Archive for Humane Exposures

How Proliferation of Female Inmates on TV Makes Us Care

Women-in-prison drama’s like “Orange Is the New Black” (OITNB), Australia’s “Wentworth” and Britain’s “Bad Girls” and investigative documentaries like Diane Sawyer’s “A Nation of Women Behind Bars” highlight life in lockdown and have opened up a national conversation about the lives and treatment of female prisoners.

When it comes to portraying women in prison, television either heightens the reality as seen in “OITNB,” the U.K.’s “Bad Girls” and Australia’s dark drama “Wentworth” or takes us behind the concrete walls and barbed-wire fences to see the real faces of female prisoners in America. Both approaches humanize incarcerated women and help us understand how they are more than criminals– that they are mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and best friends.

Episode of fFoxtel Australia's thrilling, dark drama "Wentworth"

Episode of Foxtel Australia’s thrilling, dark drama “Wentworth”

In the alternate reality of Danbury Prison, where “OITNB” takes place, life behind bars is sometimes portrayed as a strict summer camp where friendships are made, alliances are formed, and sing-alongs and dance parties help break up the monotony. Other times we are led down the darker corridors of prison life, repositories of assault, abuse of power, gang wars, suicide, murder, paralyzing fear and desperate loneliness. The same is true of the British and Australian dramas set in this harrowing millieu.

The Washington Post has observed:

In a nation whose justice system often offers little more than one-size-fits-all injustice, a television series that inspires viewers to see convicts as fellow human beings can help us better understand and perhaps have a bit more empathy toward them. We should not confuse a TV program with a criminology course, but ‘Orange is the New Black’ goes a long way toward narrowing the gap between our perceptions of convicts and the sometimes surprising reality.

Balancing the public perception is a selection of reality docu-series that take a long, hard look at real women serving out real sentences in real time. TLC aired several specials that explore different issues faced by female prisoners. “Babies Behind Bars” looked at prisoners taking childcare classes in preparation to one day take care of the children they gave birth to in prison. ”Breaking Down the Bars,” helmed by Oprah’s OWN network, looks at daily prison life and focuses on therapy and rehabilitation. Producers even brought their own clinical psychologist to work with inmates.

Most recently, FOX’s hit “Empire” joined the ranks of shows portraying the impact of prison on American women. Its matriarch, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), the powerhouse who brought her family to fame and fortune, developed her chops the hard way during her time in prison. Cookie represents the substantial number of black mothers who are separated from their children while serving prison sentences.

Cookie’s character highlights the impact of incarceration on mothers and the children they must leave behind while incarcerated–an issue that is reaching epidemic proportions. Not only does America currently have over 200,000 women serving sentences–the largest female prisoner population on earth–but about 56 percent report being parents. And today there are two African-American women behind bars for every white female inmate.

The US female inmate population has soared over 750% in the last three decades, nearly twice the rate of increase that men experienced. Today one out of every 100 black women in the U.S. is incarcerated, nearly three times the rate for women overall.

Not only do shows like “OITNB,” “Empire, “Bad Girls” and “Wentworth”" make female prisoners real to us, but they also highlight the additional societal issues that contribute to the epidemic of women behind bars in The U.S., U.K. and Australia. Economic status, race, and education remain factors for criminal activity and subsequent incarceration. In an age when we often congratulate ourselves on how far we’ve come, it’s important to be reminded that our enlightenment as a nation has not yet come to fruition.

Both the numbers and the images of women behind bars can feel overwhelming and discouraging, but the impact of media and audience interest in the plight of female prisoners is shedding a light on issues that may not otherwise be addressed. Several real issues have been explored in these series, including violence, abuse of solitary confinement, guards using their power to trade favors for sex and the rights of transgender inmates to receive prescribed hormone therapy while incarcerated.

Huffington Post blogger Sarah Pike declares:

The more we are exposed to the realities of life for female prisoners, the more we will be mobilized to work for fair treatment, reasonable sentencing and support for both prisoners and their families. If you’ve been inspired to make a difference for women prisoners, there are a variety of ways to become involved, including work with at-risk girls and women who may be able to avoid a life behind bars.

“Working as a tutor or mentor with at-risk girls or young women who have just become involved in the court system can help make an impact before it’s too late. Check with state organizations to find out how you can become involved in building self-esteem, cultivating social skills and improving educational performance. The Women’s Prison Association also offers a multitude of volunteer options that range from community involvement to active work with female prisoners and parolees.

“Thanks to recent television exposure, the national conversation about women in prison is louder and more active than ever before. While America is undeniably facing a challenge when it comes to the proliferation of female prisoners, there is hope that we will mobilize as a nation to curb the tide. Television may not be the answer, but it is certainly a catalyst for awareness, activism, and change.

Female Prisoners Suffer Disproportionally from Depression, PTSD and Other Mental Illnesses

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections recently released the results of its study revealing major differences in the mental health of male and female inmates. According to the data, nearly 60 percent of female inmates show signs of mental illness, about twice the percentage of male inmates. A total of 3,104 women and 25,620 men were in the corrections system at the time. Women also suffer disproportionately from depression — 64 percent versus 59 percent of men.

But the most striking difference occurs with trauma disorders. PTSD is the second most common mental illness among incarcerated women, with about one in five showing symptoms, or five times the rate for men. Nationally, women are

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

twice as likely as men to suffer from PTSD because they tend to face more emotional and sexual abuse, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

In prison, the effects can be worsened by separation from family or children, the stressful environment and failure to get consistent, quality treatment, other than psychotropic drugs, inmates and mental health experts said.


Kimberly Cummings, of Just the Beginning, a Tulsa-based nonprofit that helps women released from prison, says:

No fault in the prison system, that’s just what they’re trained to do: ‘Here, take this pill.’ Because it will numb them. It will numb that pain from trauma.

Women in prison also can easily get illicit drugs, which allow them to avoid confronting trauma issues. They’re good avoiders, and drug use itself is a good way to avoid.

A new challenge for prisoners is the decline in the number of therapy sessions in recent years. From 2012 to 2014, the average number of mental-health group therapy sessions per month in Oklahoma prisons fell by nearly 50 percent, to 176. The average number of offenders in those sessions per month also dropped. Corrections officials attributed the decline to a shortage of psychiatrists, which occurred even as the prison population increased to well above official capacity.

For years, Oklahoma has incarcerated more women per capita than any other state in the nation. Two prisons house female inmates: Dr. Eddie Warrior in Taft, with 965 inmates in late March, and Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, with 1,206 inmates.

Eddie Warrior offers a substance-abuse program called Helping Women Recover that includes trauma therapy. Funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the program has curricula called “Beyond Trauma” and “Beyond Violence” that are “trauma informed.”

Trauma disorders afflict women more than men for several reasons. Young girls and boys are equally vulnerable to trauma, but as they enter puberty, boys get bigger and stronger, so their likelihood of experiencing sexual trauma and abuse starts to decline. But the likelihood for women remains the same. Also, when men are victims of violence, it’s often perpetrated by strangers, such as in the military or a bar fight. But women’s trauma often is inflicted by someone close to them who probably expresses affection for them.

More than half of female victims of rape reported that at least one perpetrator was a current or former intimate partner, according to a 2010 national sexual violence survey by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A lot of Women in Recovery participants have very complex trauma histories. They’re suffering from the effects of not just one traumatic event, but from a series of them, and that can play out over a lifetime. Sending nonviolent offenders to prison while they’re struggling with trauma-related mental illness will only worsen their symptoms. About 62 percent of female inmates showing signs of serious mental illness were nonviolent offenders, according to corrections data.

At Eddie Warrior, one inmate was in an open dorm with about 90 other women. She complained that loud noises and women talking over other women would trigger her severe anxiety. But today, with counseling and more control over her life, she feels a lot more stable and a lot more normal, than she did in prison.

For More Than a Decade, in 45% of CO Delinquency Cases Children had No Lawyer

Even as crime rates decline across the country, more than a million delinquency cases are still processed by our juvenile court system each year (1.1 million cases in 2011). In 59% of cases the child is found delinquent and most of those cases are settled by plea agreements, with the most common sentence being probation (64%), initiating months to years of court supervision, probation, detention and commitment.

Colorado's Kim Dvorchak

Colorado’s Kim Dvorchak

Although juvenile court was designed to lead to better outcomes for children, the collateral consequences of juvenile adjudications have increased over time, imposing ever more barriers to education, employment, housing and the like.

Forty-eight years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas declared in the landmark decision, In re Gault: “Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.” Gault initiated an era of due process, determining that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees children the right to notice of charges, the right not to incriminate themselves, the right to confrontation and cross-examination — and perhaps most crucially, the right to counsel.

Kim Dvorchak, executive director of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center (CJDC), declares:

As the 50th anniversary of In re Gault approaches in 2017, it’s past time to stop merely processing children and youth, and start protecting their due process rights.

“At the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center, our wake-up call followed an 18-month assessment by the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC), published in 2012 as ‘ Colorado: An Assessment of Access to Defense Counsel and Quality of Representation in Juvenile Delinquency Cases.’

“As advocates and defenders, we knew there were significant gaps in representation of youth at detention hearings, but what we didn’t realize was that for more than a decade, 45% of all delinquency cases statewide had no defense attorney present at any stage to defend children. We asked, ‘Why Don’t Kids Have Lawyers?’

To learn more, CJDC and NJDC embarked on a court-watching project, involving 20 visits to 16 courtrooms across 15 judicial districts, collecting information from more than 250 cases in Colorado.

For example, they observed the first-appearance plea-mills where children and parents sat in large groups, were handed plea paperwork and given a choice: They could “resolve” their cases then and there, or come back on another day to apply for a lawyer. The majority of parents observed were relieved to “get the case over with” and take a plea, without a full advisement of the child’s rights, review of the evidence against the child or investigation of the potential collateral consequences of taking a plea (or the obligations parents would be under going forward). Of course, far from getting the case over with, that was just Day 1 of many for these families.

As a result of CJDC’s and NJDC’s attention to the issue, the Colorado state legislative champions created a committee that met for six months to review timing of appointment of counsel, specialization of counsel, indigence guidelines and the public defender application process, waiver of counsel and collateral consequences. NJDC provided invaluable technical assistance throughout the process, and bringing in defenders from Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Washington to demonstrate examples of juvenile defense specialization and leadership that could change the landscape in juvenile court.

For example, a pilot project in Washington state led by George Yeannakis of Team Child found that providing counsel to youth at first appearances in juvenile court led to a drop in prosecutor filings by 20%.

In its final report, Colorado’s legislative committee proposed comprehensive reforms that led to legislation enacted in 2014: mandating representation for every child in detention hearings; increasing notice to children and families on summonses and tickets of the right to counsel, and information on how to apply for a public defender before their first court date; requiring that every child who enters a guilty plea understands the collateral consequences of an adjudication; requiring reports from the judiciary (numbers of waivers, detention hearings releases) and the Office of the Public Defender and Alternate Defense Counsel (efforts to specialize, promote and support juvenile defenders) — information that will be submitted and reviewed for the first time by CO House and Senate judiciary committees this fall.


Dvorchak adds:

We’re proud of our progress on this issue, but it seems likely that young people in other states are also suffering from the same sort of benign neglect of their due process rights given to them by Gault. It turns out that although kids are guaranteed lawyers under the Constitution, we can’t assume that they get them. Not only is that unfair, it can have devastating consequences on the lives of youth and their families. Colorado is proof that advocates and defenders can work together to change that.

“It’s fitting, then, that this year youth justice reformers are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the founding of the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), a national organization of 51 state-based advocacy groups like CJDC working in 39 states on behalf of youth in trouble with the law.

Every member of NJJN has endorsed nine principles of youth justice reform:

In 2017, we’ll all be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision giving youth the right to counsel. It would be wonderful if, two years from now, we could look at the children and youth in our courts and say, yes, they really have got Gault.


Ways to Reduce and End Female Veteran Homelessness


Photo by USC News

A new report offers a four-pronged approach to address homelessness among female veterans. Researched by the USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families and the Jonas Center for Nursing and Veterans Healthcare, the report is a pointed call to action for government organizations, non-governmental agencies and philanthropic entities to collaborate and provide resources to fill the gaps that make these women vulnerable to homelessness.

The four key actions are: a) initiate prevention and early intervention efforts; b) provide health care/child care support for children of female veterans; c) broaden definitions of “veteran” and “homeless,” thereby increasing eligibility for care and benefits and d) improve awareness of and dispel myths related to the issue.

Co-author Carl Castro, assistant professor and research director of the USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans, which is part of the USC School of Social Work, says:

The opportunity to end this grave problem is within reach through coordinated, collaborative and visionary actions.Though significant progress has been made, too many of our female veterans and their families continue to suffer from homelessness. We need a shift in approach — one that directs efforts and resources on preventing the problem. In this case, prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Approximately 34,000 female veterans are homeless, and many have children who share the burden. The authors estimate that Veterans Affairs currently spends approximately $136,000 in services for every homeless veteran — “nearly every penny of it after the veteran has become homeless. Very little attention is paid toward prevention. We need a paradigm shift,” Castro says.

Veterans Affairs, HUD and Michelle Obama have unveiled a plan to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, and although the numbers appear to be decreasing, that goal has not yet been attained.

According to the report, female veterans encounter a series of challenges that put them at risk for homelessness as they transition out of the military into civilian communities. These come atop physical and mental health issues they may have incurred during their military service. They may also have limited transferable career skills and difficulty adjusting to new self-identities in civilian culture.

An outgrowth of initiatives by the Jonas Center, specifically its Jonas Veterans Healthcare Program, the panel convened health experts, veterans, donors, nonprofits, journalists and businesses to explore solutions to this crucial national issue.

Darlene Curley, executive director of the Jonas Center, says:

The Jonas Center considers this to be a critical national issue that all of us, as individuals or as organizations with specific competencies and connections, have a responsibility to address. We must protect the women who once protected us. More than a year ago, as we considered appropriate roles for the Jonas Center, it became clear we would be most effective in bringing together various experts who could spur action. This report offers insights gleaned from that first, rich discussion.

Report co-author Anthony Hassan, clinical professor and director of the USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans, says:

Homeless female veterans’ challenges are on a continuum of need—and the solution lies in effective engagements at the front end of this continuum. This requires a change in the current system, which provides resources after the individual is already homeless.

Post-military transition milestones present opportunities for a prevention strategy. The four-pronged approach begins with establishing a “system of prevention” during the transition from military service that clearly identifies those at risk and coordinates among multiple agencies to assist in bridging the move from military to civilian life. Specific recommendations include:

1) Mandate a thorough assessment of each separating service member’s health status.
2) Ensure permanent housing, particularly for those with children.
3) Make a “hard” job offer a primary objective.
4) Assess each departing service member’s social support network to identify gaps.
5) Identify those who are high-risk, and continuously evaluate their reintegration status for two to three years following their exit from military service, and
6) Consider transition compensation to offset any differential from military compensation.

The report also strongly urges ensuring that female service members with children have adequate resources for essential needs, including health care and education.

Further recommendations include:

7) Offer life-skills coaching during the transition phase and following separation from the military.
8) Provide the VA the authority to help meet the health care needs of veterans’ children, either through direct or coordinated care.
9) Identify child-care support organizations, especially for single mothers.
10) Monitor veterans’ children to assess possible long-term health and behavioral effects of their parents’ service-related trauma and/or homelessness.

Further, because support for homeless female veterans is often restricted due to various policies (some based on law and others not), the authors advocate for changing the definitions of “veteran” and “homeless”, as both are used to determine eligibility for care and benefits. The report also calls for safer housing provided to this population and for the VA to establish female-focused heath/support centers where they can easily access benefits from the VA, other federal and state agencies, veteran service organizations and nonprofits.

Finally, the report advises improving national awareness of the issue and addressing gaps in research, such as: a) conduct national, state and local campaigns to dispel myths of homelessness; b) improve the identification and treatment of female service members suffering from sexual trauma; c) execute intervention studies and local community needs assessments to identify best housing practices, help target prevention/early intervention efforts, etc.; d) improve the accuracy of veteran homeless counts and include children in these counts and e) help female veterans become more comfortable identifying themselves as veterans so that they can access needed benefits.

Castro concludes:

These recommendations are not intended to be ‘take it or leave it.’ One or all may be pursued, and we believe that each stands on its own merit. But most importantly, we will never end homelessness until we focus on prevention, and that must begin while the service member is still on active duty.

Finally, this is not an exhaustive list, and we hope that others will identify more innovative approaches toward ending female veteran homelessness.

CT Defense Lawyers Charge That Mentally Ill Men and Women Need Services, Not Prison


Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Criminal defendants with mental illness who commit minor crimes are too often ending up behind bars, according to Connecticut defense attorneys, who say there are not enough mental health services or inpatient beds available for them. According to a report by the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC), 95% of the U.S. public psychiatric beds available in 1955 were no longer available by 2005. Between 1995 and 2013, the number of inpatient psychiatric beds, at both public and private hospitals in the U.S. decreased 33.4%, from 160,645 to 107,055.

In a related issue, mental health services providers and advocates also worry the $160 million in cuts in the budget now under discussion in the legislature will result in an increase in the arrest of people with mental illness.

Supervisory Assistant Public Defender Bevin Salmon, finds it is frustrating to see his mentally ill clients incarcerated because there aren’t enough treatment spots for them:

I’ve been doing this for about 13 years, and it has been a constant problem. Having more treatment options in the community is a good thing, instead of warehousing them in jail. Judges can be reluctant to release an individual with mental health issues without treatment, even if the charge is minor. I wish there was more housing for defendants with mental illness, because now there is a waiting list, so people end up in prison if no relatives can take them.

This problem, across the country, is severe with both mentally challenged men and women. Today, about two-thirds of incarcerated females, sentenced or unsentenced, have a serious mental illness.

Mary Kate Mason, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said the agency serves 110,000 people a year and provides services ranging from community-based, outpatient services to partial hospitalization to inpatient care. She reports:

As many hospitals have closed, community services have improved to help people living there. We have a huge range of services that are available that individuals can have access to if needed. The whole system has made a change—we know we don’t need to keep people hospitalized.

But Kathryn Cohen, legislative and policy counsel and Connecticut advocate with TAC, said community psychiatric care exists for fewer than half the patients who need it. According to Cohen, the number of individuals with serious mental illness in prisons and jails now exceeds the number in state psychiatric hospitals by tenfold:

Prisons are becoming our de facto psychiatric hospitals. Prison and jail officials are asked to assume responsibility for the nation’s most serious mentally ill individuals, despite the fact that the officials did not sign up to do this job, are not trained to do it and face severe legal restrictions in their ability to provide treatment for such individuals. And yet are held responsible when things go wrong, as they inevitably do under such circumstances. The solution, is to maintain a functioning public mental health treatment system so that men and women suffering from severe mental illness do not end up in prison.

TAC also advocates for jail diversion programs and the use of court-ordered outpatient treatment to support at-risk individuals so they can live successfully in the community.

Panhandlers are a common example of chronic low-level offenders who often suffer from mental illness. They can prompt complaints to police from merchants, resulting in arrest. But then they often get out and return to street begging.

It would be beneficial for prosecutors to have more knowledge up-front about the defendant and alternatives to incarceration available for them. Prosecutors may then decide not to prosecute them, or to release them and delay their court case until they have successfully been referred to a program.

Michael Lawlor, Undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning at the CT Office of Policy and Management, says:

Putting non-violent, low-risk people in prison will make it worse. The vast majority of these people are in jail for a short period of time, one to three months. Incarcerating them is expensive because of their health issues. It is a big demand on correctional staff, and there is no real public safety value to it. They may be more of a nuisance than a danger. In this category, there are a lot of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder who are homeless. One goals is to give police other options, rather than just arresting the mentally ill individuals.

He adds:

At the moment there are not enough services for police to refer people to. We are in a budget crisis. We are spending a lot of money providing healthcare to people in jail, and we could take the same money and provide more services in the community.

Some, but not all, police departments have officers undergo crisis intervention-team training to learn how to deal with nonviolent mentally ill individuals. This is more common in the Connecticut’s larger cities,

Some police are specially trained to deal with the mentally ill who are arrested for very minor crimes. But they have to have a network of community-based treatment centers to take them to, rather than arresting them, so they will be more likely to do so . One of the reasons the CT prison population currently is down is because police are taking more advantage of that option than they were before.

In New Haven, police Capt. Holly Wasilewski said the city Police Department has 116 officers who have undergone 40-hour crisis-intervention training, and the goal is to have all New Haven officers get it. Participants learn about mental illness, the mental health system, suicide assessment and prevention and how to de-escalate a situation:

It expands on what the officers learn at the academy. The more officers we have trained, the better. Sometimes people aren’t oriented and don’t know where they are, so we don’t arrest them if they aren’t harming anyone.

Louise Pyers, criminal justice project director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Connecticut, based in Hartford, believes that there are some very good services available, but individuals can often end up in the criminal justice system if they don’t know about them or lack transportation to them. “People are left to their own devices to try to find services and get connected,” Pyers said. “You need assistance and guidance to find what is out there.”

Currently, the CT legislature is considering a bill that would establish a pilot program to serve courts in New Haven, New London and Norwich to identify and track the mentally ill, along with homeless and addicted individuals entering the criminal justice system. The idea behind it is to get these individuals treatment and help as an alternative to incarceration and to prevent future arrests. The initiative is already in place in New London, but the proposal builds on that and calls for a formal assessment of its effectiveness.

Today a jail diversion program is active in all Superior Courts. Program staff evaluate individuals with mental illness and develop a recommended treatment program in lieu of incarceration for a judge’s consideration.





Ten States Reduce Policy of Incarcerating Juveniles Guilty of Minor Offenses

A growing body of research demonstrates that for many juvenile offenders, lengthy out-of-home placements in secure corrections or other residential facilities fail to produce better outcomes than alternative sanctions.–and in certain instances, they can be counterproductive. Seeking to reduce recidivism and achieve better returns on their juvenile justice spending, several states have recently enacted laws that limit which youth can be committed to these facilities and moderates the length of time they can spend there.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

These changes prioritize the use of costly facilities and intensive programming for serious offenders who present a higher risk of re-offending, while supporting effective community-based programs for others.

In recent years, seven states have passed laws excluding certain juveniles from being placed in state custody, reflecting a growing recognition of the steep cost and low public safety return of confining juveniles who commit lower-level offenses in residential facilities. Three states also have modified the length of time juveniles spend in custody. Because research shows little to no recidivism reduction from extended stays for many offenders, a handful of states have adopted mechanisms to evaluate youth placements and shorten them when appropriate.

1) In 2014, Hawaii banned commitment to the state’s youth correctional facility for misdemeanor offenses.
2) Kentucky adopted reforms in 2014 that prohibit most misdemeanor offenders and Class D felons—the least serious class—from commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
3) Georgia passed legislation in 2013 to prohibit residential commitment for all “status offenses,” such as skipping school or running away, and for misdemeanor offenders, except those with four prior adjudications, including at least one felony.
4) In 2011, Florida banned state commitment for misdemeanors, with certain exceptions for youth with prior delinquency and those at high risk of re-offending.
5) In 2009, Mississippi prohibited commitment to the state training school for any juvenile offender adjudicated as delinquent for a nonviolent felony or with fewer than three misdemeanors.
6) In 2007, California banned state commitment for all low-level and nonviolent offenses.
7) As part of a complete overhaul of its juvenile corrections system in 2007, Texas barred commitments to secure facilities for misdemeanor offenses.

Several other states, including Ohio and Virginia, took steps to remove misdemeanor offenders from state commitment in the 1980s and 1990s.

Moderating length of stay:
1) In 2014, Kentucky limited the amount of time a juvenile may be held by the Department of Juvenile Justice in out-of-home placement for treatment, and the total amount of time a youth may be committed or under court supervision.
2) In 2013, Georgia eliminated the mandatory minimum sentence for certain felony offenses and reduced the maximum term for less serious felony offenses from five years to 18 months.
3) In 2011, Ohio expanded judicial discretion in release decisions for committed youth. Legislation authorized the courts to release from the Department of Youth Services offenders serving mandatory sentences once certain minimum terms are met.

In general, research has found that juvenile incarceration fails to reduce recidivism:

Meta-analyses—studies that combine the results of multiple evaluations—suggest that placement in correctional facilities does not lower the likelihood of juvenile reoffending and may, in fact, increase it in some cases. One longitudinal study of serious adolescent offenders in Maricopa County, Arizona, and Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, found that after matching youth offenders on 66 factors, including demographics and criminal history, those in placement fared no better in terms of recidivism than those on probation. A separate analysis of the same data found that youth who reported the lowest levels of offending before being placed were more likely to re-offend following institutional stays.

In Texas, a recent study found that youth in community-based treatment, activity, and surveillance programs had lower rearrest rates than those with similar criminal histories and demographic characteristics who were released from state facilities. An examination of long-term recidivism and education outcomes in Cook County, Illinois, found that juveniles who experienced confinement were more likely to drop out of high school and to be incarcerated as adults than youth offenders who were not incarcerated

An evaluation of Ohio’s Reasoned and Equitable Community and Local Alternatives to the Incarceration of Minors program—a state initiative to supervise youth offenders in the community rather than placing them in institutions—found that the recidivism rate for low- (33% vs 10%) and moderate-risk juveniles (52% vs 21%) in facilities was at least twice that of comparable youth under supervision or in programs in their communities.

In a study of low-risk juvenile offenders, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice reported that diversion programs demonstrated lower recidivism rates compared with more restrictive options and that out-of-home placement was associated with the highest recidivism rates.

One meta-analysis combining the results of juvenile and adult studies found that longer sentences were associated with a small increase in recidivism. The Arizona and Pennsylvania longitudinal study referenced above reported that longer periods of confinement did not reduce recidivism in most cases.

An Ohio study found that, after controlling for juveniles’ demographics and risk levels, those placed in state facilities for longer periods had higher rates of re-incarceration than did those held for shorter periods.

Factors such as the risk levels of juveniles, the characteristics of programs and the quality of their implementation are key determinants in reducing recidivism, regardless of whether treatment is delivered in institutions or in the community.

High recidivism rates for juveniles released from out-of-home placements have prompted policymakers in several states to ask if the price tag is justified given the results. Though institutional placements vary substantially in cost, they are generally the most expensive options available for sanctioning young offenders. States spend anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to hold a single juvenile offender in a corrections or other residential facility. The three-year outcomes in four states suggest a poor return on public investments:

Nearly two-thirds of Georgia’s $300 million budget for the Department of Juvenile Justice was directed in 2013 to out-of-home facilities, including secure youth development campuses where housing an offender cost $91,126 annually. Sixty-five percent of juveniles released from these facilities in 2007 were re-adjudicated or convicted as adults within three years.

The cost of placing an offender at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility was $199,329 in 2013, and 3 in 4 youth released in 2005–07 were re-adjudicated or convicted within three years.

The average per-bed cost for Virginia’s six juvenile correctional centers was $85,549 in 2012, and 45% of offenders released in fiscal year 2008 were recommitted or incarcerated within three years. In California, where the average annual cost of housing a juvenile offender in a state Department of Juvenile Justice facility was $179,400 in 2012, 54% of juvenile offenders released from these facilities in fiscal 2007 and 2008 were returned to custody in a state-level juvenile or criminal facility within three years. And in South Carolina, a secure bed costs 32.8 times more than intense probation.

Laws Criminalizing Homelessness Have Been Spreading Rapidly Across Urban U.S.

According to a 2014 report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, laws criminalizing homelessness have been spreading rapidly across urban areas of the United States. They criminalize behaviors and conduct that are often necessary for unsheltered and other homeless individuals, such as sleeping, sitting or begging in public, sleeping in vehicles and food sharing in public spaces.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

These laws make it very difficult for people experiencing homelessness to exist in the public domain. They drive individuals from the cities, at what is usually a transient, vulnerable time in their lives. Further, these policies, especially laws prohibiting public food sharing, prevent others from standing in solidarity with the homeless. This isolates those experiencing homelessness even more and prevents them from building up social connections and support. According to the National Law Center on Homeless and Policy’s 2014 report on criminalization, 9 percent of U.S. cities have passed laws banning food sharing in certain public areas. Further, the National Coalition for the Homeless has identified more than 30 cities that have or that are in the process of enacting such legislation in the past 14 months.

Researcher Randall Armster wrote:

By criminalizing homelessness and eradicating unsheltered individuals from public view, the nature of this country’s democracy is changed. The United States should allow and welcome all people to participate in public discourse and utilize public spaces. When forbidden to do this, homeless individuals are dehumanized, degraded and shown that they are unwelcome and unworthy in such a ‘democratic’ society.

Bill Briscall, communications manager of RainCity Housing in Vancouver, worked with an ad agency to create benches that folded out into temporary night shelters, in response to criminalization measures that create hostile environments for the homeless in his city.

He explained that his hopes for the project were to:

encourage conversations happening at the dinner table that may change behavior and prevent homelessness in the first place, by ensuring all of us are always living in places where we feel safe, respected and heard.

Governmental and non-governmental organizations alike are fighting against this criminalization, but their main argument is not about responsibility or morality. It is financial — that the criminalization of homelessness is not cost effective, and that jail time is far more expensive to tax payers than providing housing.

The concept of housing as a human right is largely neglected when the arguments for decriminalizing homelessness focus on the potential financial benefits rather than the suffering and hardship that could be eliminated. This emphasis must be changed.

As the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty explained in its report on criminalization:

Yes, ending homelessness is cost-effective for the taxpayer… But dollars are not the only cost of homelessness; humans experience homelessness at a horrific expense to the health and well-being of themselves and their communities. When we make the case that safe and stable housing is a human right… We can tap into the passions, relationships, and experiences that cut across sectors — and budget sheets — to create new partnerships and solutions.

The United States is in dire need of a shift in discourse and in policy in order to tackle such a complex, destructive problem.

The 50-plus cities that have criminalized homelessness since 2011 include Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Orlando, St.Petersburg, Kalamazoo, Denver, Phoenix, Honolulu and Tampa. Others are considering such cruel laws.

A “Relational Approach” Can Improve Female Prison Life and Cut Recidivism


Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Research shows that relationships developed with staffers during incarceration directly impact recidivism. Yet many of today’s security practices carried out by correctional personnel re-traumatize women, thereby blocking or sabotaging any real attempt at reforming them, so they can learn how to lead productive, pro-social lives.

Women’s prison systems are moving away from gender-specific programs and toward trauma-informed ones. This is a better way to approach female offenders, since even conservative estimates are that about half the population are victims of trauma. Though “relational theory” might sound to some like “psychobabble,” it begins with professionalism, which is needed across the board, regardless of gender. Making prisons humane institutions is good for everyone, since prisons are where you go as punishment, not for punishment.

There are several simple steps to implement the relational model.The first step is to train custody staff in female offenders’ characteristics, so they have a better understanding of who they are dealing with. When staffers know a female offender’s personal history, it explains a lot about how she behaves. Individuals who have been severely traumatized are difficult to deal with on many levels, but when you know that their behavior is a learned response for self-preservation, you can begin to make operational changes.

For example, instead of strip-searching women, prisons can utilize full-body scans like those used in airports, and prisoner-visiting programs could include child-friendly play spaces for mother and child to interact in a developmentally-appropriate manner. In this way, the individual’s humanity is largely kept intact, while the prison’s security needs are met.

At the most basic level, one way to implement the relational method is through conversation. It might sound simple, but if staffers take an interest in the women’s personal lives by asking questions about their children or loved ones, then they can begin to help the healing process. Staffers should demonstrate care and interest, recognizing that when a woman is incarcerated, her whole family is impacted.

Another practical way staffers can contribute to the psychological wellness of inmates is to provide choices for women, where possible. Within the prison system, there are many programs for inmates to participate in. In the relational model, staffers would rephrase “Why aren’t you motivated?” as “What motivates you?” Imagine how empowering that can be in the typical prison environment which deprives you of so many freedoms and choices—such as when to get up, what to wear, what to eat and when to make phone calls.

While the dynamic between correctional officers and inmates can be challenging, feeling respected while inside the prison can go a long way for these women and contribute to their ability to make positive changes on the outside.

A relational approach would make for a kinder, gentler prison, which does not mean coddling criminals or being lax about security. It would restore a woman’s self-esteem, not re-traumatize her, and provide at least a fighting chance for her to learn how to create healthy, safe relationships with others.

The widespread popularity of Orange Is the New Black is undeniable, as is the soaring population of female inmates and the need for reform in how their unique needs are met.

While the show exaggerates some of the illegal activities that happen in a prison, it accurately depicts how security personnel can exacerbate the problems that led to incarceration in the first place, thereby increasing the rate of recidivism rather than of recovery.

The narrative is fascinating from a social sciences standpoint because of the bonds between the characters. From Piper to Red to Gloria, they are all searching for ways to recover from trauma or psychological impediments while simultaneously learning to trust (or mistrust) security personnel. This highlights a key component in rehabilitation: building relationships.

More women are serving time in the US than ever before, and incarceration in the women’s prison system is growing at a rate faster than it is in the men’s. From 1980 to 2010, the number of female prisoners exploded, from 15,118 to 112,797. From 2010 to 2013 the population grew another 10.9 percent.

Many of the women in prison today are victims themselves. Research tells us that the following factors are often closely correlated with the incarceration of female offenders: sexual abuse, physical abuse, poverty, substance abuse and mental health issues. As such, women’s prison systems and their security personnel need to pay particular attention to helping inmates build positive relationships while in prison (implementing a relational model).

When looking at the bigger picture of America’s accelerating incarceration rate, additional factors come into play, such as higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, ongoing issues of racism and failed attempts to combat the war on drugs.

However, many prisons are failing to help with rehabilitation and instead exacerbate the problem by not building their systems around the complications of their demographics. To begin fixing many of the problems within the female prison system, it’s essential to first understand its demographics and the reasons why inmates were incarcerated in the first place.

According to The Sentencing Project:

Women are more likely to be in prison for drug and property offenses, while men are more likely to be in prison for violent offenses.

Women also are often in relationships with men who commit violent crimes and many times are incarcerated as accomplices. They are often young, single mothers who ran away from home as children to avoid abuse. Many reject positive relationships while seeking out negative ones. This knowledge should lead security personnel to understand that their interaction with the inmates will be dramatically influenced by previous trauma and psychological harm. This is why it’s so important for officers to be trained properly.

Three Juvenile Justice Bills Moving in Florida House

The Florida House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee just Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Timepassed three juvenile justice-related bills, one essentially expanding Florida’s civil citation program, one expunging a juvenile’s record at 21 if there are no further infractions and one holding the miscreant’s parents responsible for financial damage, if they can afford to pay.

It allows law enforcement to have the discretion to issue civil citations to a juvenile who admits to a misdemeanor, rather than sending them to prison.

Monica McIntyre from Daytona Beach backs the citations bill:

I am a parent of a son who was arrested last year for stealing $40 worth of cards out of a store. Last night, I googled his name, and his mug shot still shows. So, this is not excusing their behavior, but this is just allowing them to move forward .

Fred Bergeron representing Prince of Peace Catholic Church brought up the example of a five year-old special-needs child he heard about last year who now has a record:

She slapped the Kleenex out of a teacher’s hand, and although she wasn’t handcuffed, our school resource officer did file the paperwork, and now she has a misdemeanor for battery on her criminal record. She is now going to be branded a criminal for the rest of her life. She will face barriers to getting employment and getting college scholarships.

Still, while the Florida Retail Federation supports the premise of the bill, its General Counsel expressed concerns about limiting the number of citations to three—as opposed to an unlimited amount as the bill currently allows for.

The bill’s sponsors are also expected to look into including a civil citation database that all law enforcement can have access to.

Another measure that passed has been filed for the past several years that and garnered support in the House but not in the Senate, but the author believes it has a chance this year as it’s starting to move in that chamber.

Rep. Dane Eagle of Cape Coral explains the reason for his bill:

A juvenile had broken into one of my constituent’s home and caused a significant amount of damages. He was tried and convicted. The judge tried to order restitution on the juvenile, but he was unable to pay. Due to a loophole in the law, the parents were not held reasonable. At the end of the day, through no fault of her own, the victim was stuck with the bill.

Eagle’s measure expands the court authority to make those kind of calls:

It would apply strict restitution, or strict liability upon the parents of the juvenile committing the crime. There are instances where the judge is able to take into account the parent’s financial situation. If it’s up to their purview, they’d be able to ask for payment plans or it could be community service could be done in lieu of financial payment.

The measure passed the committee unanimously, as did another measure expunging the criminal records of minors by the time they turn 21 if they’re not classified as serious or habitual offenders.

Rep. Chris Latvala of Clearwater, the bill’s main sponsor, explained:

This issue was actually brought to my attention as a result of a case in my district of a young lady who is now 27 or 28 years old who was a 16-year-old foster kid at the time that she threw an egg out the window, got charged with a felony, didn’t have good legal representation and pled guilty to a felony, which has followed her throughout her life.

Latvala promised to look into whether there’s enough money in the budget to allow juveniles in the foster care system to be eligible for fee waivers in the expungement of their records.

Alliance to End Homelesness in Suburban Cook Co. IL Has Multiple Approaches in 2014-2017 Strategic Plan

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

The Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County (the Alliance)  strives to eliminate homelessness in suburban Cook County, Illinois.  An extremely large geography with a complicated web of governments, suburban  Cook County is home to over 2.5 million people across 573 square miles and
includes approximately 130 municipalities and 30 township governments.  Within this complex context, the Alliance’s role is to articulate the best possible  system to address homelessness, address weaknesses in the present system,  and marshal the resources necessary to move toward collaborative goals.

The Alliance was created as part of the Obama Administration’s 2010 “Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.”

In 2013, the homeless system in suburban Cook County served over 3,300 people. On any given night, approximately 1,200 people were either in
transitional housing, in a shelter, or living on the street. While over 70 percent
of people who experience homelessness in suburban Cook County in a year
are single individuals, a growing number are in families—951 people were
homeless with their families in 2013.5 By a broader measure, there were 5,704  school children in suburban Cook County considered homeless or doubled-up in the 2012-2013 school year—a 38 percent increase from the prior school year. If all people in suburban Cook County who are residing in “doubled-up” living situations (e.g., living with relatives or friends typically temporarily) were  considered homeless, the number of homeless would be far higher.

Nearly 13% of the known homeless population in suburban Cook County
are considered chronically homeless, i.e. homeless for an extended period of time or has cycled in and out of homelessness repeatedly. Over 11% are veterans, and over 10% are leaving domestic violence situations. A substantial share have a disability, such as substance use (17%) or a mental illness (21%). When the most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness in the county were surveyed, nearly half reported having spent time in a jail or prison in the past.

Certain economic situations represent risk factors for homelessness and
may put additional pressures on the suburban Cook County homeless system
moving forward. For example, being extremely poor—having income below
half the poverty line, which translates to less than $9,000 a year for a family of three—puts people at risk for homelessness since there is so very little money to pay for rent, let alone for other basic needs. There are over 112,000 people in extreme poverty in suburban Cook County, representing 4.5% of the  population.

Rents are relatively high in suburban Cook County, with a median rent of
$943. Almost 62,000 renter households are paying over 50% of their
income toward rent.

The Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2009 amends and reauthorizes the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which provides approximately $11 million to suburban Cook County annually—the single largest source of funding for its homeless system.

Since the Alliance was founded, Suburban Cook County has expanded permanent supportive housing by 400% by creating new programs, converting some existing transitional programs into permanent housing, and through the addition of 350 HUD Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers. The 979 permanent supportive housing (PSH) beds in January 2014 represent over five times the 190 PSH beds available in January 2005 and they also represent a 78% increase in just the three years since January 2011. From January 2008 to January 2014 the number of chronic homeless persons in the area dropped from 256 to 97.

The Alliance joined the national 100,000 Homes Campaign in July 2012. The campaign focuses on creating a by-name registry of people considered to be the most vulnerable, long-term homeless in the community and then committing to place them into permanent housing. Suburban Cook County’s 150 Homes Team formed as a local chapter of the 100,000 Homes Campaign to engage these individuals and place them into housing. The team set an initial goal of housing 150 individuals in two years and ending chronic homelessness in the area by the end of 2015.

Housing is the cornerstone of the Alliance’s efforts to end homelessness. The Alliance is committed to creating a variety of housing interventions. Rapid re-housing, short to medium term rental assistance with limited services, is the newest player in terms of interventions on the housing continuum targeted at people experiencing homelessness. While it has many features similar to transitional housing, in rapid re-housing the assistance is temporary but the housing is meant to be permanent. The rapid re-housing programs in suburban Cook County are fairly nascent. The Alliance sees rapid re-housing as a key tool to shorten the duration of homelessness, so it will focus on the following goals:

  1. Increase rapid re-housing capacity to 275 beds to meet the need in suburban Cook County;
  2. Ensure that rapid re-housing targets populations with low-to- moderate service needs; and
  3. Develop standards and procedures for rapid re-housing.

Permanent supportive housing is broadly understood to effectively end homelessness for those with disabilities, especially chronically homeless individuals and families. The Alliance plans to a) ensure that permanent supportive housing targets populations with intensive service needs, who experience long-term homelessness, are vulnerable, and are the hardest to house; b) increase the amount of permanent supportive housing available in suburban Cook County to 1,307 beds by January 2018 and c) build on success of 150 Homes Team to continue to quickly house 18 of the most vulnerable homeless per month.

Having an adequate supply of affordable housing is essential for both preventing homelessness and ending homelessness. The Housing Authority of Cook County recently implemented a homeless preference in both public housing and voucher wait lists, and new vouchers are an emerging opportunity to increase access for people in the homeless system to affordable housing in suburban Cook County.

Street outreach is directed toward finding people experiencing homelessness who might not use shelter or services. It includes building relationships, checking on and monitoring clients’ welfare, assessing vulnerability, linking to services and providing follow-up case management to ensure successful linkage to services.

Homelessness prevention activities include short- or medium-term financial assistance and services as well as tenant and legal services. In addition it includes systems prevention efforts with institutions that may discharge people without stable housing lined up. A newly emerging area of prevention work is identifying the situations that make a person most likely to become homeless and intentionally targeting households with those situations.

The Alliance, largely through the work of a new Alliance Employment Committee, will focus on the following employment goals:

  1. Increase awareness about existing employment-related resources;
  2. Develop provider knowledge and skills in best practices in employment programs for people experiencing homelessness;
  3. Make employment an integral part of the suburban Cook homeless system; and
  4. Promote changes in government policies to support employment programs and policies for people experiencing homelessness


The Affordable Care Act provides for a Medicaid expansion to nearly all individuals with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level and includes new requirements for states to significantly streamline Medicaid enrollment processes. Given their low incomes and high uninsured rate, individuals experiencing homelessness could significantly benefit from this coverage expansion. However, it will be important to address the barriers they face to enrolling in coverage and accessing needed care. In addition, Medicaid funds may be available to support some services for people experiencing homelessness in new ways. The Alliance, largely through the work of providers and the three regional homeless councils, will focus on the following health care goals:

  1. Enroll all people in the suburban Cook County homeless system into Medicaid or other health insurance;
  2. Equip people experiencing homelessness in suburban Cook County to effectively use insurance and the health care system; and
  3. Integrate homeless and health care systems in a systemic way.