Archive for Humane Exposures

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

Juvenile Solitary Confinement, Though Proven Harmful, Rises in Chicago

Research shows prolonged solitary confinement can lead to depression, anxiety, and psychosis, and children are particularly vulnerable to these negative reactions because their brains are still developing, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Mental health professionals, advocates, and even many detention center administrators say the practice should be sharply curbed, if not eliminated.juvenile 1

Instead, staff at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, one of the largest juvenile jails in the country, regularly confine kids for hours at a time. Youth in the jail say it’s not uncommon for staff to threaten them with solitary for bad behavior.

Over the past two-and-a-half years, kids at the JTDC have been confined to their cells more than 55,000 times. Taken together, the time they’ve spent in solitary adds up to nearly 25 years.

The punitive use of solitary confinement at the JTDC has risen over the past two years, even as the population has shrunk 20%. There were 1,000 more punitive confinements in 2017 than in 2016, an increase of almost 25 percent. 

Staff at the juvenile jail have confined kids for more than a day for damaging or failing to wear their identification wristband, up to 34 hours for exposing themselves, nearly three days for threatening someone, and up to 10 days for participating in a group fight.

State rules require juvenile detention centers in Illinois to limit room confinement to 36 hours, but they aren’t being enforced. Staff have kept kids in their room for longer than 36 hours in every month since May 2015, when Leonard Dixon took over the facility as superintendent. As recently as December 2017, staff confined two kids for more than 100 hours, while their fellow inmates got to spend extra time with their families for Christmas.

The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, which inspects county detention centers to make sure they’re compliant with the rules, can’t do anything even if they are non-compliant.

“Other than doing the audit, we have no real authority – no teeth to enforce anything,” said Heidi Mueller, who directs the state agency.

A growing consensus among experts is that juveniles should not be confined as a punishment for bad behavior. National standards from the Annie E. Casey Foundation say that solitary confinement should only be used as a temporary response to youth who are an immediate threat to themselves or others, and that as soon as they calm down, they should be returned to regular programming.

Overall, kids at the JTDC are being confined as punishment for shorter periods of time — the median confinement is about five hours, down from more than 10 hours in summer 2015 — but experts and advocates say even that is far too long.

Dixon, the superintendent, said solitary confinement is a necessary “behavior management tool” — he wouldn’t call it a punishment — and he doesn’t plan to stop using it:

Confinement is something that you use to ensure that your facility doesn’t get out of control. There are consequences for behavior. And we’re not going to run a facility where the kids can do whatever and you have an unsafe place.

But Mike Dempsey, director of a national organization of juvenile corrections administrators and the former head of Indiana’s juvenile justice agency, said staff who think using confinement makes a juvenile detention center safer are mistaken:

Kids come out of isolation more aggressive and more dangerous, often, than when they went into isolation. You shouldn’t use isolation as a disciplinary tool. Really, no good comes from it. You should avoid it at all costs.

The suicide of Kalief Browder in June 2015 brought the dangers of solitary confinement for teens into the national spotlight. Browder was arrested in the Bronx when he was 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack, and spent three years incarcerated on Rikers Island while awaiting trial, more than two of them in solitary confinement. Two years after the charges were dropped and he was finally released, he hanged himself.

Even before Browder’s death, experts had warned of the negative effects of locking kids and teens in their rooms. A February 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Justice found that about half of juveniles who committed suicide in custody from 1995 to 1999 were in solitary confinement at the time of their deaths.

Although little research has been done on the long-term effects of solitary confinement on young people, mental health experts suggest it can exacerbate existing trauma and mental illness. Roughly one-third of the teens in Cook County’s juvenile jail had a mental health diagnosis on an average day in 2016.

Mikah Owen, a pediatrician and assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville, said:

What we know now is that being exposed to trauma, especially at a young age, changes your body physiologically and changes your brain structure so that you’re more likely to respond more aggressively to certain stimuli. There is a developmentally appropriate way to address kids who are experiencing that, and that is not locking them in a cell.

The Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, Dempsey’s organization, which represents the heads of state-level juvenile correctional agencies, has recommended that juvenile facilities reduce solitary confinement. “There is no research showing the benefits of using isolation to manage youths’ behavior,” they noted in a 2015 report.

In 2016, President Barack Obama issued an executive order banning solitary confinement for juveniles in federal custody, but it was largely a symbolic move, since the vast majority of kids are incarcerated in state and local prisons and jails.

That same year, advocates launched the Stop Solitary for Kids campaign, which now has more than 50 supporting organizations, ranging from civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union to the nation’s largest professional associations for correctional employees and administrators. States such as Massachusetts, California, and Colorado, and localities including New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., have banned or severely limited solitary confinement for juveniles.

Cook County has gone in the opposite direction. In 2016, a team of juvenile detention experts from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Children’s Law and Policy evaluated the facility for compliance with the Casey Foundation standards. They found the use of room confinement at the JTDC had increased “very substantially” since an earlier assessment in 2013.

In a strategic plan written in October 2016, the JTDC administration set a modest goal of reducing confinement by 2 percent over the next five years. Instead, the number of confinements has increased. There were 5,536 punitive confinements in 2017, up from 4,453 in 2016.

Illinois is among the states that have sharply limited solitary confinement as a punishment in its youth prisons, as part of an ongoing lawsuit with the ACLU. That leads to the ironic fact that a kid from Chicago can be confined to his cell for hours or days while awaiting trial at the Cook County detention center, when he is presumed innocent, but not once he is found guilty and sentenced to a state youth prison.

When Leonard Dixon took over the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in May 2015, it was coming out from under federal court oversight. The facility had a history of overcrowding, mismanagement and awful conditions—including excessive use of solitary confinement—which had led the ACLU to file a lawsuit in 1999.

The largest category of punitive confinement – and the one that has increased the most since Dixon started – is for “unauthorized movement,” which the Center for Children’s Law and Policy noted could be something as small as stepping outside of the T.V. room.

The Center for Children’s Law and Policy has already told the JTDC to cut back on solitary confinement twice. It’s not clear why they expect the third time will be any different.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford; photo by Lankford

New Oklahoma Laws to Impact Female Prisoners

The criminal justice reform bills approved by the Oklahoma Legislature last week don’t go as far as reformers would have liked. Yet they appear headed to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk, and Republican leadership is interested in continuing down this road. This is progress worth celebrating.

Last year, five bills resulting from the governor’s task force on criminal justice got bottled up by a Republican committee chairman who made it a practice during his time in the Legislature to oppose just about every reform idea that was presented to House members. Those five bills eventually wound up in a conference committee and they didn’t emerge before the 2017 session ended, despite pleas from Fallin and others to put them up for a vote.

That member left the Legislature lastOkla

year, providing reformers with hope that something might happen in 2018. Some heartburn returned when the bills sat idle for several weeks, but last week the Senate approved the five bills and the House approved two others in moves applauded by leaders in each chamber.

For too many years, GOP members have shied away from criminal justice reform for fear of being labeled “soft on crime.” But more and more, they are coming to understand that these are attempts to be “smart on crime” and provide some relief to the state’s aging prisons, which are filled beyond capacity and on track to stay that way.

Without changes to the status quo, it’s been projected that Oklahoma’s prison population, now at about 27,000, will grow by roughly 8,700 by the year 2026. Approval of the task force bills in their original form was expected to produce a slight reduction in the prison population over the next decade. It’s anticipated the prison population will continue to grow under the amended bills, but at a far slower rate than it is today. That’s a victory.

The seven pieces of legislation are all as sensible as they are overdue. House Bill 2281, for example, would adjust penalties for several low-level offenses such as larceny and forgery. It also would create a tiered structure for property crimes, with those involving items valued at less than $1,000 becoming misdemeanors. It’s expected this will help lower the female incarceration rate, which has been No. 1 nationally for 25 years.

Another example is Senate Bill 793, which eliminates the life-without-parole option for drug possession with intent to distribute, distribution, manufacturing and trafficking, and gets rid of most of the law’s mandatory-minimum sentences. SB 689, meanwhile, would give courts the chance to reduce life-without-parole sentences in some cases, and modifies the lengthy sentences related to drug trafficking.

And, more changes may be in store. Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, the next leader of the Senate, says he hopes to work with district attorneys and others between now and the 2019 session.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Vermont Private Prison Limits Psychiatric Care, Human Rights

THE VERMONT Agency of Human Services has proposed a large psychiatric and prison facility for Franklin County. It has been proposed that this facility be built and maintained by CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, a scandal-plagued private prison contractor.

This secure facility would consist of some 925 beds for male and female prisoners and would serve youth, forensic, and geriatric patients. It purports to offer a solution to a perceived crisis in the mental-health system in which those reporting to emergency departments of hospitals are held for long periods of time while waiting for a bed at an appropriate facility.

This proposal illustrates an increasing trend that conflates a lack of access to psychiatric care with a threat to public safety and public health.

This thinking ignores that there is already significant overlap between the criminal-justice system and the mental-health system. The further intermingling of these systems could very well end badly both for people who are imprisoned and people who are receiving psychiatric treatment.juvenile 2

Despite calls from prison-reform activists for more diversion to treatment for those who are jailed, the lives of those involuntarily committed to treatment for mental illness are subject to judicial intervention from the start of their confinement in one of the designated facilities in the state.

They are subject to court orders that allow them to be drugged forcibly and orders of non-hospitalization that require that they take psychiatric drugs once they are out of the hospital setting, lest they be returned to the hospital.

They face months of involuntary confinement, at the discretion of a judge.

An added emphasis on mental-health care in the criminal-justice system is less likely to result in an increase in meaningful counseling and compassionate care, and it could easily result in the increased use of antipsychotics as a means of chemical restraint.

There is also likely to be an additional layer of surveillance once inmates are released on parole or probation. In this scenario, inmates may be freed on the condition that they adhere to a regime of medication that may not be needed and that may be ultimately harmful to their physical or mental health.

This is not to say that there are not unmet needs among the imprisoned, and that drastic changes are not required to address these needs.

The Vermont Department of Corrections reported that in 2015 that 47 percent of those imprisoned were receiving mental-health services. According to the Vermont Human Rights Commission, there are obvious dangers attendant with this already-established relationship — particularly an increased reliance on solitary confinement.

To equate crime and untreated mental illness without explanation or qualification also serves to obscure criticisms of both the criminal-justice and the mental-health systems. It provides a pat set of explanations and solutions to social problems that require a more-thorough examination.

In accepting these explanations and solutions, we lose perspective on both and gain nothing in terms of public safety or the preservation of human rights.

Essentially, this puts the cart before the horse: being imprisoned is a traumatic experience that in many cases precipitates emotional crises.

In a 2017 report, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that some 1 in 7 prison inmates and 1 in 4 jail inmates reported serious psychological distress in the 30 days preceding a 2011-2012 survey.

While it would be possible to infer the harmful stereotype that many prisoners are mentally ill (and that many who experience mental illness are incipient prisoners), it is more politically astute to argue that losing one’s freedom and being placed in an institutional setting leads to emotional crises.

The same argument can be made for involuntary admission to a mental hospital, where patients experience many of the same losses of freedom.

In a report to the Department of Mental Health, Wilda White, executive director of Vermont Psychiatric Survivors notes that homelessness is the most significant determinant of long wait times in an emergency department. Housing status is also a major predictor of who will come into contact with the police.

Homelessness, incarceration, and civil commitment are all interrelated and mutually reinforcing phenomena that have economic inequality at their base rather than mental illness.

The way forward is not continuing to warehouse those who are suffering, but to redirect funding to housing and other programs that provide people with resources for survival.

In a 2016 report, the Center for American Progress estimated that the costs associated with providing supportive housing to inmates who are disabled is half of what it costs to incarcerate them.

While the proposed facility in Franklin County represents a commingling of the worst impulses that accompany calls for increased public safety and increased treatment for mental illness, it brings us opportunities for increased collaboration between prison reform and abolition movements and the movements of psychiatric survivors.

If the $3.25 billion that this mega-prison is anticipated to cost over 20 years were to be allocated to the development of truly affordable and accessible housing, we would more effectively address the issues that psychiatric hospitalization and imprisonment purport to solve.

And at the same time, we would forego the loss of freedom, exacerbation of suffering, and perpetuation of stigma that they actually deliver.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Duluth Changes its Approach to Homelessness

Not that long ago, not even a decade ago, our societal sense of what was OK had police officers dealing with the homeless by moving them along, by giving them “move on” orders. There, problem solved — although never really.

“And that wasn’t something we did just here in Duluth; that was the practice of all law enforcement,” Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said. “But move-on orders aren’t constitutional, and they don’t happen anymore.”

The approach now is more humane, more human, beginning with an acknowledgement that not having a home isn’t a crime and an attitude that public spaces belong to everyone in the public. No, that doesn’t mean aggressive panhandling should be tolerated, or illegal activity, or anything else that infringes on others’ ability to be in those same public spaces. It does mean, however, that someone simply existing can be allowed to do so — have the right to do so.

The shift in attitude on homelessness prompted the Duluth Police Department, two years or so ago, to create a new policy: “Interactions with Persons Experiencing Homelessness.” Tusken and others in the department found a nationally produced model and then tweaked it and rewrote it, making it uniquely Duluth’s, after meeting with and talking with homeless advocates here and after listening to the stories of Duluthians who had experienced homelessness. Everyone in the department receives training on the policy now.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Tusken said

Substantially, what has changed is our role now is to be a resource in the communit . We work very closely with Deb Holman, (Duluth’s) homeless outreach worker. We now have two embedded (with police officers) social workers who help people get services they need. (Instead of, ‘Move along’), we’re saying, ‘Here are all the resources available to you,’ everything from where you can get meals, shelter, housing, and legal support to what to do if you’re in a violent-partner relationship. …

“Today, we look to give (those experiencing homelessness) referrals and help,” the chief said, rather than the brush-offs and citations of yesterday.

The new approach is producing a more positive Duluth, the city’s human rights officer, Carl Crawford, said:

The biggest thing is that the police department and the city and our homeless coalition are talking to each other now. They’re no longer talking at each other. And that’s a big shift, too. Homelessness is something that happens all over the country. It’s different here because of the extreme temperatures. Here, you’re talking life safety, what’s happening in the extreme cold. Police underwent unbiased training, and I think that has really shed a different light on things. How do we see people with dignity? … As a city we are definitely talking and listening and working on this together. We know there are insights from all sides of the table. “Really, how hardhearted and truly cold would one have to be to stand opposed?”. “Supporting dignity for all doesn’t mean giving up any expectation of personal responsibility by all. … Ensuring human rights is a city responsibility. Specifically including those who don’t have homes can be seen as a right thing to do. They’re people who too often are overlooked, forgotten.”

 

There’s also evidence of changes for the better in addition to the shifts in attitude and approach. Heated public restrooms are being opened by the city earlier in the mornings and left open longer into the evenings. Also, in December, the city added six portable toilets at strategic points at the center of the city.

At the same time, a grassroots coalition of homeless advocates, city leaders, and others has been working since the fall of 2013 to draft a Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights, a guiding document to ensure safety and basic human rights for those out in the cold.

A number of its details still demand to be addressed, but with laws in place to handle most concerns. The News Tribune opined in March:

Really, how hardhearted and truly cold would one have to be to stand opposed?Supporting dignity for all doesn’t mean giving up any expectation of personal responsibility by all. … Ensuring human rights is a city responsibility. Specifically including those who don’t have homes can be seen as a right thing to do. They’re people who too often are overlooked, forgotten.

Although, increasingly, not so much, not with attitudes shifting and approaches to homelessness changing here in Duluth and across the nation.

Our focus, always, can be making sure there are safe places where people can go and adequate housing. But while we’re working on that, there is nothing wrong with also doing what’s possible to ensure everyone is treated humanely — and as humans.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

New Jersey Gov. Seeks to Axe Re-entry Programs

As rehabilitation efforts gain ground in other states, current governor’s withdrawal of funding for NJ nonprofit backed by his predecessor is ‘inexplicable.’

Prisoner re-entry programs are at the forefront of fighting the opioid epidemic in prisoners and reducing state recidivism rates. They aim to make sure that those convicted can make a smooth transition into New Jersey life by helping inmates manage their addictions, earn an education and job training, and create a clear and purposeful pathway from behind the wall back into the community. At this year’s re-entry conference in Jersey City, the emphasis was on battling addiction through medication-assisted treatment, assistance with job training, housing security, and access to education.

Former NJ Gov. Jim McGreevey

Former NJ Gov. Jim McGreevey

 

That work however, is dependent on Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget.

According to Murphy’s budget breakdown for fiscal year 2019, the New Jersey Reentry Corporation will see all its state funding cut. Under the current state budget signed by Gov. Chris Christie, the NJRC received $4 million and was able to expand to eight locations across the state and serve more than 4,000 clients. The NJRC had hoped Murphy would be more generous than his predecessor and provide $5 million in funding as Murphy had spoken about the importance of comprehensive re-entry programs while on the campaign trail.

The cuts would be “catastrophic” for the individuals seeking assistance according to McGreevey, who said he plans to fight for that funding:

“I will give the full measure of every ounce of my being to stand for these persons. The re-entry population ought not to be a political football. These are men and women trying to change their lives and they need to be respected, and they need to be honored for their hard work, their dignity, and their sobriety.

“What’s ludicrous is that we’re willing to spend over a billion dollars to lock people in cages but we’re not willing to spend $5 million for re-entry services. That is inexplicable to me. According to an NJRC report, incarcerating someone for one year in New Jersey costs $53,681 while enrolling that same person in NJRC costs $2,200. I intend to form a collaborative taskforce of representatives from the healthcare industry, law enforcement, legal services and other relevant parties to tackle re-entry in the state.

“If the governor doesn’t want to understand the importance of a re-entry taskforce, the New Jersey Reentry Corp. will form one, but I’d like to do it in partnership with the State of New Jersey.

One major contributor to a successful re-entry is sobriety. For many former prisoners, their ongoing battle with addiction can be the biggest hurdle to their reintegration. According to a National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse report, 85 percent of all incarcerated individuals in the country are involved with drugs or other addictive substances, but only 11 percent of those addicted inmates receive treatment during their incarceration.

Upon imprisonment, addicts are often forced to detox without any medication assistance — a painful, and in some cases life-threatening process that does not equate to permanent sobriety. In fact, detoxing can lower an individual’s tolerance level so that when they are released back into the community and seek out drugs once more (relapse is common with opioid addictions in particular), they are more likely to overdose. Without sustained access to treatment beginning in jail, experts say, addicts are most likely to become incarcerated again. For many, job training and education are of little use if they cannot manage their addiction.

Though Murphy’s budget does not provide the funding McGreevey was looking for, other major power players in the state have announced their commitment to improving the re-entry process in New Jersey.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) noted the $6 billion in federal opioid funding allocated by the U.S. Senate and said he will fight in Washington, D.C. to secure as much of that money as possible to bring to New Jersey and support re-entry programs like the NJRC.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced he will be rolling out an expanded version of his Bergen County Operation Helping Hand initiative to an additional six counties. Under the program, police arrested low-level heroin users and channeled them into a detox program at a medical facility before pairing them with recovery coaches and specialists in the prosecutor’s office.

Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) has also authored a plan to reform the state parole system and integrate re-entry services and rehab programs. The bill, S-761, was approved by the Senate Budget Committee last month.

In other states that are battling the opioid crisis, treating addiction in prisons and jails has proven effective. New Jersey prison reform and re-entry advocates like those at the NJRC are looking to these states to determine where resources in the state could be better integrated. Rhode Island, in particular has seen staggering results. Over a year ago, Rhode Island began providing inmates full access to three medications for opioid addiction — buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone — which experts have called “the gold standard of care” for opioid addiction. It is unique in this approach as no other state prison system provides the same type of access to all three medications, with many providing no medication treatment at all. Since then, overdose deaths among returning prisoners in Rhode Island fell by 60 percent and overall opioid overdose deaths fell by 12 percent in the state. Overdose deaths among released inmates was cut by more than half, according to a recent study.

Buffalo, New York, which started the nation’s first opioid intervention court, is also being looked at as a model for other states, including New Jersey. The system there works like a traditional drug court in that addicts who are nonviolent offenders are led into a recovery program as an alternative to prison time and are often given reduced sentences because of seeking help. Inmates are closely monitored, required to take multiple drug tests, and must check in with a judge throughout their recovery.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Arts Education Reduces Juvenile Recidivism

Using an arts education program has been successful in breaking patterns caused by a dysfunctional, punitive model that has resulted in hyper-expensive often lifelong incarceration and criminal recidivism.

For the first time, at new probation facilities like “Campus”Kilpatrick– not Juvenile Hall — juveniles (aka kids) who are being held by the Probation Department live in Pasadena, CA in six apartment-like, family-like settings that are in marked contrast to the terror-producing, claustrophobic, cinderblock reality that many remember from their own broken childhoods. 

Proof that “the arts can eliminate some trauma” was also attested to by Dave Mitchell who pointed out that there are now only 330 incarcerated juveniles in a residential system that housed over 1500 not so long ago. Mitchell and the others say what is different with their approach using art is, “We don’t want to control, we want to change them.” Clearly the program is achieving a revolutionary result by enabling kids who start out violent, defensive, and closed off, to become open and able to access their soft cores without the fear that has been such a pervasive force in their lives.cell

Up until now, these “circumstantial barriers” have had a far greater impact on juveniles of color, where by every measure of severity from the initial response of police to whether or not the juvenile is incarcerated– and for how long — disproportionally impacts minority youth far more than their White counterparts.

Ironically, whether it’s the juvenile justice system with its subsequent incarceration or in our public education system that is marked by an endemic lack of rigor, what seems to be driving both to the detriment of society iscorporate profit, no matter what the human cost.

Can anyone honesty say that instituting an effective arts education in theproposed publicly funded $3.7 billion jail expansion planned for a Miraloma location would not be a preferable way to try and address the current broken system of juvenile justice? It’s something to consider, especially since, as Kim McGill points out,the present system costs approximately $247,000 for every year a juvenile spends in “camp.”

And this is only the tip of the fiscal iceberg, when one considers that 70% of today’s incarcerated juvenile population is to some degree mentally ill, which will only get worse if left untreated. Up until now, the punitive system of incarceration has had neither the will nor the financial ability to deal with this in a timely manner.

How much of what they deal with on a day to day basis would be unnecessary if school districts like LAUSD did their job and stopped socially promoting students from grade to grade without mastering prior grade-level standards.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford