Archive for Humane Exposures

San Antonio Police Approach to Homelessness Shifting from Punitive to Helpful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Yale Prison Education Initiative Plans Inmate Teaching Program

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

Zelda Roland

Zelda Roland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland said:

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

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

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

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

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

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

California Contemplates Reforms to Juvenile Detention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Webster of the CJCJ wrote in a public comment,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Los Angeles man wrote:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Proposed bill aims to cut Oregon’s prison population

Oregon House Bill 3078, also known as the 2017

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Female population of Coffee Creek in 2002: 646.

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

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

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

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

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

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

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

Peña knows the story all too well. As a

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

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

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

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

Peña says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chavez says:

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


© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Folsom Prison Programs Benefit Inmates and Community

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

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

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

California's Folsom Prison

California’s Folsom Prison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

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

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

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


Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

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

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

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

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

Hung said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Clair said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Seattle’s King Co.

Seattle Mayor Outlines $275 Million Homelessness Plan


Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

The $275 million raised over five years from a property-tax levy proposed by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray would provide rental subsidies to get people off the streets. It would also be used to expand shelters and treatment services as well as pump more resources into the newly created navigation team — a group of outreach workers and police officers dedicated to the city’s homeless issue.

The mayor will try to qualify the levy for the August ballot as a citizens’ initiative. In order to qualify for the ballot, 20,638 signature would be needed.

“I know there won’t be agreement on all sides, but business as usual has not worked,” Murray said.

During his State of the City address, Murray said he wants to increase property taxes this year to generate more money for the city’s homelessness crisis.

“My hope is that this plan will put the squeeze on the problem,” he said.

As he announced his plans for the additional funding raised through property taxes, Murray said, again, that the help he’s been seeking from the federal government isn’t coming.

“It has become clear to me since the presidential election that we are on our own,” he said.

Murray said he formed an advisory group for how to raise $55 million. The city currently spends more than $8 million a year on emergency shelters, more than $4 million a year on transitional housing and more than $9 million a year on permanent supportive housing.

Recently the city released the results of a $100,000 survey of about 1,000 homeless people, and officials with the city’s Human Services Department touted the importance of more affordable housing and more low-barrier shelters.

Murray referred to the survey in a recent news conference, saying that it “busted many of myths” that we have about the homeless. He pointed out that, according to  the survey, 40 percent are employed, 20 percent said housing affordability is the main reason they’re homeless, 30 percent are under 30 (years old), 35 percent are suffering from a substance abuse disorder, and 23 percent come from our foster care system, 14 percent are veterans, and 25.5 percent are African Americans.

“We also learned that this is not Freeattle,” Murray said. “70 percent of the people who are homeless lived in this area. They worked and they are our neighbors.”

Murray also said that most — or 90 percent of those surveyed — want services and housing.

KIRO 7 News is tracking community-generated reports of sanctioned and unauthorized camps to help illustrate the size and scope of this crisis. Seattle leaders do not keep a public map of homeless camps. The city’s sanctioned homeless camps are a temporary fix to Seattle’s homeless crisis, according to the mayor’s office.

Murray’s long-term solution, “Pathways Home,” involves expanding 24-hour shelter services and refocusing the city’s homeless solutions to an individual-based approach. The program is expected to take a couple of years to set up.

Meanwhile, the city has implemented a “bridging the gap” program. Seattle only has a handful of sanctioned homeless camps under this program. The rest of the camps that pop up across the city are unauthorized. The city of Seattle defines a camp as three or more tents.

More than 2,000 people are unsheltered in Seattle on any given night, according to the latest homeless count by volunteers.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Skyrocketing Female Prison Population in Oregon

The nation is facing a massive increase in the number of women who are incarcerated — female inmates increased by 700 percent from 1980 to 2014 — and Oregon is no exception. The number of women imprisoned in the Oregon Department of Corrections has nearly tripled over the past 20 years even though women are not committing more frequent or serious crimes, said 

Dr. Emily Salisbury, an associate professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Salisbury warned of the consequences of not addressing the spike in female imprisonment only a few months after funding for a second women’s prison in Oregon was rejected by lawmakers.

In December, the Oregon Legislature’s Emergency Board turned down a request by Oregon Corrections Director Colette Peters for $3.8 million to prepare a former prison in Salem for inmates in 2017.


The Coffee Creek Correctional Institution in Wilsonville has exceeded its 1,280-inmate capacity since May 18. When the prison fully opened in 2002, it held 646 women. Today, it holds 1,290. There are no plans to open an additional facility, but the emergency board will revisit the issue in March.

Oregon’s prisons are not the only facilities seeing more women every year. The number of women in jails nationwide has increased 14-fold since 1970, when three-quarters of counties didn’t have a single female inmate.

Fifty-six women currently are incarcerated in the Marion County jail. Numbers have fluctuated over the years, according to county data, but between 2011 and 2015, the percentage of female inmates jumped from about 14 percent to more than 17 percent.

Rural county jails are facing some of the biggest increases, according to a 2015 study by the Vera Institute of Justice.

If the increased severity and frequency of crime is not on the rise, what is behind the spike in female incarceration?
Salisbury said:

Much of what is driving this is not women becoming more violent or becoming more problematic, but the fact that our sentencing laws have changed. Certainly, the war on drugs has been a war on women, particular women of color.

She pointed to Measure 57 — a 2008 law that increased sentences for certain drug and property crime offenses frequently committed by women — as one of the contributors to the increase.

Sentencing strategies, like everything else in the criminal justice system, are based on the dynamics of male offenders, she said.

Salisbury added:

This, of course, doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t be punished or held accountable. Lawmakers and stakeholders need to take a look at what pathways led women to incarceration and recidivism in the first place.

During her study of about 300 women on probation, several reoccurring stories piqued Salisbury’s interest. Female offenders typically experienced childhood victimization, family violence, unhealthy relationships, unsafe housing and low levels of economic capital. Salisbury said different conversations, policies and practices are needed to address these underlying issues.

“If we don’t address core issues, we’ll continue to see them cycling through the system,” she said.

State officials recognize the unique needs of incarcerated women and are taking the steps to address them. In recent years, Oregon became one of 22 states to adopt the Women’s Risk Needs Assessment. And according to a statewide survey, Oregonians broadly support a preventative approach to incarceration. About two-thirds of those surveyed said they would support a preventive program over a punitive approach.

Going forward, Salisbury said she’d like to see judges and other community stakeholders educated on core issues facing female offenders and wide investment in female-responsive approaches. A careful look is needed at existing practices to make sure they aren’t backfiring because of gender.

“Contrary to what some people have said about justice-involved women needing a timeout in prison, I just simply don’t agree,” Salisbury said. “Women don’t need a time out, they need a way out.”

They need a way out of the insidious violence, trauma, victimization and discrimination that have plagued their lives, she continued, adding that these women will never escape the cycle without programs and interventions specific to their needs.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford