Archive for Humane Exposures

Canadian “First Nations” Prisoners Released Without Proper Rehab

Indigenous offenders are too often released back into society without adequate rehabilitation, according to a new report from Canada’s spending watchdog.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson just released

Auditor General Michael Ferguson

Auditor General Michael Ferguson

his fall report, which includes a review of how Correctional Service Canada (CSC) prepares Indigenous offenders for release. Although Indigenous people make up just three per cent of the country’s adult population, they account for 26 per cent of those in federal institutions.

Ferguson acknowledges there are rehabilitation programs aimed at Indigenous offenders behind bars, but they are not offered “in a timely manner.” He added that corrections staff aren’t prepared to take the “social history factors” of Indigenous offenders into consideration when it comes to case management.

“The result is that fewer Indigenous offenders are prepared for parole than non-Indigenous offenders,” said Ferguson.

Ferguson also said that when Indigenous offenders are released directly from maximum and medium security prisons, it is often “without gradual and structured transition back into society.”

His report notes that 69 per cent of Indigenous offenders are released at their statutory release dates.

“It’s a serious analysis of what the problems are around preparing Indigenous people for release,” said Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society, who adds that she was surprised at the number of Indigenous offenders being released directly from prisons. ”It’s better that they cascade down to minimum security and participate in the graduated release mechanism.”

If offenders are released through that graduated process — with support and supervision — they’re less likely to re-offend and end up back in prison, Latimer said.

The report also raises the alarm about the rising number of Indigenous inmates, particular women.

“In the prairie region, almost half of offenders in custody are Indigenous,” the report said, noting the overall Indigenous population grew by 25% in the past decade — compared to the non-Indigenous prison population, which has actually declined slightly. The report also said Indigenous women are the fastest-growing population in federal institutions — making up 36% of female offenders in custody.

The report includes eight recommendations for fixing the problems, including:

* Increasing ways to consider an offender’s Indigenous social history.
* Offering more culturally specific rehab programs.
* Transitioning Indigenous offenders to lower-security institutions before they are released.

The CSC has agreed to address all of the recommendations, the report said.

“Those of us who are interested in this issue will need to be vigilant just to make sure that progress is being made,” said Latimer.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Foster Care Kids Sex-Trafficked in Texas

The Texas Committee on Juvenile

Phoro by Susan Madden Lankford

Phoro by Susan Madden Lankford

Justice and Family Issues and Human Services held a joint hearing revealing that there is a connection between sex and human trafficking and the state’s foster care system. Several representatives from state agencies took the stand revealing shocking statistics to prove that children in Texas foster care are the most vulnerable to be recruited as a sex slave.

State Rep. James White, R-Woodville said:

The people in East Texas want to see something done now. If you know where these places are, just go today. Shut them down today. We don’t have to wait for the legislature to gavel in and do more.

Angela Goodwin, Director of Investigation with Child Protective Services says in the fiscal year 2016, there were 973 children in Texas foster care who were reported “missing”.

She says only 633 of those kids have been found, and several dozen of them reported that they had been sex trafficked.

Goodwin said:

We stress with our staff the urgency. That they have to report right away to local law enforcement. They have to assign it to one of our special investigators who are former law enforcement immediately. This is in our protocol and our policy that we train our staff, that these cases are urgent and have a sense of urgency.

Lawmakers pressed the testimony on why nothing is being done immediately and why state agencies aren’t knocking on doors trying to locate these children right now. Some pointed out the timing of this hearing—on a week where families should be together giving thanks, nearly 300 children are still missing.

Dixie Hairston, the Anti-Trafficking Coordinator at Children at Risk said:

We are just thinking about in financial year 16 for DFPS, 32 kids were recovered that self proclaimed that they had been victims of sex trafficking. We don’t even have enough beds for those kids.

Hairston says the problem goes beyond just finding these kids. She says there are only 26 beds across the entire state of Texas for any child that needs to go to a foster care placement who has been trafficked. There are 350 beds across the U.S.

Hairston said. “What we need to do right now is figure out a way that we can get these kids services as soon as they are recovered.” Hairston says the lack of resources means that these kids end up placed in other state programs that are not appropriate for the trauma they have experienced:

This is happening to the most vulnerable children in our community. If law enforcement goes out, they do a sting operation and they do recover a child, where are they going to take them after they recover them. There are just not those places out there.

Child safety groups such as Children at Risk are asking lawmakers to further fund Child Protection Services to it can hire specialized caseworkers who deal with only foster kids who have been sex trafficked.

Denver, Honolulu, Dallas, Pullyap & 183 Other Cities Illegally Criminalize the Homeless

Cities across the country are enacting more bans on living in vehicles, camping in public and panhandling, despite federal efforts to discourage such laws amid a shortage of affordable housing, a new report said.

Denver, which ordered about 150 homeless people living on sidewalks to clear out their belongings recently, was among four cities criticized for policies criminalizing homelessness in a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, an advocacy group aiming to prevent people from losing their homes.

The other cities listed in its “hall of shame” are in Hawaii, Texas and Washington state.

Photo by  Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by
Susan Madden Lankford

People in Denver chanted, “No handcuffs. Give us homes,” as they packed up their belongings when police arrived. As they piled shopping carts high, a jumble of items cluttered the area: a banana, a paperback copy of Shakespeare and a pair of construction boots.

Many cities with increasing home prices have been struggling with homelessness, including Denver and Honolulu, which were reprimanded for an anti-camping law and ban on sitting or lying on sidewalks, respectfully.

Maria Foscarinis, the center’s executive director, said:

These laws are unconstitutional and bad public policy. Homelessness remains a national crisis across the country. It’s fueled by the growing lack of affordable housing and the shrinking safety net.

The report, which was based on a review of policies enacted by 187 cities over a decade, said bans on living in vehicles increased by 143 percent. Those laws can be particularly devastating because they often lead to vehicle impoundment, and people can lose all of their belongings, disrupting their ability to work or attend school.

In Denver, authorities had given notice that homeless people had to move their things. While some packed up and left, others resisted, so the city gave them more time, said Julie Smith, a spokeswoman for the human services department. She said the city wants to help them go to shelters and get other services.

Bennie Henley, an Army veteran who moved to Denver two weeks ago from Kansas to get treatment at the Veterans Administration hospital, said he prefers sleeping on an advertising banner rolled out on the sidewalk rather than in a shelter. He showed a rash on his arm that he thinks came from bedbugs in a shelter.

“I don’t like being crowded up like that,” said Henley, sitting on a swivel office chair on the sidewalk and leaning on a cane.

Denver forces thousands of people to dismantle camps despite a waiting list for subsidized housing.

Honolulu was criticized for what the report called aggressive enforcement of its sit-lie ban. The group said the city has issued more than 16,000 warnings to people violating the ban since it was enacted in Waikiki in 2014.

Since the sit-lie law took effect in September of 2014, officers have issued 21,630 warnings and made only 27 arrests after a public education and warning period. Over the last two years Honolulu has helped house more than 1,000 people who were experiencing homelessness, including over 860 veterans.

The report also targeted Dallas and Puyallup, Washington. Dallas was criticized for issuing thousands of citations for sleeping in public, and Puyallup, for making it illegal to camp, panhandle or sit and lie down in parts of the city, despite lacking adequate space in an emergency shelter. Officials from those two cities didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The report called several such policies unconstitutional. The group said panhandling is protected by free-speech rights and preventing sleeping in public could be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Drugs Swell Female Inmate Population in Three Kentucky Counties; Treatment Programs Needed

The Safety and Justice Challenge is an initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. The initiative—an initial five-year, $75 million investment by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation—features a competition to help jurisdictions across the country create fairer, more effective local justice systems.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

The number of female inmates in jails, locally and nationally, have been on the rise over the last several decades.

“The numbers have really increased from 14 years ago when I started,” Boyle County, Kentucky Jailer Barry Harmon said. “We ran about 25 women a day then, now we range from 65 to 80.”

According to The Safety and Justice Challenge, over the last four decades there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people in jail in the United States:

Between 1970 and 2014, the number of women in jails increased under 8,000 to nearly 110,000. In small counties, the number increases from approximately 1,700 to 51,600. Today, nearly half of all jailed women are in small counties.

Over the last 13 years, Kentucky’s Lincoln County and Casey County jails have seen an increase in female inmates.

The female population at the Lincoln County Regional Jail in 2003 was 4,556 out of a total of 34,883 inmates, according to its records. In 2016, the jail have had a total of 11,199 females out of a total of 44,117 inmates.

Over the last 13 years, Lincoln County has seen an increase of 6,643 female inmates.

Casey County Jailer Tommy Miller has also seen an increase in the number of females at the Casey County Detention Center. He said the jail has always held a large number of females in their center.

In 2003, their female inmate total was 10,943 out of 51,444 inmates, according to their records. In 2016, there has been an increase of nearly 80,000 female inmates, according to their records.

Miller said their numbers have been pretty steady over the last couple of months, and right now, their daily count is around 200 women.

Why is there such a drastic increase in the number of female inmates?

According to the latest national date collected by The Safety and Justice Challenge:

32 percent of female inmates are there for property offenses, 21 percent for public order offenses and 29 percent are drug-related.

By the early 2000s, 50 percent of women in jails were in custody on public order or drug charge. Today, arrest rates for women remain highest for ‘other-except-traffic’ offenses … substance use, such as drug possession and driving while under the influence.

Harmon said the use of drugs is the cause of the rising numbers of female inmates in Boyle County.

“I think a lot of it is where the drug problem is getting worse across the country,” said Miller. “A lot of them are drug-related.”

Miller said they see a lot of repeat offenders come in and out of the jail, and House Bill 463 has also caused the increase, bringing back the repeat offenders. The bill was signed into law March 2011 by Gov. Steve Beshear, reducing penalties for some drug crimes and offering offenders treatment for addiction.

Among a sample of nearly 500 female inmates across several regions of the United States, The Safety and Justice Challenge said 82 percent of them had experienced drug/alcohol abuse or dependence. Other research has shown that, at the time of the offense, females were more likely to have been using drugs than men.

“If the trend keeps going, it’s going to keep rising,” Harmon said.

According to Harmon and Miller, the only way to help decrease the rising numbers is to have drug treatment and rehab available for the inmates.

“The jails need to look at more programs for rehab,” Miller said.

Miller said Casey County has a substance abuse program in their detention center for women only, which started in September of this year.

Harmon said if Boyle County is able to officially gain the ownership of the Red Cross building, that the treatment program that will be placed there will help, as the women will be involved in the program. He said he also has the hopes of starting an in-house treatment program at the Boyle County Detention Center.

“We try to do our best,” Miller said. “As of right now, I don’t see any indication that they will go down.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Study:Psychotropic Medication after Prison Release Linked to Less Violent Reoffending

Among released prisoners in Sweden, rates of violent reoffending were lower during periods when individuals were dispensed antipsychotics, psychostimulants, and drugs for addictive disorders, compared with periods in which they were not dispensed these medications, according to a study appearing in the November 1 issue of JAMA.

There were more than 10 million prisoners worldwide in 2015, with


approximately 2.2 million in the United States alone. Despite reported decreases in violence in many countries, reoffending rates remain high. From 2005 through 2010, more than one-third of released prisoners in the United States and the United Kingdom were reconvicted of a new crime within 2 years. Most programs to reduce reoffending focus on psychosocial interventions, but their effect sizes are weak to moderate.

As psychiatric and substance use disorders, which increase reoffending rates, are overrepresented among jail and prison populations, treatment with appropriate psychotropic medications offers an alternative strategy to reduce reoffending, although there is uncertainty about whether pharmacological treatments reduce reoffending risk.

Seena Fazel, M.D., of the University of Oxford, England, and colleagues examined the associations between major classes of psychotropic medications and violent reoffending. The study included all released prisoners in Sweden from July 2005 to December 2010, through linkage of population-based registers. Rates of violent reoffending during medicated periods (dispensed prescription of psychotropic medications [antipsychotics, antidepressants, psychostimulants, drugs used in addictive disorders, and antiepileptic drugs]) were compared with rates during nonmedicated periods. Prison-based psychological treatments were also included in the analysis.

The study included 22,275 released prisoners (average age, 38 years; 92 percent male). During follow-up (median, 4.6 years), 4,031 individuals (18 percent) had 5,653 violent reoffenses. The researchers found that three classes of psychotropic medications were associated with substantial reductions in violent reoffending: antipsychotics, a 42 percent reduction; psychostimulants, 38 percent; and drugs used in addictive disorders, a 52 percent reduction. In contrast, antidepressants and antiepileptics were not significantly associated with violent reoffending rates.

Analyses also demonstrated that completion of psychological treatmentstargeting general criminal attitudes and substance abuse was associated with reductions in violent reoffending. The associations with these psychological programs were not stronger than those for medications.

The study added:

These findings may have implications for risk management, because prison psychological programs need appropriate facilities, require sufficiently trained and supervised therapists, and are likely to be relatively expensive. Provision of medication after prison release needs evaluation as a possibly cost-effective crime reduction alternative. Because prisoners with psychiatric disorders benefit from both pharmacological and psychological treatments, research should investigate whether combining therapies improves outcomes.

“The absolute numbers of prisoners with psychiatric disorders are large worldwide, and most individuals who could benefit from psychotropic treatment do not receive it after prison release. The magnitudes of the associations reported in this study may warrant correctional services to review policies for released prisoners. Evidence-based provision of psychotropic medications to released prisoners may have the potential to make substantial improvements to public health and safety, particularly in countries that are undergoing decarceration [reducing the number of persons imprisoned or the rate of imprisonment].

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Some States Now Realize Youth Prisons Don’t Work

About 50,000 youth are caught in a system that disproportionately imprisons African Americans and Latinos. Some teens, including Dequan Jackson, are kept behind bars not because they are a danger to society but because they cannot afford court fees. Others experience appalling treatment: just last month in Kentucky, staff allegedly stood idly by as a 16-year-old had a seizure and died in custody. Far too often, juvenile offenders are housed in facilities—like Wisconsin’s Lincoln Hills, which is under federal investigation for abuse—that could leave them worse off.

These stories are heartbreaking, but they need not be disheartening. Coupled with awareness of the problems should be awareness of the tremendous progress being made to change the way our juvenile justice system operates. Advocates across the country are hard at work to create more effective, humane alternatives that will help young offenders stay out of the criminal justice system as adults.

In response to calls for change, legislators and governors in states including Virginia, Kansas and Connecticut have committed to closing some of the worst youth prison facilities in their states, while reinvesting in community-based solutions that actually rehabilitate youth.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

In Virginia, RISE for Youth advocacy group has earned bipartisan support in the state legislature to close massive, outdated youth prisons and reinvest the money saved into more effective community-based programs. Advocates are working to ensure the closure of other youth prison complexes and instead offer young Virginians a real shot at rehabilitation and a brighter future.

A similar effort is underway in Kansas, where Kansans United for Youth Justice helped ensure the passage of comprehensive reform legislation to reduce the use of incarceration and redirect funds to evidence- and community-based approaches. The Kansas Department of Corrections has also announced plans to close the Larned youth facility, one of the state’s two youth prisons.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy has similarly pledged to close the state’s youth prison, and the advocacy group Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance is working to ensure that a plan is in place to offer community-based care and rehabilitation to young people moving forward. And following recent reports of sexual assault at the Lincoln Hills facility in Irma, Wisc., Youth Justice Milwaukee is working with allies to provide recommendations for bringing local youth home.

Mishi Faruqee, National Field Director of the Youth First Initiative says:

Youth prisons are an outdated approach to rehabilitation that too often includes physical and sexual abuse, neglect and isolation. These facilities tear young people away from the schools, families and faith communities where they can find the support and services they need for success. Instead of nurturing responsible citizens, youth prisons risk systemically traumatizing youth and leaving them less able to find employment, have healthy relationships, get an education and lead productive lives.

This system is not just failing our young people and their families; it’s also incredibly expensive for taxpayers. In Virginia, it costs $142,000 per year to incarcerate just one young person. And 75% of incarcerated young people end up back in the system within a few years, which exacerbates the human and economic costs. Meanwhile, Youth Advocate Programs which offer services in homes and community settings cost significantly less—about $27,000 a year—and allow youth to stay arrest-free throughout their participation.

States from coast to coast could see a major reduction in costs associated with the juvenile justice system if youth prisons—which eat up billions of dollars each year—were shuttered in favor of alternatives that rehabilitate youth while promoting public safety. Fortunately, some elected officials are beginning to understand this reality, and increased public pressure can help swell their ranks.

We have a real opportunity to build on the progress being made in these states in every jurisdiction across the country. We owe it to young people and their families to invest in community-based interventions that actually work. The models are there. It’s time to replicate and build on them to give young people access to services and supports that will keep us all safer. We can’t afford not to.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Seattle Sees How Mass. Alloted $50 Million to Cut Chronic Homelessness, with Some Success

Roger Valdez, Director of Smart Growth Seattle,

Photo by  Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by
Susan Madden Lankford

talked last week with Jeff Hayward, Chief of External Affairs of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley about their Pay for Success Initiative. He says, “What Pay for Success does is identify the hardest to serve homeless people and leverage private and public dollars along with coordination to get as many as possible housed. The program just started about 18 months ago, but it sounds like it has promise. Here’s how it works.

Former Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, set aside $50 million in the state budget to back investment in a collaborative effort to reduce chronic homelessness. 

According to Hayward, there are 1590 people who, by the State’s count, fit the definition. A non-profit alliance was formed by the United Way, the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance and the Corporation for Supportive Housing called the Massachusetts Alliance for Supportive Housing (MASH) to implement the program and promised to reduce that number by half in exchange for $6 million dollars from the state, $1 million in donations, and $2.5 million in borrowed money. The rest of the funding for the program will come from $11 million in dedicated vouchers for people qualified for the program and $7 million in Medicaid funding for health services provided once people are housed. All together the program is budgeted at $27 million for the six years.


Using what Hayward calls a ‘tested intervention,’ the Community Support Program for People Experiencing Chronic Homelessness (CSPECH), an intensive case management approach to moving people who can’t seem to get off the streets into housing, these ‘high utilizers’ of emergency rooms and other publicly funded services are the most in need but also create the highest costs for local and state government. Moving them in to stable housing would not only solve a serious human problem but also allow more resources to be moved to other people struggling with homelessness.

Valdez explained:

The idea is to work with non-profit service providers who are already in contact with chronically homeless people and allow them to screen and qualify people for the program. Once a person is identified and screened they are moved into a low-threshold housing situation along with case management and health services. If the person stays housed for exactly one year, the program can access the $6 million in funding to help offset the costs of the program. Much of the funding comes from reprioritizing vouchers and Medicaid services ($11 million and $7 million respectively). So this isn’t actually new money, but a prioritization of those resources for the program and the goal of halving the number of chronically homeless. Hayward says they’ve already got over 300 people enrolled in the program.

The additional dollars incentivized the coordination and prioritization of those existing resources. The extra dollars were the spark that was needed to get the collaborative effort going.

Seattle and other jurisdictions ought to watch Massachusetts closely. Housing vouchers and Medicaid are tried and true sources of real money for housing and health. Putting them together is smart. Adding the promise of dollars to offset administrative and other costs for shifting those resources to chronically homeless people seems like an incentive to organizations who want to solve the problem but just don’t have the resources.

The huge opportunity in resolving stubborn homelessness is quantifying the costs to taxpayers and then investing private dollars to create savings. In Seattle, for example, the Downtown Emergency Service Center built a project called 1811 that created low threshold housing for homeless people who used the emergency room hundreds of nights each year. By giving these people a place to live with no requirements about drinking, the project has saved local government, and tax payers, millions of dollars.

If private investors could pay for the the capital costs of housing up front, then get paid back with this savings plus interest, then a serious and costly human problem could be substantially solved without having to tap into already scarce public resources. Using private capital for public benefit has already been used to great effect to produce lots of housing through the sale of Low Income Housing Tax Credits. But this is a costly system that doesn’t move fast enough. Pay for Success could address the chronic problems of homeless now and generate a return on the investment. It’s worth trying something new to address an old problem.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford


Female Inmate Release Impacts Spread of H.I.V./AIDS

According to “The Global Burden of HIV,  

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Hepatitis, and Tuberculosis in Prisoners and Detainees”, a recent study on HIV and incarceration worldwide. mass incarceration, particularly the cycling of people in and out of jails and prisons, has contributed to the spread of not only HIV, but also viral hepatitis and tuberculosis.

The authors estimate that, of the approximately 10.2 million people incarcerated on any given day, 3.8 percent (or 389,000 people) are living with HIV. In the United States, prisons in Florida, Maryland and New York have higher rates of HIV prevalence than any country outside sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, incarceration in the United States disproportionately impacts people of color, particularly African Americans.

Andrea Wirtz, Ph.D., one of the study’s co-authors and an assistant scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is quick to clarify that it’s not that HIV transmission is rampant within U.S. jails and prisons. The availability of antiretroviral therapy in prison actually keeps the risk of transmission low behind bars. The risk arises once people are released and have difficulties continuing their medications. These interruptions mean they are no longer virally suppressed and thus are more at risk of transmission. “It’s right after release that there’s an increased risk of overdose and HIV transmission,” she explained.

Across the globe, over 30 million people are released from prison and return to their home communities each year. It’s the time just after release when the risk of HIV transmission increases. Even a short time behind bars means disruptions in treatment, causing viral loads to increase. Once people are released, their sexual partners or those with whom they inject drugs are at risk for HIV.

The racial disparities of arrest and incarceration — and the accompanying disruption in antiretroviral treatment — put black women in the U.S. at particular risk. Chris Beyrer, M.D., another of the study’s co-authors and a professor at Johns Hopkins University, noted that, despite having lower levels of individual sexual risk, African-American women are five times more likely to become HIV positive than Latina or white women. “So how do we understand that?” he asked a media delegation from Black AIDS Institute at the 2016 International AIDS Conference. One underlying driver is the mass incarceration of African-American men and the interruptions in treatment upon release, he said. “People are sometimes released with three days’ worth of antivirals [and told,] ‘Be sure to follow up and get your appointment’. How likely is that to happen?”

But not just post-prison sex increases women’s risk. Women in jails and prisons face a higher risk of infection than both their male counterparts and non-criminalized women. In most regions of the world, HIV prevalence is higher for women behind bars than their male counterparts.  The New York City Department of Health found that women incarcerated at Rikers Island, the second largest jail in the country, have a prevalence rate 14 times higher than the city’s general female population.

Nearly 12 percent of women in New York State prisons were living with HIV in 2010, a rate that is more than double that of their imprisoned male counterparts and far above the rate of the general public. The Correctional Association of New York noted that “experiences that lead women to be criminalized and incarcerated, including addiction, being prostituted, engaging in sex work, and experiencing domestic violence and trauma, put women at greater risk for contracting the virus.”

Jack Beck is the director of the Correctional Association’s Prison Visiting Project. Before that, as the senior supervising attorney at the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society, he was the lead attorney on a class-action lawsuit on behalf of state prisoners with HIV. That litigation led to the 2009 Department of Health Oversight of HIV/HCV Bill, requiring the NYS Department of Health to review HIV and hepatitis C care in state prisons each year. Initially, the Department found that nearly half of all people with HIV in New York State prisons had not been identified by prison staff, but Beck says that the numbers may now be lower.

New York’s state prison system does not have mandatory HIV testing, Beck explained. Though it offers HIV testing in each of its prisons:

it was the worried well who were getting tested. Those who already knew their status might decide against disclosing to prison medical staff, even if it meant going without their medications. You can’t keep secrets inside. If you’re put on a list of the people going to see the infectious disease doctor, then you’re letting people know that you’re HIV positive.

In prison environments, even today, people living with HIV often face stigma, ostracism and even violence, leading many to prefer foregoing needed treatment.

Outside of prisons, HIV infection is going down, including among injection drug users. “It’s an indication that harm reduction works,” Beck says, referring to the availability of sterile syringes and other services for drug users in New York. Furthermore, the number of people incarcerated solely for drug use has declined.

However, HIV care remains inconsistent throughout New York’s prison system. The Department of Health found that, of those identified, only 75% were receiving treatment. Furthermore, people in prison reported problems getting their medications and sometimes going without medications for up to four months.

Access to treatment frequently stops shortly after a person walks out the prison gates. In New York, which releases between 22,000 and 24,000 people each year, people are supposed to be given two weeks’ worth of medication, known as “walking meds.” Only a few prisons help people enroll in Medicaid before leaving prison; most, however, are left to navigate the process on their own upon release. In Maryland, the majority of the nearly 16,000 people released from jails or prisons between 2014 and 2016 walked out without medical coverage.

But follow-up care is crucial. In New York City, approximately 10,000 people are detained each day on Rikers Island. In 2011, 3.5 percent of those entering a New York City jail self-disclosed as being HIV-positive and another 1.1 percent tested positive through follow-up and care an opt-in HIV testing program. Unlike people in state or federal prisons, the majority of people in jails are awaiting trial or sentencing; a minority may be serving short (less than one year) sentences.

In New York City jails, people with HIV are offered transitional care services, including referrals to community-based care. From 2008 to 2011, the city’s Department of Health conducted follow-up interviews with people who utilized these transitional care services. Researchers found that, six months after their release from Rikers, a greater percentage were taking antiretroviral medications (92.6 percent up from 55.6 percent during the initial interview), were adhering to their medications (93 percent up from 81 percent) and had an undetectable viral load.

But not just access to HIV-related services made the difference, they also found a significant reduction in unstable housing and food insecurity. Noting that the nearly 200 people who were lost to follow-up interviews after release had reported some degree of housing and/or food insecurity, researchers pointed out.

Victoria Law, author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women, said:

Housing instability is a fundamental barrier to successful retention in care for most people since basic needs such as food and housing are typically prioritized over health care needs. In other words, medical care alone is not enough. Addressing all of a client’s most pressing needs, such as housing, substance abuse treatment, and mental health care needs as well as referrals to primary medical care, are core components of this approach.

After examining the impact of incarceration on HIV worldwide, Wirtz and her fellow researchers concluded that one obvious response would be to reduce the prison population:

Mass incarceration of people who inject drugs is a key driver of the ever-growing population of prisoners. Decriminalization of drug use, providing alternatives to incarceration and ensuring access to antiretroviral therapy and opioid agonist therapy behind bars are key to reducing the burden of infections in the world’s prison population — and the communities to which they return.


Michigan Inmates Get Job Training in Vocational Village

Few states have been more aggressive in

AP photo/Carl Osorio

AP photo/Carl Osorio

releasing inmates and diverting offenders than Michigan, where a decade ago, one out of every 200 people was in prison, and penal costs were beginning to crowd out basic government services. After easing parole policies, the state managed to cut its 51,000-plus prison population by about 18 percent. But costs kept surpassing $2 billion a year, in part because too many freed inmates came back after committing new crimes or violating parole or probation rules.

Now Michigan is trying to stop the boomerang effect with a new program that removes soon-to-be-released inmates from the general population and assigns them to an exclusive “vocational village” for job training. The idea is to send them out through the prison gates with marketable skills that lead to a stable job, the kind that will keep them out of trouble long term.

Corrections officials have also ramped up their marketing efforts — attending manufacturing expos to tout inmates’ credentials, coordinating with local workforce-development agencies and inviting business leaders behind prison walls to conduct job interviews.

State Corrections Director Heidi Washington said:

In the village, inmates have some protection and isolation from the pressures of the rest of the prison compound. They are up every day when they’re supposed to be, and they’re engaged in learning and perfecting their skill or their trade all day long.

The system marks a turnabout for a state where the get-tough approach has prevailed for years. But pressure has been growing to punish criminals without punishing taxpayers.

Although Michigan has tried vocational programs in the past, officials believe the opportunities for inmate employment are greater these days because the state’s skilled tradesmen are getting older or left during the Great Recession, and the workforce has tightened in an improving economy. A state website projects nearly 1,600 annual openings for truck drivers, more than 1,100 for machinists and almost 700 for industrial machinery mechanics. The economy that’s growing and there are 100,000 open jobs in the state.

Each year, Michigan releases 10,000 prisoners, but repeat offenders make up nearly 40 percent of those entering the system. That is despite a successful anti-recidivism initiative that was launched more than a decade ago but which was cut back in recent years to save money.

Too many programs “keep people busy but don’t really lead to marketable skills or certificates that would allow individuals to get employment on the outside,” said Lois Davis, a senior policy researcher for the Rand Corp. who studies prison education and job training programs. A 2013 Rand study found that prisoners receiving educational training were 43 percent less likely to reoffend than those who did not.

Jesse Torrez, 41, is among the prisoners who were admitted to vocational housing at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, about 110 miles northwest of Detroit. There, the inmates receive full days of training in high-demand skills such as welding, machining and carpentry.

Torrez, who is imprisoned for unarmed robbery, served two previous prison terms. Each time after release, he said, he reverted to “drinking and drugging” when he could not find steady work. If he lied about his criminal record, the employer would inevitably find out and fire him.

“It was just real tough, due to my past, which I created and am totally accountable for,” said Torrez, a father of five who is hoping to be paroled in 2017 and is being trained in construction trades. He said he has a job waiting for him with a manufacturer.

The vocational push is being driven by Washington, the reform-minded corrections director who took over last year after 17 years at the agency. She revived an inactive automotive-repair program at the Ionia prison, created new plumbing and electrical schooling, and expanded welding and machining offerings. Days are designed to simulate a regular work schedule, not just a few hours of classes.

It is not enough to have the right technical skills, she said. Inmates “need to understand that an employer needs to rely on you — every day, all day. You need to be accountable to be a producer.”

The 225 inmates in the program comprise just a fraction of those paroled annually, but the governor and legislators recently committed more money to launch a second vocational village. Total prison education spending is up nearly $8 million, or 27 percent, from 2011.

Some executives are now open to employing ex-cons, saying it can be smart business.

“We see an untapped talent pool here,” said Mark Miller, president and CEO of Cascade Engineering Inc. in Grand Rapids, which makes automotive parts, trash carts, storage containers and other goods.

Cascade does not ask job applicants about their crimes until they have been extended an offer. Depending on the job, inmates can make between $11.60 to start and $15.15 an hour within a year.

Efforts are underway to lobby 30 other local employers to hire two ex-offenders each and monitor their progress.

Incarceration of Children, Especially Minorities, is Too Common

In the wake of a staggering mass incarceration problem that predicts one in three Black men will be involved in the criminal justice system at some point in his lifetime (in jail, on probation, paroled, or in a halfway house) politicians and civil society organizations frequently overlook


what the so called race to incarcerate means for women and children. That is, while it is true that the United States incarcerates more men than any other nation in the world—the same should be said for women. And children are caught in the spiral too.

Three years ago there were are about 2500 young offenders serving life

sentences without the possibility of parole in the world–all in the United States. Notwithstanding the fact that in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences without the possibility for parole were unconstitutional for children, thousands remain locked up without the possibility of release. The United Nations issued a report urging reform and noting that incarcerating a youth for life amounts to cruelty and often leads to degrading and inhumane treatment, but the U.S. has failed to act.

Just a decade ago, it was still legal for states to kill children—even though we know that nearly 1 in 9 cases involving the death penalty will amount to a serious reversible error. As Bryan Stevenson recently asked, “imagine if we had that error rate with airplanes” that every ninth flight that took off would crash?”

This election provides a pivotal time to act on mass incarceration, but also the school to prison pipeline and children in the criminal justice system. The mass incarceration of our youth is virtually forgotten about.

One chilling example of backward criminal law policies that involve children is the incarceration of sex trafficked girls. Girls as young as ten and eleven are locked behind bars in the U.S. even though they are the victims who’ve suffered from devastating crimes—rape, sexual assault, sodomy and more.

Some states even have “John Schools” that allow their victimizers to attend what amounts to traffic school for sex offenders. The men who violate these girls go back home to their families, while the girls are locked behind bars. And too frequently children become the victims of sexual assault in our jails. One man recounts his story: the place he was sent to was a “dilapidated house of horrors.” Sometimes, the abuse is inflicted by guards.

Over the past two years, the Defense For Children International and the University of California Irvine Center of Biotechnology and Global Health Policy have taken up a joint initiative to study juvenile incarceration. This combined effort has already produced important research and more is to come. 

Michele Goodwin, Chancellor’s Professor at University of California, Irvine, says:

In our fifty state survey of juvenile detention, we observed racial disparities throughout the U.S. We also shine a light on female juvenile incarceration, a topic grossly overlooked and under examined in political discourse, and we examine how attitudes and practices at schools can be the gateway to incarceration or the school to prison pipeline. Indeed, the practices at far too many schools in the U.S. reflect the larger mass incarceration phenomenon.

In schools many disciplinary actions are discretionary, which sadly leaves room for subjectivity and sometimes bias. A Texas study revealed that when accounting for the same behaviors, African American kids were nearly three times more likely to receive an “out-of-school” suspension for their first offense. For Latino students, they were twice as likely as white students to be removed from school for their first offense. On the other hand, whites were more likely to receive in school suspensions. Researchers found that “seventy-five percent of the 133,719 African-American public school students (male and female) experienced involvement in the school disciplinary system.” The contrast is stark—less than 47 percent of white students experienced similar discipline.

Students with disabilities and students of color are disproportionately impacted by such practices according to the U.S. Department of Education. A study of school systems in Oregon revealed that students with special needs were four times more likely to be suspended than their counterparts.

Kicking kids out of school and locking them up for the rest of their lives does not make society safer. Indeed, we place our nation at risk of stereotyping, stigmatizing, and damaging future generations.

Goodwin continues:

Consider the case of Madisyn Moore, a six year old African American who was handcuffed and abandoned under a dark stairwell at her school, because a security mistook her candy for a stolen item. In defending his actions, the security guard said, “‘I’m teaching her a f — -g lesson. She took a piece of candy and I handcuffed her under the stairs.’” The guard was wrong and later fired; the little girl’s mother placed the special treat in her lunchbox.

In one case, elementary school students were arrested, handcuffed, and sent off to juvenile detention for not breaking up a fight off campus. In that case, arrest warrants were issued for African American kids ages 6-10 for an altercation they did not start nor participate in.

Yet, there are other troubling cases of arrests and handcuffing of little elementary school kids from Georgia where a six year old was detained because he was having a bad day—not because he brought a gun to school, harmed another child or teacher to Kentucky and even California where five year olds are just as vulnerable to having law enforcement arrest them without any call to the parents. In another case, a five year old diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was cuffed at the hands and ankles with zip ties, charged with assaulting an officer, and hauled off to a psychiatric facility in the back of a squad car. The child’s parents were not called.

Teachers have tough jobs and school administrators too. However, resolving student conduct issues through law enforcement is rarely the right answer.

As our nation turns to consider the overwhelming policy and political impacts of adult mass incarceration and its toll on families and communities, it’s worth considering how the culture of fear, which is answered by jailing and punishment trickles down to children in disparate, cruel, and inhumane ways.