Archive for Humane Exposures

New Jersey Has Achieved Significant Juvenile Justice Reform

New Jersey announced the implementation of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) in all of its 21 counties. That process, which began in 2004, has led to dramatic reductions in juvenile detention center populations.

In the 1990s, New Jersey experienced dramatic increases in the use of secure, institutional detention for youth – as did states across the country – despite decreases in juvenile delinquency. By 1996, New Jersey’s county-

juvenile 1

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

operated detention facilities were operating at 166 percent of approved capacity and by 2002, with more than a 50 percent increase in the number of available beds, some juvenile detention centers were operating at anywhere from 122 percent to 223 percent capacity.

Understanding the ramification of this – namely the unnecessary use of secure detention with lasting negative results as well as the over representation of youth of color – the Juvenile Justice Commission embarked on what seemed to be an overwhelming challenge – to reform the juvenile justice system.

After implementing the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative in phases, the JJC announced that the statewide implementation of this reform initiative has changed the face of juvenile justice in the state.

In 2004, the Annie E. Casey Foundation selected New Jersey to be among the first states to replicate JDAI, which historically had been a county-drive

in initiative. That same year, New Jersey launched JDAI in five pilot sites – Atlantic, Camden, Essex, Hudson, and Monmouth counties. As counties expressed interest and demonstrated readiness, each new county was designated an official JDAI site.

In 2008, as a result of the impressive outcomes achieved through JDAI, New Jersey was named a State Model Site for detention reform by the Casey Foundation. Since that date, representatives from 17 states have traveled to New Jersey to learn about the state’s experiences and success with JDAI implementation.

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal stated:

The transformation of New Jersey’s juvenile justice system is nothing short of remarkable. Due to the leadership of the JJC and the ongoing efforts of many partners including the judiciary, law enforcement, public defenders,

county government, advocates and other stakeholders, and with the support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, New Jersey has become a national model for reform.

By focusing on prevention and the principles of JDAI, this collaboration has allowed tens of thousands of young people to remain at home receiving appropriate services – all as the juvenile crime rate continues to decline.

Kevin M. Brown, executive director of the JJC, added:

We know from research and direct experience that incarceration is one of the strongest predictors that a young 

person will have continued involvement in the juvenile justice system. When possible, it is best to keep young people at home with their families and provide the services necessary to provide support and to help them avoid risk-taking behavior.

The JJC is the lead agency for JDAI implementation in New Jersey, providing the management and staffing infrastructure integral to New Jersey’s success. The New Jersey Judiciary is a critical partner in the work, and with the JJC, has provided the leadership needed to achieve the success that has brought New Jersey national recognition. Nationally JDAI is operational in more than 300 local jurisdictions spanning 50 states.

As detailed in the JDAI 2017 Annual Data Report, which includes information for the 19 counties that were active in 2017, the average daily population of 

juvenile detention centers decreased by almost 70 percent since 2003, resulting in 7,951 fewer youth admitted to detention annually – and tens of thousands of fewer youth since the implementation of JDAI – all while meeting public safety goals.

The decline in numbers has allowed several detention centers to merge. At the start of JDAI there were 17 county-operated detention centers in New Jersey. Today there are nine, resulting in approximately $21 million in annual cost savings per year.

New Jersey’s juvenile justice reform continues, with specific focus on minimizing racial disparities in the system, increasing opportunities for the diversion of low-level offenders into community-based programs where they can obtain needed services, and the strengthening of partnerships between schools, the juvenile justice system and other stakeholders.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Pennsylvania aims for female inmate reforms

The return of legislators to Harrisburg is still more than one month away, but already their work has piled up. Now, the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is ramping up its efforts to change the way the commonwealth handles criminal justice – echoing a priority of Philadelphia legislators and the state’s Legislative Black Caucus. The ACLU announced that it’s rolling out a “Campaign for Smart Justice,” with a mission to end mass incarceration.

ACLU Legislative Director Elizabeth Randol told reporters that when lawmakers return to Harrisburg in September, one of the group’s priorities will be pushing a measure aimed at repealing automatic driver’s license suspensions for people with unrelated drug convictions.

“Between 2011 and 2016 Pennsylvania suspended the licenses of almost 150,000 drivers that were unrelated to traffic safety,” she said.

Another goal is getting a second package of bills in the long-gestating Justice Reinvestment Initiative over the finish line.

According to WHYY, the project is aimed at keeping onetime offenders out of jail and lowering incarcerated populations.

Prior to the recess, State Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-192, led her colleagues in unveiling a package of legislation that would push criminal justice reform and help incarcerated women and parents in Pennsylvania.

’Cephas, chairwoman of the Women and Girls of Color Subcommittee of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, said:

I’m glad that we’re having vital, bipartisan discussions about criminal justice reform. I think it’s crucial for those discussions to include women and girls of color, Women are the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population.

Since 1985, the rate of incarcerated women has increased at nearly double the male rate. Further, the ACLU reported that African-American women and women of color are significantly overrepresented in the prison population. African-American women are 30 percent of incarcerated women in the United States, but only 13 percent of the female population.

Additionally, Hispanic women are 16 percent of incarcerated women but only 11 percent of all women in the U.S., Cephas said.

She added that she plans to introduce a bill to create a Women and Girls Committee within the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

“I believe this would aid the commission in its work as it specifically relates to research and programs that will have a direct impact on women and girls,” Cephas said.

Other bills in the package include requiring state prisons to provide free feminine hygiene items to all female inmates.

“While the Department of Corrections recently changed its policy internally to provide these products, my legislation would ensure this change to Pennsylvania law so that future administrations could not easily repeal it,” said State Rep. Isabella Fitzgerald, D-203.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

State Rep. Donna Bullock, D-195, wants free monthly telephone calls for incarcerated parents, a move she said would help children cultivate relationships and strengthen their confidence.

Also, State Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-191, has proposed creating a system to help inmates register for all available benefits before being released.  McClinton said:

Many women find themselves struggling with aliments, addiction or mental health concerns that put them at risk of relapsing. My proposed legislation would ensure that once they are released, they receive the health care and financial support needed to help them transition back into their communities. It can be a matter of life and death.

Meanwhile, scaling back “draconian” state parole laws is also high on the ACLU’s list of priorities, Randol said.

The issue came to the fore earlier this year when rapper Meek Mill was released from prison, where he’d been after a parole violation arrest.

In what could be a sign that deals could more easily be reached in the coming legislative sessions, many of the ACLU’s priority bills are sponsored by Republicans — something Randol said is a pretty recent phenomenon.

“This is definitely one area that bipartisan agreement can be reached to effect some really great changes for the people in the commonwealth,” she told WHYY.

However, not everything on the group’s agenda is likely to see quite so kind a reception from both sides of the aisle.

The ACLU counts staving off reinstatement of mandatory minimum sentences among its goals. And Randol noted, “that’s a platform that remains popular among a lot of Republicans.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

 

Trying to Foolishly Prosecute Our Way Out of a Public Health Crisis

In the midst of St. Louis County, MO’s opioid epidemic, we find ourselves in a criminal justice crisis. Drug addiction is a disease, not a crime. Prosecutors must stop packing our jails and prisons with those who need treatment, not punishment.

The effect of this overcriminalization is undeniable: Nine out of every 10 people in Missouri’s correction centers need addiction treatment. In fact, 35 percent of the new admissions to state prison in 2017 were explicitly sent to receive help with their addictions.

St. Louis County needs a prosecuting attorney committed to reducing incarceration and prioritizing alternatives that are more effective at preventing future crime and improving community health.

Since St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch started his pre-charge, alternative drug court program in 2014, only 99 people have been enrolled. Only 36 people have completed the program. That averages to nine people per year. With drug abuse rates so high in the county, why are we not using the alternative drug court system designed to address this very problem?

Instead, McCulloch’s office continues to push for imprisonment, contributing to Missouri’s skyrocketing incarceration rate — and doing nothing to stem the devastating opioid epidemic. Missouri ranks No. 8 in the nation when it comes to how many of its citizens are behind bars. Since 2010, Missouri’s female prison population has increased 33 percent and is the fastest growing in the nation.Much of that increase is attributable to drug-related prosecutions.

Prosecutors are the most influential actors in the criminal justice system. Prosecutors have the power to decide what kinds of charges they’ll pursue and how severe the punishment will be. A prosecutor’s decision can dramatically shape a person’s entire life.

We know the criminal justice system is not equipped to handle the social and health issues that land many people in prison and jail.

Opioid abuse is so rampant in St. Louis County, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger recently declared it a public health emergency. His $1.5 million plan has public health officials working with corrections officers, social workers and other specialists to combat the addiction crisis.

St. Louis County needs reform-minded prosecutors focused on keeping the public safe by addressing the root causes of crime, not on obtaining convictions and harsh prison sentences at any cost. On McCulloch’s watch, the opioid epidemic has worsened, with devastating consequences for families and communities.

In 2016, St. Louis County filed new 3,159 drug prosecutions, including citations, misdemeanors and felonies — an increase from years before. Despite this aggressive prosecution of drug-related crimes, including simple drug possession and possession of drug paraphernalia, St. Louis County still finds itself in the middle of a public health crisis.

Imprisonment is a harsh and costly response to addiction. It often forces people into debt as they work to secure bail money to free their loved ones facing charges. Incarceration should be the last option, not the first.

St. Louis County should commit to sending the national average of 9 percent of all felony cases to an alternative drug court. Voters in St. Louis County must demand that their prosecuting attorney shapes a smart and fair justice system.

Prosecutor Robert  McCulloch/photo by Ryan Michaelesko

Prosecutor Robert McCulloch/photo by Ryan Michaelesko

With a different approach, St. Louis County has an opportunity to become an innovator. Across the country, a growing number of forward-thinking prosecutors are leading the way in changing the culture of the criminal justice system and getting results. They have worked to become more transparent with and responsive to the communities they serve.

Prosecutors have power. We the people must make sure they use it for the health of the community.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Inmates Volunteer in Iowa Program

An earned release program (ERP) at the local prison is giving minimum security inmates positive behavioral reinforcement while also sustaining the needs of Couleecap in Prairie du Chien, Iowa.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

 

Once a week, three inmates from the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution (PDCCI) are released to Couleecap for three hours to perform volunteer labor, accomplishing work such as sorting and pricing clothing, testing electronics, sorting games and puzzles, putting away food pantry groceries, folding bags and otherwise performing innumerable other jobs. This is all under the supervision of PDCCI’s Sgt. Tanner, alongside the regular Couleecap and Bargain Boutique workers and community volunteers. Tanner said:

The ERP guys are all volunteer inmates who enjoy coming here. It gets them out in the real world and they appreciate that they’re helping out the community. Many of these inmates are the type of men who end up utilizing programs such as the food pantry and thrift shop when they reintegrate into the community.

Though PDCCI is considered a medium-minimum security prison, all ERP inmates are classified as minimum security, which means they have not committed “dangerous” crimes and pose no escape risk. Background checks and paperwork are done and the men must be approved before starting the work.

Couleecap Bargain Boutique and Food Pantry Coordinator Jann Sturmer said:

I think that they’re not only happy to get out, but also once they see what the work is and that the proceeds help people in need, they like it all the more. They come here with such great attitudes and they can accomplish more in three hours than most people can in eight hours. It’s nice to have the men with the muscles to help with the heavy lifting.

When the food truck delivers federally-supplemented food once a month (from  The Emergency Food Assistance Program from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service) , “the inmates may stay longer than their three-hour shift to assure all the food is put away,” she added.

In the past year since PDCCI and Couleecap began partnering for this program, at least 50 inmates have helped at the thrift store on four different occasions to accumulate 12 hours each. Once they’ve hit 12 hours of community volunteerism, they’ve completed the program. Tanner added:

A lot of them want to volunteer more than that. Everyone involved would like to see this opportunity happen two times a week, for three hour shifts. But PDCCI is short on staff to make it happen.

Sturmer said the community is in the position of being truly blessed to have a lot of volunteers, yet Couleecap is really in need of more. “They can work one hour a week, there’s no set schedule, every little bit helps. Kids can volunteer too,” she stated. “Some of the other volunteers were apprehensive at first (about the inmates working alongside them), but now, especially when they see how hard-working they are, everyone really enjoys it and has become very accepting of it.”

Tanner said, for the inmates, this positive relationship within the community is good for all. As part of the earned release program, these interactions help the inmates realize more about the crimes they committed, who they affected and how they impacted people. It’s part of their community reintegration process.

“It’s good for them,” he stated. “They’re doing great work, they like it, and a lot of them want to come shopping here when they get out.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

3 Common Myths About Homelesssness

As a young psychologist in the 1980s who had researched treatment of the mentally ill, I was concerned by many reports suggesting that the growing number of homeless people may be due to deinstitutionalization. Over 30 years my group and I have conducted many studies of homelessness.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Myth #1: The homeless and ‘poor will always be with us’
This statement about the poor, attributed to Jesus in Matthew 26:11, can be taken out of context to suggest that people need not be concerned with caring for the poor and homeless. According to such an interpretation, assistance to the poor is a waste of time. Most Biblical scholars disagree with such a pessimistic interpretation.

But will there really always be poor people? Rates of homelessness vary widely across nations. In our telephone surveys of random samples of citizens across 10 developed nations, the chance that a given citizen had experienced homelessness at some point in their lifetime varied between 2.2 and 8.6 percent.

It’s not yet clear what explains this variation. Is it the quality of social and health services in different countries? Could different patterns of substance abuse or immigration explain it? In any event, at 6.1 percent, the U.S. has one of the highest rates among developed nations.

If nations vary so widely, that suggests national policy changes could reduce high rates of homelessness. In the past decade or so, the U.S. has dramatically ramped up resources devoted to eliminating homelessness among veterans. Thanks to these efforts, veteran homelessness went down 35 percent between 2009 and 2015, outpacing the 10 percent total reduction in homelessness.

Provided with ongoing support services, the homeless mentally ill and other homeless persons can maintain themselves in permanent housing over long periods of time.

Other research suggests that homelessness can be prevented among vulnerable groups. For example, in a statewide evaluation, youth exiting foster care and detention facilities in Tennessee were randomly assigned to a special outpatient program or to a control group. Those in the program spent significantly less time homeless over the next year and also had other positive outcomes, like higher employment income.

Myth #2: Homelessness affects only very limited segments of American society
For sure, homelessness is more likely to affect those who are poor or otherwise disadvantaged in our society. But homelessness appears to touch the lives of a wide range of Americans, including some who average citizens would never have thought to be vulnerable.

Many people mistakenly believe that most of the homeless are mentally ill. Studies done by our group and others over the last 30 years have found that only one-quarter to one-third of homeless adults show a documented serious mental disorder, like schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

Substance use disorders among homeless adults are much more common. Sixty to 75 percent of homeless people struggle with substance abuse at some point in their lifetime, versus 16 percent among the general population. Both serious mental and substance use disorders are less common among homeless mothers, their children and unaccompanied homeless youth.

Recently, studies have shown that college students suffer from high rates of homelessness and food insecurity. A recent survey of over 40,000 students across the U.S. found that 9 percent of university students and 12 percent of community college students had been homeless in the past year.

Over three decades, my team has interviewed thousands of homeless people. We have very rarely found anyone who we might consider to have “chosen” a homeless lifestyle. Yes, there are women, youth and others fleeing violent or otherwise very difficult life circumstances. Yes, there are some with severe mental or substance use disorders who have no other alternative to the streets or homeless shelters. If given the “choice” between a mental hospital, a jail or a homeless shelter in a dangerous area of town, some will, with good reason, take to the streets.

Myth #3: The public has developed ‘compassion fatigue’ when it comes to homelessness
Starting in the late 1980s, researchers have conducted a series of public opinion surveys on homelessness in the U.S. and other developed nations. In the 1990s, some in the U.S. media started to suggest that the public was experiencing “compassion fatigue,” the feeling that homelessness had become an intractable problem that no longer needed so much societal attention.

However, the evidence doesn’t support this at all. For example, surveys continue to find that a majority of the public would pay more taxes to help the homeless.

Perhaps it’s an issue of perception. My team analyzed the media’s interest in homelessness over the past 40 years, focusing on four major U.S. newspapers: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times.

There was virtually no media interest in homelessness prior to 1980, when Ronald Reagan began his first term as president. Interest then took off, perhaps due to actual increases in the numbers experiencing homelessness. This curiosity peaked in 1987, the same year that the first major federal funding was passed, then declined as the media became interested in other topics.

Since 1995, media interest has been steady at a relatively low level. Given these findings, perhaps a more accurate conclusion is that the mass media have experienced “compassion fatigue.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Gaps Remain in Florida’s Youth Diversion Program

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the James Madison Institute were among the groups discussing this year’s iteration of the Caruthers Institute report “Stepping Up: Florida’s Top Juvenile Pre-Arrest Diversion Efforts” on a Tuesday morning conference call.

Dewey Caruthers, president of The Caruthers Institute,can-florida-state-map-cities_which conducts the study, said that juvenile civil citations have “widespread support across the political spectrum,” with conservatives and liberals agreeing that diversion is the best remedy for “common juvenile misbehavior.”

Caruthers said these programs help public safety, improve outcomes and save taxpayer money.

One major move: “civil citations” are now rebranded as “pre-arrest diversion” programs. “This language is both more expansive and more accurate – unlike traditional citations, juveniles who receive civil citations must report to a program that includes a needs assessment and sanctions beyond a simple fine.”

For advocates, this year’s report took a look at best practices and how they translate into results. Many of the conference call speakers noted that this approach is one with self-evident benefits, and spotlighted the intersection of smart “restorative justice” policy and the interests of taxpayers and policy makers.

Demographically, there is equity among both gender and ethnicity in the use of diversion. Utilization across the board is 58 percent, with Latinos topping out at 65 percent, and whites at 57 percent. Diversion is more likely in incidents in schools (75 percent of the time) versus incidents in the community (52 percent).

Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that “we’re doing better with the racial disparity problem,” though there are still gaps in schools.

According to the report, “As illustrated by past editions of this study, there has been a consistent disparity in the frequency at which students of color are arrested for eligible offenses at school.”

Black students are still almost 2.5 times as likely as white students for school arrests, per the report. Leon County is the worst, with black students being 11.67 times more likely than white students for arrests.

The issues with racial equity in school usage of this policy was the worst news of this report, which by and large shows strides, with evidence-based progress.

The state’s top three counties using pre-arrest diversion are Monroe at 97 percent, Miami-Dade at 95 percent and Pinellas at 93 percent.

Rural counties are laggards on this front, and there is room for improvement for next year’s report.

“Nearly all the top-performing jurisdictions have a policy that presumes law enforcement officers should issue a pre-arrest diversion in all eligible instances. Arrests, with few exceptions, must be justified in writing by the law enforcement officer,” the report reads.

Caruthers noted that in top-performing jurisdictions, civil citation is a “presumptive norm” and that law enforcement training is annualized for veterans and part of orientation for new hires.

Many jurisdictions have utilization rates of 90 percent or higher, Caruthers said.

Monroe County was singled out for routing youthful offenders into diversion programs within 24 hours of the offense.

And diversion is effective as a deterrent. According to the report, only 4 percent of juveniles in these programs reoffended over the next 12 months.

The biggest barrier to diversion are arrests for domestic violence.

The report lauds Duval and Hillsborough counties for strides made from previous years, with memoranda of understanding driving a policy change.

“Duval County adopted a new memorandum of understanding in May 2017 expanding its use of pre-arrest diversion by defining eligibility, addressing the process of citing an eligible youth, and strengthening its Teen Court program. This has led to an increase in utilization from 27 percent in 2016 to 59 percent in 2017. The county had an average 90 percent utilization in the first quarter of 2018, positioning it to be a top performer in 2018,” the report states.

Duval had racial disparities in utilization that have abated, as of 2018, with increased usage, a priority of State Attorney Melissa Nelson that has become policy.

Michelle Morton, Juvenile Justice Policy coordinator of the ACLU, asserted the “increased advocacy … changed the culture,” turning around Duval’s approach to these issues.

McCoy noted that “racial disparity” issues have been mitigated in Duval due to “increased utilization” of diversion programs.

Hillsborough County, meanwhile, “adopted a new memorandum of understanding in August 2017 expanding its use of pre-arrest diversion by expanding the list of eligible offenses. The County continues to exclude 13 misdemeanors that are eligible in other counties.”

“The new agreement followed a one-year pilot study using pre-arrest diversion for marijuana possession. This led to an increase in utilization from 37 percent in 2016 to 50 percent in 2017. The county had an average 60 percent utilization in the first quarter of 2018.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Female Imprisonment Skyrocketing in Mississippi and Elsewhere

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Although they make up only 8 percent of Mississippi’s inmate population, women and girls in the state’s prisons and jails face a singular set of challenges today, a new report finds.

Not least of these challenges, per Washington, D.C.–based national advocacy group The Sentencing Project, are burgeoning law enforcement efforts, stricter drug sentencing laws and post-conviction barriers that affect women disproportionately.

Moreover, Mississippi’s rate of female incarceration rose 925 percent between 1978 and 2016, from 8 to 82 incarcerated women per 100,000 female residents. Mississippi now incarcerates women at a rate 1.5 times than the national average.

As of 2016, the most recent data available, Mississippi ranked 14th out of all states for the rate of female incarceration.

Researchers and advocates from The Sentencing Project, the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, and two regional organizations based in Nashville and San Francisco sought to contextualize national and regional statistics with projects they’ve undertaken in specific cities and regions in a web panel Tuesday.

In seeking solutions for women and girls, panelists concurred that the process of securing justice should be rooted within communities, not the current courts system and its counterparts — foster care, the juvenile-justice system and government welfare programs.

“It’s not freedom when I have a young woman come to me who’s not in jail anymore but her kids were taken away on Thursday,” said Jessica Nowlan, executive director of the San Francisco-based Young Women’s Freedom Center. “That’s not winning.”

Nationally, 1.2 million women and girls are now under supervision of the criminal-justice system, with 1 million on probation or parole and another 200,000 women in local jails or state and federal prisons, said Nazgol Ghandnoosh, a senior research analyst at the Sentencing Project.

Most of these women have young children, she added — over 60 percent of women in state prisons have at least one child under age 18.

At a national level, the growth rate of incarcerated women doubles that of men, though women make up only about seven percent of the U.S. prison population. And African-American and Latina women are currently imprisoned at twice and 1.4 times the rate of white women, respectively.

In contrast to men, more than half of whom are imprisoned for violent offenses, most women are imprisoned for nonviolent crimes, per The Sentencing Project. Only 37 percent of women in state prisons in 2016 were convicted of a violent crime.

These numbers are mostly driven by local and state policies, thus yielding the wide range of imprisonment rates across states, Ghandnoosh said. At 149 per 100,000, Oklahoma ranks first, while Massachusetts and Rhode Island are tied for last at 13 per 100,000.

Within Mississippi’s system, disparities have emerged between resources allocated for female and male inmates, as the Atlantic reported in April. The Mississippi Department of Correction’s website lists 13 vocational opportunities for men, such as auto mechanic and welding technology, and only five for women, including cosmetology and “Family Dynamics,” which is described as an expanded form of a home-economics class.

Other MDOC programs tailored for women include a recent re-entry workshop, backed by Arianna Huffington, businesswoman and co-founder of the Huffington Post, that uses “principles routinely applied in the corporate world.”

All women in MDOC state prisons are held at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County.

Andrea James, founder and executive director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, posed the question:

How do we shift the system? It involves finding ways to pull back from the current system and really engage communities in taking back their power. Engage communities in being a part of the process of making decisions about what does justice look like for us? What do we want our communities to look like?

Nowlan, of the San Francisco-based Young Women’s Freedom Center, provided a case study of work still needed for young, incarcerated women, even in California: “Still no housing, still in poverty, still having to do survival sex work,” she said. She cited incidents in which snatching phones or stealing laundry soap turned into felony charges.

Research conducted by the Freedom Center into the past 25 years has shown a “huge correlation” between homelessness and incarceration, foster homes and juvenile justice systems, Nowlan added.

Oleta Fitzgerald, Southern regional director for the Children’s Defense Fund in Jackson, links the plight of incarcerated women of color in Mississippi, particularly, to a dearth of economic opportunity, citing poverty as a driving force behind the state’s incarceration rate.

“When you intersect poverty, gender and race, you’ve got yourself something,” Fitzgerald told Mississippi Today.

That Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation, ACLU of Mississippi executive director Jennifer Riley Collins adds, means that most women who enter the criminal justice system are economically disadvantaged with little education, few job skills, and sporadic employment histories.

Women leaving prison, Riley outlined in a statement, must stay clean and sober, return to a primary caretaker role for their children, earn a livable wage, obtain reliable childcare and transportation, and find safe and sober housing for themselves and their children. And all of this occurs while they try to meet requirements of community supervision and additional demands of other public agencies such as child welfare.

Women need to be provided with a basic safety net: transportation, community spaces, housing, healthcare, education, employment, and economic security. Without a safety net, women often are forced to return to a life of survival and are not afforded the opportunity to be restored.

In organizing efforts to address the disruptive effects of incarceration on women and children, organizers have found it crucial to include the experiences of the incarcerated themselves.

“We don’t do anything — not one thing — without first reaching to the women and girls and (families) who are on the inside of the prison bunk,” James said.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

 

Aussi prison job programs help ex-convicts stay out of trouble

Prisoners who took vocation and education training programs in jail were twice as likely to remain offence-free five years after release when compared with inmates who didn’t.aussi

This is among the findings of a recent joint study by criminologists from five Australian universities that surveyed data from correctional services institutions in NSW, NT, ACT, and South Australia.

The study, titled ‘Australian prison vocational education and training and returns to custody among male and female ex-prisoners: A cross-jurisdictional study’, looked at data of more than 10,000 prisoners released in 2010–11 and compared it to data in 2016 showing which of those prisoners were back in prison.

Dr Jesse Cale, UNSW Senior Lecturer in Criminology, says he and his colleagues were able to determine who among the sample had taken VET training and who hadn’t, enabling them to see whether there was any correlation between undertaking VET and staying out of jail:

At the end of the day, engaging in vocational training in prison reduces the risk of returning to custody or reoffending over at least a five-year follow-up period.

But he warns against interpreting the study as showing a causal relationship between engaging in vocational programs and a lower rate of recidivism:

While overall vocational education training reduces the likelihood of the return to custody, the type and appropriateness of the training has a big impact on the result.

This ties in with a second conclusion of the study which says a one-size-fits-all approach to VET programs is not effective. Rather, prisoners need to be assessed and recommended to programs individually, based on their needs, interests, and strengths.

Cale says:

Employment needs to be considered against the needs of the individual and the strengths of the individual, just like other behavioral change programs. So that might be one reason why it’s effective for some people and maybe not others.

Contributing to the variation in results was the fact that some states might not have the same resources to throw at programs as other states, while implementation of programs from institution to institution also played a part.

Like so many criminal justice issues, the issue isn’t always whether the program is right or wrong, but can the program be effectively implemented.

However, despite the correlation between VET programs and lower recidivism rates, the authors found that preparation for employment within the prison walls was no guarantee a prisoner would find work on the outside.

Dr. Cale says:

People can do all the VET programs in the world in prison, but if there’s no work when they get out… Employment is a big factor related to whether people offend in the first place or reoffend when they’re released from custody.

“There has to be consideration of the external job market when you’re running these programs – that training they receive in prison is actually appropriate to the job market they walk into.

The study looked at a sample of 10,834 prisoners who were released in 2010–11, of whom 1063 were women.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/social-affairs/prison-job-programs-help-ex-convicts-stay-out-trouble

21 Floridians a day die from drugs while legislators cut treatment

Despite a record-breaking state budget of $88.7 billion and a raging drug-addiction horror show that kills 21 Floridians a day, the state prison system is eliminating programs that help alcoholics and drug users prepare to move back to your neighborhood.

Brilliant! Thank you, legislators, for refusing to provide money to fight the opioid epidemic. Dumping untreated drunks and junkies who have been warehoused for years into communities with no support is such a marvelous idea. Nothing can go wrong in that scenario, can it?

Across Florida, 33 mental health and substance abuse facilities that treat inmates are either closing or will be handling only work-release operations after June 30 because Department of Corrections officials must cut nearly $30 million in substance abuse and mental health programs. Not that they want to.

DOC warned state legislators in February that it would need more money to provide constitutionally required primary health care for 96,000 inmates and to meet orders from three Florida courts to provide another $100 million in services as the result of deliberate and chronic underfunding of prison health care over years.

How did legislators react? This crew defiantly made cuts and lowballed the $2.4 billion corrections budget by $79 million. Corrections needs $28 million more alone to renew the basic health care contract with Centurian LLC, the only bidder DOC could find in the last two years to take the job that pays nearly $440 million annually.

Hundreds of Central Florida inmates now will be dumped into cells without a chance to better themselves at facilities in Orlando, Clermont, Kissimmee, DeLand, Daytona Beach and Polk City, and they will return to local communities having gotten not a whit of help. Many are considered high-risk offenders.

The remarkably successful 38-year-old Reality House in Daytona Beach, the state’s only substance abuse program to house inmates before they begin work release, unfortunately was caught up in the frantic slashing. Though fewer than 5 percent of its inmates returned to prison in the past, Reality House will be laying off 60 people and sending 100 men enrolled in the unique program back to sit in their cells until their release dates.

Phoro by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Addiction help isn’t the only target for reductions. Shamefully, the DOC is saving $500,000 from firing prison chaplains and librarians. It’s pretty low to deny a prisoner a pastor or a book.

Meanwhile, try to decipher the thought process of elected officials who cut treatment beds in the midst of a public health crisis and in a state that last week joined five others to sue the drug companies that make the killer pills. Florida looks stupid — not to mention confused about it wants to do to fight addiction.

DOC Secretary Julie Jones laid out the problem during an interview with the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald last year:

Legislators may think people in prison are “just inmates,” but she pointed out the inconvenient truth:

They come back home next to you and me. We need them to be productive citizens, and we need to give them a chance.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

New Homelessness System in Kern Co., Calif.

As the homeless situation continues to intensify in Los Angeles and Orange County, tension has been mounting in Bakersfield over homelessness. Just last month, Kern County Supervisors were confronted by a group of women who wanted to know why they were seeing more homeless people and if homeless people were purportedly being transported to Bakersfield.

According to the Kern County Homeless Collaborative’s Point in Time Count from January, Bakersfield saw a nine percent increase in the homeless population despite seeing a hefty drop in total from 2007.

At the end of this month, a ten-year plan, spearheaded by former mayor Harvey Hall, to end homelessness will sunset, and a new plan will begin. A key stepping stone in that new plan is the coordinated entry system. It’s being touted as a possible solution to seeing a visible difference in our homeless communities, and it’s being implemented all across the country.

Heather Kimmel of the Kern Housing Authority says the program is meant to pinpoint the most vulnerable and get them into housing in the most expedited way possible:

This system is going to play an integral role in reducing and ultimately ending homelessness in our community. It’s going to allow us to provide services in a more expedited way, it’s going to allow us to target those resources for the most vulnerable in our community, and it’s going to give us good real-time data to start analyzing gaps so we’re not going depend on data we receive once a year in January.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Eighteen agencies are currently working off the same centralized database. In the past, if a homeless person entered one of the twenty-six resources devoted to homelessness, that individual did not necessarily get housed. According to Kimmel, the previous system in place was not focused on helping the most vulnerable and was too fragmented to help the homeless get to the right source. Kimmel says this current system is meant to rectify those issues and catalyze the process for getting housed.

Kimmel says this database will be a community effort, and the Homeless Collaborative is currently holding presentations to better educate organizations on the new system.  She added:

We’re actually giving many presentations right now as the Homeless Collaborative to members of the community…business owners, faith-based organizations…about how they can come to the table and help us in this effort. Homelessness is a community issue. It’s not an agency issue. It’s not a government issue. It’s a community issue. And if we’re really going to move the needle and impact Kern County, it’s going to take everybody to do that.

Kimmel does not anticipate any negative feedback on the program. She believes most people won’t notice what she says will be a difference in our streets. She believes outreach workers are trained well enough to execute the questions and does not anticipate additional reticence from the homeless community.

Matthew Billington of Flood Ministries is currently using the survey when he performs outreach work to find out who is vulnerable and connect them to the right resource. He says it’s been a bit overwhelming since the program is in its infancy stages. Kimmel says:

We ask questions that help us identify the vulnerability based on their mental health status, substance abuse status, physical health status. Basically, what we learn from the survey is who is the most mentally ill, who is the most medically vulnerable, who has the highest need for supportive service and wrap-around services in housing intervention.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford