Archive for Humane Exposures

Changes at Eureka, CA’s Multiple Assistance Center Could End Homelessness in Humboldt County

Humboldt County in Northern California will be redesigning its transitional housing program for families into a model that emphasizes Housing First and rapid re-housing, although community fears and pushback have come as a result of this big change. Although a comprehensive, effective safety net recognizes a community’s diverse needs and offers a full circle of care, which includes activities like transitional housing, nationally we are working with limited resources, and when doing so, it is important to focus those resources toward approaches that are actually reducing homeless numbers and doing so in the most cost-effective way possible.

Transitional housing may be an appropriate intervention for some individuals and families experiencing homelessness, but for many, the same outcomes can be achieved through rapid re-housing, and at a significantly lower cost. Transitional housing is one of the most expensive interventions for homelessness. It also makes the assumption that some people are not ready for housing, but we’re all ready for housing. Shelter is a basic need, and once people have permanent housing, it allows them to lower their daily level of stress, which can in turn have positive effects on other issues such as mental health, substance abuse, employment, and education. Effective rapid re-housing programs focus on the housing first, and then follow-up with other services that clients want or need. It empowers clients to make these decisions on their own, to take their path toward self-sufficiency one step at a time.

Humboldt County needs to focus on rapidly re-housing the families at the MAC [Multiple Assistance Center] and targeting remaining funds to Housing First programs for its chronically homeless population. This approach will not only save money but also allow them to put their compassionate Humboldt hearts into action. Humboldt County is unique, and change is hard, but the area’s denizen’s need to imagine little Humboldt County joining the ranks of Salt Lake City, Phoenix and New Orleans in ending chronic homelessness.The Multiple Assistance Center, better known as “the MAC,” is a 100-bed complex currently operates as a transitional housing facility with on-site programs aimed at helping the families who live there overcome the challenges of homelessness.

Denise Mattson who has been living with her husband and their baby at the MAC, says:

We recently had a workshop about housing, and they taught us about credit reports, how you can look and see what prevents us from getting housing — like if you have a water bill that needs to be paid off. I have also taken life skills courses, learning about how to find employment, fill out housing applications and even reduce stress. And my husband has been attending a fathership group.

This program works. It puts more people into housing. It’s the first program I’ve seen that actually works.

Eureka’s MAC

The facility is operated by the nonprofit Redwood Community Action Agency (RCAA) in partnership with the County of Humboldt and the City of Eureka, which owns the property. These agencies, led primarily by the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, recently decided to make some dramatic changes, repurposing the MAC building. Starting this summer the facility will no longer house or provide services to families; instead it will be used as an intake facility geared toward helping the county’s chronically homeless individual men.

Families living at the MAC, who in recent years have been given as long as 18 months to get their lives back on track before moving out, were notified they’d have to leave no later than June 30. The county and RCAA are working to get each family placed into more permanent housing, with funding for support services following them into the community.

Phillip Crandall, director of the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, says:

I want to reassure everyone that the county is not in the business of increasing homelessness, and we’re certainly not going to be throwing children and families out into the streets. We would not close the MAC if we didn’t have an alternative plan for the families.

That alternative plan focuses on getting homeless individuals and families placed into permanent housing as quickly as possible, as opposed to the transitional housing approach embodied by the MAC.

Crandall and other officials say this shift in approach was motivated by two main factors: evidence and funding. In recent years, government agencies that deal with chronic homelessness — particularly the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) — have themselves shifted gears, putting less focus on transitional programs like the MAC and more on “housing first” approaches, including rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing.

Ed Cabrera, a San Francisco-based spokesman for HUD, said that the old-school model for addressing homelessness focused on “housing the most housing- ready”–the people who could show up for meetings and fill out applications.  But HUD is now encouraging local communities to take more strategic approaches in hopes of reaching “the most visible, the most vulnerable — the chronically homeless.”

In Eureka these days the most visible homeless people are usually men, often with addiction and/or mental health problems. This is the community that RCAA and the county hope to serve better by turning the MAC building into an intake facility where these men can stay for roughly 30 to 60 days while a long-term plan is developed for their housing and services.

Eureka has arguably been the ugliest and most volatile battleground in the fight to end homelessness locally, with regular raids on homeless camps, roundabout enforcement efforts like the a shopping-cart ordinance and escalating community vitriol which was partially (and illogically) sparked by the New Year’s Day murder of father Eric Freed.

With public outcry over homelessness reaching a fever pitch, the city commissioned a homelessness policy paper from a Sacramento consulting firm called Focus Strategies. That paper, released last fall, encouraged a new approach:

Focus Strategies strongly advises the City of Eureka not to pursue approaches directed at better managing the existing problems, such as by increasing the frequency of police sweeps or creating a legalized camping area or ‘tent city.’ All available evidence shows that providing homeless people with housing, without making participation in other services a pre-condition, is the most effective way to reduce homelessness.

The latest messaging and data suggest so. According to the federal government’s Interagency Council on Homelessness, housing first programs “allow people with one or more serious disabling conditions to stabilize their housing and address underlying conditions that often have gone untreated for many years.”

The philosophy goes all the way to the top of U.S. government. President Obama helped codify the strategic shift during his first year in office by signing the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Acct of 2009. And when federal agencies adjust positions, nonprofit grant funders tend to follow suit. Sure enough, the shift in strategies has been trickling down to local communities around the country.

Women Face Many Obstacles After Prison Release


Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

A recent Open Society Institute study found that public opinion on crime and criminal justice has shifted over the past few years. In every demographic group surveyed, even among the groups thought to be most conservative or “hard on crime,” respondents supported an approach that would deal with the causes of crime rather than the continued spending on warehousing prisoners. Nearly two-thirds of all respondents agreed that the best way to reduce crime is to effectively rehabilitate prisoners by require education and job training so that once released, prisoners have the tools to proactively support themselves. The overwhelming change in opinion from a more punitive to a more rehabilitative approach to crime provides a backdrop to creating the concrete resources and policy changes needed to promote successful reentry.

The major issues that women face after release from prison are: Re-establishing a home and family life, including regaining legal and physical custody of children; finding affordable housing and meeting other basic needs; securing employment that pays a sufficient income; creating a new social network that may or may not include intimate relationships; fulfilling the multiple conditions of a parole plan, including continued sobriety, if not recovery, from alcohol or drug addiction; and negotiating the stigmatized perception of women ex-prisoners by the general public-potential employers, landlords, and community members.

Across the U.S., an estimated 1.5 million children have a parent held in a state or federal prison, an increase of more than half a million since 1991. Many of these children grow up in foster care, with grandparents or other relatives, or bouncing among an array of temporary caretakers. Women in prison have few opportunities for parenting from the inside and they worry about the impact of their separation on their children.

One prisoner said of her 15-year-old son:

My son is me. I see me all over him and I got to stop it right now. I got to do something, you know, whereas nobody did nothing for me. They did what they thought they can do, but, they were in their own sicknesses and their own problems so they couldn’t really help me and I didn’t really want their help, either. You know, I was 15; you can’t tell me nothing. I know everything, you know. But I’m trying to put my mind back to how I thought then where my son is at now,  so I can deal with that. Oh, God, I don’t want my kids to go through this.

Children of African American families are hit particularly hard. Nearly half the parents behind bars are Black; another 20 percent are Hispanic. Unlike locked-up fathers, about two-thirds of women in prison lived with their children prior to incarceration and are more likely to resume custody of them after release. As these mothers struggle to make a fresh start, they will encounter a myriad of legal barriers that may make it extraordinarily difficult for them to succeed in caring for their children. The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families welfare reform legislation of 1996 (TANF) and the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) often present oppressive roadblocks to women leaving prison.

The TANF legislation, a complete overhaul of our social welfare system, was intended to reduce welfare dependence through work, but unintended effects of the legislation have produced an increased proportion of people of color remaining on welfare who are unable to get or keep adequate employment. In addition, the policies do not address the lack of adequate financial support for poor relatives caring for children whose parents are incarcerated, and stipulates against financial support for poor parents with drug felony convictions who are the primary care takers for their children upon release from prison.

As a consequence of the federal and state “war on drugs” and the increasing number of convictions and “mandatory minimum” sentences that include prison time for women (who often possess even small amounts of controlled substances), drug convictions have become the largest single factor accounting for the rapid increase of women in prison. A provision in the TANF legislation stipulates that persons convicted of a state or federal offense involving the use or sale of drugs are subject to a lifetime ban on receiving cash assistance and food stamps. Each state has the option for whether or not the ban is enforced. Generally, the woman’s children may still be eligible for limited cash assistance and the ban does not extend to food stamps.

It is estimated that as many as 92,000 women in the states that enforce the welfare ban in full or in part will be affected by it, and a majority of the women affected are African American. The lifetime ban on welfare assistance, especially for women who have children to support, will have a serious effect on women’s ability to overcome addiction, to raise their children, find work, and access drug treatment services. Welfare assistance is a pivotal transitional mechanism for poor and low-income families who face economic insecurity in the weeks and months after release from prison. Losing access to public benefits is likely to make it harder for mothers with criminal records to stay clean and sober, avoid abusive relationships, regain custody and take care of their children, seek and retain employment, and resist engaging in criminal activity.

The second major policy affecting former women prisoners is the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA). This Act had as its goal the reduction of children in foster care, increased permanent placement with relatives, increased adoptions and the increased number of children safely reunited with biological parents. The negative unintended effects of this law include: the increased terminations of parental rights; a limited increase in adoptive homes (especially for older children and those disabilities); increases in both formal and informal kinship care – often without the necessary financial support for these kinship arrangements; and a lack of adequate time to achieve reunification with incarcerated parents and parents needing substance abuse treatment. Due to ASFA’s expedited timeline for termination of parental rights, any parent who goes to prison, even for a short time, faces the risk of losing her children forever. To protect their rights, incarcerated mothers must work consistently, and against difficult barriers, both while in prison and afterwards.

Next, safe, decent and affordable housing is critical to the well-being of women with and without custody of their children after they are released from prison. The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless in their “snapshot” survey of women detained at Cook County Detention Center, one of the nation’s largest, found that 54% reported being homeless (defined as residing in an emergency or transitional shelter, doubled up with family and/or friends, staying outside, or in cars) in the 30 days prior to entering the jail. The study also reported that those women without housing are likely to be detained more than six times. Of those women who were unemployed, 23% indicated they were not employed because they had no place to live.

The need for “a safe place to be,” which most of us define as home, is paramount for getting and keeping a job, kicking a drug habit, escaping an abusive relationship and moving back into the community.

Disinvestment in communities and deterioration of housing stock has led to the displacement of lower income households in urban centers, the destination of most women leaving prison. Also, the federal government’s “One Strike Initiative” allows public housing authorities to evict or refuse housing to applicants based on their personal use of an illicit substance or a felony drug conviction. The law holds particular risks for low-income women of color who are most often the head of household in public and subsidized housing. Not only can a tenant be evicted due to her own drug use, but she can also be booted out because a visitor possesses or uses drugs without her knowledge. States vary in the length of time the ban is in effect; in Illinois, the bar on admission to public housing is five years for all felony convictions. This effectively precludes many released women who served a sentence for a drug offense from reapplying for public housing.

Residential halfway houses for ex-inmates in the transition back to community from prison have been proven to be effective in facilitating participants’ reentry. Family is not the only or the best housing option for some women, particularly those with an addiction.

An evaluation of a metropolitan residential center for ex-incarcerated women found that over the first five years of operation, only 20% of former residents returned to prison after departure as compared to the state recidivism rate of 43.7%. Women living at this facility were uniform in their recognition of the importance of having a safe place for working through some of the emotional issues related to incarceration or past struggles, as well as receiving the information and resources for taking steps in rebuilding their lives.

Women’s focus on relationships with others is a major source of self-worth and empowerment that defines their perceptions of the world and their role or place within it. But relationships can also inhibit personal growth and be physically and emotionally debilitating. The rate of abuse they incarcerated women have experienced either within their families or by intimate partners is quite high (estimates vary from 44% to 80%), much higher than the incidence in reported by women in the general population. In addition to the multiple physical problems women experience as a result of violence, the psychological effects have been identified as low self-esteem, clinical levels of depression, lack of assertiveness, feelings of powerlessness, strong fear reactions to threatening situations, and vulnerability to medical illness. There is also some evidence that women’s involvement in drug use and sales, as well as other criminal activity may be an extension of their relationship with their intimate partner.

And gender inequality, economic marginalization, criminal justice practices, racism, and violence against women intersect to “entrap” women of color and send so many to our nation’s prisons with little access to the counseling and services they need to change their lives. Reconstructing relationships can be a source of healing, connection, and support that women exiting prison need.

Finally, incarceration results in women being separated from their children, their communities and other sources of regeneration and positive support. Women’s contacts with people “outside the walls” can help them stay connected to goals and opportunities beyond their prison sentence. For example, a woman in a prison facility in Kansas got involved first as a participant, later as a co-leader in an educational group that was sponsored by a battered women’s shelter. When she came out of prison, she got her first job at the shelter that then provided her with enough stability to later able to buy a house.

Depending on the length of the incarceration, many women when first exiting from prison will say that they believe they have a tattoo on their forehead that proclaims them as “ex-con.” A former prisoner not only has to construct a new self, based on the personal desire to create a non-criminal life, but she also has to deal in some way with others’ expectations. Such expectations are often derived from ignorance, outdated notions, or judgmental preconceptions. Stigma feeds into the forces of isolation and denial that push women deeper into a self-hating process and farther away from the hope of rehabilitation and reintegration. Advocates need to explore how to help women manage the societal stigma related to being a felon that is both real and perceived. An important aspect of managing stigma is making choices for when and how a woman discloses her ex-inmate status.

Groups can be one method for women to discuss how they can deal with questions about having been in prison. The “everyone in the same boat” phenomenon can provide a mutually supportive context for women to effectively address some of the issues they will have to face once they are released.

Comprehensive drug treatment of at least 90 days, when linked to aftercare, has been demonstrated as effective in the successful reintegration of ex-offenders into their communities. Nationally, it is estimated that only 25% of state and federal prisoners participate in either drug treatment or other drug abuse programs.

Women who are unable to find housing may find that residential drug treatment programs provide a viable temporary alternative for them. But a shortage of treatment slots coupled with increasing demand in the community may mean that women exiting prison will not have access to these facilities. In addition, the unavailability of residential care for children to accompany their mothers to the facility while the woman is engaged in treatment, means that women may be forced to choose between regaining custody (after they’ve been separated from their children while incarcerated) and treatment.

Of the multiple hurdles facing women finding employment, the reality of the stigma and bias that women who have a criminal record face is one of the most serious. Many employers are hesitant to hire applicants with conviction histories. When a woman’s criminal history is coupled with previous substance use, the perceived liability increases exponentially. This third rung of jeopardy (along with racism and sexism) increases the difficulties and frustrations of women who want to become self-sufficient and contributing members of their communities.

There are several strategies for creating alternatives to incarceration for non-violent and drug-affected women, and specific policies that should be modified or nullified in order to give women exiting prison an opportunity to reconstruct their lives. We must advocate for changes in the following laws and policies to assist women in maintaining their ties to their children while incarcerated and provide the legal and economic support that will enable them to regain custody of their children, as they have the basic supports to do so, after their release from prison.

  • Repeal federal lifetime welfare bans under TANF. Short of federal repeal, there is room to push individual states to opt out of the ban or modify it (as Illinois has done linking this consequence to sales rather than a possession conviction)
  • Consider not only drug treatment programs that could allow women to maintain eligibility for TANF, but also alternative programs such as job training or GED programs following an in-depth assessment of their individual needs that could help with addressing the reasons they became involved with drugs.
  • Develop strategies aimed at informing women who are denied cash assistance and food stamps of the other benefits and services for which they are eligible, particularly Medicare, job training and employment programs.
  • Encourage use of TANF funding flexibility to target resources to assist ex-inmate women to secure job training and education on the state level.
  • Encourage and support formalized kinship care placements with family members with subsidy equitable to that of non-family foster care without restrictions on the time in care so that women can maintain their relationships with their children if not legal custody.
  • Require that child welfare authorities remain in touch with incarcerated parents so that they have every opportunity to attend hearings on the status of their children in state care.
  • Facilitate visitation between children and incarcerated mothers whenever possible.
  • Make appropriate reunification services available to incarcerated mothers beginning prior to release.
  • Explore alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent and drug-related offenses that could make child welfare intervention and child removal unnecessary.

The following recommendations address some of the structural issues that prevent women from having access to housing, the foundation of successful reentry.

  • Congress should consider increasing the stock of subsidized housing so that mothers reentering the community after their incarceration can have access to subsidized housing for their families to begin rebuilding their lives.
  • Public Housing Authorities should have the flexibility to begin evaluating evictions and admissions on a case-to-case basis, to look at mitigating circumstances, rehabilitation efforts, and to fully weigh the consequences of a loss of subsidized housing for a family.
  • For families with children, Public Housing Authorities could use the “best interest of the child” standard when determining whether to grant admission to a felon or evict families based on drug activity.
  • Create a comprehensive housing plan with women while they are incarcerated to help them secure housing upon release by augmenting existing resources for transitional, residential housing and investing in the development of affordable housing for formerly detained women.
  • Divert funds from prison construction and maintenance to building long-term shelters for women in transition from prison.

Affirming and mutually supportive relationships can reinforce women’s efforts as they engage in the process of rebuilding their lives.

  • Correctional facilities could assist women prisoners in maintaining contacts with positive people in their support system and to help them identify and develop free world contacts.
  • Correctional facilities could widen the scope of rehabilitation services available to address women’s multiple and complex needs related to distress and trauma in past relationships.
  • Programs for women within prison could assist women to draw upon each other’s strengths as they manage the incarceration and engage in post-release planning.
  • Association with other parolees after release should be considered on a case by case basis, as a potential source of support rather than a violation.

Actual and perceived stigma toward ex-inmates can have a debilitating effect on women’s efforts to “keep trying” to meet society’s expectations.

  • Pre-release classes could provide women avenues for articulating their fears and discuss the venues where women will be expected to disclose their ex-inmate status (e.g. job interviews, housing applications, etc.).
  • Reentry programs could make use of women’s ability to be mutually supportive in assisting each other to address some of the issues for managing stigma.
  • Public education efforts could include social marketing and media strategies to put a human face on rehabilitation programs and women who are successful in their reentry.

Substance abuse is a primary issue in women’s involvement in the criminal justice system. Treatment needs to be part of any comprehensive response to women, but women’s entry into treatment is further complicated by the lack of child care, inadequate social support systems, and lack of financial resources.

  • Expand the availability of drug treatment both within and outside the criminal justice system that is connected to a continuum of care in the community after release.
  • Make welfare and education benefits available for persons convicted of a drug felony so they can build the skills necessary to secure employment with livable wages.
  • Create state-financed alternatives to incarceration for women convicted of drug offenses.

One of the indicators for a woman “making it” after release from prison is her ability to secure and keep employment. Parole violations and new crimes are often committed because reentering prisoners lack the skills and supports to adapt to community life. Many are unable to find employment not only because they lack significant work histories and work skills, but also due to the societal stigma related to their criminal and substance use histories. Typically, time spent in prison has weakened family and community ties. Without means of financial support or family and community networks, women released from prison are at high risk of returning to crime to support themselves.

  • Ensure that women released from prison have proper documentation so they can apply for transitional benefits and unsubsidized employment.
  • Ensure vocational training in and out of prison that is tied to viable labor market opportunities.
  • Educate ex-inmates about their rights and potential employers about the illegality and consequences of improperly rejecting job applicants with criminal records. Assist employers to understand how they can address their concerns about “negligent hiring.”
  • Educate potential employers and employees about the Federal Bonding Program that offers employers who hire ex-offenders bonding insurance that protects them from theft, larceny, or embezzlement.
  • Identify sources of transitional income that will assist women to participate in secondary and post-secondary educational programs to enhance their competitiveness in the job market.
  • Link women during their incarceration with job training centers in the communities to which they will be returning.

To improve reentry prospects of women in the transition from prison to home, and to ensure greater public safety, changes are needed that serve to delay or deny women ex-inmates access to vital social benefits, including grants or loans for education, transitional financial assistance, subsidized housing and viable employment. There have been billions of dollars spent for policing, surveillance, and prison construction but little investment in developing restorative structures for justice and accountability. Effectively responding to negative behaviors requires a commitment to social and economic justice as well as safety.

Senators Leahy & Collins Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Combat Youth Homelessness and Trafficking

Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Leahy2009[1]Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) recently reintroduced bipartisan legislation to curb youth homelessness, which affects 1.6 million teens throughout the country who are among the most likely to become victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) joined as original bill cosponsors.

The winter snowstorms in the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions currently threatening the safety of thousands of Americans spotlight the importance of passing this bipartisan bill to ensure that homeless children are not left to face such challenges alone. Leahy said:

Homelessness is on the rise for youths and young adults. Too many young people around the country find themselves without safe places to sleep at night. These programs, offering outreach and early intervention for runaway and homeless teens, are the last line of defense for teens in crisis. Youth homelessness also can be a pipeline to chronic homelessness, victimization, sexual exploitation and trafficking in urban and rural communities. It’s our job in Congress to do what we can to counter this tragic reality, this scandal in the shadows.

“I am proud to say that last year, 95% of teens receiving services from the Vermont Coalition for Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs were able to exit to safe living situations.

Today, 39% of the homeless population is under the age of 18, and the average age at which a teen becomes homeless is 14.7 years old. A 2013 study by  Convenant House offers startling details about the connection between youth homelessness and human trafficking.

The Leahy-Collins Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act reauthorizes programs that help youth obtain housing, education and job training. The bill includes training for service providers to identify victims of trafficking, and it includes a new provision that prohibits grantees from denying services based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sen_Susan_Collins_official[1]Leahy and Collins introduced similar legislation last year, which earned bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee but stalled in the Senate. Leahy has long been a champion of youth services provided by the original Runaway and Homeless Youth Protection Act and fought for its reauthorization in 1998 and again in 2003. He has also worked for years to counter the tragedy of human trafficking, most recently by including a reauthorization of the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Act as part of his Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act in 2013, and by supporting increased appropriations for trafficking victims under last year’s Omnibus Appropriations Bill.

Collins said:

As Chairman of the Housing Appropriations Subcommittee, one of my goals is to address chronic homelessness. We must make sure our nation’s homeless youth have the same opportunity to succeed as other youth. The programs reauthorized by this bill are critical in helping homeless youth stay off the street and find stable, sustainable housing.

The bill is supported by the National Network for Youth, the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, the True Colors Fund, the Center for American Progress, and the Human Rights Campaign, among many others.

Reforming Juvenile Justice Requires Belief in People’s Capacity to Change

With youth crime rates and numbers of incarcerated youths declining, now is the perfect time to review how juvenile incarceration meets the needs of youths, their families and society. A recent study by the Justice Policy Institute reports that incarcerating a youth can cost $148,767 per year, and the most recent Juvenile Residential Facility Census found that 66,322 people under the age of 21 reside in 2,111 facilities in the U.S., ranging from 26 youngsters in Vermont to 10,908 kids in California. That is a lot of money to pay for incarceration practices that likely increase the risk of recidivism.

California is in the process of allocating $80 million in funding for counties to build juvenile facilities. To ensure that these facilities are rehabilitative, they need to originate from a belief in the capacity for people to change. Psychologists refer to this belief as “mindset.” It is a well-established phenomenon in education and is equally applicable to our juvenile justice system.

Mindset applies to everyone. Despite the adverse economic and social backgrounds many incarcerated youth come from, do policymakers believe that, given the right guidance, youths can learn to make better decisions? Do youths believe that, given the right tools, they can develop new skills to help them succeed? Psychologists have been investigating whether both students and their teachers can develop this positive mindset. The outcomes of interventions designed to achieve this are encouraging.

Parental mindset has been shown to be influential in motivational frameworks for even very young children; parents who praise the effort required to learn and succeed encourage those values. Researchers have shown that increasing a belief in the ability to change reduces aggression as retaliation in adolescents by 40%; believing that negative traits are not fixed results in less punitive views towards assailants.

Expectations affect educational outcomes

Examples of successful educational programs are underpinned by a theory of change that target not just students and teachers, but also families and communities. Furthermore, it is well documented that expectations affect educational outcomes and that assumptions based on stereotypes or cultural misunderstanding may contribute to racial disparity in academic achievement. Looking at consequences of previous juvenile justice practices highlights why fostering a positive mindset is crucial in our treatment of juveniles.

In Susan Mdden Lankford’s book Born, Not Raised: Voices From Juvenile Hall, Dr. Diane Campbell is quoted as saying: “A good enough someone” is needed in a youth’s life.” Empathy, curiosity, further desire for learning all stem from this connection.

In California’s last round of funding for juvenile facilities, all 14 counties that applied for funding received it — hardly a competitive process. Most counties added beds to their existing juvenile halls or camps, or simply replaced existing facilities, thereby perpetuating existing flaws in our juvenile justice system. Addressing previous weaknesses, the revised funding application now requires stronger justification of how facilities will be rehabilitative and includes an appendix on best rehabilitative practices.

Antonia Cartwright, a postgraduate fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, based in San Francisco, says:

I have visited a facility built with 2009 funding and the lack of accountability is concerning. Applications receive points for the rehabilitative programing proposed. Yet while new facilities may be funded based on these prospective accounts, state officials do not ensure these promises are fulfilled.

“While facilities such as day reporting or education centers are eligible for this funding, and perhaps better reflect the rehabilitative aims of our juvenile justice system, residential facilities still dominate. It is therefore imperative that they are held to high rehabilitative standards.

A vast body of research details the components of rehabilitative practices, not limited to non-institutional furnishings, bathroom privacy, small-group living arrangements and opportunities for therapeutic physical and leisure recreation. Programming should meet specific needs of different populations, such as girls, and include treatment, education and skill-building that acknowledge difficult backgrounds.

Cartwright adds:

Looking to fields outside criminal justice for innovative strategies can build new pathways to success. That is why it is important that policymakers come from diverse backgrounds and foster relationships with practitioners, researchers and advocates.

It is not enough to simply roll out new facilities and programs, nor to expect youths to engage in pro-social behavior because they have been told to; they must believe they can. Criminal justice leaders must not only provide the tools to facilitate change; they must believe youths can succeed. A reform of thinking may be required before meaningful juvenile justice reform can be achieved.

Since 2000, Incarceration Rate for White Women Has Soared by 47%

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Since 2000, the incarceration rate for women has increased by 20% and the rate for white women increased by 47%, while for white men it rose only 8.5 %. Hispanic women and men showed a similar disparity of increase: 23.3% for women and 2.2%  for men.  Surprisingly, incarceration rates for African-American women decreased by more than 30 % (while rates for black men also showed a decrease of almost 10%).


There are several theories explaining  these disparities. Most notably, changes in drug-sentencing policy contributed to change in female incarceration. In many states, statistics show an increase in prescription drug use and methamphetamine offenses among white and Latino women as contributing to their incarceration rates. In New York, 99% of the decline in female drug offenders was seen in black and Hispanic women.

The uniqueness of what leads these women to prison is also what makes solutions to their reentry into society that much more difficult, and increases the chances of repeat offenses.

While the need for drug treatment is apparent, the issues which lead to the drug use also have to be addressed. These women need extensive mental health counseling, education and job training, just to name a few. The availability of programs is far from guaranteed, and the quality varies from state to state – both of which are dependent on funding, which has been reduced. Access to health care (both inside of prison and out) also plays a key part in reversing the trend. Life expectancy for poor, uneducated white women has decreased by five years, in the only group that has seen a decline.

Solutions to problems as complex as these will not come quickly. Small changes, such as increased counseling in prison, behavioral therapy and allowing women to serve their sentences in facilities that make it easier for them to maintain contact with their children have happened in varying degrees. Nevertheless, the increased incarceration of women should ring alarm bells throughout society, as this will have a ripple effect for generations.

The 1980s were a time of widespread, severe tough-on-crime laws, which ushered in an era of mandatory-sentencing and three-strikes laws. At the start of the decade, approximately 13,000 women were in prison, representing 4%  of inmates in state and federal prisons. Over the next 20 years, the rates of incarceration accelerated, with the rate of increase for women surpassing that of men in the same time period. By 2010, women represented 7%  of the prison population.

Most of the more than 200,000 women currently in prison are there for non-violent offenses. A quarter of women in prison are there because of drug-related crimes (compared with only 17%  of the male population). The remaining female non-violent crimes include DUIs, robbery and property related crimes (all of which could be related to drugs). The war on drugs and related enforcement policies directly contribute to the increase in the numbers of women.

Though, some of it is just plain old sexism. Women are often arrested as an accomplice to a partner who is involved in criminal activity, like being a drug dealer. As is common in criminal cases, leniency in sentencing is offered in exchange for information on those higher up the food chain or details on the operation. The problem is, the woman is just the girlfriend and may not have much, or any, information to exchange; there’s a glass ceiling in criminal enterprises, too. Her boyfriend, however, would be more directly involved and be able to negotiate a deal. In the end, he could end up serving less time than her, even though he is guilty of a greater number of offenses. This is symptomatic of other issues contributing to women entering prison at alarming rates.

The policies driving the increase in the female prison population have a greater impact on the most vulnerable. The majority of these women have not finished high school, which means they were less likely to be employed when arrested. The vast majority of incarcerated women reported a history of physical and sexual abuse prior to incarceration, with 25% reporting the abuse occurring while they were minors. They are also more likely than the general population to suffer from mental health issues.

Needless to say, abused and unemployed people with psychological issues are not strong with coping skills. Nearly 75% of incarcerated women reported using drugs regularly prior to their arrest, with 40% of them under the influence at the time. This leads to risky behavior, like theft to support their habit, and relationships with abusive men – who are probably participating in criminal activity – like dealing drugs.

As with everything in America, race matters. More than 60% of the total prison population is African-American or Latino. In 2000, black women were incarcerated at six times the rate of white women. Law enforcement policies that targeted poor minority communities led to dramatic increases in arrests. Mandatory sentencing laws also directly affected these women since nearly two-thirds of the women have had prior convictions.

In an unexpected twist, changes in policies are contributing to the increase in female prisoners and changing the racial makeup of the population.

After three decades of tough-on-crime tactics, advocacy groups, legislators and researchers have learned that these policies do little in curbing incarceration rates and have only led to prison overcrowded with a large number of people who have committed nonviolent crimes. The decrease in violent crimes and an increase in initiatives that have focused on treatment for addiction, reduced sentencing for participation in prison programs and increased in reentry support have slowed the growth of incarceration since 2000 – except for women.

“The Daily Show” Features Salt Lake City’s Solution to Homelessness: Homes

On January 7, Comedy Central’s (generally excellant) “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”  did a wonderful feature on how Salt Lake City, UT solved it’s homessness problem: by providing apartments for all its street people.

Comedy Centrals's "The Homeless Homed"

Comedy Centrals’s “The Homeless Homed”

The 5.5-minute comedy feature was powerful, throught-provoking and funny and well worth watching (via the links above, below or at the show’s website).

It starts by saying that many communities have found way to fight the homeless problem–by “fining them for body odor, banning them from sleeping outdoors or arresting them for sitting down.” But Salt Lake City, Utah has taken the next step, be removing them from their streets altogether.”

The interviewer asked two people if they had seen any homeless people or anyone sleeping in a cardboard box, and the passers-by answered “no.” Then he asked the program’s director Pendleton how SLC had reduced homelessness by 72% since 2005 “without hiding them underground, converting them from Mormon to gay or gay to Mormon.”

Answer: the city provided apartments for them. Director Pendleton admitted providing the homes costs $12,000 per person, vs. $20,000 when they live on the street–and much more of they have to use the emergency room, jails and/or mental hopitals ($200,000).

The show quoted Fox news segments claiming providing homes would be prohibitively expensive and disincentivize people from working, making them moochers. The interviewers than spoke to “one of these moochers in his moochatorium.” Russell Flowers, a first-time home recipient, who now has a job, a home and self-esteem,  said all this will allow him to move back to Chicago and be with his children.

The feature’s final line: “If you meet a homeless person, they can now have a second chance: all they have to do is live in Utah.”

Here’s the link:


Veteran Homelessness Continues to Decline Across the U.S.


Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

A year ago, HUD, the VA and U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) reported that there were 49,933 homeless veterans in America, a decline of 33% percent (or 24,837 people) since 2010. This included a nearly 40% drop in the number of veterans sleeping on the street.

A year later (January 2015) Veteran homelessness has continued drop all across the country. Fourteen of the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. reduced veteran homelessness by 50% over the past three years, some by as much as two-thirds. Phoenix and Salt Lake City have already eliminated it.

HUD, VA, USICH, and local partners have used evidenced-based practices like Housing First and federal resources like HUD-VASH (the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher program) to get veterans off the street and into stable housing as quickly as possible. Since 2008, the HUD-VASH program has served a total of 74,019 veterans.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said:

We have an obligation to ensure that every veteran has a place to call home. In just a few years, we have made incredible progress reducing homelessness among veterans, but we have more work to do. HUD will continue collaborating with our federal and local partners to ensure that all of the men and women who have served our country have a stable home and an opportunity to succeed.

To accelerate progress on meeting the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, First Lady Michelle Obama, HUD and the VA launched the Administration’s “Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness” last year, and so far more than 210 mayors, county and state officials have committed to ending homelessness among veterans in their communities.

The federal government has provided significant new resources to help communities pursue the goal of ending homelessness among veterans. Communities that target these resources strategically are making significant progress and can end veteran homelessness in their communities in 2015.

These strategies include: a) Using a Housing First approach, which removes barriers to help veterans obtain permanent housing as quickly as possible, without unnecessary prerequisites; b) prioritizing the most vulnerable veterans—especially those experiencing chronic homelessness—for permanent supportive housing opportunities, including those created through the HUD-VASH program; c) Coordinating outreach efforts to identify and engage every veteran experiencing homelessness and focus outreach efforts on achieving housing outcomes; d) targeting rapid rehousing interventions, including those made possible through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, toward veterans who need shorter-term rental subsidies and services in order to be reintegrated back into our communities; e)leveraging other housing and services resources that can help veterans who are ineligible for some of the VA’s programs get into stable housing; f) increasing early detection and access to preventive services so at‐risk veterans remain stably housed; g) closely monitoring progress toward the goal, including the success of programs achieving permanent housing outcomes; and h) aligning local goals and strategies with Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

On Aug. 8, Pittsburgh launched the Pittsburgh Rapid Results Veterans’ Homeless Boot Camp, an outgrowth of the national Mayors’ Challenge to End Veterans’ Homelessness. The boot camp is a joint effort of many local service providers. Each 100 days, the boot camp sets an aggressive target to permanently house homeless veterans. The participating groups meet frequently to talk about strategies, progress and new ways to reach veterans and engage the community.

This commitment has produced impressive results. During its first 100 days, the boot camp had provided 125 homeless veterans with permanent housing, and a total of 274 veterans have received some form of service through the boot camp. Although 500 veterans remain homeless in the Pittsburgh area, the Pittsburgh region is making rapid progress toward the national and local goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.

Today solutions are based on evidence–on data about what works. The evidence shows that getting even the most severely disabled people housed with rent subsidies and intensive social services provides lasting results and saves taxpayers $25 a day, or just over $9,000 a year, as compared to prison at $45,000, nursing homes at $50,000 or psychiatric hospitals at $200,000.

The results are dramatic. In one study, 97%  of people with serious mental illness, addiction and five years of homelessness retained their housing for at least a year. Previously they had been the frequent-flyers for jails and police calls, ER and psych ward visits.

Veteran homelessness has dropped dramatically around the country because collective action and the right menu of programs is paid for through a blend of philanthropy, volunteer work, faith communities and public dollars.

Congress has also committed itself to ending veteran homelessness by 2015. Compelled by the moral imperative combined with scientific evidence, Republicans and Democrats together appropriated sufficient funds for rental assistance and services, and it’s working.

As 2015 gets underway, two opportunities exist to obtain adequate funding. First, when members of Congress go back to Washington they can match public charitable donations with funds to end homelessness among children, youth and families as they did with veterans. Second, when state legislators and new governors arrive in state capitols, they can vote additonal funds. In PA, that is the State Housing Trust Fund, establised in 2010 and funded by impact fees from drilling in the shale region. It is proven and successful.





2014 Gains and Losses in Juvenile Justice Struggle

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

In 2014, the campaign for improved juvenile justice systems enjoyed several steps forward and two big steps backwards. First, Pay For Success (PFS) ideas become plans in New York City, MA, CA, IL, OH and several other states. PFS projects use private financing to aim at social goals with the agreement that local government will reward successful achievement in agreed-upon areas.

This was the year the PFS movement went from “crawl” to “walk” in juvenile justice. For instance, PFS projects aimed at lowering the recidivism rates for juveniles and young adults in Massachusetts and New York City. And a slate of juvenile justice-related projects are well into the planning stages in California, Illinois, Ohio and several other states.

The National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) has emerged as an early leader for youth-specific work in the PFS space. NCCD is poised to run point on a number of PFS projects after assisting firms with a broader focus, such as Third Sector Capital Partners.

This is still a very new and untested approach to pushing public policy toward the best solutions, but it’s fair to say that 2014 marked the point at which money started to flow and real plans were made.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) continues to have its influence sapped by dwindling appropriations, at least in the accounts that have anything to do with juvenile justice. Fiscal 2014 brought with it the elimination of the Juvenile Accountability Block Grants, and that will now hold up at least through 2015.

But 2014 was the first full year on the job for Bob Listenbee, OJJDP’s first non-interim director since 2008. In June, he made it clear that OJJDP’s priority would be racial disparities in the system.

At a Congressional field hearing in June, Listenbee stated:

The one we have made the least success with is disproportionate minority contact, but I think there are a lot of new and innovative approaches that are available now through OJJDP, and so we’re concentrating our resources, our training and technical assistance on this particular requirement.

The shooting of Ferguson, Mo. teen Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson had nothing to do with juvenile justice, and everything to do with the use of deadly force by police officers, but there were several attempts in opinion pieces and policy discussions to make this relevant to juvenile justice.

Lisa Thurau, who leads Strategies for Youth, wrote that the shooting could easily have been prevented if police departments made serious efforts to train police on interacting with adolescents. Marc Schindler, the executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, noted the calls for more black police officers after the shooting. He cautioned that in his experience reforming Washington, D.C.’s juvenile facility, diversity was trumped by training.

It was announced in December 2014 that the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s final Models for Change conference will be held next year. After years of support for research, organizing and advocacy, MacArthur is out of the juvenile justice funding business, at least for a time. Models for Change began with support for research on adolescents that helped influence major Supreme Court decisions, and then turned toward the notion of fostering state-level juvenile justice reform that could be replicated elsewhere.

The success of all that spending will be assessed over time, but the immediate impact of Models coming to a close will be fiscal, as grants to its many nonprofit partners will end in 2015.

MacArthur’s grants are and were a significant chunk of revenue for lots of juvenile justice organizations, all of which will now have to adapt to a funding landscape that does not include the Chicago-based grantor.

Among the organizations with holes in their future budgets is the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), which gets $500,000 each year to put on the Models for Change conference. CJJ will get that funding in 2015, along with a separate two-year grant for $300,000 to spread Models for Change lessons among states. But after that, one of the oldest national juvenile justice organizations in the country will have to find a new way to sustain. CJJ used to be buffered by an annual federal appropriation, and MacArthur really saved it from impending doom when that was cut off in the mid-2000s.

It is unknown whether another philanthropic entity enter the juvenile justice fray in 2015. A hopeful indicator: one unlikely donor voiced an interest just days before the new year.

Iowa Leaders Join Fight Against Female Incarceration

Iowa authorities are Photo by Susan Madden Lankfordbanding together to combat the 600% increase in female incarceration in the US over the past 30 years. About 7,000 women in Iowa are either on probation or parole, according to a recent report.

Des Moines law enforcement leaders and the Polk County attorney met at the city’s police station recently, encouraging Congress to renew a federal program designed to prevent women and their children from entering the criminal justice system.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said:

The key is prevention. We don’t want moms wearing jumpsuits. We want them wearing caps and gowns.

Invest in Kids, a national organization, is leading the charge for the reauthorization of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, in which nurses and other mentors work inside the home in neighborhoods that are often poverty-stricken and violent, teaching mothers about healthy pregnancy and safe discipline practices.

The organization’s state-by-state report, titled “Orange Is Not Your Color,” showed more than 600 women are currently incarcerated in Iowa and thousands more are on probation or parole. Two-thirds of women in state prisons nationwide are mothers.

Des Moines Police Chief Doug Harvey doesn’t want to see anyone wearing orange, because then, what happens to the children?

A study of a home-visiting program in New York reported that high-risk mothers who did not receive visits had three times more convictions 15 years after the program began, and their daughters had nine times more convictions by the time they reached 19.

Twenty-seven Iowa law enforcement leaders and prosecutors are among the 1,000 who signed a letter, asking Congress to restore $400 million in federal funding for the program next year. Iowa received $7 million last year with the capacity to support around 700 families in 17 counties. That money supports 75 percent of the state’s three programs.

Des Moines’ Nurse-Family Partnership serves pregnant women in the area until their child turns 2 years old. Jennifer Boeding, a maternal child health nurse with the partnership, said it serves mostly teens referred by Des Moines Public Schools or doctors. The nurses work alongside the mother, building trust and directing her toward education and health resources.

Some of these women never had a trusting relationship in their lives,

Boeding said.

These programs also save taxpayer money, said Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy. The Nurse-Family Program of Des Moines saved its client families about $17,000, which in turn is a savings for law enforcement if fewer children and mothers are entering the criminal system, he said.

Mass’s New $3.5 Million Housing First Program Gives Permanent Housing and Support Services to Half of State’s Homeless

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Masachusetts just launched a $3.5 million “social impact bond” initiative–one of Gov. Deval Patrick’s last official acts. It is devoutly hoped that Gov.-elect Charlie Baker will carry  it forward.

More than two years in the making, the program will provide permanent housing and support services for 800 of the Bay State’s most intractably homeless adults, more than half the state’s chronically homeless population. These are the really tough cases: people whose turbulent lives include drug or alcohol addiction, mental illness, poor educations, and/or criminal records. The program immediately gets them into a subsidized apartment and provides case management, job training and other needed services.

The initiative is funded not through direct taxpayer dollars but via private funders who assume the risk if the program doesn’t produce results. The investment comes from some of the usual suspects — the United Way and a national housing nonprofit organization — but also from Santander Bank, which is betting $1.25 million on the proposition that getting a person out of a shelter and into a stable home will not just prevent a return to the streets, but save millions in emergency room visits, Medicaid costs and police activity.

Mike Joyce is one beneficiary of this approach. He arrived in Framingham about three years ago, broke, addicted and sleeping in his car. Now under treatment, he spoke at the announcement of the new initiative, describing needs that are heartbreakingly simple but out of reach for so many: “a stable place to live and shower and shave and keep my clothes clean.”

The event was held at Framingham’s South Middlesex Opportunity Council, a pioneer in the concept of “housing first,” which tries to skirt the shelter system by getting homeless people into apartments right away — without necessarily requiring sobriety or job prospects. Council director Jim Cuddy started working on the issue in 1985, back when the homeless were mostly taken in by armories and soup kitchens. He recalls:

Many of us involved in this work never saw 30 years later we would still be here. Shelters can become semi-permanent homes by default. But now it’s time for a new model.

The social-impact bonds are sometimes referred to as “pay for success,” an attractive idea the state has already used to reduce recidivism among juvenile offenders through the Chelsea youth violence program Roca. In this case, the goal is to keep the chronically homeless in secure housing for at least a year. If (and only if) the South Middlesex Opportunity Council and the other providers in the program reach that goal, the state will reimburse the investors with a small return.

The number of homeless is soaring in Massachusetts, according to a survey released in October by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development. Fewer than four percent of the roughly 21,000 people without permanent homes are on the street. Still, anyone who has visited a crowded, often chaotic emergency shelter knows it’s not a real solution. The idea is not to manage homelessness, but to end it.

Under Gov. Patrick, Massachusetts was the first state to enter into pay-for-success contracts to fund human services. At the recent program-launch event, Patrick declared:

This is about how we — all of us — share responsibility for a problem that is about all of us. This is about ending the notion that the homeless are somebody else’s problem, somebody else’s relative. And it’s not just about getting someone like Mike out of the cold on a terrible day like this, but about helping them get back up and staying on their feet.

Incoming Gov. Baker may not come naturally to this kind of heart-tugging oratory, but he doesn’t have to. He just has to embrace the radical logic that saving lives can save a lot of money.