Archive for Criminal Justice

U.N.’s “Bangkok Rules” Seek To Eliminate Mistreatment of Female Prisoners

59_MAGGOTSSWEETForty months ago, in December 2010, The United Nations General Assembly adopted 70 comprehensive guiding Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders, since known as The Bangkok Rules. These fill a long-standing lack of guiding standards for policymakers, legislators, sentencing authorities, prison staff, probation services, social welfare and health care services in the community, and non-governmental organizations, helping them all to better respond to the needs of women offenders

More than 625,000 women and girls are currently held in prisons worldwide. Of America’s 2.2 million-plus incarcerated persons, more than 200,000 are women and over one million other females are on probation and parole, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. America’s “War on Drugs” has had a devastating effect on women and men, alike: with only 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. currently has 25 percent of the world’s inmates. This means American prisons and jails hold about one third of the world’s incarcerated females.

Historically, the architecture, security, healthcare, protections, family contact and training for prisons were all designed for men. When the first prison for women was built in Indiana in 1873, it was intended just to separate the sexes, not to meet the special needs of female offenders.

Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College in New York City, says:

In America, and around the world, women suffer more in prison than men do. Most female prisoners are housed with little consideration for their needs as women. Now there is a global guide for the treatment of female offenders called the Bangkok Rules.

Certain abuses happen to female offenders just because they are women. Over a decade ago I volunteered as an advocate for inmates in the HIV unit of Alabama’s Tutwiler Prison for Women. Despite earlier lawsuits brought against Alabama’s correctional system, abuses continue there. Today, federal investigators call Tutwiler Prison a “toxic house of horrors where repeated and open sexual behavior” is the norm. A Department of Justice investigation found that for two decades prisoners at Tutwiler have been subjected to all manner of humiliation.

The list of abuses includes officers forcing women into sexual acts in exchange for basic sanitary supplies, male guards openly watching women shower and use the bathroom, a staff-organized strip show and a constant barrage of sexually offensive language, according to the New York Daily News.

Across the country and around the world, Female offenders need special protections. As with the suspected Tutwiler Prison guards, many female offenders are subject to rape by male guards and female inmates. Like male inmates, women struggle with substance abuse and mental illness. More women are victims of prior physical and sexual abuse before entering prison than men. Community re-entry programs are rarely designed for women. Prisons are located far from family support, breaking a mother’s bond with her children and weakening her community network, thereby making re-entry more difficult.

In America, racial disparities in the criminal justice system lead to longer sentences for African-American and Latino women. The population of incarcerated African-American women has increased 800 percent over the last two decades. Since nearly 70 percent of African-American children live in female-headed households, the loss of that parent to incarceration often means placement of children in foster care.

More than 80 percent of women prisoners have an identifiable mental illness, and one in ten will have attempted suicide before being imprisoned. And the UN says that women are imprisoned for crimes for which men are not. Also, women offenders face greater stigma than men.

Women visit males in prison, but males rarely visit their female partners at the same rate. Nor do mothers visit daughters as often as they do their sons. When women return home, they are often rejected, and struggle to rebuild their lives socially and economically.

The Rules cover a wide range of areas for improvement, including admission procedures, healthcare, humane treatment, search procedures, children who accompany their mothers into prison, alternatives to imprisonment, global advocacy, justice for children, pretrial justice, prison conditions, rehabilitation and reintegration, torture prevention and women in the criminal justice system.
Below I selected 15 of the 70 rules that I considered especially worthy of mention.

Rule 2: Newly arrived women prisoners shall be provided with facilities to contact their relatives; access to legal advice; information about prison rules and regulations, the prison regime and where to seek help when in need in a language that they understand; and, in the case of foreign nationals, access to consular representatives as well.

Rule 4: Women prisoners shall be allocated, to the extent possible, to prisons close to their home or place of social rehabilitation, taking account of their caretaking responsibilities, as well as the individual woman’s preference and the availability of appropriate programs and services.

Rule 6: The health screening of women prisoners shall include comprehensive screening to determine primary health care needs, and also shall determine:
(a) The presence of sexually transmitted diseases or blood-borne diseases; and, depending on risk factors, women prisoners may also be offered testing for HIV, with pre- and post-test counseling; (b) Mental health care needs, including post-traumatic stress disorder and risk of suicide and self-harm; (c) The reproductive health history of the woman prisoner, including current or recent pregnancies, childbirth and any related reproductive health issues; (d) The existence of drug dependency; (e) Sexual abuse and other forms of violence that may have been suffered prior to admission.

Rule 12: Individualized, gender-sensitive, trauma-informed and comprehensive mental health care and rehabilitation programs shall be made available for women prisoners with mental health care needs in prison or in non-custodial settings.

Rule 15: Prison health services shall provide or facilitate specialized treatment programs designed for women substance abusers, taking into account prior victimization, and the special needs of pregnant women and women with children, as well as their diverse cultural backgrounds.

Rule 16: Developing and implementing strategies, in consultation with mental health care and social welfare services, to prevent suicide and self-harm among women prisoners and providing appropriate, gender-specific and specialized support to those at risk shall be part of a comprehensive policy of mental health care in women’s prisons.

Rule 19: Effective measures shall be taken to ensure that women prisoners’ dignity and respect are protected during personal searches, which shall only be carried out by women staff who have been properly trained in appropriate searching methods and in accordance with established procedures.

Rule 20: Alternative screening methods, such as scans, shall be developed to replace strip searches and invasive body searches, in order to avoid the harmful psychological and possible physical impact of invasive body searches.

Rule 22: Punishment by close confinement or disciplinary segregation shall not be applied to pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers in prison.

Rule 25: a) Women prisoners who report abuse shall be provided immediate protection, support and counseling, and their claims shall be investigated by competent and independent authorities, with full respect for the principle of confidentiality. Protection measures shall take into account specifically the risks of retaliation. b) Women prisoners who have been subjected to sexual abuse, and especially those who have become pregnant as a result, shall receive appropriate medical advice and counseling and shall be provided with the requisite physical and mental health care, support and legal aid. c). In order to monitor the conditions of detention and treatment of women prisoners, inspectorates, visiting or monitoring boards or supervisory bodies shall include women members.

Rule 28: Visits involving children shall take place in an environment that is conducive to a positive visiting experience, including with regard to staff attitudes, and shall allow open contact between mother and child. Visits involving extended contact with children should be encouraged, where possible.

Rule 31: Clear policies and regulations on the conduct of prison staff aimed at providing maximum protection for women prisoners from any gender-based physical or verbal violence, abuse and sexual harassment shall be developed and implemented.

Rule 45: Prison authorities shall utilize options such as home leave, open prisons, halfway houses and community-based programs and services to the maximum possible extent for women prisoners, to ease their transition from prison to liberty, to reduce stigma and to re-establish their contact with their families at the earliest possible stage.

Rule 47: Additional support following release shall be provided to women prisoners who need psychological, medical, legal and practical help to ensure their successful social reintegration, in cooperation with services in the community.

Rule 61: When sentencing women offenders, courts shall have the power to consider mitigating factors such as lack of criminal history and relative non-severity and nature of the criminal conduct, in the light of a women’s caretaking responsibilities and typical backgrounds.

OK Senate-passed Bill Lowers Highest Female Prison Rate

67_MAGGOTSSWEETThe Oklahoma Senate Appropriations Committee last week gave unanimous approval to a measure seeking to lower the nation’s highest female incarceration rate. Senate Bill 1278 would authorize the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to enter into a Pay-for-Success (PFS) contract pilot program for those criminal justice programs that have had proven outcomes of reducing public sector costs associated with female incarceration.

With a female incarceration rate nearly twice the national average, Oklahoma’s rate has topped the nation every year since 1994, except in 2003. Pathways to incarceration for Oklahoma women often begin early, with physical and sexual abuse, chaotic home environments and poverty. These childhood challenges often result in decreased educational attainment and can lead to substance abuse and addiction and mental illness. Domestic violence and adult victimization are other pathways to incarceration for women. Children with incarcerated parents have a significantly higher risk of being incarcerated in the future, continuing the cycle of incarceration.

Author of the Oklahoma legislation, David, R-Porter said:

Oklahoma’s history of imprisoning nonviolent women, rather than treating them, is expensive, ineffective and damaging to families. It’s important that we offer alternatives to incarceration to get these women rehabilitated and back to the workforce and their families. Incarceration and poverty are a vicious cycle in our state that we can stop by giving these women the counseling and education they need to get clean, find a job and be able to support themselves without returning to a life of drugs and crime.

With a PFS contract, the state negotiates with a program to deliver a specific outcome, such as reduced incarceration. Private philanthropy provides upfront funding. Once OMES verifies that the diversion or reentry program was successfully completed by a participant, the state would then re-pay a portion of the savings realized. Another benefit of using these contracts is that state payment will never exceed its savings created through the contracted programs.

Under SB 1278, only service providers which have provided programs that successfully diverted women from prison and which have the capacity (size, scale, budget) to serve at least 100 high-risk women would qualify for this initial PFS pilot.

The first PFS contract will be delivered in Tulsa County, which is the largest contributor to the female offender population in Oklahoma. Since fiscal year 2012, Tulsa County has outpaced Oklahoma County and the rest of the state in its female offender receptions.

David adds:

This is a win-win opportunity for Oklahoma. OMES can find nonprofits that have successfully helped currently and formerly incarcerated women gain the skills they need to become self-sufficient, productive members of society again.

This will help decrease the length of sentences and lower recidivism rates, which will in turn help address the state’s prison overcrowding problem and save the state millions in incarceration costs. Once released, these women will also become taxpayers, creating new revenue for the state, and they’ll hopefully be able to support their families and get off state assistance, saving the state even more money.

David said the bill was written for the Women in Recovery program in Tulsa, but others can apply. Any provider program must have at least $2 million in capital, according to the bill.

Family & Children’s Services’ Women in Recovery program began in 2009 as an alternative to incarceration for women who have drug and alcohol addictions and face prison sentences. The program has admitted about 300 women and has had 131 graduates. Currently, 102 are now participants.

Ken Levit is executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), which helped create Women in Recovery. He said the state saves money that would have been spent on incarceration when women successfully complete the program.

The Women in Recovery program offers an alternative to incarceration for Tulsa County judges, district attorneys and public defenders, by combining strict supervision within a comprehensive day treatment format for women with substance abuse problems. Participant requirements and programs include:

  1. Gender-responsive, trauma-informed substance abuse treatment and cognitive behavioral therapies;
  2. Employment and vocational training;
  3. Comprehensive individual and group treatment;
  4. Family reunification/parent-skill training;
  5. Transitional safe and sober housing;
  6. Intensive case management and basic needs;
  7. Employment and vocational training;
  8. Primary health and dental care;
  9. Linkage to community recovery support groups;
  10. Life skills, education, transportation, volunteerism;
  11. Wellness and stress reduction;
  12. Community integration
  13. Aftercare services post graduation.

A woman is potentially eligible to enter WIR if she is 18 years of age or older, is involved in the criminal justice system, is ineligible for other diversion services or courts, has a history or is at-risk of substance abuse and is at imminent risk of incarceration. Women with children are a high priority for program admission. With more than 300 women sent to prison from Tulsa County in fiscal year 2010, the need for alternatives is crucial.

More Than 500 Well-structured and –run Juvenile Drug Courts are Reducing Recidivism and Alleviating a Range of Individual, Family and Community Problems

Image by Images_of_Money, used under it's Creative Commons license

Image by Images_of_Money, used under it’s Creative Commons license

Because four of five juvenile crimes involve drugs, the first juvenile drug court program began operations in Key West, Fla., in October 1993. By June 2009 there were approximately 500 juvenile drug courts operating in the United States, and the number of them has continued to grow.

A National Institutes of Justice Report on Juvenile Drug
Courts found that in studies of 70 courts, recidivism went down for participants.

A major report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention observed:

Professional personnel involved with these programs agree that juvenile drug courts exercise more intensive supervision over juvenile offenders than do traditional juvenile courts. It is believed that the rigorous monitoring of participants and the treatment and rehabilitation requirements of juvenile drug court programs promote a greater likelihood of success in reducing drug use and delinquent activity than can be achieved through most existing juvenile court processes.

Frequently established within juvenile courts, juvenile drug courts are intensive treatment programs that provide specialized services for drug-involved youth and their families. Service areas include substance abuse treatment, mental health, primary care, family assistance and education.

The DOJ report cites eight key elements of an effective juvenile drug court program:

  1. Its team should include, at a minimum, a judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, treatment provider, evaluator and school representative, working collaboratively to meet the needs of the juvenile and his or her family.
  2. Intervention by the court should be as soon as possible following the juvenile’s initial contact with the justice system and there should be continuous judicial supervision through frequent (often weekly) status hearings with the juvenile and his or her family.
  3. There should be development of a court-supervised program of substance-abuse treatment and other core services to address the multifaceted issues that the juvenile and his or her family face (such as the juvenile’s substance use, family and educational needs and behavioral problems as they affect his or her ability to lead a drug-free life).
  4. There needs to be effective coordination of treatment and other services.
  5. Ongoing monitoring of the youngster’s progress in the program through frequent random urinalysis, continuous supervision and proactive case management is important.
  6. Essential is immediate judicial response to the progress of each participating juvenile or his/her noncompliance with the court’s program conditions.
  7. The judge should be concerned about juveniles and their families, sensitive to cultural and other factors unique to each participant and interested and trained in adolescent development and behavior, substance abuse and pharmacology.
  8. The program philosophy should focus on capitalizing on the strengths of each juvenile and his or her family.

Juvenile drug court services should also promote competency development (e.g., writing, computer literacy, and artistic skills) and the ongoing interaction between treatment and court processes.

Among the special attributes of juvenile drug court treatment services are:

  1. Early and extensive assessment of the juvenile and his or her family situation.
  2. Provision of developmentally based, gender-specific and culturally appropriate treatment and other core services.
  3. Significant focus on family therapy and other services to assist and improve the capacity of the family and juvenile to work together to achieve program goals.
  4. Sustained attention to each juvenile participant’s school performance, peer relationships, development of competencies and self-esteem.
  5. Ongoing case management of services to ensure that the program meets each participant’s current needs.

The initial period of juvenile drug court operations brought to light a number of other special issues that were not readily apparent at the start. The nature of juvenile drug court participants’ substance use and other problems is complex, requiring the provision of an array of family services, specialized treatment, and other core adolescent services. Programs frequently report not only considerable substance use by youth but significant percentages of participants with mental health problems (particularly depression, fetal alcohol syndrome or effects, and learning disabilities) and physical difficulties. In many instances, the nature and extent of these problems do not become apparent until a juvenile has been involved in the program for some time. Ongoing and updated assessments are therefore essential.

The initial experience of juvenile drug courts strongly suggests that services need to be family-focused and complemented by a sound program of other core adolescent services. In addition, individualized treatment services usually need to be developed for participants. Programs also must enable participants to develop the capacity and the self-confidence to fill time previously devoted to drugs and crime with productive activity, thereby increasing the likelihood that they will lead drug- and crime-free lives.

The DOJ report examined seven “exemplary” programs serving 1203 teens, aged 12-18, in FL, CA, NM, MO and MT communities. They each had retention rates of 56% to 77%.

In addition, a number of juvenile drug courts have been adopting the Multisystemic Therapy (MST) approach, which is designed to provide family-based treatment to reduce or eliminate the need for out-of-home placement. MST’s “family preservation” model of service delivery is based on the evidence-supported belief that the most effective strategy for helping substance-involved juvenile offenders is through improving intra-familial relations and assisting the family in providing the support structure that can function during and after the period of the court’s intervention.

The MST approach was developed in response to the lack of scientifically proven, cost-effective strategies designed to treat adolescent substance abuse. Preliminary evaluation of MST programs has indicated that, compared with traditional service, MST has been significantly more effective in reducing long-term rates of criminal behavior and also is considerably less expensive. Additional evaluations now in progress appear to corroborate these results.

Talking Justice: Igor Koutsenok and Susan Madden Lankford

Reforms Initiated in Luzerne County, PA after its “Kids for Cash” Scandal are Improving the Lives of Juvenile Offenders

Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing TimeIn 2009, Pennsylvania Judge Michael Conahan was sentenced to 17 years in prison on a corruption charge and Judge Mark Ciavarella was convicted of 12 counts of racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy, earning him a well-earned 28 years in the pokey. This drew international attention to their shocking “Kids for Cash” crimes.

Their conviction led to the arrest of 30 more public officials, including two state senators, a Luzerne County commissioner, a school superintendent, school directors from three districts, county officials, businessmen and others who held influential posts.

The guilty parties had participated in a $2.8 million kickback scheme connected to the construction of two private, for-profit juvenile detention centers—PA Child Care in Pittston Township and Western PA Child Care in Butler County—and the placement of 1600 youths in those facilities. In exchange, the judges received millions in kickbacks from the developers of these facilities. Many of the youths imprisoned had been charged with only minor offenses.

The “zero-tolerance” mindset of Ciavarella had been accepted and encouraged by school officials and law enforcement nationwide as the way to address all juvenile disciplinary problems, but mounting research and evidence contradicts that. In fact, it has been found to do little to mete out effective punishment, and it undermines kids’ respect for justice.

Earlier this month, the administration of President Barack Obama called for schools to abandon “zero-tolerance,” and the federal Justice and Education departments sent out letters to school districts saying the policies disproportionately affect minority students.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declared that the most appropriate disposition for juveniles replaces reliance on “gut feeling to go in one direction or another” with using “evidence-based practices in making risk assessments” or science-based research to guide and inform them.

A settlement has been approved and another one is pending which set aside a combined $20 million for the juveniles and their parents and guardians involved in the scandal. In the first settlement, $17.5 million will come from defendant Robert Mericle, the real estate developer whose construction company built the juvenile facilities.

Since the crisis, almost every aspect of the state’s juvenile justice system has been overhauled. The placement rate of youths taken from their homes and committed to detention centers or other facilities has dropped to no more than 10 percent from the 20 to 25 percent.

The Supreme Court has ensured that every juvenile is now represented by an attorney. The two judges’ routinely ordered shackling defendants in court, but that is now only used when safety is a consideration.

Since 2003, the total number of case dropped to between 300 and 400, compared to 1,500, due to alternative dispositions and the use of evidence-based practices in making risk assessments.

The rules now require a judge to place on the record the reasons why, after adjudication, a juvenile is placed outside the home. Previously Ciavarella didn’t do this, so there was no record to challenge.

The changes put in place better rules for expunging youths’ records and appealing their cases, starting from the time they learn of suspected violations. The Supreme Court in October 2009 took the remarkable steps of expunging the criminal records of 2,401 juveniles handled by the two former judges and compensating the victims of the juvenile offenders.

A task force made up of volunteers from 19 organizations and court-related departments created programs to address juvenile sex offenders and juvenile fire setters and sent members to schools for forums on the juvenile justice system.

The youth outreach and prevention program that grew out of the task force worked with 39 families in the last six months, and only two of the juveniles involved were returned for placement. Another program for high-risk youth dealt with 32 juveniles in placement, and of the total 25 were returned home.

The scandal shined a light on local wrongdoings, but they are by no means isolated incidents. Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia said:

It’s a mistake to think Luzerne County was kind of a one-off situation. These are issues that can go on in any given courtroom across the country. Certainly there are many more conversations now going on about what it means to be a zealous advocate for kids. Those conversations have helped to eliminate the wholesale adjudication and placement of juveniles with the creation of diversionary programs that keep kids out of court In the past too many low-level offenders were “pushed into the system,” with harmful effects.

Another of the many reforms was a program used elsewhere for years: Youth Aid Panels. Comprised of volunteers who generally undergo about 15 hours of training, these panels meet with first-time, non-violent young offenders poised to enter the justice system but deemed by police, magistrate or the district attorney’s office as candidates for a gentler option.

A contract is forged between panel and juvenile, requiring three months of actions by the offender—things like letters of apology, community service, research projects or family-building efforts such as helping cook a family meal. Once someone fulfills the contract, their offense is expunged. Failure sends the child back into the court system.

Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said:

We started Youth Aid Panels in June, 2011. Currently, 317 children have gone through the program, and 229 successfully completed their contracts.


Restorative Justice is a Growing Progressive Alternative to Youth Incarceration, and it is Significantly Reducing Recidivism

potentialRestorative justice is a growing way of dealing with crime that replaces the centuries-old “crimes against the state” notion with an approach that puts the offender in direct contact with the victim, requiring him or her to take responsibility and make amends for the crime. The needs of the person who was harmed are taken into account as much as possible, and they are involved in dealing with the outcome.

Across the country, restorative justice, especially for juvenile offenders, is gaining support among a growing number of correctional policymakers and practitioners, victim advocates, court officials and law enforcement officials. Already 20 states have introduced and/or passed legislation promoting a restorative juvenile justice system, and 30 other states have restorative justice principles in their mission statements or policy plans. There are individual restorative justice programs in virtually every state, and a growing number of states and local jurisdictions are dramatically changing their criminal and juvenile justice systems to adopt the principles and practices of restorative justice. Restorative justice is now practiced in more than 300 US communities and at more than 1000 locations in Europe.

In restorative justice there is usually dialogue, where all affected people explore one another’s feelings and needs in a safe and respectful environment. A trained neutral third party can help them as they try to reach consensus on how to deal with the aftermath of offending behavior. Family members, friends or others living in the community can have a voice as well.

Holding offenders directly accountable to the people they have violated,
restores the emotional and material losses of victims and provides a range of opportunities for dialogue, negotiation and problem-solving. This can lead to a greater sense of community safety, conflict resolution and closure for all involved.

While denouncing criminal behavior, restorative justice emphasizes the need to treat offenders with respect and to reintegrate them into the larger community in ways that can lead to lawful behavior. Restorative justice encourages the entire community to be involved in holding the offender accountable and promoting a healing response to the needs of both victims and offenders.
Restorative justice can be expressed through a wide range of policies and practices directed toward offenders and crime victims, including: victim support and advocacy, restitution, community service, victim impact panels, victim-offender mediation, circle sentencing, family group conferencing, community boards that meet with offenders to determine appropriate sanctions, victim empathy classes for offenders and community policing.

Victim-offender mediations are conducted by trained mediators who are sensitive to the needs of victims and their families. In some cases the community provides work for offenders so they will be able to pay restitution to victims.

While some Americans continue to advocate greater retribution and harsher penalties for youthful offenders, others believe in the importance of rehabilitating criminals and preventing further crime. Today, victims of crime feel increasingly frustrated and alienated by the current justice system, while increasingly harsh punishments have failed to change criminal behavior.
The initial conceptualization of restorative justice was first clearly articulated by Howard Zehr in the late 1970s. By 1990, an international conference funded by NATO was convened in Italy to examine the growing interest in restorative justice throughout the world. Academicians and practitioners from a wide range of countries presented papers related to its development and impact. The Council of Europe endorsed restorative justice through victim-offender mediation in 1999, and a subcommittee of the UN has also been examining the concept.

In the summer of 1994, after many years of little interest, if not skepticism, the American Bar Association fully endorsed the practice of victim-offender mediation and recommended its development in courts throughout the country. Also, a growing number of victim-support organizations are actively participating in the restorative justice movement.

A cross-national study of victim-offender mediation in four states, four Canadian provinces and two cities of England found high levels of victim and offender satisfaction with the mediation process and outcome. Victims who met the juvenile offender were significantly more likely to have been satisfied with how the justice system handled their case than similar victims who did not participate in mediation. They also were significantly less fearful of being re-victimized after the mediation session. Offenders in mediation were significantly more likely to successfully complete restitution than were similar offenders who did not meet their victim.

A large study of nearly 1300 juvenile offenders found a 32 percent reduction in recidivism among those who participated in a mediation session with their victim. Many recent studies are also finding significant and meaningful reductions in recidivism rates.
The U.S. Education Department’s newly released guidelines for school discipline call for an end to punitive punishment, and this should continue to fuel the movement.

Mariame Kaba, founding director of Project NIA, a Chicago-based nonprofit that supports youth involved in the criminal justice system, with a mission to eradicate the incarceration of minors, says:

We began our work of interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline in our community by setting up a ‘peace room’ at a local school. We brought in volunteers who were trained in restorative justice and encouraged school administrators and teachers to send young people to the peace room, as opposed to suspending them from school or arresting them.

I want Chicago schools to train teachers in how to work with young people in non-punitive ways. I would also love for there not to be any police officers in the schools any more. Chicago Public Schools has done a great job of taking zero tolerance out of the discipline code, but they haven’t funded the necessary initiatives. We also need to try to end the criminalization of youth of color.


The Major Challenges Affecting Women Released From Incarceration

Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing TimeAfter incarceration, women face different problems than men do. They usually have extensive histories of drug use , are likely to be clinically depressed, tend to have low self esteem and have fewer job skills. These factors lead to their being more likely than men to be homeless and to have problems with intimate partners. The process of post-release reunification of mothers with their children can be a unique reentry challenge, along with the need to earn a living while resuming childcare responsibilities.

A comprehensive study of female inmates released in Texas showed that women who do time in that state’s prisons and jails usually have extensive histories of criminal justice involvement, with several prior convictions but few previous stays in state correctional facilities. They are typically incarcerated for low-level property or drug possession offenses, and are likely to have serious and long-term substance use problems. These issues often co-occur with depression and other mental health problems. In the study, 83 percent reported illegal drug use in the six months before prison, and 30 percent reported heavy drug use. Before incarceration the average length of drug use was seven years, with almost 40 percent having used for 10 years or more.

Upon returning home, women experienced more conflict with family members and intimate partners. The goal of finding and retaining a job during the first several months following release remained elusive for the majority of women. They were much less likely to have received job training or to have gained vocational skills while behind bars and were less apt to take part in job placement services upon release. Women exiting prison reported more difficulties meeting their day-to-day financial needs and they experienced more residential instability than did men.

The study reported:

At one year out, women are more likely than men to have problems stemming from drug use and to have partners who drink or use drugs daily. Women are almost twice as likely as men to be back behind bars in a year’s time, typically due to a drug-related offense or a property offense driven by addiction problems.

The vast majority (96 percent) of all women exiting Texas prisons and jails were serving time for nonviolent offenses: 47 percent for drug possession, 18 percent for drug sales or manufacturing, 23 percent for property offenses and fewer than 10 percent for a parole or probation violation.

Twenty-six percent were offered transitional services only in their last week of incarceration. These pre-release programs covered such topics as how to: access alcohol and drug treatment, seek employment, continue education, find a place to live and obtain photo identification. Many released women expressed a need for greater help with housing, education and substance abuse treatment.

The immediate challenges women faced upon release included obtaining housing and adequate financial support, finding gainful employment, achieving independence and providing for their families.

By eight to 10 months out, 31 percent had lived with another formerly incarcerated person, 19 percent were living with someone who was abusing drugs and 22 percent resided with an alcohol abuser. Twenty-three percent reported that her criminal record had been an obstacle to finding housing at some point since release.

Women experienced tremendous difficulties in obtaining legal employment during the year after release. While 58 percent had worked before prison, only 36 percent were working at two to four months following their release

Both before and after incarceration, women had lower rates of employment and lower hourly wages than men and were more likely to work in food service or retail sectors. For many women, only part-time work was available.

Women with a school diploma or GED, those who had been employed in the six months prior to prison and those who took part in pre-release programs worked more often in the months following their release. Those who were married or living as married before prison worked more than those who were not. Abstinence from drug and alcohol abuse was one of the strongest predictors of employment.

Eight to 10 months after release, 65 percent reported receiving financial support from a family member, spouse or friend, while only28 percent reported legal employment as a source. Eighteen percent had received public assistance, 15 percent got Social Security or Social Security Disability Insurance and 10 percent reported income from illegal activities.

At eight to 10 months after release, 70 percent said they sometimes or often had barely enough money to get by, 63 percent said they often had trouble paying their bills, and 59 percent reported worrying about how they were going to survive financially. Thirty percent had trouble keeping housing and another 30 percent had difficulty finding food for themselves and their families. since release. Fully 46 percent were burdened with debt. Twenty-four percent reported that their family had not provided the amount of support they had anticipated, and they were more likely than others to return to prison in the first year following release. About one in seven mothers (13 percent) reported having custody problems since release.

Some women also reported having high levels of conflict with their partners. While only a handful of women reported physical violence or threats, 39 percent reported frequent arguments and 27 percent complained of spousal controlling behavior. Nearly half of women with partners (43 percent) reported that their living mates had criminal records.

Eight to 10 months after release, 36 percent of the women interviewed in the study reported using illegal drugs or being intoxicated in the past 30 days. The most commonly used drugs were cocaine (22 percent) and marijuana (21 percent), with seven percent reporting daily cocaine use. Thirty-one percent of those reporting substance abuse in the past month estimated that they had been intoxicated or stoned on a daily basis during that period. On average, however, the severity of substance abuse among these women was lower after release than before prison.

Sixty-seven percent of the women reported that they had been diagnosed with some type of chronic health condition, with the most commonly reported illnesses being asthma (31 percent), back pain (30 percent) and high blood pressure (25 percent). Twenty-one percent reported having an infectious disease, including tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS and other STDs. Fifty-five percent reported diagnoses of depression and other mental health problems, and 27 percent were likely suffering from undiagnosed mental illness.

Thirty-two percent admitted having engaged in criminal activity, with the most common crime being drug possession (28 percent), followed by drug dealing (10 percent), auto theft (5 percent), petty larceny (4 percent), and assault (4 percent). Twenty-five percent returned to state prison or state jail within 12 months after release.

Those who participated in a pre-release program in prison or state jail were less likely to return, as were those with a high school education or GED. Those under post-release supervision were also less likely to return within a year’s time. The likelihood of return to prison was also lower for those who felt their families were helpful during their reintegration.

The study shows that pre-release family conferencing is critical in both shoring up valuable family support systems and in minimizing the tensions and negative influences that are associated with family relationships. These conversations should include child care responsibilities and custody issues, living arrangements, and financial contributions to the household. They should also provide opportunities for returning prisoners to share their anxieties and personal challenges, to express remorse for past behaviors and to articulate the types of both tangible and emotional support they need from their families.

In 37 States, 180,000 Female Ex-drug Offenders, Particularly Minority Women, are Subjected to a Cruel Lifetime Embargo on Welfare Benefits

English: Logo of the .

English: Logo of the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 12 states, felony drug offenders face lifelong exclusion from most public benefits, even after serving prison time.   In 25 other states, women incarcerated for drug offenses are subjected to a partial embargo of benefits.

This is because of a hastily added provision to the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), also known as the Welfare Reform Act, which aimed to reduce welfare dependence. Not only are women with drug convictions unlikely to get the help they need before or during their incarceration, but thanks to this provision many of them, after serving their time, will also face being barred for life from receiving most forms of public benefits—including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

The purpose of the prohibition, supposedly, is to deter drug use and the criminal behavior that sometimes arises from it by making it harder for addicts to trade food stamps or use cash benefits for drugs. However, a new report by the nonprofit Sentencing Project, titled “A Lifetime of Punishment,” examined the impact of the PRWORA provision and found no evidence that this goal was being achieved. On the contrary, by denying benefits to those most in need, the ill-conceived embargo may be having a particularly devastating impact on women and children of color and is more likely to perpetuate the cycle of poverty and addiction that leads people to abuse or sell drugs in the first place.

Minority women are feeling the brunt of the prohibition. Today nearly one-third of women in state prisons are incarcerated for drug offenses, and approximately two-thirds of them are black or Hispanic, even though data collected by the Department of Health and Human Services have shown that white women use drugs at roughly the same rate.

Over the past 30 years, the female prison population has increased at nearly twice the rate of the male prison population, an unprecedented development primarily attributable to the war on drugs.

A policy that denies those with drug convictions access to food and cash benefits for life starts to look especially cruel when you examine the lives of women who end up in prison. As of 2003, 74 percent of women in state prisons had substance-abuse issues, 57 percent reported having been sexually or physically abused prior to their incarceration, about 73 percent had some kind of mental-health problem and almost a quarter suffered from a psychiatric disorder. Sixty-four percent of women in state prisons did not graduate from high school, almost half were unemployed a month prior to their arrest and nearly two-thirds were mothers of minors.

Marc Mauer, a co-author of the Sentencing Project’s report and an expert on criminal-justice policy reform, comments:

It’s really irrational for Congress to have passed something as significant as this ban is for re-entry and life prospects of prisoners and not to have allocated any funding to evaluate its impact or to see if the legislation is meeting its goal.

The provision allows states to opt out of the prohibition if they wish, but so far, only 13 have done so. Twenty-five states have modified embargoes that either impose time limits or allow benefits contingent on completion of drug-treatment programs. Twelve states—including ones with high poverty levels and large prison populations like Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas—still have outright lifetime embargoes in place.

Bills have been introduced in Congress to repeal the prohibition, but none have gained enough support to change the policy. Meanwhile, a recent Farm Bill amendment introduced by Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter that sought to expand the scope of the embargo to retroactively include other felony convictions was approved by the Senate. Congress has yet to realize that in helping prisoners reintegrate into society, especially the most vulnerable among them, the carrot approach is much more beneficial than the stick.

When Martha Stewart left prison in 2004 after serving a five-month sentence for conspiracy and obstruction of justice, she issued an emotional plea on behalf of the women she did her time with, many of whom were locked up for nonviolent drug offenses:

I beseech you all to think about these women. They would be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in prison, where there is no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate, no programs to educate and no way to be prepared for life out there.

Stewart realized that many women with drug convictions were victims of lives crippled by poverty and hardship and that a little assistance from the state would be much more beneficial to them than a heavy dose of punishment.

PRWORA was a cornerstone of the Republican Contract with America and was introduced by Republican Rep. E. Clay Shaw, Jr. Bill Clinton signed it into law on August 22, 1996, fulfilling his 1992 campaign promise to “end welfare as we have come to know it.” Immediately, three assistant secretaries at the Department of Health and Human Services resigned to protest the law.
They believed that the 1996 welfare reform law destroyed the safety net, increased poverty, lowered income for single mothers, put people from welfare into homeless shelters and left states free to eliminate welfare entirely. It forced mothers with children from welfare to work, but many of them did not earn enough to survive. Many were just pushed off welfare rolls because they didn’t show up for an appointment, could not get to an appointment for lack of child care or were not notified of the appointment.

Feminist critic Barbara Ehrenreich charged:

PRWORA was motivated by racism and misogyny, using stereotypes of lazy, overweight, slovenly, sexually indulgent and ‘endlessly fecund’ African-American welfare recipients. PRWORA dismissed the value of the unpaid work of raising a family and insisted that mothers get paid work, no matter how dangerous, abusive, or poorly paid.

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Oklahoma’s Cruel Drug Laws and Outdated Sentencing Guidelines Help Make it the U.S. Leader in Female Incarceration

Oklahoma State Capitol

Oklahoma State Capitol (Photo credit: StevenM_61)

At a recent forum, University of Oklahoma sociology professor Susan Sharp charged that her state’s drug laws are “mean,” and that its tough-on-crime sentencing guidelines are to blame for nearly all of the women serving lengthy prison terms there. Oklahoma’s backwards prison system provides little help to addicts and the mentally ill, and the state is full of “lock ‘em all up” politicians who are unconcerned with rehabilitating criminals.

In recent years, Oklahoma has been the state that imprisons women at the highest rate in the nation. Oklahoma locks up 128 women per 100,000—nearly twice the national average. At the end of the last fiscal year, roughly 2,600 women were incarcerated in Oklahoma prisons, a figure that has remained relatively flat since 2005. A disproportionate percentage of them are black, and 85% of all female prisoners in Oklahoma are mothers.

Sharp declared:

Women usually end up in prison due to three factors: coming from poverty-stricken backgrounds, being in relationships with men who engage in criminal behavior, and suffering from a long history of abuse. As girls growing up in these environments become women, they usually fall into a criminal lifestyle due to one of these three pathways. Yet we’ve ignored these families for generations.

Sharp complained that too many women are being sentenced to lengthy prison terms for having quantities of drugs that would bring little to no punishment in other states. She also spoke out against drug traffickers being forced to serve 85% of their sentences when drug rehabilitation would do more good at a considerably lower cost to the state.

The way Oklahoma defines drug trafficking is the root-cause of the problem. Someone arrested with five grams of crack cocaine can be charged with trafficking and face a sentence up to 25 years. Yousef Khanfar, an award-winning photographer who has spent years photographing and interviewing women in Oklahoma’s prison system, said at the same forum: “In Chicago and other places, if they found you had only five grams of crack cocaine, they would flush it down the toilet. Putting someone in prison for 25 years costs $2 million or $3 million, whereas a year in rehab costs about $50,000.

Sharp charged that Oklahoma doesn’t invest enough money in mental health facilities and drug-treatment programs. She also criticized the state’s participation in a new Justice Reinvestment Initiative program that sends men and women on parole back to prison for the slightest infraction—even missing an appointment or failing to pay a monthly fine. ““We have set up debtors’ prisons in Oklahoma,” Sharp laments.

Jane Nelson, chair of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, said:

We hope to see legislation enacted in the next legislative session that will find alternatives to prison for women convicted of nonviolent offenses. Too many women are going to prison, destroying their families, because of addictions.

One study reported that while 40% of Oklahoma women sent to prison were black, only 29.6% of black women were placed on probation, whereas 53% of Oklahoma white women were sentenced to prison (versus 29.4% of women nationally), and a whopping 63.7% of white gals got probation.

Another study revealed that only 9.2% of Oklahoma female prisoner were found guilty of violent offenses, versus 34.6% for drug offenses and 15% for simple drug possession. Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate for drug offenders is higher than the national average. This speaks to the need for effective drug abuse programs both inside the institutions and in the communities.


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Illinois Badly Needs Further Juvenile Justice Reform

Seal of Illinois. Center image extracted from ...

Seal of Illinois.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Illinois has some of the harshest youth-sentencing laws in the United States, under which a child as young as 13 can be automatically sentenced to life in prison, with no discretion for a judge to consider age or individual circumstances.

Abner J. Mikva, a former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Peter Bensinger, a former administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, urge Illinois lawmakers to pass HB1348/SB1858, which would allow judges to consider a “youth’s unique circumstances, such as age, maturity and role in the crime.” The legislation follows the Supreme Court ruling last year in Miller v. Alabama banning mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles.

On May 14, 2013, the Illinois Senate voted  to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18, so that 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies would be tried and sentenced in juvenile court rather than adult court. The bill, which was approved by the Illinois House last April, heads next to Gov. Pat Quinn for signature. Thirty-eight states have already set 18 as the age for prosecution in adult court.

Moreover, Illinois received compelling evidence last week that incarcerating young people doesn’t rehabilitate them. Independent experts told a federal court that Illinois’ juvenile prison system has many inadequacies, including that it operates an education program far below minimally accepted standards, does not meet the basic mental health needs of incarcerated youth and uses solitary confinement too often and for too long, with potentially damaging effects on youngsters who return to their communities.

In the past three years the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) has brought significant improvements in some conditions and delivery of rehabilitative services to kids held in state prisons. IDJJ has established a new aftercare program to transition youth back to their homes after leaving prison. Over the past seven years, new state programs and policies have reduced the number of youth in state prisons from more than 1,400 to around 900, which is good news for those youth who can be held accountable for their actions at the local level, don’t have to leave home to receive treatment for mental illnesses or addictions and don’t need to have their educations interrupted.

But the experts’ reports, which are part of a class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Illinois, describe shocking conditions that still exist in the state: little schooling, inadequate mental health care even for youth in severe crisis, squalid conditions in the “confinement” units and youth languishing in prison far beyond their release date due to a lack of community-based placements. To its credit, IDJJ allowed the three experts inside and is attempting to resolve the suit without costly litigation. Gov.Quinn and all Illinois legislators and policymakers need to read these reports and pay careful attention to their findings.

A close examination of what’s going on in Illinois could be instructive to other states with youth prisons, because there is considerable evidence that mass incarceration of youngsters in large prison facilities is a fatally flawed concept.

Retired Judge Georgr W. Timberlake says:

The ACLU lawsuit could produce great change, especially if the federal court can demolish whatever bureaucratic barriers have prevented IDJJ from delivering a quality education and from diagnosing and treating mental illnesses that brought so many into prison. However, the best way to ‘fix’ the terrible conditions the reports describe is a dramatic reduction in the number of youth incarcerated. We must keep more youth in their homes, receiving the kind of supervision and services proven to reduce reoffending much more effectively and at a fraction of the cost of sending a youth to prison.

The three experts have these recommendations for Illinois, which would benefit other states too.

1) Cook County fills many state prison beds with 18-21-year-old men awaiting trial on a new adult charge. They are held for months at state expense due to a violation of parole connected to an earlier action as a juvenile. But if they’re going to trial on a more serious adult charge in Cook County, they should be held there, where they have better access to attorneys and where local taxpayers can pay the bill. IDJJ should refuse to accept them and should put the dollars saved into better rehabilitative services. Illinois has helped lower youth prison numbers in 28 counties which agreed to send 25 percent fewer young people to state prison in exchange for financial assistance.

2) The Redeploy Illinois prison-diversion program, which began in 2006, has been a huge success. This year, Gov. Quinn signed legislation tailor-made to ease Cook County into the program, but officials have dragged their feet. Cook County and others that commit large numbers of juveniles should be given a choice of participating in Redeploy Illinois or paying the state the nearly $100,000 annual cost of incarcerating each juvenile.

3) Today, 10 percent of the kids in Illinois prisons have been approved for release, but they remain behind bars because they aren’t welcome home: either because the state places restrictions on where they can live or because they need substance abuse or mental health treatment and none is readily available. Illinois needs to step up the search for approved living arrangements and help create them when none are available.

4) About one half of the youngsters entering Illinois prisons last year were re-incarcerated for violating the terms of their parole. Often, these were “technical violations,” like failing to attend school or obey a curfew. Illinois needs to shorten the length of parole, which can last up to five years for some, and require technical parole violations to be addressed with more effective interventions than re-incarceration.

Judge Timberlake concludes:

The ‘important strides’ Illinois has made in juvenile justice reform should be the first steps in a marathon of wide-reaching reforms. We cannot afford to run in place.


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