Archive for Humane Exposures

Pre-trial Release Program Addresses Plight of the Poor

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

Phoro by Susan Madden Lankford

Phoro by Susan Madden Lankford

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

 

Sonoma County, CA Drops Juvenile Justice Fees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Reforms May Cost Louisiana its Title of Incarceration Capital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LeBlanc said:

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

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

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

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

San Antonio Police Approach to Homelessness Shifting from Punitive to Helpful

Summer Muniz had been living under a West Side overpass, strung out on drugs, jobless, and had a warrant out for her arrest due to unpaid fines. The week before, a man had stolen her husband’s wallet, which held the couple’s only forms of identification (a fire had already devoured their birth certificates and social security cards earlier that year). Earlier that day, Muniz discovered she was five months pregnant with a baby girl. She was certain she’d have to give the baby up for adoption. A pair of middle-aged San Antonio Police Department officers walked up and crouched down beside her and asked how they could help.

help not handcuffsWithin days, Muniz was seen by an OB-GYN with her newly-acquired Medicaid insurance, sleeping in a dorm-like shelter bed, enrolled in a detox program, and filling out paperwork to get a new ID. The officers had taken her husband to a hospital after learning his leg was seriously infected. He signed up for Medicaid to pay for an unexpected surgery. Meanwhile, the officers found Muniz a stroller and crib, and helped her land a temp job. By the time she gave birth to her daughter four months later, Muniz and her husband were living in their own apartment, off drugs and had reliable incomes.

Muniz isn’t the only person who’s been pulled out of homelessness with the help of the veteran cops.

In fact, ever since officers Monty McCann and Joe Farris formed SAPD’s Homeless Outreach Positive Encounters (HOPE) team two years ago, they’ve seen dozens of people navigate their way out of addiction, mental health crises and homelessness.

It’s a kind of outreach relatively unheard of in San Antonio. Aside from their two-person team, there are about six other people in the city whose sole job is to seek out and build relationships with the homeless, in hopes of eventually linking them with needed services.

Despite the city’s ambitious goals, the number of “chronically homeless” individuals — people who have been without housing for more than a year — living on San Antonio streets has only gone up over the past decade. McCann and Farris, who have been on the force for nearly 25 years apiece, have watched first-hand as the city’s laws to crack down on homelessness cycle the same folks through the courts and spit them right back onto the street where they began. They say it’s clearly a broken system.

Currently, the city has no comprehensive plan to end homelessness. In the past, many felt the directive was basically for police to arrest homelessness out of existence. But in recent years, as cops discovered their arrests did little to fix the problem, SAPD has turned more toward advocacy and away from reactionary arrests and ticket-writing. Longtime homeless advocates, previously critical of SAPD’s handling of the homeless, say this new approach has already begun to disrupt the feedback loop of chronic homelessness for some.

In February 2005, a month after then-Mayor Ed Garza approved the city’s ten-year plan to end chronic homelessness, the San Antonio City Council met to discuss what they called a preventative strategy. Council eventually voted on new city rules that did more to criminalize homelessness than to actually help the destitute. The four ordinances, penned by then downtown councilman Roger Flores, would make it a crime to sit or lie down on a sidewalk, urinate in public, camp in public, or “aggressively” solicit for money. Those who disobeyed would be stuck with a fine of up to $500. Flores admitted the goal was to help downtown business owners.

City leaders knew – or should have known – that San Antonio already didn’t have enough shelter space for the city’s homeless population. It was one of the findings a city-commissioned study unveiled in the process of crafting San Antonio’s ten-year plan to end homelessness. Only former Councilwoman Patti Radle saw the irony of shooing homeless people off the streets just as city leaders were learning how few options they had.

“We were acknowledging that homeless people did not have alternatives, and then we were punishing the homeless for behavior that they could not help,” Radle told Justin Cook, a St. Mary’s University law student who eventually penned an article for the university’s law journal, The Scholar, that concluded two of the city’s four new ordinances cracking down on behavior associated with homelessness were unconstitutional.

“It is impossible for a homeless person in San Antonio to avoid committing a crime in order to satisfy the basic human need for sleep,” Cook argued. “Forcing an innocent person into making such a choice is both cruel and unusual.”

SAPD officers started churning out citations across the city, and San Antonio’s homeless population started drowning in tickets and fines they couldn’t hope to pay. After paying them off through community service or time in jail, they’d often return to the streets, where it was almost inevitable they’d get more tickets and fines for breaking the same rules.

By 2014, SAPD was writing an average of 6,300 citations a year for violations of these four city laws directed at the homeless and poor. An investigation by the Current that year discovered one homeless man who had received more than 1,000 citations alone. By 2015, when the city’s ten-year plan was supposed to have “ended chronic homelessness,” the number of chronically homeless people had only grown. In 2005, 16 percent of the city’s 1,600 homeless population were considered chronically homeless. By 2015, chronically homeless people accounted for about a quarter of the nearly 2,800 people living on the streets or in shelters.

“Be creative.” “Think outside the box.” Those were the only two instructions McCann and Farris remember being given when first asked to run the department’s two-man HOPE team in 2015.

The two officers spent the first year learning about the city’s homeless safety net by meeting with every organization that works in the field, and getting to know most of downtown’s chronically homeless population, business owners, city staffers working to craft a new homelessness plan, and fellow officers familiar with the issue. They tried to find the biggest roadblocks keeping chronically homeless people from seeing a doctor, accepting drug detox, or moving into a shelter. They heard from nonprofits struggling to connect with resistant clients or shelter staffers tired of breaking up fights or finding used needles in their cramped facilities.

What they also found was a system brimming with needy people and organizations wanting to help them — but no simple way to bring the two together.

The two officers decided they could act as a sort of trail guide for people looking for a way off the streets. They’d regularly check in with people living downtown to make sure they made appointments or showed up to court. They’d accompany people to a detox center, shelter or social services office to help them fill out paperwork (a surprising number of the city’s homeless population are illiterate, they discovered) or explain any confusing parts of the process that could make a person give up out of frustration. Some of the people they helped relapsed or returned to the streets, but others have since graduated from rehab, landed full-time jobs, or found permanent housing.

Two years in, the officers are already filling longtime gaps in the city’s network of homeless services, like with their ID recovery program.

Every Tuesday, the HOPE team holds office hours in the lobby of SAPD’s downtown headquarters to meet with people who don’t have any form of identification. For the homeless, it’s a common problem — perhaps their ID was stolen while they slept in a park, forgotten on the bus, taken by an officer during an arrest and never returned. According to local service providers, it’s the number one reason so many people are stuck in the cycle of homelessness.

“It’s a chicken and the egg scenario,” Farris said. “You need a driver’s license to apply for a birth certificate, a birth certificate to get a social security card, and a social security card to get a driver’s license.” Without any of these, he adds, it’s near impossible to apply for any type of social service help — from food stamps to maternity care to housing assistance. You certainly can’t apply for a job. It’s a vicious cycle the HOPE team wants to disrupt.

Their fix? Make their own ID. At police headquarters, the officers use a person’s fingerprint to pull up their criminal background (for the homeless, it’s rare to not have one), snap a photo of the person with an iPhone, and cobble together a DIY ID on paper stamped with the SAPD seal. They sign it and take the client to get a copy of their birth certificate at a city office building down the street using the new ID. Farris and McCann wait with the person in the winding line of other people applying for birth certificates or passports until its their turn at the front window. Most of the office staff know the two officers well by now, and greet them with a warm smile and nod as they look over their document. The men have an agreement with the staffers to accept this unusual piece of paper as a proof of a person’s identity.

With a birth certificate, a person can easily apply for a new driver’s license the same day. And just like that, their ID problems are solved. Houston and San Antonio’s police departments appear to be the only ones in the country that offer this kind of fix. Bill Hubbard, director of the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless, the agency that manages the city’s federal homeless grant money, believes the ID program couldn’t work without HOPE.

HOPE used SAPD’s crisis intervention training — a program that teaches officers how to detect signs of mental illness and interact with someone who may be going through a mental health crisis — as a model. Originally dubbed “hug-a-thug” training by skeptical officers, SAPD’s crisis intervention program has received national praise for linking offenders to mental health treatment at the county’s Center for Health Care Services, rather than tossing them in jail. SAPD Chief William McManus made the training mandatory in 2010. Few people are calling it names anymore.

McManus and Farris were some of the first to embrace crisis training. Still, despite the fact that some 70 percent of the people who are taken to the city’s mental health facility by police are homeless, SAPD’s crisis training doesn’t instruct officers or clinicians on how to respond to homeless people.

“If you’re homeless, you’re in crisis,” McCann says. “The mere state of homelessness is traumatic. It needs to be treated that way.”

Mental health experts agree. “Homelessness can strike a different kind of crisis within a person,” says Amanda Miller, a psychologist with the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, a group of county mental health clinicians that accompany officers responding to a 911 call that may involve a mental health crisis. For instance, she says, living in a perpetually unstable environment can throw off a person’s orientation — people often miss appointments because they lose track of time or forget what day it is. They may not remember to take their medication or may miss a good night’s sleep. It’s an environment that seems to work directly against a person’s mental health.

“Stability is key to mental health recovery…or any kind of recovery,” Miller says. “But you don’t get stability when you’re homeless.”

There’s already one significant, measurable change. In the past year, SAPD officers have written a total of 1,861 tickets for the four laws that most often impact homeless people. Compare that to 2014, when cops wrote around 6,300 tickets for breaking those same laws.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Yale Prison Education Initiative Plans Inmate Teaching Program

Incarcerated people in Connecticut may soon be able to take Yale College courses for academic credit as part of the Yale Prison Education Initiative (YPEI). The program, which will not be formally established until a new dean is chosen to replace Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, aims to provide teaching of the same quality and rigor as a Yale classroom, according to Dwight Hall Director Peter Crumlish DIV ’09. Though the project is still in its early stages, Yale professors and graduate students have already expressed interest in teaching at nearby prisons, according to YPEI Director Zelda Roland ’08 GRD ’16. The proposed courses, which cover a range of disciplines, would be taught by Yale graduate students and professors.

Zelda Roland

Zelda Roland

“There are a lot of people in prison who are ready for educational opportunity and who are not given access to extremely high quality liberal arts education, and so Yale teaching is something that can do that,” Roland said.

Roland was initially inspired to create the program by her work at Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education. She said Yale’s program is modeled after that of Wesleyan, which has offered over 60 classes in topics from biology to political theory at the Cheshire Correctional Institution and York Correctional Institution since 2009. Several Yale professors currently teach at prisons through Wesleyan’s program.

At the Wesleyan center, students enroll in two classes and a study hall each semester. The program also offers lectures by visiting professors, noncredit remedial classes, discussion groups and skill-building workshops to supplement the core course load. Still, Roland added that the Wesleyan program only operates in two of Connecticut’s 15 prisons, creating a need within the state for more educational projects for incarcerated people.

A 2013 study by the public policy research group RAND estimated that prisoners who continue their educations behind bars are 43 percent less likely to return to prison upon release, and each dollar invested in prison education programs has the potential to save between four and five dollars of reincarceration costs. In July 2015, former President Barack Obama piloted a program to offer federal funding to inmates who wished to take college courses in prison.

Earlier this month, YPEI hosted a reading event focused on the January 2017 book “College in Prison: Reading in an Age of Mass Incarceration,” an analysis of Bard College’s prison education initiative, which Roland cited as another model for Yale’s program. She added that the 40 attendees, who gathered in Dwight Hall, discussed the challenges of this education model, specifically the challenges of running a similar program near New Haven.

She said the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project, a college activism group for issues relating to incarceration, has helped define her vision for the project. Roland works with student groups to further the impact of Yale programs that address issues of mass incarceration, educational access and criminal justice reform.

Roland stressed the importance of collaboration between groups that interact with prison populations. For example, she noted a pre-existing program at the Yale Law School that brings law Students to Green Haven Prison in New York state for biweekly seminars. She added that the program is premised on the idea that incarcerated men and Yale Law students both have much to learn from each other.

Roland said:

I’m trying to create this network on this campus of people who are already doing stuff like this and bringing it into a discussion that actually energizes the mission of Yale University as this institution of higher learning that seeks best students regardless of background.

She also said she is currently in conversations with the Dean’s Office about launching the program, though she acknowledged that the College is currently undergoing a change in leadership and the project may not get off the ground until after Holloway’s successor is found.

“It’s on hold until the new dean is appointed, but it will likely require faculty vote and discussion if it is something that will be taken on formally,” Crumlish said.

Dwight Hall serves as the institutional home for YPEI, just as it did for Columbus House and the Connecticut Bail Fund, which are all now freestanding New Haven organizations related to incarceration. Crumlish suspected that the program would later be housed under the Dean’s Office.

Roland emphasized that YPEI is still working out the details of the program, specifically how it can best fit with Yale’s mission. Title II of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 requires that 10 percent of state funding be spent on prison education programs.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

California Contemplates Reforms to Juvenile Detention

Should youth incarcerated in California juvenile halls and camps be entitled to new underwear? Should family and friends be assured that their visits to youth in detention facilities be in person rather than through video screens? Should these youth be guaranteed more time outdoors for exercise and fresh air?

These are some of the concerns that advocates and juvenile_3formerly incarcerated youth are pushing for as California considers revisions to its regulations for its state and county detention facilities, which had a combined average daily population of about 7,000 young people under 25 in 2015. California has the largest number of youth incarcerated in the country, according to the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ).

The California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) held its first committee meeting on March 9 in Sacramento in a process that is expected to continue through the end of the year. The full board is expected to make a final decision on revisions to Juvenile Titles 15 and 24 regulations by April 2018.

Executive Steering Committee meetings are designed to provide direction and focus to the revision process by identifying critical issues, providing direction to workgroups that propose revisions and making a final recommendation to the full BSCC Board. The workgroups, which will be composed of advocates, law enforcement and government officials, will be selected in the next few months.

Revisions to California’s regulations were last made in 2014, but there is no particular rule for when a state reviews its regulations for youth facilities, according to the NCJJ.

While California does not necessarily set the standard for innovations in juvenile justice, many states do look to it for what is possible. “Many states may look at California and say, if California can do it with all these kids, maybe we can do it, too,” said Melissa Sickmund, director of the NCJJ.

Advocacy groups and individuals familiar with the juvenile justice system because they have been incarcerated or have had family members or friends incarcerated have submitted public comments with suggestions for the regulation revisions. Nearly 200 comments were made.

Advocates say they expect most of their proposals to be accepted because they are designed to update regulations after federal and state laws are newly adopted or recent studies come out. In other cases, advocates want to ban certain procedures in state regulations.

California Board of State and Community Corrections inspections includes speaking with juveniles about conditions in the facility.

One key suggestion has been to retain and extend the amount of time young people in lockup get for in-person visitations, particularly at a time when adult incarceration facilities in the state have been moving toward video visitations.

Dominque Nong, senior policy associate for the Children’s Defense Fund in Los Angeles, said,”Being able to see family members is one of the critical ways for youths to stay connected to their families.”

Youth Law Center attorneys Maria Ramiu and Virginia Corrigan wrote in a public comment submitted in January, “Maintaining bonds with family are critically important to ensuring youth are successful upon reentry.” “Visitation is one of the few evidence-based interventions provided to detained youth.”

Youth in California are currently allowed a minimum of two visiting hours per week from their parent or guardian, but other family members or friends are not allowed to visit. Advocates want the minimum increased to seven hours per week for visits and other visitors allowed.

“Not only should the minimum hours increase considerably, but permissible visitors should include additional family members, friends, significant others and children of incarcerated young people,” Erica Webster, communications and policy analyst at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, wrote in an opinion piece for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Ramiu of the Youth Law Center, which runs a program to help incarcerated teen parents to maintain contact with their children and provide them with parenting skills, said the number of parenting and/or pregnant incarcerated youth is not tracked in California or nationally.

Advocates say studies have shown that in-person visitations reduce in-custody violence, reduce recidivism and maintain family ties between incarcerated family members and children. As part of their argument that communication is critical for incarcerated youth, advocates also recommend that youths be allowed to make free telephone calls and send up to 10 letters per week — rather than just two letters — postage-free.

In regard to the use of force, advocates want to eliminate pepper spray, chemical agents and lethal force, and ban the use of restraint devices that attach youth to a wall, floor or other fixture. They also want to limit room confinement to a maximum of four hours and prohibit its use for punishment, coercion, convenience or retaliation by staff. Currently, youth can be confined to their rooms for more than four hours for discipline or to try to “cool down” a situation between youths. That will have to change by January 2018 to conform with a new state law and become a permanent part of the regulations.

“The changes are needed to bring Title 15 into conformity with accepted professional practice, reduce trauma and risk of physical harm to youth, and to help protect against unnecessary litigation,” Sue Burrell, policy and training director for the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center, wrote in a public comment.

Nong, of the Children’s Defense Fund-California, wrote:

It is well documented that shackling youth unnecessarily traumatizes, stigmatizes and humiliates youth, and runs counter to the rehabilitative principles of the juvenile justice system.

Advocates are also pushing for better intake and release assessments of youth incarcerated to include not only their problems, but their strengths and needs. They also want regularly scheduled counseling and casework services. Current regulations call for such services to be available but not regularly scheduled. Advocates said that after interviewing youths released from lockup, the young people could have benefited from more counseling while incarcerated.

Webster of the CJCJ wrote in a public comment,

When working with justice-involved youth either currently in custody or recently released from these facilities, CJCJ’s juvenile service providers found that youth were not made adequately aware of the services available to them, but were required to request services from facility staff of their own volition. It is difficult to request services when one does not know which services exist.

Jesse Hahnel, executive director of the National Center for Youth Law, wrote:

Juvenile justice experts are in agreement that positive youth development — an approach that emphasizes the strengths and resources of youth, rather than their deficits — must be integrated into juvenile justice facility practice in order to fully realize the juvenile justice system’s goal of rehabilitation and treatment.

Many people who were incarcerated as youths voiced their concerns in a survey created by a partnership of youth advocacy groups, asking for a change in regulations that would require the issuance of new, clean underwear, adequate hygiene products and clean bedding. Advocates argue that issuing youth in detention used and stained underwear is demeaning and dehumanizing, and exposes them to disease. Youth may bring their own underwear from home — but most don’t.

“Forcing youth to wear used underwear is a punitive practice that is inconsistent with the underlying philosophy of juvenile court law,” Burrell wrote in a public comment. “Requiring youth in detention to wear used underwear does not meet these standards. It is demeaning and dehumanizing.”

A Los Angeles woman wrote in the survey that hygiene products were “insufficient and so poor in quality as to cause rashes, break-outs, dry skin and especially for African-Americans — hair breakage and loss.”

The time devoted to recreational activities, such as reading, is limited for incarcerated youth. Advocates would like to see that changed to a minimum of four hours per day during the week and seven hours on Saturday and Sunday, or non-school days.

A Los Angeles man wrote:

At the probation camps, the only time we received adequate bedding (mattresses, pillows, blankets) was when the Department of Justice visited the institution. They would also make sure everyone had presentable clothing to show the DOJ officials that we were being taken care of. The week of the visit, staff would go around the facility checking for mattresses that were not in good condition.

“In regards to the clothing, it was deplorable and the distribution methods for the clothing was just unbelievable. The underwear were stained, the shirts had holes, and the socks were always torn. Again, the only time we ever had decent clothing was when government officials were visiting the facilities. And when we asked for better clothing, the staff would say things like ‘this is what happens when you come to jail’ or ‘if you want to wear better clothes, don’t come here.’

 

Advocates are also pushing for a change in how youth are housed and supervised. Currently, youth can be housed in open dormitory-style facilities with as many as 30 people in one room, separated by gender. Advocates said they would like to see units with a maximum of 10 beds each. They would also like to see supervisor-to-youth ratios lowered from 12-to-1 to 8-to-1 during the day, and 16-to-1 during sleeping hours, rather than 30-to-1.

Webster of the CJCJ argues that the large dormitory format has been shown to be particularly unsafe because it fosters competition, deepens factions and furthers gang problems, citing a study by The Children’s Defense Fund. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention also has recommended the elimination of large dormitories at juvenile facilities.

Currently, youth in juvenile facilities get one hour each day for recreation, but regulations do not require that it be outdoors or involve physical activity. Advocates would like to see that changed to a minimum of four hours per day during the week and seven hours on Saturday and Sunday, or non-school days. Of those additional hours, they want at least one hour of “large muscle activity” to be an outdoor activity.

Other recreational activities can include reading, television, radio, music, video and games. They also want to limit suspensions of recreation activities to no more than 24 hours at a time.

Many of the formerly incarcerated youths said in the survey that detention facilities should be more rehabilitative rather than punitive.

“I felt sad to be in a place that felt so institutional and dark,” wrote a woman from Orange. “I think our youth would benefit from being in a more community type of setting.”

When asked on the survey if there was anything the juvenile facility did a good job with, a Los Angeles man replied: “Showing me how to fight.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Proposed bill aims to cut Oregon’s prison population

Oregon House Bill 3078, also known as the 2017

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Safety and Savings Act. would change sentencing guidelines for property and drug convictions and allow more people into treatment and transitional services, would keep people out of Oregon’s crowded prisons.

Opponents denied the claims that state prisons were experiencing an overcrowding crisis and said the bill would undo the progress Oregon has made on reducing crime.

“When I arrested women with their children watching, I knew I was altering their lives forever,” said Rep. Carla Piluso, a former Gresham police chief. “Many of these mothers were in domestic violence situations or struggling with addiction or mental illness.”

She attributed these problems to lack of treatment and sentencing laws that created lengthy, expensive prison stays for repeat offenders. The change made in 2008 to implement longer sentences was created to target big-time drug kingpins instead mostly punishes low-level addicts, she said.

“Nothing pains an officer more than to find out that our system isn’t addressing the underlying problem, and they’d have to go back and arrest the same woman over and over, or even worse, their children 10 years later,” Piluso said.

Rep. Ann Lininger, spoke about her cousin’s struggle with addiction and the criminal justice system, and urged the committee to approve the bill, saying it was a more humane way to treat people with addiction and mental illnesses.
Lininger tearfully recounted her experience watching her young cousin struggle with addiction and the criminal justice system. She urged the committee to approve the bill, saying it was a better and more humane way to treat people with addiction and mental illnesses.

The changes will benefit all qualified inmates, not just women, but it will serve to address the “skyrocketing” female inmate population, supporters said.

According to researchers, the number of women imprisoned in the Oregon Department of Corrections has nearly tripled over the past 20 years even though women are not committing more frequent or serious crimes.

Talk of a building a new, $20-million prison to handle Oregon’s growing female inmate population spurred the creation of the proposed bill, said Shannon Wight, deputy director and policy director of Partnership for Safety and Justice, the advocacy agency behind the bill.

Spending that money would not have been a good investment, she said. The funds would be better spent on intensive probation and treatment, which would address root causes of most female incarceration— drug addiction and mental illness.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown calls for reforms to ‘under-resourced’ child welfare system. About 70 percent of the more than 1,200 women inside Coffee Creek Correctional Facility are there for drug and property crimes, Wight said. Most have struggled with addiction and mental health. Many are survivors of domestic violence.

Wight said the proposed bill has several different components designed to address the root causes of incarceration and lower recidivism rates. If passed, the bill would preserve the Family Sentencing Alternative, a program passed in 2015 in an effort to keep children and parent offenders together by providing them with intensive supervision and services instead of prison. The proposed bill would also expand the program to include pregnant women and increase the number of counties participating in alternative sentencing.

Defendants being sentenced for person felonies, like assault and armed robbery, and sex crimes would not be eligible for alternative sentencing.

Backers of the bill also want to increase short-term transitional leave from 30 days to 180 days. Wight said expanding the period would allow for more time to help released inmates find housing, employment, and treatment, thus, lowering the chances of them re-offendingand returning to prison.

Officials with the Partnership for Justice and Safety said the state’s excessive sentences for drug and property crimes “disproportionately impact women and people of color.”

A portion of the proposed bill seeks to undo those “excessive” prison stays by reducing the presumption sentences for certain property crimes and increasing the number of previous convictions—from two to four— allowed before a sentence automatically lengthens.

Intensive treatment is more cost-effective than filling prison cells, Wight said. Realigning drug and property sentencing laws and focusing on rehabilitation will create long- and short-term savings

Those savings can be used to a fund the grossly under-met needs of victim services agencies, she added. The bill would appropriate a set amount to the Oregon Domestic and Sexual Violence Fund, where current funding levels are less than 50 percent of what is minimally required to ensure adequate access to emergency services, according to the Partnership for Justice and Safety.

The act could result in cost-savings, community-based services, addiction treatment and increased family stability, all of which make communities safer and stronger.

“What you end of doing is investing in these folks,” he said. “We become taxpayers, and we pay back into the system.”

Total inmates in Oregon Department of Corrections custody in 2017: 14,644.

Female inmate population at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (April 2017): 1,292.

Female population of Coffee Creek in 2002: 646.

Percent increase in Oregon DOC female prison population in past 20 years: 200 percent.

Estimated cost of a second women’s prison per biennium: $18 million.

Percent of women in prison who are mothers: 75 percent.

Percent of women in prison convicted of drug and property crimes: 70 percent.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Undocumented Homeless in D.C and Elsewhere are “Invisible”

They have no documentation, no stable home, and no support. Often unnoticed, their struggle is hidden within the walls of overcrowded apartments and in the shadows of government agencies. These immigrants are what Janethe Peña, executive director of D.C. Doors, calls the city’s “invisible” homeless.

Peña knows the story all too well. As a

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

third-generation immigrant from Nicaragua, she came to the U.S. with her mother when she was 18 months old. Fleeing the civil war in their home country, they came to D.C. and moved into a three-bedroom home with 14 of their family members.

“Undocumented homelessness is a major issue in D.C.,” Peña said. “You just can’t find it. Because there are no data.”

No precise national figures exist on the number of undocumented homeless people. According to Peña, a major reason for this lack of data is that an undocumented individual experiencing homelessness is very rarely going to identify as undocumented or homeless for fear of deportation.

Peña says:

The biggest fear is falling into the system. Because falling into the system means they come out of the shadows. And a lot of individuals prefer to go from place to place — to overcrowded and unsafe situations — than to be brought out of the shadows, especially with the new [Trump] administration.

“Because of the current rhetoric towards immigrants, this hesitancy to give out personal information holds true regardless of legal status. Both documented and undocumented immigrants are reluctant and fearful. You will not see someone go to an office and publicly say they need assistance with their housing. Maybe before, but certainly not now.

This has proven to be a struggle for D.C. Doors and organizations like it, who can no longer afford to aid only the Latino homeless community. In order for D.C. Doors to increase their funding and visibility, they must and have begun to work with communities outside of the undocumented and Latino sectors.

“The reality is that in order for us to be viewed as a force in the homeless community, we need to start serving more mainstream. And that’s sad, but it’s the truth,” she said.

It is Peña’s own experience with urban poverty and migrating to a new country that led her to commit her life to education about and advocacy for homeless immigrants. It’s what led her to found D.C. Doors.

Originally called the Latino Transitional Housing Partnership (LTHP), D.C. Doors was created as a program to fill the gap in transitional and permanent housing needs for Latinos living in the District. Today, the nonprofit provides comprehensive assistance to immigrant Latino families and single Latina women facing housing crises. The organization strives to help homeless families and low-income families break the cycles of poverty and homelessness. The individuals they help usually fall under the umbrella of the “invisible” homeless.

Eva Maria Chavez, a former policy intern at D.C. Doors now working at the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles, described this community as the people “you ride the metro with, you buy food from, but you have no idea that they don’t have a place to call home because they are invisible to you.”

Juana Perdomo, who migrated to the United States from El Salvador, lost her apartment in 2015 after her building complex changed owners and the cost of living increased. After working in the U.S. for seven years, seven days a week, she found herself without a place to sleep.

“I had nowhere to live. I had to go from place to place, rent rooms here and there,” Perdomo said. “So, my social worker connected me to Janethe [of D.C. Doors] and I qualified for their program and began to live there…but I still don’t have a place of my own, I still don’t know where I will go from here.”

Perdomo, who came to the U.S. to be able to financially support her daughter in El Salvador, is one of many that D.C. Doors has helped. However, according to Chavez, the funds and resources needed to fully help undocumented homeless people in D.C. are simply not there.

This is largely because undocumented immigrants are explicitly prohibited from federal programs due to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, a major federal overhaul that restricted immigrant access to welfare programs, among other federal public benefits.

Even the biggest funder of homeless individuals and families, the Department of Housing and Urban Development(HUD), is not permitted to support aid to undocumented individuals. This restriction puts nongovernmental organizations like D.C. Doors in a tough position because of the myriad of barriers created by federal regulation.

Escalating the current climate surrounding this community, the Trump administration has threatened to take away federal funding from “sanctuary cities,” a blanket term which refers to various policies that prevent local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement, such as asking about immigration status during routine stops or cooperating with detainment orders.

The District has implemented sanctuary policies since 1984, and Mayor Muriel Bowser reaffirmed this status in November 2016 before going as far as to set up a legal services fund for immigrant justice in January.

“It’s a waiting game,” Peña said. “We haven’t had a raid yet, but they are happening right outside our borders. If you start seeing them in D.C., then that is something to worry about because that means that we are not really a sanctuary city.”

D.C. has approximately 70,000 immigrants, of which roughly 25,000 are undocumented.

And they face yet another obstacle when you look at the technical definition of homelessness under HUD. The HUD definition of homelessness, that is also used at the local level, is limited to chronic homelessness. Overcrowding is not one of the reasons why an individual or family can be considered to be experiencing homelessness. So, even if an individual is living in a one-bedroom apartment with 10 other individuals, they are not considered homeless and eligible for assistance under the HUD definition.

Chavez says:

This population needs to have their specific needs addressed. Just like youth and veterans have their specific homeless resources, undocumented homeless should have their own. The experience is different. This population usually finds the most hidden places. They are scared. I think this needs to come to light and more people need to start demanding these resources. We need to protect these individuals that are too often treated like animals. These are just people who are fleeing countries in warfare and in extreme poverty.

 

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Folsom Prison Programs Benefit Inmates and Community

Folsom State Prison first opened in 1880 and has come a distance from its harsh, punitive roots, increasingly offering a wide range of rehabilitation and re-entry programs. The facility houses primarily medium-security males but also contains minimum-security facilities for both males and females, and offers programs that not only build inmate’s skills, but that also have a direct impact on the community outside of the prison.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recognizes that programming opportunities are the best way to prepare an offender for success upon release, ensuring that programs are available at all stages while in prison, and upon parole. These programs benefit the community in numerous ways including reducing recidivism, which contributes to lower taxes and costs, and increasing numbers of ex-offenders that can effectively re-enter society and contribute to it.

Some of these programs also have immediate tangible benefits to the community — such as providing bicycles to children, supplying hand-sewn items to charities, and delivering well-trained puppies that eventually become service dogs.

California's Folsom Prison

California’s Folsom Prison

Canine Companions for Independence currently has 8 puppies in training at the Folsom Women’s Facility. Each dog is paired with an inmate, who is responsible for its care and basic training 24/7. These dogs will go on to do more advanced training, and hopefully pass muster to become service dogs for a wide variety of community members in need, including children with autism and veterans suffering from PTSD.

In the meantime, not only do the dogs receive care and attention, the inmates involved take pride in their service, given responsibility to care for a creature for completely non-selfish reasons. Participants learn a lot about themselves, build self-esteem, learn group dynamics, and come to appreciate unconditional love and the importance of sustained, long-term goals. The puppies are also pretty good stress relievers inside the prison walls.

Hooks and Needles is another initiative at Folsom. It began in 2011 as a charitable crocheting and knitting program with the purpose of helping inmates to design, develop, and craft various handicrafts such as booties, bonnets, blankets and toys for donation to hospitals, shelters and children’s care facilities. More than 1800 items have been donated since its inception. This program teaches inmates new skills, and there is a direct tangible benefit to the local community.

In a similar vein, another program that has been running for 20 years sees inmates repair and refurbish bicycles, which are then given to children in need year-round, with a particular focus on Christmas. Local service clubs contribute to the program by donating paint, parts and tools for the prison bicycle shop.

Beyond those programs, Folsom’s other rehabilitative programming focuses on helping prisoners become more productive, address issues such as addiction, and learn how to successfully re-enter society. Each offender’s risks, needs, and skills are assessed upon incarceration, and each is enrolled in the appropriate programs.

Vocational and educational programs include masonry, welding, auto mechanics, GED, ESL, parenting skills, college programs and correspondence courses. Inmates can participate in a pre-release program called California New Start Prison to Employment Transition Program, consisting of transition planning, job searching and applications, interview preparation, and career orientation. A transitional treatment facility houses inmates and parolees where they tackle their substance abuse issues. About 40 parolees per month graduate from the program.

This holistic approach to helping inmates come out of prison better prepared to participate in society than they were when they entered is an example of a system focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment. In the best-case scenario, these opportunities help ensure those released have dealt with their demons, and are prepared with new and relevant skills to rejoin the community and the workforce, becoming — perhaps for the first time — functioning members of society.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Seattle’s King Co. Tries Restorative Justice Programs to Lower Youth Detention

King County juvenile justice and youth services leaders held a press roundtable to provide the latest update on the newest programs focusing on community engagement and restorative justice.

“We are very proud of how far we’ve come and the path we’re on,” said King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Laura Inveen. “Our work is far from over, and we plan to continue on. We expect to be a national leade in reducing juvenile detention and to end racial disproportionality in all of our systems, not just juvenile.”

juvenile_3

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

King County has seen a 73-percent drop in the average daily juvenile detention population since 1998 and 10 fewer youth of color in detention on an average day in 2016, compared to 2015. These results were achieved because of the new programs that have recently launched, which are designed to provide support to the youth that is close to entering the juvenile justice system and prevent that from happening.

There isn’t a silver bullet to how the system is able to sustain a decrease in rational disproportionality in King County. According to Chief Juvenile Court Judge Wesley Saint Clair, it’s a universe of things that keeps them on track.

“It’s a combination of programs like these and training our staff,” Saint Clair said. “Sometimes it’s about having a conversation about institutional racism, about privilege and bias within our staff. It’s not a single item.”

King County Deputy Prosecutor Jimmy Hung with the Juvenile Unit highlighted the Family Intervention & Restorative Services program. FIRS allows for the youth arrested for domestic violence to be entered into a 24/7 facility that provides them with family counseling, mental health services and drug and alcohol services. Since its launch last January, FIRS has decreased juvenile domestic violence cases by 62 percent.

Hung said:

The focus of this program is, instead of arresting kids from the home, taking them into detention and stripping them of their clothes, we bring them to our facility. The first question they get there is, ‘How are you doing? How can we help you?’

Best Starts for Kids is about to launch this year. It’s intended to support kids from birth to the age of 24 by providing parent support, health care, educational and employment support. Its strategic advisor Sheila Capestany says:

We’re about promotion, prevention and early intervention. We want to be able to turn around and set them up to better their lives. I always keep in mind the 80 year olds that would be able to say, ‘Boy, what a rough start in life, but the rest of it was great.’ We’re always thinking of what can we do now to make it their story.

A pilot program in Tukwila is coming this year that will focus on youth theft cases, using case management resources to hold youth accountable for their actions. The program is led by the Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee and funded through the $360 million Best Starts for Kids levy.

The 180 Program offers to drop charges for youth that choose to attend a workshop that helps them work through their life struggles and possibly be paired up with a mentor. More than 1,500 youth have been able to avoid charges by participating in the program since its launch in 2012.

Other programs include Creative Justice, Peacemaking Circles, Education and Employment Training, Juvenile Drug Court and Partnership for Youth Justice. What all these programs have in common is that they all try to focus on involving the community to help the troubled youth start a better life and become contributing community members.

Saint Clair said:

I would like to work myself out of the job. It’s because the work that we are doing is really the work that has to be embedded in the community. Institutions cannot do the work of restorative practice; we need to empower the community and delegate our authority to the community and be able to say these are all of our kids.

All levels of community are being engaged in the programs, from parents to teachers, and community leaders that come together to provide better services to youth that need it. However, one of the most crucial parts of this process is finding the right messengers that can speak the kids’ language.

Jason Clark, equity and social justice advocate for the juvenile court, says:

One of the most valuable things in this piece is incredible messengers. It’s the people that have been previously incarcerated and been able to get back into the society. We’ve got to have people in our community that speak the language of these kids and who understand the challenge of that transformation.

With these programs showing a lot of success, a question came up to the panel regarding the planned building of the new $210 million Children and Family Justice Center. The panelists were eager to weigh in on the issue.

Inveen had pointed out that money allocated for the courthouse comes from a levy, and can’t be diverted to any of the restorative justice and prevention programs. While the number of juvenile cases have been decreasing every year, there are still those that need to be detained, such as those charged with murder, sex offenses, robbery in first and second degree, and any crimes involving the use of firearms.

Saint Clair said the new detention center is also meant to accommodate youth that are currently being held in an adult jail and charged as adults. Also, the current facility does not hold the newly shaped stance on juvenile detention.

“[The current] detention facility was built in a time when we as a society were more punishment focused versus rehabilitation,” Hung said. “This gives us a prime opportunity to provide humane conditions for the employees, for youth to be provided with holistic services, and have space that has a lot of natural light and fresh air.”

“We want to know what the community wants to see within those walls, but it’s currently 3-4 years down the road in planning,” Inveen said. “The thought was to not identify the uses of the [space provided via reduction from 140 to 112 beds] now and waiting closer to opening the doors of the center.”

The panel ended on a positive note about the aspirational goal to reach a zero-detention rate within the juvenile justice system.

“I embrace the challenge,” Hung said. “If you look at other developed countries like Japan, they basically have achieved zero detention. We are truly one of the greatest countries in the world, and I think we can do it. It’s going to take more than what we do in our system; it’s the community as well. It’s something we all aspire to.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford