on juveniles, and research shows that solitary confinement does not reduce behavioral incidents and may increase aggressive or violent behavior by youth.

The suit against the county alleges four juveniles were held in solitary confinement for days on end.

“They were receiving only an hour out of every three days and in certain cases they were only getting out only 15 minutes every three days, that is simply a barbaric practice and is shouldn’t happen to anyone,” said Straley.

The allegations came as surprise to Dembowski.

“I was under the impression we didn’t have solitary confinement for your people in detention,” said Dembowski.

He said solitary confinement has never been a practice at the Juvenile Detention Center in Seattle, but he learned through the lawsuit the confinement allegations are centered at The Regional Justice Center in Kent, where juveniles or auto-declined cases – that is youth charged with adult crimes are awaiting adult court.

“Those youth are separated from the adult population at these facilities, but solitary confinement/isolation has also been used for these young offenders where it is not at the Youth Services Center,” according to the Council’s news release.

“I read the allegation in the complaint that described young people being held 72 hours at a time, with little exercise, interaction and next to nothing of an education component and it upset me it’s not the right thing we’re doing here it’s not the right approach,” insisted Dembowski.

While Straley called the ordinance an excellent first step he told Council members during a public comment period prior to the vote, that the solitary confinement ban should extend to teens who commit crimes when they’re 18.

“An 18th birthday is no more than a date,” said Straley, who is hoping for subsequent legislation.

The measure now goes to County Executive Dow Constantine and could go into effect between now and July First.

The ordinance prohibits solitary confinement of juveniles except when it’s deemed necessary for safety and security.

The Council is also moving forward with a recommended framework to reach the goal of zero youth detention for its new youth jail which is currently under construction.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

4-Week Re-entry Classes Prepare Georgia Inmates


Rick Rubisch/The Newnan Times-Herald

Rick Rubisch/The Newnan Times-Herald

Going to prison is tough – but leaving prison and succeeding outside the walls can also be a struggle – especially for people with a criminal record that can make getting jobs and housing difficult. To ease that transition and help set inmates up for success, the Coweta County Prison is holding four-week “Re-entry” classes for inmates who are nearing their release date.


The prison just graduated its second class.The classes are part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal justice reform package. The primary goal is to reduce recidivism.

“The state wants everybody to do it, but every prison doesn’t,” said Deputy Warden Larry Clifton. “This is something we took on.”

Clifton became deputy warden in April, and he and Warden Bill McKenzie discussed several programs that McKenzie wanted to start, including a GED program and the re-entry class.

The GED classes started in June and are led by inmates Johnny Anderson and Rick Rubisch – whom some have given the nickname “Professor.”

“It is on their own time. It isn’t their job – it is something they choose to do,” Clifton said of the inmate instructors.

Capt. Ryan Alexander, one of the prison’s counselors, oversees the re-entry program.

“Alexander has done a great job,” Clifton said. “He and Rubisch worked together and got this thing going.”

The state puts out a guide for re-entry classes, and Alexander said they have tailored the program to fit the setup of the Coweta County Prison.

Inmates learn about the barriers they are going to face upon release, as well as tools and resources to help overcome those barriers, Alexander said. Those include job searching skills, goal setting, managing finances and furthering their education. Classes are two hours a week for four weeks.

For the first class, representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s office and a former federal prison inmate visited for a screening of a documentary, “Released: When does the Sentence End.” In the documentary, ex-offenders are interviewed about the hurdles they face and what they did to overcome those challenges.

“They present the truth: there are going to be hurdles,” Alexander said. When a prospective employer sees that an applicant has been in prison, “it brings up a huge wall.”

The documentary and the former inmate are there to tell the inmates – “don’t let it stop you. Keep pushing, keep wanting to get to that goal,” Alexander said.

For the second week, representatives from the Georgia Department of Labor visit and talk about all the resources and programs that the DOL has for former inmates.

Through the Top Step federal bonding program, employers can hire inmates without worrying about financial liability. There are also some tax credits available.

Re-entry students also get help on resume writing, and have a resume to take when them when released.

In the evenings, after everyone is back from work details, lots of work goes on for resumes and GED classes. “There’s a lot of homework involved,” Rubisch said “We have some that are study-aholics.”

“I can’t say enough about Rubisch,” Clifton said. “He’s a really smart man who has a huge heart to help people. He gets them fired up, and he gets them to dedicate all this extra time – it’s not something we make them do.”

“A lot of these guys will say ‘I’ve never written a resume, I’ve never been in a job interview,’” Alexander said. The re-entry classes “give them the tools and a chance to be able to go do that – not just getting released and saying, ‘Well, what now?’”

Representatives from the Department of Community Supervision, which oversees parole and probation, come out to talk to inmates about how probation and parole will work once they get out, how they can help them, and about how to get housing.

Week three is about finances and goal setting. Inmates work on setting a budget and talk about education opportunities.

“For a lot of these guys – just as for some people on the outside – they’ve never really done a budget,” Alexander said. “For anybody, it helps to see where your finances are coming in or going out. It’s more stuff to help them get back into a regular life.”

In the final week, “We do 10-minute mock interviews with each person,” Alexander said. “Some of us from the facility come in, and we try to invite other people from the Department of Community Supervision to come in and help with interviews.”

They tell the inmates to expect to get asked about their time in prison.

“Nobody wants to put this on their resume, even though this is probably the most valuable experience they have,” Rubisch said.

“We say don’t lie about it – use it as a way to sell yourself,” Alexander said. Through the work details at the Coweta County Prison, many inmates learn marketable skills, including road work, heavy equipment operation and automobile repair.

Inmates are asked to talk about their strengths and weakness, and after the interview they are critiqued about better ways to answer certain questions.

Rubisch said a primary goal in the class is to keep it real. “Sometimes people have this illusion that everything is going to be great when they get out of here. They don’t realize the people that they left out there are expecting a change.”

If you don’t change your way of thinking, you could be right back in prison, he said.

“Somebody’s got to care about these guys,” Rubisch said. “It’s very important what they do here.”

And, it’s fun, he added.

According to Clifton, some of the younger inmates have never really worked.

The classes help them understand what it is going to be like to go out and find a job and how they will need to act. “That is huge,” Clifton said.

Some of the students get excited and put in a lot of extra time on their resumes. “It gives them that hope that there is something outside of prison,” Clifton said.

And some are just ready to get out.

Clifton says the re-entry classes seek to show the inmates that there are tools available to help them have a life outside the prison walls.

“It puts them in a different mindset of what life should be and can be once they are released,” Clifton said.

Alexander and the prison’s other counselor, Lathel Gardner, took the program and ran with it, Clifton said. “I want my people to have credit for that. They work hard for it.”

“As a prison, one of our main priorities is keeping the community safe and helping to get these guys a good start – that is why we’re doing that,” Alexander said.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

As Face of Homelessness Changes, So Must Resources

We have come a long way since homelessness among women was not considered to be a problem, but we still have a long way to go. It wasn’t that long ago that programs for the homeless were exclusively for men. The assumption was that all a homeless woman had to do was find a man to take her in and take care of her.

We’ve left those attitudes behind and today there is increasing emphasis on helping homeless women. One good example is Room in the Inn, in Asheville, NC. which takes in women and pairs them with case managers to transition into permanent housing.

Room in the Inn, operated by Homeward Bound, helps up to 12 women at a time. Housing is provided by local churches. Clients at the moment include Pam Pressley, a 42-year-old who became homeless after her marriage and a subsequent relationship collapsed. She tried the Western Carolina Rescue Mission shelter, but didn’t fit in with the regimen:

I had never been homeless before and I needed to figure out how I ended up here and I just wanted to move forward with my life. But I couldn’t do that with the strict requirements of the shelter, working long days, so I had to get out of there.

Her goal is to go back to school to become a nurse after moving into an apartment of her own. “This has all taught me how tough I am and what it means to be a strong woman,” she said.

Pressley is on her way to escaping from homelessness, but there are many others not so fortunate. A significant proportion of Asheville’s homeless population, which numbers more than 500, are women. Roughly 30 percent of homeless women escaped abusive relationships, which means that going back “home” is not at option.

Various agencies are working to meet the need. The Rescue Mission has overnight facilities for both women and families Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministries has Steadfast House, temporary transitional housing for female veterans and children.

But the need is growing, especially for programs of some duration. Clients at Room in the inn may stay as long as nine months

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

, and they are not necessarily people such as Pressley, who was homeless only for a short period of time. Consider alumna Donna Ball, who was homeless for 13 years, generally living off her sister and men with whom she lived:

I grew up with parents who were vocal about the fact I was a mistake and that they didn’t want me, so I started using heroin at 11 years old to escape my life.

Today, she lives in her own apartment and has a full-time job working with children and adults with autism. She is married and has a relationship with her children. She has been clean of drugs ever since her first night at Room in the Inn in 2011.

“I knew she was going to make it,” said Sharon Blythe, who since 2009 has been Room in the Inn’s volunteer programs director. “She was honest from the get-go and wanted to get her life back.”

We need more success stories such as Donna Ball’s. Move for Hunger reports that “on a given night, nearly 20 percent of the homeless population had serious mental illness or conditions related to chronic substance abuse.”

That doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands. It means that we get moving. We need more facilities on the model of Room in the Inn, which provide long-term housing and counseling. More and more, we will need entities specializing in those with drug and alcohol problems or mental-health issues.

Room in the Inn is doing a great job but it can’t solve the problem alone.

Susan Lankford’s book “Born, Not Raised” Garners Praise at

Susan Madden Lankford’s book Born, Not Raised: Voices from Juvenile Hall has, since its 2012 publication, earned enthusiastic praise at the website Back in 2012, a reader identified as “Videoclimber” effused:

This book should be required reading for anyone who works with children. Teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, doctors and nurses, foster parents, church workers, and anyone who cares about children will benefit from reading this book. This is not a fun read, but it is very educational and will leave you wanting to help children in some way, shape, or form. These kids, whose drawings and writings are shown throughout the book, are all crying out for love, guidance, and acceptance. Ms. Lankford does a wonderful job of showing us the feelings and reasoning behind the lives of these children.

That same year, “Susan (aka Just My Op)” wrote:

This book and the two others of the trilogy, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes and DownTown U.S.A, should be required reading for anyone who knows people, judges people, or cares about the marginalized of our society.

In this newest book, Susan and daughter Polly tackle the prickly problem of teens who are living in Juvenile Hall, essentially prison for children. Ms. Lankford’s photography is astounding. Her writing is beautiful. But most importantly, she lets the people she and Polly interview speak for themselves.

She has asked some of these teens to write stories or write about themselves or answer questionnaires. That she printed the actual written responses made these writings all the more powerful. Violence, heartbreak, hardened shells hiding broken children, it’s all there for the reading. The photos in the book, both those taken by Ms. Lankford and those taken by others and used for children to write about, are perfect.

This trilogy is so full of compassion and understanding without crossing that treacherous line into being maudlin. The author doesn’t excuse the behavior but explains it. When I read the first book, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, about incarcerated women, I was very impressed but I doubted Ms. Lankford’s ability to live up to that first book. Silly me. The second,DownTown U.S.A., about homelessness, affected me even more. By the time I got to this book, I expected great things and I was not disappointed. I highly recommend it as well as the other two.

That same year, “Emily,” who also gave the book a perfect five-star rating, wrote:

I’m gonna need about a hundred more copies of this book. As a person who is currently transitioning from being a Chemical Dependency Social Worker to being a Children’s Mental Health Social Worker, I found it incredibly timely and useful. The insight into the contributing factors and developmental arrests that lead to juvenile incarceration and dependency on the system was remarkable. The sadness the reader feels as discovering the thoughts and dreams, however stunted, these kids have chosen to share is heartbreaking. One can tell that just by listening to these kids, the author and her daughter have made a difference in their lives, which just goes to show how needy these kids are and how little it would really take to help them be successful. Unfortunately in our society, enough importance is not placed here, where it should be. Politicians pay a lot of lip service to ‘children are our future’ but then funnel the dollars to back up that statement every other place possible. This book would go a long way to raise awareness if every elected leader would just read it.

Two years later, Kristine Hansen, in another five-star review, wrote:

Deep book. More so than I had expected.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

I had thought in picking this up that I would see some stories, maybe some pictures from kids in juvenile detention. I hadn’t expected the psychology – so deep at times, and then so well explained – that would give this book so much depth. And would teach me so much.

I find myself fascinated by the accounts. And motivated to want to do something to make a difference in the lives of young people who are all hurting so much.

I guess I find this a little bit daunting. Some of these youth are already hardened criminals at such a young age. But how can you read such a thing and walk away, unchanged?

This is the beginning of our journey into foster care. I hadn’t expected this book to have anything at all to do with the research I’ve been doing in preparation to opening our home to youth in crises. Here, something that caught my eye and that I’d picked up randomly, lent something important to my studies, and opened my eyes to things that maybe I’d shied away from. I’m thankful to the author for creating this book. And thankful as well that I’d felt that nudge and obeyed in picking it up.

Seven other readers awarded it five stars. Finally, in 2016, “Lisa” summarized:

A really sad but true look at the lives of those inside Juvenile Hall – especially those frequent fliers.

Chicago Jail Seeks to Reduce Births Behind Bars Due to High Bail

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) this summer drafted legislation aimed at reducing the number of babies born in Illinois jails by providing alternatives to incarceration. With the sponsorship of several Chicago Democrats, HB 1464 cleared the statehouse recently with wide bipartisan support in a 106-8 vote; the bill moves to the state senate, where it’s expected to pass with similar support.

Photo by Scott Olso/Getty Images

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The bill would amend the state’s criminal code so that pregnant women who are arrested and likely to give birth before their release or their transfer to a state prison are deferred from jail via counseling, unsecured bonds that don’t require cash or collateral, electronic monitoring (EM), and other alternatives.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said:

Keeping nonviolent pregnant women in jail through their due date because they’re too poor to bond out defies common sense, reason, and thoughtfulness. Lots of things in a perfect pregnancy require a lot of different things to change in someone’s life: eating habits, stress reduction, and access to medical care. You don’t want people to do that while in jail. And for the morons who say ‘Well, then [the women] shouldn’t commit an offense’—some of these women are in here on traffic violations.

The issue came into public focus this June, when 25-year-old Karen Padilla was jailed while seven-and-a-half months pregnant. Chicago police pulled Padilla over for a broken headlight and arrested her on an outstanding warrant for twice violating probation stemming from a 2015 retail theft.

Cara Smith, chief policy adviser to the CCSO, said the case came to their attention because they were looking at people in the jail who had long continuances—court date delays that are common in the Cook County system, particularly where low-income defendants are concerned. The details of this detainment spurred the sheriff’s office to act.

“We were left thinking, ‘How in the hell did anyone sleep at night knowing we were sentencing a nonviolent probation offender to give birth to her firstborn in jail?’” Smith said.

Cook County Jail, the largest single-site jail in the country, held nearly 300 pregnant women in pretrial custody in the year spanning April 2016 to May 2017. The majority of those women were held in jail before their trial date because they couldn’t afford bail; 17 of them gave birth while in custody.

The Vera Institute’s Kristine Riley, who co-authored the 2016 “Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform” report with Swavola, said:

Even though women make up the fastest-growing segment of the correctional population, jails and prisons have yet to really focus on the needs of this demographic. Across the board, jails tend to not have sufficient resources for women’s health; it can be a challenge to get even pads or tampons. There’s really not a lot of focus on pregnant women in particular; there are instances of women giving birth in jail without proper care—and having miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies.

The dangers to pregnant women are especially acute in rural jails. They tend to have even fewer resources [and] less staffing; the local hospital might be farther away.

While Cook County Jail has a medical wing and administers pregnancy tests to incoming female detainees, Dart said pregnant women are better off not being in his jail unless their charges mean they “absolutely have to be.”

“It wasn’t that long ago that I was in the delivery room,” said Dart, a father of five. “At no point did I think a viable option would be to do it in a corrections setting—even in a hospital wing of a corrections setting—and then shortly after the actual birth, wheel the women out of the room, the baby [sometimes] goes into the foster care system, and the woman goes into her jail cell.”

One notable limitation of the bill is that it won’t keep all pregnant women out of local Illinois jails—just the ones who can’t afford bail and whose pretrial detention is scheduled to extend past their delivery date.

The sheriff’s office conceded that the proposed legislation only targets women likely to give birth in jail and doesn’t address women who spend a significant portion of their pregnancy in jail but are released before they deliver.

Noted CCSO spokesperson Sam Randall:

We are looking to expand this. It is phase one of sorts; we’re looking at ways to address pregnant women in general, but wanted to start here, since [giving birth] is one of the more traumatic experiences a woman can experience in detention.

Randall said judges or the county health provider are likely to be the ultimate arbiters determining a pregnant defendant’s risk of giving birth in jail; in Cook County, for example, the Health and Hospitals System or Cermak, the jail’s health facility, will determine which women are at risk.

There are currently no states that have laws specifically aimed at reducing the number of pregnant women in jail across the board. And while the number of women likely to give birth in jail custody is estimated to be small, Dart said the effect of a single jail birth can be significant for the child, the mother, the community, and taxpayers.

“If you can do anything you can from avoiding a child being taken away from its birth family and given to a foster family, you better do it,” he said.

Dart also anticipates the number of births in his jail will drop dramatically following a Cook County judge’s July order to reform cash bail. His proposed legislation is aimed at the rest of Illinois’ counties, where pregnant women are still likely to be held in pretrial custody because they’re too poor to afford bail.

“A lot of this is out of the control of sheriffs because a lot of things come into play before their role, like the arrest and the charges,” Swavola said.

Forcing a legislative issue would ideally create systemic changes at varying levels of law enforcement and the criminal justice system, ranging from the kind of charges and sentences prosecutors recommend to alternative measures judges could pursue instead of incarceration.

Dart said that he’s leaning on his past experience as a prosecutor and lawmaker to come up with alternatives to incarceration that state legislators and district attorneys can get behind.

Instead of pretrial detention, Dart suggested pregnant women who would otherwise be at risk of giving birth in jail while they await their court date could be given r-bonds, where an arrestee is released on their promise to return to court, or i-bonds, where an arrestee pays no money for release, but faces a cash penalty if they fail to appear in court.

Dart said if a judge has concerns about lifestyles such as alcohol abuse adversely affecting a pregnancy, a woman could be released with mandated counseling or doctor appointments—”a range of things that are better than incarceration.”

Swavola and Riley support alternatives like pretrial supervision and voluntary treatment or services. They generally discourage electronic monitoring, one of the most well-known alternatives to pretrial detention, because it can be overly restrictive for pregnant women who may need to make unscheduled doctor visits, errands, or visits with family. In some jails (though not in Cook County), individuals must also pay for the use of a court-ordered ankle monitor.

“We find most women are coming in to jail for low-level charges like drug use and disorderly conduct,” Swavola said. “You wouldn’t need EM for most of these women.”

Dart conceded that electronic monitoring isn’t a perfect solution for diverting pregnant women from jail, but noted that if it is necessary, the jail can shut off the monitor for periods at a time so that women can visit the doctor, go to work, or even visit with family.

“We can be really flexible, but EM is definitely not the first choice as an alternative to incarceration,” he said.

Smith, the sheriff’s chief policy adviser, expressed confidence that the team’s proposal will pass.

“It should sail through, absent any legislative goofiness,” Smith said. She suspected that when lawmakers take a closer look at how existing policies are affecting pregnant women and their newborn babies, they’ll be motivated to make changes. “No one should deliver a baby in jail. Period.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Pathfinders of Oregon Receives $1.3 Million in Federal Grants for Reentry Programs

Pathfinders of Oregon was recently awarded two federal grants under the Second Chance Act Grant program. Totaling $1.3 million, the grants will fund the development and implementation of two pre- and post-release intervention programs over the next three years, and will serve over 200 incarcerated parents returning to Multnomah County. New funding comes in addition to a current $420,000 federal grant that supports 60 young fathers through the Successful Fathers, Successful Families reentry mentoring project.Pathfinders

Through comprehensive support services that include case management, peer mentoring, gender-responsive trauma intervention and parenting classes, Pathfinders’ existing and new programming will work collaboratively across systems to address the significant barriers parents face in returning to the community and successfully reintegrating with their families.
The Holistically Responsive Reentry Program will serve over 150 men and women of all ages, and includes pre-release trauma intervention. The Strong Together: Young Moms & Their Kids project will specifically address the needs of at least 45 young mothers under age 25. Both programs are designed to support releasing individuals at each stage of reentry, and to address their unique needs in a way that prevents further traumatic exposure as they become positive, pro-social community members. Peer mentoring and case management services will prepare participants for release and help them to acquire the skills and access the resources they need to successfully transition back into the community.

Joseph Tietz, PhD, Executive Director of Pathfinders of Oregon. said:

With this significant multiyear funding from the Federal Department of Justice, we will be able to expand our innovative, best-practice and evidence-based interventions for individuals and families impacted by the criminal justice system. It is rare for a single local non-profit to receive three federal grants in one period. This funding speaks to our commitment to high-quality, impactful, trauma-informed programming, to our strong collaboration with the Oregon Department of Corrections and Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, and to our extremely dedicated and talented staff.

A unique feature of the Holistically Responsive Reentry Program is the inclusion of a pre-release cognitive-behavioral trauma intervention program to help individuals understand the impact of the trauma they have experienced, and develop coping and calming skills. Providing parents with these skills prepares them to participate more fully in post-release interventions and reduces the likelihood of recidivism. Research has shown that unaddressed trauma, such as poverty, emotional and physical abuse, an unstable living environment, substance abuse, mental health issues, and unstable family relationships, can undermine the effectiveness of programs intended to reduce criminogenic behaviors.

Truls Neal, Deputy Director of the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, said:

The big winners in this will be the children, who through no fault of their own, endure a loss of a parent in their lives. We are looking forward to working with Pathfinders as they address this critical transition need of parents returning from prison.

Post-release services will include ongoing peer mentoring and case management using the EPICS-I model, collaboration with Parole and Probation Officers and other service providers, advocacy and referral. Parents also will participate in Pathfinders’ evidence-based Parenting Inside Out program. Participants will have access to the resources available at the Center for Family Success, such as childcare during parenting classes, meals and snacks for parents and children, and referral to other agencies and resources. Center services intentionally focus on parenting and family, an area individuals value and are intrinsically motivated to engage in.

The new programs will establish an infrastructure that provides stability for parents as they navigate across systems and face challenging barriers to reentry. If found to be effective, the proposed intervention is designed to be easily and broadly replicable both by Pathfinders and other organizations across the country, further advancing the state of Oregon as a national leader in reentry service improvement and criminal justice reform.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Anchorage Tries Coordinated Homelessness Plan

Anchorage has a plan to end homelessness, but its implementation is just beginning. And as community leaders dig into the details of solving one of the city’s toughest problems, getting everyone on the same page is bound to get messy. So they’re starting with a conversation.

On Monday, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz called together a group of community leaders from social service organizations, businesses, and statewide agencies. In his conference room on the top floor of City Hall, he explained that a lot of money is going toward helping people who are experiencing homelessness:

Even though we are expending resources now, we aren’t making the necessary investments to turn the corner and solve the problem. We are simply managing the problem.

“In order to solve the problem everyone in the room, and the community as a whole, needs to stop competing for financial resources and start focusing on collaboration.

“It’s about finding a way to use the resources we have separately and finding a way of combining them.

Anchorage Homelessness Plan (Courtesy Nancy Burke) with heat maps showing homeless camps

Anchorage Homelessness Plan (Courtesy Nancy Burke) with heat maps showing homeless camps

During the leadership meeting, presenters offered a graphic of how the system needs to change. Up until recently, getting people housing and services has been fragmented – go one place for food, another for temporary shelter. Organizations were working in silos. Housing was given out on a first-come-first-served basis to people who met certain requirements. Some people who stay at Brother Francis Shelter say they’ve been waiting for months and sometimes years for housing and have had to apply to multiple agencies. They just give up.

Michele Brown,president of the United Way of Anchorage, has played a key role in developing the community plan to end homelessness. She said the new plan calls for something different:

The heart of the local plan to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-reoccurring is tailored services to everyone’s unique needs because everyone has their own story and their own reasoning. But Anchorage also needs housing stock. We need to have more affordable housing. And you need to stay with people when they are in that housing long enough to have them become self-sufficient.

That means more outreach to learn about each person’s needs and desires, so they can be quickly matched with appropriate resources.

Though the coordinated plan is just starting now, the city has found housing for about 400 people since mid-2015. But it’s too soon to say if all of them will be able to keep that housing.

Part of the Anchorage Plan to End Homelessness includes an open data portal with things like heat maps showing where many homeless camps are reported to be.

Community leaders at the mayor’s meeting – many of whom work directly in the field – sat in small groups discussing what needs to happen before this plan can really be effective.

Jim Nordlund is the executive director of NeighborWorks Alaska, which provides affordable housing. He said his organization doesn’t have time to track what every other nonprofit is up to:

I know what we do at NeighborWorks Alaska, but I’m not really sure what all the other organizations do. And somewhere somebody should put a matrix together or something to figure out, ‘Ok, this is what all the organizations do,’ and see where the gaps are.

The day after the first leadership team meeting, I went a few blocks northeast of City Hall to the Brother Francis Shelter and Bean’s Café campus. Most people I spoke to there had no idea there was a new plan for helping people get out of homelessness.

A man who only goes by Birdman said he liked aspects of the plan, like the idea of getting people into housing even before they’re sober and making sure they have support networks in place. But he said that should only happen for a limited period of time.

But Birdman, who has been waiting for housing for three years, says providing highly subsidized or free housing only works on a temporary basis:

If we permanently house them, all we’re doing is enabling them. We’re saying, ‘It’s ok.’ Smack them on the wrist and keep going. No.

He himself has been looking for housing for three years, though he remains hopeful. He said people should have to work for their housing.

But Samantha Coyle, who is also homeless, said the city just needs to get roofs over people’s heads, without any restrictions:

If somebody’s got their own place, let them have the dignity and respect to make their own decisions. Too many rules, especially about visitors, lead people to leave their housing and return to the streets.

She said providing housing first will solve many of the problems and will reduce the number of people abusing substances. But if she was really in charge of the plan to end homelessness? She’d build more affordable housing. Lots of it, she said.

Luckily for Coyle, that’s already part of the plan.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

California Enacts Juvenile Justice Reforms

Gov. Jerry Brown Recently signed nine bills to aid young people facing charges and serving time, a victory for a statewide coalition of criminal justice groups that brought together celebrities and former youth offenders in a push to divert children from a path to prison.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford


California inmates serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles will get a chance at leaving prison under one of several criminal justice bills signed into law recently by Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislation conforms state law to recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions banning mandatory life sentences for those under 18 convicted of murder.

SB394 automatically gives the offenders a chance at parole after 25 years, though there’s no guarantee they will be released. State officials said about three dozen offenders will be eligible for hearings over the next three years.

The new laws will increase parole opportunities and ease punishment for people who committed crimes as children or teens. They will allow courts to seal certain juvenile records and limit the administrative fees that counties charge families with children in juvenile detention.

Five of the bills were part of a package of proposals introduced at the beginning of the year by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). The legislation, they said, was based on studies showing that adolescent brains have not fully matured and research that found court practices and fines disproportionately affect low-income and black and Latino children. Mitchell said:

Sadly, too many poor kids and kids of color today are more likely to end up as victims of the juvenile justice system. If one believes that our children will be tomorrow’s leaders then we must look through a child-development lens.

Among supporters of the juvenile justice legislation was media commentator Van Jones. A nonprofit co-founded by Jones, #cut50, is working to revamp criminal justice policies and sponsored some of the bills, including a measure that will allow offenders who committed a crime before the age of 23 to apply for the youth offender parole process.

Jessica Jackson, national director and co-founder of #cut50, said she and Jones plan to embark on “a listening tour” in the 10 counties in California that have seen the largest upticks in crime, including Los Angeles, Alameda and San Bernardino.

Their hope is to gather with local elected officials, law enforcement and business leaders to discuss what their communities need to implement the legislation and to ensure offenders are not revolving through jail or prison doors.

“This is a historic victory that brings us one step closer to justice for youth,” Jackson said of the legislation’s approval.

Advocates made some early gains. One bill signed by Brown in July requires defendants to pay for their court-appointed lawyers only if they have been convicted of a crime.

Among the most significant bills recently signed is one that limits cities and counties from collecting fees from families with children under 21 in juvenile detention.

Under its provisions, parents and legal guardians will no longer be liable for the costs of transporting minors to juvenile justice facilities or for their food, shelter, drug tests or other care while there.

Those fees vary widely by county, and momentum to revamp the payment systems had been building as the burdens on families steadily continued to climb. Juvenile hall costs range from $3.18 to $49 a day, while daily charges for electronic monitoring are between $3.50 and $30.

At least four counties — Los Angeles, Alameda, Santa Clara and Contra Costa — have repealed or suspended their collection of fees, according to a study released in March by the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley Law School.

That analysis found that many counties engage in fee practices that violate state and federal laws, while some make little revenue or even lose money due to the work it takes to obtain payments from parents and guardians.

Among vocal critics of the court fees is California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. More than 60% of the $1.7 billion generated by the payments goes to fund court programs and services at the state and local levels, she said last year in her judiciary address to the Legislature.

“We have a system of fines and fees that has morphed from a system of accountability to a system that raises revenue for essential government services,” she said.

Among the former youth offenders to applaud the changes was Joel Aguilar, who told lawmakers at a hearing that he was sentenced to life without parole at 17 for his involvement in a robbery and a murder. After serving 25 years in prison, he is now a college student studying philosophy.

“My punishment told me that I was unworthy of redemption,” he said in a statement. “But as I began to meet people who were good, talented, sensitive and generous, I began to believe that I could do good in the world.”

The high court last year ruled that nearly all juvenile offenders should eventually have a chance at parole unless their crime reflects a “permanent incorrigibility.” The justices, and lawmakers backing the bill, cited juvenile offenders’ lack of development and potential for change.

A related bill expands the state’s youthful parole program, which already requires that inmates who were under 23 when they committed their crimes be considered for parole after serving at least 15 years. AB1308 raises the age to 25.

California lawmakers have also filed a package of bills in an attempt to divert children from a school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately affects low-income and black and Latino families.

Sens. Mitchell and Lara  have introduced eight proposals that would extend protections for children facing arrest or detention and ease punishment and burdensome fees for those inside the juvenile justice system. Mitchell and Lara said they wanted their legislation to center on prevention, rehabilitation and keeping families together.

Mitchell said:

Jail is no place for a child under 11. Children are not pint-sized adults. They have a developmental process that they go through to grow into adults. So, for us to expect that a child will have the same judgment, understanding of legal terminology is simply naive.

One of the juvenile justice bills filed this legislative session would take those protections further, requiring people younger than 18 to consult with an attorney before waiving their constitutional rights in interviews with police.

Other proposals would prohibit authorities from incarcerating children 11 and younger and mandate that judges cannot sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole. 

A report released in February by Human Impact Partners, a research and advocacy organization, found black and Latino children made up 88% of young people tried as adults.

The latest victory for criminal justice advocates was Proposition 57, which will now require a judge’s approval before most juvenile defendants can be tried in an adult court.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford