Archive for Humane Exposures

2014 Gains and Losses in Juvenile Justice Struggle

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

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

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

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

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

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

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

At a Congressional field hearing in June, Listenbee stated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iowa Leaders Join Fight Against Female Incarceration

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

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

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boeding said.

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

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

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Native American Youths are Imprisoned in Large Numbers and Badly under-served There

Indian reservations are sovereign nations, so when juveniles commit minor crimes, their cases are usually handled by the tribes. But when they commit a serious felony, their cases are generally handled by federal prosecutors, and they can be sent to either federal prison or a federal facility. In the federal system, there is no juvenile division, and no court judges, rehabilitation facilities or probation system for juveniles.  Last year a commission recommended that tribes be given full jurisdiction over Indian children who should be released from “dysfunctional federal and state controls.” Advocates say Native American youths have essentially been forgotten.

Troy Eid, the chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission, said:

There is no systemic program to educate kids or provide services for them in detention centers. They don’t have computer instruction. They don’t have classrooms. They have nothing, and their services are lacking because Congress hasn’t appropriated the funding. They just sit in a cell all day.

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, attorney general, Tatewin Means, the daughter of the late American Indian Movement leader Russell Means, works out of a run-down building with a broken toilet and no heat or air conditioning. Means said there is no funding for behavioral health services for children who have been sexually or physically abused, and when, as teenagers, some get caught up in the juvenile justice system, the tribe has few resources to help them. She reports:

For the last two years, we have applied for federal grants for public safety and child protection and were absolutely shut out.

The Pine Ridge reservation is larger than the state of Delaware, covering more than 2.7 million acres, but the tribal communities  are racked by 87%  unemployment and crippling poverty. Located within Pine Ridge, Shannon County has one of the highest numbers of people living below the poverty line in the nation. Families live in rotting and overcrowded public housing.

In an environment plagued by sexual assault, domestic violence and substance abuse, it is a struggle to protect children, law enforcement officials say. Many young people turn to drugs or otherwise run afoul of the law.

There is no place for kids to get help. The one Boys and Girls Club is often closed because of a lack of funding. The nearest population center, Rapid City, with a population of about 70,000, is more than 100 miles away.

Although Pine Ridge is technically a “dry” reservation, just over the line in Nebraska is the tiny town of White Clay, which is lined with stores that sell alcohol to Pine Ridge residents; day and night, they can be found leaning against buildings or lying on the ground intoxicated.

Tony Ghost-Red Feather, 18, said he grew up surrounded by alcoholism and violence. He said he was bullied at school and that some of his friends and relatives ended up in the juvenile detention center. He considered suicide on two occasions. The only things stopping him were his younger siblings, whom he was mostly responsible for raising.

At the juvenile detention center for offenses including disorderly conduct and running away, a criminal violation. youths just looked at cement walls. There were no teachers or counselors. Young inmates were woken us up to take showers and clean up, and then they were just sat there.

On reservations, at-risk Native American youths find few places to turn. On Pine Ridge and Rosebud, two of South Dakota’s largest Indian reservations, many Native American teenagers find themselves caught between broken homes and a broken justice system.

Detention facilities explicitly for Native American youths are operated by an amalgam of entities. The Bureau of Indian Affairs runs three of the 23 juvenile detention centers in Indian country. Fourteen of the facilities are run by tribes but are overseen and funded in part by the BIA. The remaining six are funded and run by tribes.

Several of the facilities operated by the BIA, an agency within the Interior Department, have been beset by problems. A facility in Lower Brule, SD has been closed for a year because of structural problems. On Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, a more than $7 million center constructed with Justice Department and tribal funds has been empty for more than four years because it was not built to code. The new building will continue to be run by the BIA when it opens.

Dozens of facilities that had been built are now vacant or seriously underutilized because operating funds haven’t been provided, according to a panel of Indian-country experts that presented a report last week to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

Juveniles arrested on those reservations have to be sent to other reservations, sometimes hundreds of miles away. Much of the criticism of the juvenile justice system for Native Americans is centered on the removal of young offenders from their communities, a practice that critics say makes it even more difficult to rehabilitate them. The BIA acknowledges the situation presents challenges for families but said there are not always alternatives.

In an environment plagued by assault, domestic violence and substance abuse, it is difficult to protect children.

Darren Cruzan, deputy director of the BIA’s Office of Justice Services, said:

If we had the ability to have a fully staffed juvenile detention facility at every reservation, that would be absolutely the best way to do it. But we know that is unrealistic based on the ability to build safe juvenile detention facilities and staff them appropriately.

A member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, Cruzan said the BIA is taking steps to try to improve services for juveniles in Indian country. But he stressed the difficulty of developing education programs, saying that “a lot of the juveniles that we’re getting are kids who aren’t in school or have dropped out of school.”

The Kiyuksa O’Tipi Reintegration Center, Pine Ridge’s juvenile detention center, is funded and overseen by the BIA but operated by the tribe. A BIA document indicates that there is an education program. Inside, there is a classroom with desks and computers. However, there are no teachers, no counselors and no academic programs. Funding ran out two years ago.

About an hour and a half drive across the northern Great Plains is a juvenile detention facility for Native Americans that looks and feels altogether different.

Unlike in Pine Ridge and other reservations, there is no barbed wire surrounding the center. Inside, students learn to carve in a woodshop, work out in a gymnasium and participate in “smudging,” a ceremony of burning sage and cedar to cleanse a person and keep away negative spirits and energy.

The Wanbli Wiconi Tipi Youth Wellness and Renewal Center, located on the Rosebud Reservation, houses about 250 teenagers each year and is run by Miskoo Petite, who grew up in the community. Unlike other juvenile centers, where a majority of the building is used for detention, 70 percent of the space is used for programs. Petite said:

We are trying to integrate traditional Lakota cultural information and rehabilitate our youth by bridging the gaps they might have with their identities.

Saome kids admit they would rather be in the juvenile detention center in Rosebud than at home.

Like Pine Ridge, Rosebud — home to an estimated 25,000 people living on about 900,000 acres of tribal land — is overwhelmed by dire poverty. Over a two-year period, 47 teenagers committed suicide on the reservation. At least two children a day are victims of a crime or exposed to abuse and neglect, school violence or domestic violence.

For all its problems, however, the juvenile detention center is striving to rehabilitate young offenders. Outside sits a traditional sweat lodge, a dome-shaped hut, for them to experience the ceremony of purification and prayer.

The juveniles attend classes and are taken on field trips to places like the Wounded Knee memorial on Pine Ridge, where they learn more about their history and the day in December 1890 when the U.S. Cavalry massacred an estimated 300 men, women and children of the Great Sioux Nation. (Many on the reservation prefer to refer to themselves as Lakota rather than Sioux, a term meaning “little snake” that they say was given to them by their enemies.)

“It’s jail, but they give you a chance to do things here — go to the gym, play ball, learn Lakota [the language] and go to school every day,” said one teenager who said he had been housed in three other juvenile detention centers.

Law enforcement officials credit Petite with running a facility that is considered among the most progressive in Indian country. At the same time, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson of South Dakota is working closely with the tribes to keep Rosebud juveniles out of the federal system whenever possible and allow them to be sentenced in tribal court.

“This is a really poor, very remote reservation,” said Eid, the chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission. “But when the tribes have some control over their systems, they don’t warehouse kids. They make sure there’s education, including for the ones who misbehave.”

Petite, however, is still dependent on grants from the BIA and the Justice Department to operate his programs. And as with many health, education and law enforcement programs throughout Indian country, tribes have to compete against each other for funding. Every couple of years they have to reapply to keep programs running — or they end. Petite will soon lose his clinical psychologist because the federal grant funding her has ended.

The panel of Indian-country experts that met with Holder this week said that tribal juvenile justice programs are “grossly underfunded,” saying it is “unacceptable” for federal agencies to provide grant money limited to three years. The panel recommended that grant-based, competitive criminal justice funding for Indian country be replaced with a permanent budget.

In Petite’s view, one the best programs at Wanbli Wiconi Tipi centers on an organic garden planted by staff and kids, a beehive and a greenhouse. The program is designed to remind tribal youth of their history of living off the land and to instill in them an appreciation of nurturing life.

“We donate the vegetables — tomatoes, chili peppers, cucumbers — to our elders or use them in the kitchen,” Petite said.

During a recent tour of the facility, however, Petite seemed reluctant to open the door to the greenhouse. When he did, there was a stench of decay. The greenhouse had been overtaken by weeds.

“Our federal grant for the program recently ended,” he explained. “We just don’t have the additional staff to keep this garden going.”

Photo from the Washington Post

Oklahoma, With Worst Female Imprisonment Rate in U.S., Issues Tulsa Report With Many Planned Improvements

In its recent report, The Mayor’s Commission oPhoto by Susan Madden Lankfordn the Status of Women calls upon the Tulsa community to support the efforts of local organizations that address issues surrounding female incarceration.

The Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women is comprised of 15 Tulsa women who work and serve in various disciplines. The Commission has focused on female incarceration as its primary issue for the past two years.

Commission Chair Carmen Pettie said the statistics regarding female incarceration are staggering. Oklahoma currently incarcerates 127 women per 100,000 population, more than twice the national average of 63. Pettie noted that two thirds of women in prison are there for non-violent offenses, which are often substance-related. In 2013, 1,152 Oklahoma women were incarcerated, 18.4% of them in Tulsa County.

Sentencing laws do not differentiate between the amount of drug or between acts of possession and distribution, so women are often sentenced to lengthy prison terms for offenses that would bring little or no punishment in other states, the report said.

Pettie explained:

Oklahoma is a tough-on-crime state, and we will continue to focus on sentencing guidelines that do not distinguish between the severity of the crime.

As the Mayor’s Commission, we all believe we should continue to shine light on issues that impact women in Tulsa. There are several groups that are already working on female incarceration issues, helping women re-enter the mainstream and work environments, ensuring they continue to have relationships with their children when appropriate, and assisting with education and healthcare. We would like to generate more awareness around the issue, around the organizations and encourage Tulsans to support these efforts.

The Commission’s work was divided into five committees: health, education, communications, business and legislative. Each worked independently and together to conduct forums and discussions that led to a set of action steps for each area of emphasis.

In Oklahoma, which is the U.S. leader in methamphedarine crime, risk factors for women include: poverty, histories of family dysfunction, domestic violence and relationships with men who engage in criminal behavior.

Also in Oklahoma, as in many other states, there is a direct correlation between the growing number of private prisons and number of women incarcerated. Fees paid to private prison corporations are directly tied to number of incarcerations, and
private prison corporations often make campaign donations to political candidates and lobby legislative leaders to continue the state’s tough sentencing guidelines.

Today, there is some current positive legislative news. Senate Bill 1278 will create a “Pay-for-Success” pilot program, and other  legislators are also working on this issue.

The report examines the impact incarceration of a mother has on children. Children are traumatized and feel sense of abandonment, and these children are more likely than the average child to end up in prison.

Each year, 8,000 ex-offenders are released from Oklahoma prisons. The obstacles facing women upon release include
reunion with children, re-entry into labor marketing, safe
and affordable housing, access to education and access to healthcare.

The Women in Recovery program costs $14,500 for three years, versus $40,000 for three years’ incarceration.

Here is what committees of the Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women are working on this year.

The Health Committee: Enhances and improve awareness and utilization of health resources, develops information graphics and
researches health resources in other states.

The Education Committee focuses on education for all Oklahoma women and seeks to enhance educational opportunities of formerly incarcerated women upon re-entry.

The Communications Committee: uses all forms of media to communicate the efforts of the groups working to solve the issue.
It is planning a 2015 follow-up Town Hall event continuing the group’s focus on incarcerated women. It aims to broaden
outreach and increase attendance at the event by again using all media, with emphasis on Social Media.

The Women in Business Committee endeavors to follow up roundtable discussions with additional businesses, distribute its “Uncheck the Box” DVD to human resource departments and
establish a central resource listing.

Finally, the Legislative Committee will contact state legislators to explore how to best address the impact of sentencing laws and
develop a flowchart to follow the paths of women incarcerated for non-violent crimes.

The report’s concluding challenge: Let’s break the cycle and invest in resources to ensure success.

New report Shows Child Homelessness on the Rise in U.S.

The number of homeless children in the U.S. has surged in recent years to an all-time high, amounting to one child in every 30, according tPhoto by Susan Madden Lankfordo a comprehensive state-by-state report that blames the nation’s high poverty rate, the lack of affordable housing and the impacts of pervasive domestic violence.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Titled “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” the report just issued by the National Center on Family Homelessness calculates that nearly 2.5 million American children were homeless at some point in 2013. The number is based on the Department of Education’s latest count of 1.3 million homeless children in public schools, supplemented by estimates of homeless pre-school children not counted by the DOE.The problem is particularly severe in California, which has one-eighth of the U.S. population but accounts for more than one-fifth of the homeless children, with an estimated total of nearly 527,000.

Carmela DeCandia, director of the national center and a co-author of the report, noted that the federal government has made progress in reducing homelessness among veterans and chronically homeless adults. She said:

The same level of attention and resources has not been targeted to help families and children. As a society, therefore, we’re going to pay a high price in human and economic terms.

Child homelessness increased by 8% nationally from 2012 to 2013, according to the report, which warned of potentially devastating effects on children’s educational, emotional and social development, as well as on their parents’ health, employment prospects and parenting abilities.

The report included a composite index ranking the states on the extent of child homelessness, efforts to combat it and the overall level of child well-being. States with the best scores were Minnesota, Nebraska and Massachusetts, while at the bottom were Alabama, Mississippi and California.

Shahera Hyatt, director of the California Homeless Youth Project, claimed that the crux of the problem is the state’s high cost of living, coupled with insufficient affordable housing.

People think, ‘Of course we are not letting children and families be homeless,’ so there’s a lot of disbelief. But California has not invested in this issue.

Hyatt, 29, was homeless on and off throughout adolescence, starting when her parents were evicted when she was in 7th grade. At 15, she and her older brother took off and survived by sleeping in the tool sheds, backyards and basements of acquaintances.

She recalls:

Terms like ‘couch surfing’ and ‘doubled-up’ sound a lot more polite than they are in practice. For teenagers, it might be exchanging sex for a place to stay or staying someplace that does not feel safe because they are so mired in their day-to-day survival needs.

The new report by the National Center on Family Homelessness — a part of the private, nonprofit American Institutes for Research — says remedies for child homelessness should include an expansion of affordable housing, education and employment opportunities for homeless parents, and specialized services for the many mothers rendered homeless due to domestic violence. Efforts to obtain more resources to combat child homelessness are complicated by debate over how to quantify it.

H.U.D. conducts an annual one-day count of homeless people that encompasses shelters, as well as parks, underpasses, vacant lots and other locales. Its latest count, for a single night in January 2013, tallied 610,042 homeless people, including 130,515 children.

Defenders of H.U.D.’s method say it’s useful in identifying the homeless people most in need of urgent assistance. Critics contend that H.U.D.’s method grossly underestimates the extent of child homelessness and results in inadequate resources for local governments to combat it. They prefer the Education Department method that includes homeless families who are staying in cheap motels or doubling up temporarily in the homes of friends or relatives.

Bruce Lesley, president of the nonprofit First Focus Campaign for Children, says:

Fixing the problem starts with adopting an honest definition. Right now, these kids are sort of left out there by themselves.

Lesley’s group and some allies have endorsed a bill introduced in Congress, with bipartisan sponsorship, that would expand H.U.D.’s definition to correlate more closely with that used by the Education Department. However, the bill doesn’t propose any new spending for the hundreds of thousands of children who would be added to the H.U.D. tally.

Shahera Hyatt, of the California Homeless Youth Project, says most of the homeless schoolchildren in her state aren’t living in shelters:

It’s often one family living in extreme poverty going to live with another family that was already in extreme poverty. Kids have slept in closets and kitchens and bathrooms and other parts of the house that have not been meant for sleeping.

A Few State Juvenile Facilities Strive to Foster ‘Family Engagement’


Inmates performing Shakespeare near Boston.
Photo courtesy of Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Programs in Texas, Massachusetts and Indiana illustrate efforts to foster “family engagement,” which has become a buzzword in juvenile justice circles. It’s about building bridges between family members — or other key figures in youths’ lives — and the staff at juvenile facilities that house the youngsters.

Inside juvenile correctional facilities in Massachusetts, young offenders study Shakespeare, rehearse for weeks and then perform the bard’s works before their relatives.

In Texas, incarcerated youths lead their relatives to schools inside juvenile facilities, where they introduce their teachers and showcase their work in classrooms. A state juvenile justice staffer likens the visits to the sort of open house you might expect at a public school.

Indiana juvenile authorities have greatly expanded visiting hours at their facilities, and even late-night visits can be arranged to accommodate a family member’s schedule. For those who can’t make it in person, Indiana facilities — like those in some in other states — offer virtual visits through videoconferencing technology such as Skype.

Experts, supported by a growing body of research, say fostering family engagement improves incarcerated youths’ behavior, helps families feel more connected, reduces disciplinary incidents and boosts the staff morale. Moreover, strengthening these connections better prepares youths for a return to the home or community upon release — and reduces repeat offenses.

Nonetheless, critics complain that for all the progress in building better relations with families, much of the U.S. juvenile justice system in the is still beset by brutal conditions, rampant violence – including sexual assaults of inmates by staff – and widespread use of the psychological torture that is solitary confinement.

Historically, relations between family members and juvenile facility staff have been marked by mistrust and, at times, actual hostility. In fact, the first U.S. juvenile facilities explicitly tried to isolate kids from their families. Staff at many juvenile facilities still act as if family members are to blame for youths’ offenses and therefore treat the family members with disdain and disrespect.

Family members often view officials at juvenile facilities not as allies, but as obstacles, to the ostensible goal of the juvenile justice system: rehabilitation of youthful offenders.

Peter Forbes, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services said:

A lot of the parents line up against custodial agencies. They see us as an extension of the court system and the child welfare system that have been removing the kids from their homes and that they’ve had a really bad experience with over a period of years.

“You have to work against that dynamic. You have to be deliberate about how you’re going to break that down. In Massachusetts, we’ve definitely stepped away from the mindset that the parents are the problem.”

Parents and other family members play an integral part of the success of the state’s innovative work with the nonprofit Actors’ Shakespeare Project, based in the Boston suburb of Somerville, MA. Family members and friends form the appreciative audiences for the incarcerated youths’ forays into performances of the bard’s work, such as the comedic play “As You Like It” at the Zara Cisco Brough Center in Westborough, MA.

Actors’ Shakespeare Project, which calls the program “Incarcerated Youth At Play,” says the themes of some Shakespeare plays, such as justice and revenge, violence and grief and the power of love and redemption, can resonate with today’stroubled youths .

Shakespearean “teaching artists” from the nonprofit work for 3-16 weeks with incarcerated youths to create ensembles. English, language arts, theater and social studies teachers in the facilities help youths explore Shakespeare’s plays and write, rehearse and perform within the context of classroom learning.

Sometimes simple things mean a lot to family members, who are often guilt-ridden over what they might have done differently and racked by anxiety. Simply calling families to ask about their schedules instead of just mailing out a notification of a youth’s next monthly treatment plan meeting and holding parent-teacher nights can help break down barriers.

Neelum Arya, research director of the Program in Public Interest Law and Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, law school, labels such outreach “family-driven justice” in an article in the current issue of the Arizona Law Review. She writes:

We’re in the first decade of this, so we have a long way to go. I would definitely say that there are a few shining stars, but by and large, most facilities in the country are not operating with a particular understanding of how to better involve families in the system. The fact is that at this point, the examples are few and far between.

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department has made family engagement a top priority as part of efforts to overhaul the department in the aftermath of a scandal over rampant sexual abuse. Among other reforms, the department developed a 12-provision “Parents Bill of Rights” and a family handbook detailing facility policies.

Arya  points to the widely cited “Missouri Model” and lauds the state for putting a premium on family engagement and for viewing families as experts. Missouri’s Division of Youth Services state advisory board includes parents of two youths who had been incarcerated.

The division assigns a specific “service coordinator” to work with each incarcerated youth’s family, starting within days of sentencing and continuing throughout the youth’s time with Missouri’s DYS. The service coordinators make home visits to meet with families and put them more at ease than they would be in an institutional setting.

Most youths are placed within 50 miles of their homes, with flexible visitation policies and transportation offered to families.

Nationally there is widespread agreement among families that the majority of juvenile detention and corrections facilities are geared towards punishment, not treatment, and that they are inappropriate for their children. Even the decor of a facility can make a “huge difference. Is children’s artwork on the wall? Are there positive examples of children succeeding or examples of messages saying your children are constantly in trouble?

Sue Badeau, a longtime Philadelphia juvenile justice advocate strikes a cautionary note about the progress of family engagement. Badeau said it’s much easier for agencies to adopt cosmetic or highly visible changes like expanding visiting hours or scheduling events than to genuinely change the an institution’s culture  so that its staff values family engagement.

Badeau and her husband are the parents of six children who have spent time in the juvenile or adult criminal justice systems. In 2011, she served a one-year fellowship focused on family engagement with the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and has spoken and written widely on the subject.

Badeau said:

The real work comes for systems to really determine whether they value the role of families. Even if they had a party or improved the visiting hour schedule or something like that, the question is how are they doing as far as training with their staff on the role of families? Do they value families? What do they see in terms of how they engage families in the actual planning for their child’s programming and treatment and  how their lives will be once they leave the facilities?

Staff must be trained to build positive relationships with youth and their families. Family engagement should be part of staffers’ job descriptions and one of the skills included in staff evaluations.

Youth and their families should have some say in choosing which relatives or others such as mentors, coaches or family friends the facilities should deal with. Badeau pointed to innovations including “family-to-family peer support” and said families should be tapped to help train facility staff and sit on advisory boards and similar groups at local, state and federal levels.

Oregon, known for its progressive juvenile justice policies, has created a family engagement coordinator position to improve the connection between facilities and family members or other adults who play a big role in youths’ lives.

Faith Love,  family engagement coordinator for the Oregon Youth Authority, said:

Youths’ behavior may be linked to their home life. By connecting with the families, OYA can help address unmet needs for food, shelter and employment as well as medical, mental health and substance abuse treatment. Adults in youths’ lives may need coaching and support to help incarcerated youths, sometimes involved with multiple systems.

Most of the families we work with are either exhausted from or unsure how to deal with the behavior of their child. They may have previously sought help from multiple sources. Some families are hurt, ashamed and not sure of how best to become involved. It is extremely rare for any parent not to want something good and better for their child.

Sometimes, encouraging family engagement means paying for hotel stays, bus tickets or gasoline so the relatives can visit youths in facilities far from their homes.

Among efforts to increase family engagement in other states:

•Ohio juvenile authorities collaborated with the nonprofit, New York City-based Vera Institute of Justice on the “Families as Partners: Supporting Youth Reentry” program to encourage more frequent visitation and correspondence and increase family involvement in youths’ treatment and re-entry plans. Working with two juvenile facilities for boys, Vera researchers found increased family visitation improved youths’ behavior and school performance. Vera highlighted the importance of visitation and suggested that other juvenile facilities change visitation polices and take other steps to promote more frequent visitation.

•The “Baby Elmo Program” being piloted in Santa Clara County, CA and elsewhere, focuses on strengthening relationships between incarcerated teen fathers and their infants. The project relies on a standardized curriculum for the 10-week course. Facility personnel use “Sesame Street” videos to teach the fathers ways to interact with their babies. Many of the incarcerated youths did not have a strong father figure in their lives. Early results are promising, showing fathers the big role they can play in their children’s development and helping the babies develop bonds with their fathers.

•The New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission has issued a request for proposals to assess the “family friendliness” of current visitation at the New Jersey Training School for Boys in Monroe Township; to provide staff training on the importance of family engagement and ways to encourage it, including peer family advocacy and support; and to help families navigate the juvenile justice system. The training school, which has come under criticism for extensive use of solitary confinement, is New Jersey’s largest juvenile facility, holding up to about 200 boys.

Kevin M. Brown, JJC’s executive director, said:

We need to challenge ourselves to view policies and practices through the eyes of family members, in order to assess whether they are family-friendly and actively promote and support family involvement. If we can help families, we can help young people succeed.

Kim Godfrey, executive director of nonprofit, Braintree, MA-based Performance-Based Standards, which helps agencies and facilities monitor and improve conditions and treatment, noted that most youths will return to their families upon release. He said:

All kids want to be with their families, and kids leave the juvenile justice system to go back to the community and be with their families. And we need to support that relationship and strengthen it, rather than sever it, while they’re in custody.


Alaska Conference and Programs Seek to Keep Women from Re-entring Prison


Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Nine years ago, Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe put together an annual  conference to help women inmates at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River make the transition back into society after release.

The all-day conference sought to reduce the rate of repeat offenders by holding workshops on topics that range from probation tips to securing housing and employment to simple solutions for leading an overall healthy lifestyle.


Justice Fabe said:

As judges, we impose sentences on offenders and don’t see them until they come back to the courthouse if they’ve re-offended. When they’re inside, they don’t have many choices; the institution makes choices for them. And so we’re trying to help present healthy choices for them to make when they are outside.

After justice is served by way of a prison sentence, the road to re-enter society can often be unfair,  but one message that was clear at this year’s conference was: successful re-entry is possible.

However, a successful transition takes help, from an addiction support group to a probation officer to anyone who has walked a similar path. Former inmate, Rachel Burkhart, a panel member at the conference, told about 100 women who were where she once was how she went from being in-and-out of incarceration to finding a career in law.

Burkhart said:

Most of all, successful re-entry takes a willing heart, and sometimes slow and steady wins the race. I was used to a hard and fast life, but after failed drug tests and multiple incarceration periods, I got to the point where I didn’t want to risk my freedom anymore. I actually took those really slow steps, from being placed on house arrest to gaining sobriety to, eventually, being able to finally gain my independence.

“No money I ever made before was legal money. But my main concern became how to be a standup American citizen, to learn how to be an independent and strong woman.

Burkhart networked her way to a job and then met her current boss, who employed her at a law firm, two years later, even though she lacked experience..

Inmate Tammi Charlesworth is set to be released in December of this year. The 34-year-old, has repeatedly been incarcerated over the past 13 years, and she is currently serving time for drug-related charges.

She said at the conference of her multiple chances at reentry:

I haven’t successfully made it , but this time, I had two years to serve, and so I utilized my time to better myself. And now I just need to make sure that bridge from incarceration to the community is as smooth as possible, because I am really looking forward to a reunion with my three children.

All the inmates at the recent event were within a year of their release dates. Fabe said the female inmates can only sign up for the conference if they’ve been working their respective treatment programs, like Charlesworth has.

Charlesworth, who has never been gainfully employed, concluded:

I’ve lived a pretty selfish life, but I’m kind of excited to start living at 34 when most people start at 18.

Homelessness in Tokyo, the World’s Largest City, is 0.03% of NYC’s–and is Dropping

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

The number of homeless residents in New York City, the largest U.S. city, reached a record high this month at more than 56,000 people. Tokyo, the most populous city in the world, recently hit a homeless record of its own: just 1,697 homeless–the low since records began being kept in 2002.

Even more surprising than the discrepancy in homeless populations between the two cities is the fact that Tokyo, at 13.4 million people, is larger than New York City (8.4 million people) and Los Angeles (3.9 million people) combined. While the rate of homelessness in New York is currently 67 for every 10,000 people, in Tokyo there is just one homeless individual for every 10,000 city residents.

Why the massive discrepancy in rates of homelessness between two of the most populous cities in the world? As with most socioeconomic phenomena, there are a number of contributing factors. First and foremost, income inequality is a massive and growing problem in the United States, while Japan has historically had one of the lowest rates of inequality among developed countries.

However, income inequality can’t be the only explanation for Japan’s success combatting homelessness, especially considering that the country’s inequality situation has actually worsened over the past few decades. Where Japan is really surpassing the United States, instead, is in the social safety net it offers its citizens. It begins with the Japanese Constitution, which unlike the U.S. document guarantees its citizens “the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.” As such, the country has a far more protective safety net than the United States has.

Also, Tokyo has been taking extra steps to fight homelessness, including the city’s temporary housing provision and employment training. Also, the homeless population in Tokyo has been decreasing as it got older, because older homeless people tend to have health issues, so they apply for social welfare and stop living on the streets.

Another contributing factor is that Japanese tend to have a stronger support system from their families than is found in the United States. The tradition of Japanese families remaining tight-knit and supportive of each member is undeniable.

However, Japan is not superior to the United States in every aspect of homelessness, nor it is a perfectly fair comparison. For instance, there is far more cultural and racial diversity in the United States than in Japan. And while homeless people in the United States face some barriers to voting, like obtaining photo identification in those 14 states that require it, the barriers are significantly steeper in Japan, where shelters and temporary accommodations cannot be used as an official place of residence when registering to vote.

However, none of this changes the fact that on a given night, more than 600,000 people are homeless in the United States, while in all of Japan, that number is just 7,500.

South Bronx Community Corrections Programs Keeps Kids from Returning to Crime


Photo from South Bronx Community Connections

South Bronx teens who could have been locked up for offenses ranging from theft to assault to armed robbery instead planted vegetables at an urban farm, painted a mural to honor a community activist, staged a youth talent show and organized “safe parties” for teens at a local community center – away from the gunfire and stabbings outside.

The youths came up with a smorgasbord of ways to improve their impoverished Bronx, N.Y., neighborhood as part of the nonprofit Community Connections for Youth’s South Bronx Community Connections (SBCC) initiative.

By agreeing to participate for at least 60 days in the “positive youth development” SBCC provides, the youths avoid probation and have their cases  closed and their records cleared.

Positive youth development has created quite a bit of buzz in juvenile justice circles. For kids in SBCC, it means a chance at a new life, and the program’s leaders say it’s all about building on youths’ strengths and their ties to the community and family, rather than a “deficit-based” approach focusing more on “at-risk youth,” “dysfunctional families” and such.

An independent evaluation by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City has found that SBCC helped keep youths from returning to crime and being arrested again. The John Jay evaluation followed 62 youths referred to SBCC from 2011 to 2013 by probation officers or prosecutors.

Rev. Ruben Austria, who founded Community Connections for Youth in 2009, said:

Incarcerating youth has been a dismal failure. Every dollar invested in putting youth through the juvenile justice system takes resources out of our communities.

“We are challenging juvenile justice systems to reinvest their resources in neighborhoods most impacted by incarceration to increase their level of partnerships with and financial support to neighborhood and grassroots organizations.

The evaluation found that juveniles who were meaningfully engaged in civic activities with ‘coaches,’ ‘mentors’ and peers for at least 60 days were significantly more likely to remain uninvolved in the justice system during the following year than was a [Bronx-wide] comparison group.

Austria said he had made a pledge to skeptical juvenile justice authorities:

You just use this diversion option, which is a 60-day, short-term window, and if they [juveniles] do what they have to do, then you seal and close the case and there’s no more supervision. Our promise is we will keep on engaging these youngsters … throughout the rest of their adolescence.’

What’s the secret? Austria explained that involving grassroots faith and neighborhood organizations in the community played a big role. By keeping it hyper-local, adult coaches and mentors and youths’ peers got to know – and work closely with – juveniles involved in SBCC.

The program also stresses parental involvement, offering formal training in parenting, and some parents also serve as peer mentors to other parents. Parental involvement paid off: Kids whose parents were involved in the program stayed involved in SBBC for an average of 165 days, while those whose parents participated in up to four program activities stayed involved for an average of 205 days.

Community Connections for Youth received a $1.1 million grant for the pilot program from a federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention formula grant through the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. That money has run out, but SBCC is continuing to operate with funding from private foundations. Officials in other jurisdictions have expressed interest in starting similar programs.

Author’s note: Many years ago I lived and taught in the South Bronx. It was a very impoverished, crime-ridden, dangerous neighborhood, so positive steps like this are highly encouraging.