Alaska Vocational Education Improves Inmate Confidence, Prospects

In Alaska, two-thirds of people who leave prison end up going back within three years. Former inmates who can find decent jobs within a year of release are half as likely to re-offend, according to an Alaska Department of Labor report.
So how does the Department of Corrections want to cut recidivism? By teaching the trades.

Wesley Nicholl/Photo by Anne Hillman, Alaska Public Media

Wesley Nicholl/Photo by Anne Hillman, Alaska Public Media

Wesley Nicoll is learning carpentry as he nears the end of his sentence at Wildwood Correctional Center in Kenai. Nicoll said it’s an important supplement to the substance abuse treatment he’s received while incarcerated. “To keep my hands busy — I feel ready to be productive when I get out,” he said. It’s a huge change from his last release three years ago. “Before I was just getting released and being relatively aimless.”

Nicoll has been in and out of prison for about 12 years, mostly for drug-related crimes. He developed an addiction to opioids after a couple of severe injuries.
In the past, he was released without feeling like he developed any skills or support systems in prison.
“The last time I got out, looking for work and getting turned away multiple times, it got extremely frustrating,” he said. “After so long, I just kind of gave up and went back to what I knew,” using and selling drugs.
Which is what Department of Corrections staff, like vocational instructor Tim Ward, are trying to prevent. Two years ago, Wildwood didn’t offer much to help prepare people for release.

Ward walked through the vocational education center, which is still in a state of expansion.
“This building used to be a storage area. It was just full of racks with pallets of junk,” he said, laughing at the memory. Now it has a new classroom, a small area for carpentry, and extensive metalworking tools. Ward has his students build practical items that can be used, like sheds and barbeque grills. They even built the booths they learn to weld in. Participants can earn national certifications, too.

“The whole hope is they can get out of prison, get a job, and not come back. And this is the tool for that,” he said.

Wildwood Superintendent Shannon McCloud said the vocational education program is just an example of ways corrections institutions across Alaska are trying to be more than just punitive warehouses for people. There’s a push for more programs in every state prison that help inmates develop the skills they need to re-enter society and stay there.

McCloud, who has worked in corrections for more than 27 years, says:

The whole idea of incarceration has changed. I think people realize that these people are going to get out of jail. So, what can we do to put out a better product than what we received? So let’s work with them. Let’s get them out. Let’s try to help them not come back. I mean, that’s our motto.

She said the idea behind the vocational education classes was to give people viable skills to seek jobs, but the program is accomplishing a lot more.
The inmates are “different when they’re over there. I mean, they’re like men. They’re not like these punk kids, ‘cause they know that’s what they’re supposed to be over there. Grow up. Get a skill. Move on,” she said.

And moving on is exactly what Nicholl is doing. When we meet againa month later – it’s at a bustling coffee shop in south Anchorage. He released from Wildwood a week earlier.

Through his family, he’s already received some job offers based on the certifications he earned at Wildwood, but he wants to find a job on his own.
The certifications help, he said.

“It makes me a lot more confident while I’m job searching, that’s for sure.”
He also has a full ride to college starting in January thanks to the help of his Native corporations.
Nicholl said it’s the first time in six years he’s released from prison prepared and sober – and he actually wants to stay that way.

“I spontaneously smile. I spontaneously catch myself laughing because it’s hard to believe it’s real sometimes,” he said, grinning.

He took a sip of his coffee, prepared to look for a job and move on with his life. He said he’s scared but ready.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

San Diego Needs a Permanent Homelessness Policy, Theisen Claims

Members of the Coronado Roundtable were treated to an in-depth look at the problem of homelessness in San Diego recently when Thomas Theisen, the immediate past president of the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness, a retired patent litigation attorney and longtime community volunteer, addressed the issue.

Theisen discussed how other communities such as Houston, Chattanooga, Fresno, and the state of Utah have significantly reduced their situational homeless and chronic homeless populations, the latter defined by the Federal Housing and Urban Development Department, as those who have been homeless for more than twelve months and are disabled. Many cities and some states (Connecticut and Virginia) across America have completely eliminated veteran homelessness.

The situation in San Diego is not as rosy. Total homeless grew from 8,506 in 2014 to 9,116 in 2017. The chronic homeless population grew from 1007 to 1750 (an increase of 72 percent) during the same period, and is especially serious. Veteran homeless population decreased from over 600 in 2015 to 454 in 2017, but is still a major problem.

While San Diego was a pioneer in transitional housing like Father Joe’s Village, which provides dormitory-style accommodations for 12-18 months, Theisen said such programs are generally not successful. They create a revolving door for the homeless, under-serve the chronic homeless, and provide short-term benefits at best. The same is true of homeless “safe zones” with temporary tent housing.

Theisen said that San Diego’s major problem is the lack of adequate permanent housing for the homeless. It needs to adapt what he calls a “Homeless First” policy, wherein the homeless are immediately moved into permanent, not transitional, housing, and their individual circumstances, such as the cause of their homelessness, substance abuse, and mental illness are subsequently addressed. This “Housing First” policy has been very successful in getting the homeless off the streets in New York and Seattle.

San Diego’s lack of low-income housing is exacerbated by high cost, a lengthy permitting process and, most importantly, its low priority with the local government. It needs a strong advocate and aggressive leadership.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

In closing, Theisen stressed the following points:
-75 percent of San Diego’s homeless are local and 95 percent of the 5000 interviewed in 2017 said they would move off the street if affordable housing were available.
-What should one do when a homeless person asks for money? Reply” I’m sorry, I don’t do that.” Better still, take them to a fast food restaurant and buy them a meal. Giving money may make you feel better, but offers them no benefit.
-The most important thing local citizens can do is support affordable housing and become an advocate for them with their elected representatives.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Californians Want Youth Prisons Closed But Counties Keep Building Them

According to a new poll released recently by the California Endowment, a majority of California residents say they’d like to see all of the state’s juvenile incarceration facilities closed down.

The survey comes at a time when counties are adapting to a significant downturn in youth crime and flagging numbers of young people incarcerated at juvenile camps, halls and ranches across the state. However, the past few years have seen several counties open new or refurbished juvenile detention facilities, a trend that will test the state’s ability to reduce its reliance on incarceration.

Sixty-one percent of respondents said they supported the total closure of youth prisons, though that number increased to 68 percent when prompted by facts about youth incarceration, such as the number of youth incarcerated and the total cost to taxpayers.

Polling was conducted in June 2017, and involved a sample of 1,042 California residents.

An overwhelming majority of respondents favored prevention-based approaches to addressing juvenile delinquency. For example, 89 percent of those polled support restorative justice approaches, while 89 percent agree that those who work with youth should be equipped to understand the impact of childhood trauma on young people. Finally, 88 percent back the idea that communities should invest in youth development programs that include sports, arts and mental health services.

Unlike California’s adult prisons, where the U.S. Supreme Court had to order the state to slash its prison population, county-run juvenile halls and camps are operating at all-time lows.


According to the most recent data available from California’s Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) in December 2015, 110 juvenile detention camps and halls in California held 4,841 youth.

An analysis of BSCC data found that county-run juvenile detention facilities were only 38.4 percent full.

That number of incarcerated youth in California has dropped off in recent years, mirroring a steep decline in youth arrest numbers in California.

David Muhammad, executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform and former chief probation officer for Alameda County, acknowledged that crime trends have led to a decrease in youth incarceration. But he also cited greater awareness of the impact of youth incarceration, particularly among leaders across the state.

Muhammad said:

Even amongst correctional supervisors, board of supervisors members and judges who may not necessarily be card-carrying progressives, they now have information that says detention is harmful to young people, it is very costly, it is also ineffective. That is not a political statement.

In Los Angeles County, which possesses the largest juvenile justice system in the state, the average daily population of its camps and halls slid from 2,270 in 2011 to 1,311 in 2015. Today, Los Angeles County probation officials have indicated that the number may be half as much as in 2015.

But in some counties, the state is still adding beds in youth incarceration facilities. According to a recent count from the BSCC, around 418 are in the process of coming online soon, thanks to money allocated for counties to spend on the construction of new jails under Senate Bill (SB) 81 in 2007.

Under SB 81, also known as California’s juvenile justice realignment bill, the legislators moved the responsibility for holding youth offenders from the state to county-run facilities. The bill also set aside money for two rounds of long-term funding for new or refurbished youth incarceration facilities.

Several of those facilities from the first wave of funding have opened recently, such as the 106-bed Alan M. Crogan Youth Treatment and Education Center in Riverside County, which began serving youth past March thanks to nearly $25 million dollars from the state.

California awarded $16 million to Tuolumne County to build the Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility, a 30-bed juvenile hall that was inaugurated in April in Sonora, Calif.

And last month, Los Angeles County opened doors on the $52 million Campus Kilpatrick, a 120-bed facility in Malibu that probation officials hope will provide a more therapeutic approach to working with youth.

Before the facility opened, the Probation Department announced a plan to shutter six juvenile camps in L.A. County over the next two years in response to the mounting costs, which have risen to $247,000 per year per youth.

A coalition of advocates—including the Children’s Defense Fund, Youth Justice Coalition and others—have called on the Probation Department to further its efforts to cut back its use of juvenile camps and halls, which held more than 3,000 youth on an average day in 2007.

“We urge that as many camps as appropriate are closed to better serve youth and their families – through reducing waste, increasing the probation system’s efficiency and efficacy, repurposing the facilities for alternative use, and shifting cost-savings into community-based investments,” reads a letter penned by coalition members.

Several more juvenile detention facilities are underway using money from SB 81, including facilities being constructed in Santa Clara and Monterey Counties. Brian Goldstein, director of policy for the San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, remains concerned that the money allocated to large juvenile detention facilities could be better used to help high-needs youth at the community level.

He cited a campaign by Salinas-based young advocacy organization MILPA to reduce the number of beds in a new juvenile hall in Monterey County from 150 to 120. The facility is scheduled to open in September 2019. According to Goldstein, that’s an example of how some counties in California are starting the slow process to dial back youth incarceration.

Goldstein said:

In the past, the measurement for what makes communities safer was one-dimensional; it was how many people are incarcerated in these facilities. Now we have a much broader sense of what public safety means, what public health means. I think that’s why you’re seeing more Californians support systematic reform that’s necessary for the state and our communities.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Millennial Women are Poorer, Less Likely to Get STEM Jobs

By Ruchika Tulshyan, a journalist, speaker and author. 

Being a young woman in America today is fraught with more challenges compared with previous generations. Female millennials are facing higher poverty, suicide and incarceration rates than their ancestors.

They are also less likely to occupy high-paying STEM jobs than women in Generation X — a particularly troubling statistic considering the prevalence of these careers today and tomorrow.

These are findings from a just-released report by Population Reference Bureau. The results are both alarming and frightening, juxtaposed against a time where more women are earning degrees and entering the workforce than ever before.

The report found that 17 percent of women aged 30 and 34 today live in poverty, compared with 12 percent of women in Generation X. Maternal mortality is at an all-time high, and the number of women in jail has jumped tenfold since World War II. Women of color are disproportionately affected by these realities.potential

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said:

We have been pushed back, there’s no question. Younger women are really feeling the effects of … a 30-year march to dismantle government agencies, to dismantle government protections, all in the name of free markets.

Without societal and structural changes to advance women, we risk isolating an entire demographic of talented Americans. It’s incumbent upon employers to support millennial women at a time where government policy has often failed. Here are three recommendations for employers willing to address these inequities.

Squash unequal pay in your company. Various studies have shown women earn less than men for the same work. Also significant is how women are less likely to be in high-paying jobs than men. As this report showed, progress on that is slowing in the tech sector: one in four STEM Generation X workers were female, now down to one in five millennial workers. Organizations must run regular pay audits to address gender wage gaps and identify opportunities to propel women into leadership roles that pay more.

Support working families. Washington state celebrated a landmark victory in passing 12 weeks of paid family leave for all employees, but that only goes into effect in 2020. I would encourage employers to make paid family leave available to employees as soon as possible — it’s shameful that 25 percent of women go back to work within two weeks of giving birth. In addition, organizations must explore options to support families with affordable childcare — whether through on-site day care or subsidies. Engaging talented women in the workplace isn’t just a moral question — it makes perfect business sense.

Invest in STEM pipeline development programs. Technology impacts every company today — but the best jobs in the field are leaving out women. Companies can partner with organizations like Ada Developers Academy, which trains women to become software developers or Apprenti, an apprenticeship program aimed at getting underrepresented communities into technology.

We are all responsible for the well-being of American women today and tomorrow. Dire statistics like the ones found in this report don’t just impact women — it’s equally bad for business and society.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford


North Carolina Prisoners Learn to Transcribe Braille

“Seeing dots all day, looking at a computer and going to bed at night, dreaming about dots,” said Malcolm Pfeiffer-El. Allen Mayes, one of his co-workers, added, “Just the idea that the dots on paper, someone can read, it it’s fascinating.”

Pfieffer-El  and Mayes are two of 1,700 prisoners at Scotland Correctional Institution, a men’s prison in Laurinburg, NC who work in the prison’s Braille Transcribing Plant.

Braille is a form of written language for blind people, made of raised dots.

“Once they learn how to form and put those together, it’s just according to how they’re placed or whether or not they have spaces before and after as to what it means,” said Cynthia Stubbs, the plant manager.

Stubbs explained a braille cell consists of six dots and each cell forms a word, a letter, or a part of a word. There’s close to 272 contractions in the braille system.

Scotland Institution is one of 35 prisons in the country to have a braille transcribing program and is the only one in North Carolina. When the program first started in 2011 at the facility, only six inmates went through training. Six years later, 23 inmates work in the plant and transcribed over 1,000 books in 2016.

“A lot of these guys can read braille just as fast as they can read print,” Stubbs explained.

The program, ran by Correction Enterprises, made $250,000 in 2016. The organization aids in rehabilitating inmates, through 32 revenue producing operations throughout North Carolina prisons. While the braille program causes the organization to lose money, because it’s technically a training program, braille transcribing remains a sought-after position for inmates, as it is one of the highest paying jobs.

Stubbs explains:

When you say, you teach braille, they’re thinking you’re teaching the child to read braille. I tell them, I don’t teach the child to read, I teach the adult to transcribe the print to braille. Someone has to make the dots for the child to read.

North Carolina, Connecticut, Colorado and Wyoming request the transcriptions, ranging from the braille alphabet to math problems, science and music. Rape crisis centers, schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg county, colleges, universities and non-profits in Forsyth and Onslow counties receive the texts. Once a request for a book is received by Stubbs, she puts a team together, consisting of a lead transcriber, three or four secondary transcribers, someone to put together charts and images and someone to proofread.

North Carolina prisoner transcribes book into braille

North Carolina prisoner transcribes book into braille

It takes eight to 12 months to learn standard textbook braille formatting. Music braille, however, is so complicated, only 51 people in the country can transcribe it. Pfeiffer-El is number 51.

“In this environment that we’re in, where you know a lot of people don’t look to you to accomplish things in life, you have to be self-motivated,” he said.

It took Pfeiffer-El two years to learn music braille. The nearly 42-year-old also has a double major in business administration and computer programming. It’s all a way to spend time, serving a life sentence.

Pfeiffer-El is eligible for parole in a few years.

Mayes, in prison for larceny, will be released in 2018 and plans to make transcribing braille his full-time career.

“It’s challenged me in positive ways and made me realize I could do things I didn’t think I could do,” said Mayes.

After spending six years at Scotland Institution, Mayes will head to Kentucky following his release. There, he’ll enter an apprenticeship with the American Printing House for the Blind. After six months, there’s a possibility Mayes could get a job there or be sent back to North Carolina with a computer software and his first book to transcribe.

Mayes’ focus is on staying clean after his release. Although he’s been in prison before, Mayes has the numbers to back him this time. Only three percent or less of prisoners who learn braille end up back in prison.

Why? Stubbs explained the dedication behind learning braille, coupled with job assistance programs and decent pay, act as a deterrent:

They enjoy what they’re doing. To know that they’re responsible for that child having a book in the classroom. They’re just dedicated, they really are.

Mayes added, “With the braille, I feel like every time I’m working, some kid is going to get that book and learn from it.”

Pfeiffer-El knows he took his youth for granted and said, “It is kind of ironic that I do find myself now in a position where I can give back. I can really benefit myself and others.”

“I took from society,” added Mayes. “I have a chance to do something to give back. Help me to help them.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Wisconsin State Senator Calls for Juvenile Justice Reform

On the heels of a federal judge’s ruling that the Wisconsin Department of Corrections make “drastic” changes at its youth prisons, a Democratic state senator is again calling for additional reforms.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson ruled Monday the state has July 21 to reduce its use of solitary confinement and pepper spray on inmates at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls in Lincoln County. The order was the result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Juvenile Law Center, which argued the current practices were making the facilities more dangerous for everyone, and caused physical and psychological harm to the offenders.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said she was “overwhelmed with excitement” with the ruling. However, she added she was “extremely frustrated” her repeated pleas for changes went nowhere and that it took a court to do what’s “right,” “just” and “fair.”

Under Peterson’s ruling, prison staff can only used pepper spray to stop or prevent an inmate from causing bodily harm. In addition, an inmate could only be held in solitary confinement for up to seven days, down from the current maximum of 60.

DOC communications director Tristan Cook said the agency is reviewing the order to determine its next steps. He said some changes had already been made, including additional training for staff and efforts to reduce solitary confinement, pepper spray and restraints.

As part of their package of legislation known as the Juvenile Justice Bill of Rights, Taylor and other Milwaukee Democrats are pushing for a ban on solitary confinement. It would also move juvenile corrections from the state Department of Corrections to the state Department of Children and Families.

“It’s the department of corrections, not the department of punishment,” Taylor said, insisting that DCF control would provide a much needed change of mindset.

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report cited DOC figures showing from 2012-2016, 708 youths from Milwaukee County were committed to Lincoln Hills or Copper Lake, which are located about 30 miles north of Wausau.

Wisconsin Sen. Lena Taylor

Wisconsin Sen. Lena Taylor

Dane County was the second highest at 112. All other counties had 50 or fewer; 13 of them had no inmates.

Because of the large population from Milwaukee, Taylor reiterated her call for a juvenile facility closer to home. She said that teens need to be close to their family and community in order to get their lives back on track, which cannot happen when “you’re half a day away.”

“We want our children,” she said. “Give Milwaukee County the opportunity to be able to serve their own children … with the type of compassion and best practices that will help us to move them in the right direction.”

Nearby Racine has a prison that houses 450 inmates, all between the ages of 15 and 24, but have been sentenced through adult courts instead of juvenile ones.

“More than 60 percent of the juveniles who are at Lincoln Hills did not need to be in the juvenile correctional facility,” Taylor said. She maintained because Milwaukee cannot have its own youth facility, offenders go from the detention center straight to “the extreme” Lincoln Hills or Copper Lake.

While most of the critical changes Peterson ordered must be in place by July 21, other provisions will be phased in afterward to give the DOC time to train staff and put them into practice.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Solitary Confinement Harms Women and Increases Their Recidivism

A bill sitting on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk would require lawmakers to consider a “racial impact statement” before passing any legislation related to criminal justice. New Jersey wants to avoid any policy that might extend the disproportionate effect of incarceration on people of color.

Examining race in incarceration is important but it’s not the growing crisis people make it out to be. The rates of incarceration for white and Hispanic man were relatively stable between 2001 and 2013; the rate for black men went down. Women are the fastest growing correctional population in the country; rather than a racial one, a gender impact statement would better frame necessary justice reform in New Jersey.

Approximately 200,000 women are incarcerated across the country. A recent study from the Vera Institute of Justice shows that the female jail population of women has grown 14 times since 1970. The female prison population continues to expand at twice the rate of men.

The demographic whose imprisonment rates are skyrocketing isn’t women of color. At the end of 2015, white women outnumbered black women in prison at a rate of 2.5 to 1.

Author Chandra Bozelko

Author Chandra Bozelko

Chandra Bozelko, author of “Up the River: An Anthology” and writer of a blog called Prison Diaries, explains:

Despite this growth around the country, New Jersey has been successful in reducing the number of women in prison. The female prisoner population dropped 10.9 percent between 2014-15.

As someone who served more than six years in a women’s prison and saw what drives female incarceration, I know that New Jersey’s progress can be easily reversed unless it understands what might be the best predictor of women’s eventual involvement with the criminal justice system: sexual abuse.

Eighty-six percent of jailed women surveyed in the Vera Institute study reported a history of sexual victimization.

Sexual abuse is a better predictor than the usual suspects for causing incarceration: better than race — 64 percent — than socioeconomic status, as measured through employment — 60 percent — than educational attainment, having a high school diploma — 37 percent — the usual co-conspirators who take women down.

Notably, New Jersey has never undertaken a study of the abuse history of its female prisoners. If it had, then Gov. Chris Christie might have rethought his December veto of the bill passed by both chambers of the Legislature that would have eliminated solitary confinement for vulnerable populations. Solitary confinement has been linked with increased rates of recidivism or, in essence, more new crime, and exacerbated mental illness, a condition experienced disproportionately by women behind bars.

Seven and a half percent of female prisoners in the Garden State are held in solitary confinement, compared with 6.9 percent for all prisoners in the state. A 2014 study from the ACLU found that women — particularly women who experienced sexual abuse — are uniquely harmed by being held in segregation and their risk for recidivism is enhanced.

Because the female prison population in New Jersey is small — 646 women — even big changes in percentage amount to relatively small numbers of people. All it takes is 64 women to reoffend and return to custody to undo all the progress that has been made in decarcerating them.

Had Christie applied a gender impact analysis to the solitary confinement bill, he probably would have signed it — and not threatened the reforms that he has brought about in criminal justice in the state of New Jersey.

Monitoring race in criminal justice and corrections is important and Christie should make the racial impact statement requirement law. But his recent innovations — eliminating pretrial detention for certain offenders, expanding the use of drug courts — have put New Jersey in a unique position among states and changed its correctional demographics. Proposed bills of any type should be examined to see if they might affect the conditions and growth of women in prison.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford


Pre-trial Release Program Addresses Plight of the Poor

Roughly 60 percent of people housed in American jails have not been convicted of a crime, only accused of one. Jasper County, Missouri officials have already begun identifying defendants who are in jail only because they can’t afford bail. Erik Theis, court administrator for the 29th Circuit in Jasper County, says the program is a response to overcrowding in the Jasper County Jail, which was regularly 15 percent over capacity last year.

Phoro by Susan Madden Lankford

Phoro by Susan Madden Lankford


Twenty-three people have been released under the program since pre-release officer Larry Stout began work in May after his position was included for the first time in this year’s county budget. He interviews defendants and looks into their backgrounds, then assesses the risks of releasing them using tools adopted from the increasing number of U.S. jurisdictions that have decided to carefully release more people from jail before trial.

One of the tools is a simple points system, backed by a statistical analysis of defendants who have been released pre-trial elsewhere in the country. If the defendant has not lived in the area for at least a year, that’s one point. If he has ever failed to appear in court, that’s another. If he has previously been convicted of a violent crime, that’s two points.

After a few more questions, the court official adds it up. If the score is higher than 13, the defendant is deemed “high risk” and will likely be held until trial. But if the score is below six, the defendant’s file is marked “low risk,” meaning he is statistically likely to show up for court.

That gives the judge solid grounds to release the defendant without bail.

Jasper County is at least the fifth county in Missouri to conduct risk-assessments on defendants being held pre-trial. Many have used materials provided by the Houston-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which provides jurisdictions with tools for measuring the risks of releasing defendants from jail to await trial.

Theis used research funded by the foundation to get county officials on board with the policy, arguing that holding defendants prior to trial has few benefits. The policy also has the support of public defense lawyers, who are appointed to represent the indigent.

Darren Wallace, chief public defender for Jasper County, points out that detaining people before they have had a day in court also leads to harsher sentences. That’s because many people will choose to simply plead guilty rather than wait in jail for a trial that could be months away.

“I have no doubt that that is a big factor in many people’s decision to not wait for a trial, when waiting means they’ll be in jail,” he said.

In Kentucky, where bail bonds are outlawed and a statewide pre-trial services office obtains the release of tens of thousands of people annually, the results are stronger. Fully 86 percent of pre-trial releases showed up to trial without any complications.

Theis says the pre-trial program in Jasper County poses no threat to the bond business, anyway, because most of the defendants who will qualify for release under the new program couldn’t afford a bond anyway.

“I think it’s a complement to the bond system,” he said. “These people are not able to use those services.”

In Missouri, top judges have signaled a desire to spread the state-operated pre-trial release offices.

Mary Russell, former chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, praised pre-trial release programs in a State of the Judiciary address in 2014, saying they had netted savings of nearly $4 million over two years by keeping people out of jail. Now the statewide courts are looking into ways to help more counties imitate Jasper County.

“When you’re looking at the trend in criminal justice, there is kind of a push on pre-trial release,” Catherine Zacharias, an attorney for the Office of the State Courts Administrator, said.

State officials have created a risk assessment document with the help of the Arnold Foundation, which it plans to distribute to interested counties. And while county officials would still have to organize their own programs and fund them locally, Zacharias says the state could eventually distribute some funds for pre-trial programs.

Jasper County officials say their main objective for the policy is a reduction in the prison population. To that end, Theis says he hopes to see the program grow.

In nearby Greene County, a pre-trial services office has been active for more than a decade, and pre-trial risk assessments have become integrated into the courthouse routine.

That hasn’t stopped the county’s jail from bursting at the seams, an illustration of the complex challenges that face efforts to ease pressure on county jails.

Between 1997 and 2016, the number of inmates held by Greene County on an average day more than tripled, from 200 to 701. The county pays to house dozens of inmates at jails in other counties.

But the crowded jail is only the most obvious sign of a court system plagued by administrative delays at every step. Even when a person is convicted of a crime in Greene County, for instance, they typically wait another 145 days to learn their sentence.

While the pre-trial program has not solved the problem, Rodney Hackathorn, head public defender in Greene County, says it has helped.

“It’s pretty much become a way of life,” he said. “It works. But in our area here, it’s not enough to keep up with the ever-increasing case load.”

Greene County has three staffers working to fill out the risk assessments forms. Those who have a chance of being released pre-trial can wait as much as three weeks before being interviewed. The office is involved in the release of roughly six defendants per week, and they look into many more cases.

Although Greene County’s sluggish courts have made it difficult for the pre-trial office to measure its performance in terms of reduction to the jail population, staffers say they see the impact of their work during daily check-up phone calls with clients.

They know that jail time can have devastating lives held together by a shoestring.

“The less time people spend in jail, the better chance they’ll have of keeping that job, of keeping that apartment,” said Jarod Denney, a staffer in the pre-trial office. “It turns into this downward spiral. They lose their job, lose their house. How can we expect someone to stay in jail for three months, lose everything, and then get out and do well?”

Bail bonds have been outlawed in Kentucky since 1976. Instead, defendants are released before trial after an interview with a court employee. More defendants show up for court in Kentucky, compared with the appearance rate nationwide.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford


Sonoma County, CA Drops Juvenile Justice Fees

Sonoma County, CA just joined a small but growing number of California counties that have stopped charging daily detention fees to parents and guardians of children in the juvenile justice system. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to stop charging a $32 daily fee and forgive an estimated $4 million in debt held by families with unpaid bills, many dating back more than a decade.

“Thank God,” Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi said. “It takes the pressure off the parents who are already pressured to begin with because their kid is in juvenile hall.”

Adults jailed in California aren’t charged daily fees for room and board. But for decades, California law has allowed counties to charge parents and guardians daily rates for children held at juvenile halls and probation camps. Those fees come in addition to charges for services like probation supervision, public defender representation, electronic monitoring and drug testing.

The bills have come under fire as outdated and unfairly burdensome on low-income families and communities of color. Researchers found some counties were spending more trying to collect payments than they were getting back.

Last year, Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties ended the fees, followed this year by Sacramento and Solano counties.

The California Senate passed a bill last week that would end juvenile justice fees statewide. The bill, Senate Bill 190, was amended to remove a provision that would have required counties to clear existing debts related to the fees. The bill is pending committee assignment in the Assembly.

In addition to the $32 daily detention fee, Sonoma County charged a one-time juvenile supervision fee — recently raised to $150 — and a $50 fee for public

thumb_dollar_sign_BW[1]defender representation. The average stay is 107 days for children ordered by a judge to serve time in juvenile hall, costing parents a minimum of $3,424, according to the probation department numbers.


Shirlee Zane, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, said:

What we’re acknowledging is the restoration of those juveniles very much depends on their families, and if we stress these disadvantaged families with these costs it doesn’t help. I think we went in the right direction, and we’re ahead of the legislation.

Researchers with the UC Berkeley’s School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic found evidence the fees led to garnished wages, intercepted tax refunds and bankruptcy.

In one case, a mother in Contra Costa County was billed more than $10,000 for her son’s detention in juvenile hall even though all the charges against him were dropped.

Sonoma County is “moving in the right direction with a good group of counties now who have all decided to look at this issue and decided it’s not worth it given the impact on families,” said one of the researchers, Stephanie Campos-Bui, who is pushing state lawmakers to support the bill.

Probation chief David Koch has said the fees have been a point of discussion for more than a year among statewide groups of probation department heads.

Two days after the Press Democrat’s May 6 story about the fees, county supervisors asked the probation department to research how much the county would lose by eliminating the fees, and expressed a strong interest in getting rid of them. Koch told supervisors the county can tap into an underused state fund for juvenile probation services to cover the lost revenue, roughly $300,000 each year.


Koch said the fees dated back decades when far more children were housed at juvenile hall, many for minor offenses that wouldn’t result in incarceration today.

He said the fees, approved by the Legislature in the 1960s, were meant to deter parents from dropping off unruly children at juvenile hall, an outdated practice no longer possible.

“It really is just an additional stresser to families that are already stressed, and we don’t want to do that,” Zane said.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Reforms May Cost Louisiana its Title of Incarceration Capital

Ridding Louisiana of its title as America’s most incarcerated state was a major campaign pledge for Gov. John Bel Edwards. But whether it happens, under a compromise reform package pending in the Legislature, may depend less on whether Louisiana’s prison rolls shrink as expected than on what happens this week in a statehouse 500 miles away.

Lawmakers in Oklahoma, the only true challenger to Louisiana’s unbecoming label, are debating a similar plan to revise drug penalties, allow earlier releases for nonviolent offenders, revamp parole rules and pour a hunk of the savings into re-entry programs, specialty courts and victim services.

Recently, backers of the Oklahoma plan were pushing to wrest it out of a committee chaired by a former prosecutor who has repeatedly put off a hearing. If that effort fails, Oklahoma is poised soon to overtake Louisiana, where 776 people per 100,000 residents were locked up under state or federal custody in 2015, federal figures show. Oklahoma stood at 719 inmates per 100,000 residents in 2015.

Alabama and Mississippi were further back, the third- and fourth-biggest jailers in America. Observers say nascent reforms in those two states have left them a safe distance from the top spot.

Unlike Louisiana, which has shed about 4,000 inmates from a peak in 2012, Oklahoma is on a steeply rising vector. The Sooner State is anticipating a 25 percent increase in its prison population over the next decade, even after nearly 60 percent of Oklahoma voters agreed in November to downgrade a host of drug and property crimes to misdemeanors.

Oklahoma already dominates Louisiana, and every other state, in its imprisonment rate for women, which is well over twice the national rate. Louisiana is 12th in jailing women.

“We have the highest female incarceration rate in the world. That alone should tell anyone something in Oklahoma is not working correctly,” said Andrew Speno, Oklahoma state director of Right on Crime, a conservative prison-reform group. Speno blamed “some of the most draconian drug laws in the country” for the state’s rising inmate rolls, with women setting the pace.
“We’re not trying to overtake Louisiana in being No. 1,” Speno said.
Oklahoma’s reform plan would trim its inmate rolls by 7 percent over a decade, according to figures from the Crime and Justice Institute. Passage of those measures would likely leave Louisiana in the top spot regardless of what happens in Baton Rouge, the projections show.

But the Louisiana compromise, hammered out with the state’s powerful district attorneys and sheriffs, achieves Edwards’ campaign goal in one sense: It promises to drop Louisiana’s incarceration rate to Oklahoma’s current rate — and fast, according to projections from Pew Charitable Trusts. Louisiana’s incarceration rate would fall to Oklahoma’s current rate by the end of 2018 if the Legislature moves forward with the compromise plan, according to Pew.
If the legislation passes, several hundred inmates serving time for nonviolent crimes will find themselves poised for release on or shortly after Nov. 1, thanks to a bump in “good-time” credit, quicker parole eligibility and new rules allowing automatic parole releases for some.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

The inmate population reductions expected in the early years under the compromise are actually steeper than those projected for the original legislation, which followed the recommendations of a state task force of criminal justice system stakeholders.

According to Pew, the compromise bills allow prison-time reductions for more nonviolent felons than were slotted for similar breaks under a proposed “felony class” system that the district attorneys torpedoed.

Other measures aimed at nonviolent offenders remain as well, although a proposal to double the threshold for what makes a theft a felony, from $750 to $1,500, was reduced to $1,000 under the compromise.

Louisiana’s reform plan is projected to trim the state inmate population by 8 percent over 10 years, rather than a 2 percent rise expected if the Legislature does nothing.
The $262 million cost savings is based on the $24.39 daily rate that the state pays local sheriffs to house about half of all state prisoners.

E. Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, said:

The purpose of the effort was to focus on nonviolent offenders, and that’s what we did. We’ll see what this does. Hopefully, it doesn’t increase the risk to public safety significantly.

Most of the proposals dealing with violent offenders were expected to reap savings later in the 10-year window — or afterward. Those violent offenders tend to receive longer sentences, and the aborted measures were never slated to be retroactive.

Without them, inmate population reductions are expected to slow in later years. In the 10th year, for instance, the proposed reforms are expected to reap $33 million in savings.

A few measures dealing with some violent offenders remain. The compromise plan would grant an earlier shot at parole to first-time violent offenders who are sentenced after the law takes effect.

Also, a group of about 120 inmates who were convicted of second-degree murder in the 1970s and sentenced to life with a chance at parole, only to lose that eligibility under tough-on-crime laws, would win back a shot at release.

State Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc acknowledged that the reforms would do little to address the aging of the state prison population, which is “stacking up” with older, long-serving inmates who need more medical care. Medical expenses are not factored into the savings estimates. LeBlanc, a key backer of the reforms, said he hopes to exploit a proposed medical furlough process to release some of the state’s frailest, costliest inmates.

He also acknowledged that a surge in inmate releases in the first few years of the reforms will strain the state parole system. LeBlanc said he plans to move some parolees with good records into a self-reporting status to ease the crunch.

LeBlanc pointed to juvenile programs as a priority for the “reinvestment” aspect of the reforms. Under the compromise, 70 percent of the cost savings is earmarked for re-entry, treatment and crime victim programs, up from 50 percent under the original plan.

LeBlanc said:

We need to show the DAs and the sheriffs we mean business here, and we want to invest in the juvenile justice side of this, because we know it’s a pipeline. I’m talking diversion, truancy programs. Those things need attention.

LeBlanc downplayed the goal of losing Louisiana’s tag as the leading jailer in a country with the second-highest incarceration rate in the world. (The U.S. trails only Seychelles, a small archipelago in the Indian Ocean with a penchant for locking up Somali pirates.)
“That’s a bad label to have, but that’s not what this is about,” LeBlanc said of Louisiana’s title. “It’s about doing the right thing. I think we have a good package. I think we’ve done a lot of good. It’s a big step for us.”

LeBlanc said he visited the State Penitentiary at Angola recently to address inmates there, many of whom are serving long sentences for violent crimes.
“I told them this is not over with. This is our first step,” he said. “I don’t want them to give up, and we don’t need to give up.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford