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

Why Oklahoma Imprisons So Many Women

For over 25 years, Oklahoma has led the nation in the rate at which it sends women to prison. Roughly 151 of every 100,000 Oklahoma women are behind bars — twice the national average.

Robyn Allen stands in the prison yard at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, Oklahoma. Allen is one of about 1,200 prisoners, including one woman sentenced to death. Allen is serving a 20-year sentence for possession of 20 grams of methamphetamines. 

At a recent national event, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said her’s state’s number one ranking was a “dubious honor” and not something she’s proud of.

“I’ve jokingly told crowds we don’t have meaner women in Oklahoma. We just have some that have some issues,” she said.


Drugs and drug-related crimes, even simple possession, are some of the top reasons women enter the state’s criminal justice system. And, they’re staying longer. Stephens County, a mostly rural area where Allen is from, had the third-highest rate of women in prison. Allen is serving 20 years for possession of methamphetamines — two times longer than the state average.

While other conservative states have reduced sentences for drug crimes, Oklahoma has headed in the opposite direction. Judges and prosecutors haven’t reformed the number of sentences for women. Some have increased women’s sentences for drug crimes over the last decade. Voters, tired of waiting for legislative change, used a referendum last fall to make drug possession a misdemeanor. Those changes took effect in July.

In Tulsa County, the rate for sending women to prison has decreased over the last seven years. That’s due, in part, to a program funded by oil billionaire George Kaiser that aims to send women to treatment instead.

Susan Sharp, a national expert on female incarceration and a professor emeritus at the University of Oklahoma, says women are collateral damage in the war on drugs. She wrote a book called, “Mean Lives, Mean Laws: Oklahoma’s Women Prisoners.” She took the name after having a conversation with a former colleague at the University of Oklahoma about the state’s prison system. She explained:

He very proudly showed me the women’s prison and then even more proudly told me that Oklahoma had the highest female incarceration rate. I asked him why he thought that was. He looked at me and he said, ‘Oklahoma has mean women.’ And after I picked my jaw off the floorboard of his car, I thought about not coming here. … Then I decided that maybe they needed me here.

Sharp’s research shows that poor women in rural areas receive longer sentences, while those who can afford private attorneys get less time for the same crimes:

There are some counties that are extremely harsh, that almost anyone convicted will go to prison. The district attorney is the most powerful player in the courtroom. … And if they are trying to build a reputation of being tough on crime, they’re basically going for the low-hanging fruit.

If the current trend continues, the state’s prison system is expected to grow by nearly 60 percent over the next 10 years. Prisons are already bursting at the seams. Mabel Bassett is over capacity. Bunk beds line the dayroom, where prisoners take classes, socialize and make phone calls.

Joe Albaugh, the director of the state’s prison system, wants reform. Albaugh directed FEMA under George W. Bush, so he’s used to handling a crisis. Oklahoma’s ballooning prison population, however, is something else.

From his office on the campus of a minimum security prison in Oklahoma City, Albaugh tried to answer the question of why some of Oklahoma’s prison sentences are so long:

Judges say, ‘You know, you’ve been before me five times, Suzy Jones, and there won’t be a sixth time. I’m going to send you to prison so you can get some help.’ Practically, there is no help in prison. We are very limited in our programs, and there just is the belief that we ought to “lock them up, throw away the key.” And it doesn’t work.

Albaugh says the state needs to spend less money sending women to prison and more money on treatment. The state spends $500 million a year on prison — about twice as much as it costs to provide treatment on the outside. This, in a state where school budgets have been slashed and some districts can only afford to send kids to school four days a week.

Albaugh adds:

Ninety-four percent of our population returns to society. And what do we want? We want better neighbors. And the way we’re doing things and approaching things in our criminal justice system when it comes to prisons, we’re just a warehouse organization; that’s all we are. If we don’t do something different, our population with women will increase 57 percent over the next 10 years.

That growth is huge when compared to other red states like Utah, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas. They’ve chosen to reduce their prison population and reform their criminal justice system.

Tulsa DA Steve Kunzweiler has one theory why women like Allen in smaller towns get longer prison sentences. He’s been a DA in mostly rural counties and says, in small communities, everybody knows everybody’s business.

Kunzweiler says:

Everybody knows who that lawbreaker is. And so there is an expectation to, at some point, ‘get this person off my street because I’m tired of them breaking into my barn or breaking into my outbuildings.’ It’s hard to convince the community that you need to wrap your arms around the very person that you’re cognizant that is probably going to be going out stealing stuff.

Incarceration doesn’t just affect one woman. When you send a woman to prison, it can affect generations of Oklahomans. Often, women are the sole breadwinners and caretakers of children. When they go to prison, kids may end up with their dad, who may be the reason mom is in prison in the first place. Some kids end up with other relatives who don’t want them or have a full house already. Some end up in foster care.

A recent study by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services shows that if mom goes to prison, there’s a good chance one of her kids will, as well. Susan Sharp knows about that domino effect.

“You can sometimes find … three generations of a family incarcerated at the same time. For example, a mother, a grandmother, the daughter,” she said.

The majority of women incarcerated in Oklahoma are doing time for nonviolent crimes and drug-related offenses. As Sharp explains, women, particularly mothers, are treated more harshly and sometimes receive longer sentences than men because their crimes are drug-related:

I think the general population of the state feels that a woman — particularly a woman who has children — who uses drugs, violates all the norms in a way that they find unacceptable and they would rather see those children grow up in foster care than to be with a mother who had a drug problem.

Sharp also explains that Oklahoma has outdated attitudes about what constitutes proper womanhood:

This is an extremely conservative state and an extremely religious state and very evangelical and a lot of biblical literalism. So, the belief that women have a certain role in society — that role is to give up themselves and put themselves and their own wants, goals, desires secondary to taking care of their husband and children.

According to the data, Native American women comprise 12 percent of Oklahoma’s prison population, while representing only 9 percent of the state’s population. Muscogee Creek Nation’s Reintegration Program is one way to ease the transition from prison to home. It’s funded by the tribe and helps ex-offenders get jobs, housing and rebuild their lives while supporting Native American culture. Tony Fish, the program manager, laid out the key reasons he thinks the program works:

I feel like, on our state side, we don’t hold the value in people like we do our tribal side, because that is part of our culture and who we are. We hold value in people, and we look at things through different lenses.

The program isn’t just for Native people. Fish explained they have resources for non-Indians, too. They visit prisons frequently, targeting inmates when they are about to go home.

So far, the program has helped hundreds of inmates transition from prison yard to a home since 2012. It’s funded by a mix of money from the tribe’s gaming efforts and other business ventures.

Another bright spot is a program in Tulsa called Women in Recovery. When a woman pleads guilty, a judge can sentence her to Women in Recovery. The program lasts 12 to 18 months and has helped hundreds of women with job training, finding a place to live, reconnecting with their children and dealing with the trauma that landed them in prison in the first place.

At a recent graduation, Rona Stone spoke to a crowd of supporters and families. She spent nearly her entire life suffering from addiction, selling drugs and losing her teenage son to gang violence before she came to Women in Recovery.

“I have been trying for 27 years to fight this disease on my own, but I realized I just couldn’t do it. Women in Recovery saved my life,” Stone said.

If programs like Women in Recovery work so well, then why aren’t there more programs like it in the state? One of the biggest reasons is lack of funding. The program in Tulsa is funded by oil billionaire George Kaiser. The other reason is pushback from powerful prosecutors who don’t favor reducing sentences.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

San Diego Program Helps Inmates Avoid Returning to Prison

While Desiman Miller was incarcerated at the East Mesa Reentry Facility (EMRF), he made a promise to himself — he would learn as many new skills as he could during his time there so that when he left he would have the best chance for success. He enrolled in more than 25 classes and spent his free time reading.

In greater San Diego, Desiman and justice-involved individuals like him have more than a 50 percent chance of going back to jail after release within three to five years. This dire statistic makes it very hard for ex-offenders to rebuild their lives, to reconnect and support their families, and to be a positive influence in their communities.

EMRF Inmates/Photo by Nelvin C. Cepeda. S.D.Union-Tribune

EMRF Inmates/Photo by Nelvin C. Cepeda. S.D.Union-Tribune


Employment is critical to successful re-entry. When an ex-offender finds and retains work, the likelihood of reoffending is significantly reduced. Unfortunately, the chance of an ex-offender finding employment is uncertain at best.

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said,

When someone leaves a county or local jail, very real barriers too often stand in their way as they try to find a career and lead a successful life. We have to do more to help them land on their feet as they return to their communities.

Ensuring employment as a means of breaking the cycle of recidivism is a common-sense approach that strengthens communities and improves public safety.

An innovative partnership between the San Diego Workforce Partnership, Second Chance, and the county sheriff’s and probation departments has resulted in the creation of career centers within EMRF and the Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility (Las Colinas). The two-year program, called Reentry Works San Diego, will provide 1,000 justice-involved individuals with critical services including: pre- and post-release employment readiness, assessments, résumé assistance, interview skills, entrepreneurial workshops, mentorship, a computer lab for job searching, placement services, and access to support and training post-release.

At Las Colinas, an all-female facility, approximately 65 percent of the ex-offenders return home to care for children. Reentry Works staff not only focus on employment skills but also connecting participants to child care and other support services prior to release.

We are on the right path. We are more than one year into the program and initial results show a significant reduction of recidivism. So far, only 13 percent of those individuals who participated in pre-release activities have recidivated. Remarkably, only 3 percent of those individuals who have participated in pre- and post-release activities have returned to jail. At an investment of only $850 per program participant, the return on investment has proved to be invaluable.

While this effort represents a big step forward in the challenge of effectively reconnecting the justice-involved to our communities, more must be done. There are approximately 8,000 inmates in county correctional facilities. Every year, 95 percent re-enter our communities. Our vision is to implement Re-entry Works in every prison and jail in San Diego County. Imagine the impact to our communities, to the family members of those incarcerated, and the individuals who have done their time and are ready to become productive members of our region.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown brought this message to San Diego, highlighting training programs in our state’s jails and calling upon our region’s employers to find the potential in ex-offenders who can add value to the workforce and to hire them.

We are very optimistic that these smart investments will increase successful re-entry and employment rates, improve public safety and build stronger neighborhoods.

The next step to making our vision a reality is to build on these programs and find more investors. We need the public and private sector in our region to fund programs like these and help make this vision a reality. Federal funds are just a start. Our community now needs to embrace and invest in this model. Re-entry Works really works.

Desiman recently exited EMRF, graduated from Re-entry Works and immediately landed a job. “I probably wouldn’t be as confident as I was in my job search,” Desiman says. “Knowing that I can get a job because I’ve already got these skills … [Re-entry Works] helped me out a lot.”

Breaking the cycle of recidivism and connecting justice-involved individuals to employment has been proven to work. There are no easy fixes. Rebuilding a life after release is challenging, but we all benefit when more individuals like Desiman remain with their families, get jobs, and rejoin our community.

The authors of this article are County Sheriff WILLIAM GORE, Chief County probation Officer ADOLFO GONZALES & CEO of San Diego Workforce Partnership PETER CALLSTROM.

Other San Diego programs that aid inmates preparing to enter society are detailed in Susan Madden Lankford’s film “It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing, available through this blog.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

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