Archive for Humane Exposures

Millennial Women are Poorer, Less Likely to Get STEM Jobs

By Ruchika Tulshyan, a journalist, speaker and author. 

Being a young woman in America today is fraught with more challenges compared with previous generations. Female millennials are facing higher poverty, suicide and incarceration rates than their ancestors.

They are also less likely to occupy high-paying STEM jobs than women in Generation X — a particularly troubling statistic considering the prevalence of these careers today and tomorrow.

These are findings from a just-released report by Population Reference Bureau. The results are both alarming and frightening, juxtaposed against a time where more women are earning degrees and entering the workforce than ever before.

The report found that 17 percent of women aged 30 and 34 today live in poverty, compared with 12 percent of women in Generation X. Maternal mortality is at an all-time high, and the number of women in jail has jumped tenfold since World War II. Women of color are disproportionately affected by these realities.potential

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said:

We have been pushed back, there’s no question. Younger women are really feeling the effects of … a 30-year march to dismantle government agencies, to dismantle government protections, all in the name of free markets.

Without societal and structural changes to advance women, we risk isolating an entire demographic of talented Americans. It’s incumbent upon employers to support millennial women at a time where government policy has often failed. Here are three recommendations for employers willing to address these inequities.

Squash unequal pay in your company. Various studies have shown women earn less than men for the same work. Also significant is how women are less likely to be in high-paying jobs than men. As this report showed, progress on that is slowing in the tech sector: one in four STEM Generation X workers were female, now down to one in five millennial workers. Organizations must run regular pay audits to address gender wage gaps and identify opportunities to propel women into leadership roles that pay more.

Support working families. Washington state celebrated a landmark victory in passing 12 weeks of paid family leave for all employees, but that only goes into effect in 2020. I would encourage employers to make paid family leave available to employees as soon as possible — it’s shameful that 25 percent of women go back to work within two weeks of giving birth. In addition, organizations must explore options to support families with affordable childcare — whether through on-site day care or subsidies. Engaging talented women in the workplace isn’t just a moral question — it makes perfect business sense.

Invest in STEM pipeline development programs. Technology impacts every company today — but the best jobs in the field are leaving out women. Companies can partner with organizations like Ada Developers Academy, which trains women to become software developers or Apprenti, an apprenticeship program aimed at getting underrepresented communities into technology.

We are all responsible for the well-being of American women today and tomorrow. Dire statistics like the ones found in this report don’t just impact women — it’s equally bad for business and society.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford


North Carolina Prisoners Learn to Transcribe Braille

“Seeing dots all day, looking at a computer and going to bed at night, dreaming about dots,” said Malcolm Pfeiffer-El. Allen Mayes, one of his co-workers, added, “Just the idea that the dots on paper, someone can read, it it’s fascinating.”

Pfieffer-El  and Mayes are two of 1,700 prisoners at Scotland Correctional Institution, a men’s prison in Laurinburg, NC who work in the prison’s Braille Transcribing Plant.

Braille is a form of written language for blind people, made of raised dots.

“Once they learn how to form and put those together, it’s just according to how they’re placed or whether or not they have spaces before and after as to what it means,” said Cynthia Stubbs, the plant manager.

Stubbs explained a braille cell consists of six dots and each cell forms a word, a letter, or a part of a word. There’s close to 272 contractions in the braille system.

Scotland Institution is one of 35 prisons in the country to have a braille transcribing program and is the only one in North Carolina. When the program first started in 2011 at the facility, only six inmates went through training. Six years later, 23 inmates work in the plant and transcribed over 1,000 books in 2016.

“A lot of these guys can read braille just as fast as they can read print,” Stubbs explained.

The program, ran by Correction Enterprises, made $250,000 in 2016. The organization aids in rehabilitating inmates, through 32 revenue producing operations throughout North Carolina prisons. While the braille program causes the organization to lose money, because it’s technically a training program, braille transcribing remains a sought-after position for inmates, as it is one of the highest paying jobs.

Stubbs explains:

When you say, you teach braille, they’re thinking you’re teaching the child to read braille. I tell them, I don’t teach the child to read, I teach the adult to transcribe the print to braille. Someone has to make the dots for the child to read.

North Carolina, Connecticut, Colorado and Wyoming request the transcriptions, ranging from the braille alphabet to math problems, science and music. Rape crisis centers, schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg county, colleges, universities and non-profits in Forsyth and Onslow counties receive the texts. Once a request for a book is received by Stubbs, she puts a team together, consisting of a lead transcriber, three or four secondary transcribers, someone to put together charts and images and someone to proofread.

North Carolina prisoner transcribes book into braille

North Carolina prisoner transcribes book into braille

It takes eight to 12 months to learn standard textbook braille formatting. Music braille, however, is so complicated, only 51 people in the country can transcribe it. Pfeiffer-El is number 51.

“In this environment that we’re in, where you know a lot of people don’t look to you to accomplish things in life, you have to be self-motivated,” he said.

It took Pfeiffer-El two years to learn music braille. The nearly 42-year-old also has a double major in business administration and computer programming. It’s all a way to spend time, serving a life sentence.

Pfeiffer-El is eligible for parole in a few years.

Mayes, in prison for larceny, will be released in 2018 and plans to make transcribing braille his full-time career.

“It’s challenged me in positive ways and made me realize I could do things I didn’t think I could do,” said Mayes.

After spending six years at Scotland Institution, Mayes will head to Kentucky following his release. There, he’ll enter an apprenticeship with the American Printing House for the Blind. After six months, there’s a possibility Mayes could get a job there or be sent back to North Carolina with a computer software and his first book to transcribe.

Mayes’ focus is on staying clean after his release. Although he’s been in prison before, Mayes has the numbers to back him this time. Only three percent or less of prisoners who learn braille end up back in prison.

Why? Stubbs explained the dedication behind learning braille, coupled with job assistance programs and decent pay, act as a deterrent:

They enjoy what they’re doing. To know that they’re responsible for that child having a book in the classroom. They’re just dedicated, they really are.

Mayes added, “With the braille, I feel like every time I’m working, some kid is going to get that book and learn from it.”

Pfeiffer-El knows he took his youth for granted and said, “It is kind of ironic that I do find myself now in a position where I can give back. I can really benefit myself and others.”

“I took from society,” added Mayes. “I have a chance to do something to give back. Help me to help them.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Wisconsin State Senator Calls for Juvenile Justice Reform

On the heels of a federal judge’s ruling that the Wisconsin Department of Corrections make “drastic” changes at its youth prisons, a Democratic state senator is again calling for additional reforms.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson ruled Monday the state has July 21 to reduce its use of solitary confinement and pepper spray on inmates at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls in Lincoln County. The order was the result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Juvenile Law Center, which argued the current practices were making the facilities more dangerous for everyone, and caused physical and psychological harm to the offenders.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said she was “overwhelmed with excitement” with the ruling. However, she added she was “extremely frustrated” her repeated pleas for changes went nowhere and that it took a court to do what’s “right,” “just” and “fair.”

Under Peterson’s ruling, prison staff can only used pepper spray to stop or prevent an inmate from causing bodily harm. In addition, an inmate could only be held in solitary confinement for up to seven days, down from the current maximum of 60.

DOC communications director Tristan Cook said the agency is reviewing the order to determine its next steps. He said some changes had already been made, including additional training for staff and efforts to reduce solitary confinement, pepper spray and restraints.

As part of their package of legislation known as the Juvenile Justice Bill of Rights, Taylor and other Milwaukee Democrats are pushing for a ban on solitary confinement. It would also move juvenile corrections from the state Department of Corrections to the state Department of Children and Families.

“It’s the department of corrections, not the department of punishment,” Taylor said, insisting that DCF control would provide a much needed change of mindset.

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report cited DOC figures showing from 2012-2016, 708 youths from Milwaukee County were committed to Lincoln Hills or Copper Lake, which are located about 30 miles north of Wausau.

Wisconsin Sen. Lena Taylor

Wisconsin Sen. Lena Taylor

Dane County was the second highest at 112. All other counties had 50 or fewer; 13 of them had no inmates.

Because of the large population from Milwaukee, Taylor reiterated her call for a juvenile facility closer to home. She said that teens need to be close to their family and community in order to get their lives back on track, which cannot happen when “you’re half a day away.”

“We want our children,” she said. “Give Milwaukee County the opportunity to be able to serve their own children … with the type of compassion and best practices that will help us to move them in the right direction.”

Nearby Racine has a prison that houses 450 inmates, all between the ages of 15 and 24, but have been sentenced through adult courts instead of juvenile ones.

“More than 60 percent of the juveniles who are at Lincoln Hills did not need to be in the juvenile correctional facility,” Taylor said. She maintained because Milwaukee cannot have its own youth facility, offenders go from the detention center straight to “the extreme” Lincoln Hills or Copper Lake.

While most of the critical changes Peterson ordered must be in place by July 21, other provisions will be phased in afterward to give the DOC time to train staff and put them into practice.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Solitary Confinement Harms Women and Increases Their Recidivism

A bill sitting on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk would require lawmakers to consider a “racial impact statement” before passing any legislation related to criminal justice. New Jersey wants to avoid any policy that might extend the disproportionate effect of incarceration on people of color.

Examining race in incarceration is important but it’s not the growing crisis people make it out to be. The rates of incarceration for white and Hispanic man were relatively stable between 2001 and 2013; the rate for black men went down. Women are the fastest growing correctional population in the country; rather than a racial one, a gender impact statement would better frame necessary justice reform in New Jersey.

Approximately 200,000 women are incarcerated across the country. A recent study from the Vera Institute of Justice shows that the female jail population of women has grown 14 times since 1970. The female prison population continues to expand at twice the rate of men.

The demographic whose imprisonment rates are skyrocketing isn’t women of color. At the end of 2015, white women outnumbered black women in prison at a rate of 2.5 to 1.

Author Chandra Bozelko

Author Chandra Bozelko

Chandra Bozelko, author of “Up the River: An Anthology” and writer of a blog called Prison Diaries, explains:

Despite this growth around the country, New Jersey has been successful in reducing the number of women in prison. The female prisoner population dropped 10.9 percent between 2014-15.

As someone who served more than six years in a women’s prison and saw what drives female incarceration, I know that New Jersey’s progress can be easily reversed unless it understands what might be the best predictor of women’s eventual involvement with the criminal justice system: sexual abuse.

Eighty-six percent of jailed women surveyed in the Vera Institute study reported a history of sexual victimization.

Sexual abuse is a better predictor than the usual suspects for causing incarceration: better than race — 64 percent — than socioeconomic status, as measured through employment — 60 percent — than educational attainment, having a high school diploma — 37 percent — the usual co-conspirators who take women down.

Notably, New Jersey has never undertaken a study of the abuse history of its female prisoners. If it had, then Gov. Chris Christie might have rethought his December veto of the bill passed by both chambers of the Legislature that would have eliminated solitary confinement for vulnerable populations. Solitary confinement has been linked with increased rates of recidivism or, in essence, more new crime, and exacerbated mental illness, a condition experienced disproportionately by women behind bars.

Seven and a half percent of female prisoners in the Garden State are held in solitary confinement, compared with 6.9 percent for all prisoners in the state. A 2014 study from the ACLU found that women — particularly women who experienced sexual abuse — are uniquely harmed by being held in segregation and their risk for recidivism is enhanced.

Because the female prison population in New Jersey is small — 646 women — even big changes in percentage amount to relatively small numbers of people. All it takes is 64 women to reoffend and return to custody to undo all the progress that has been made in decarcerating them.

Had Christie applied a gender impact analysis to the solitary confinement bill, he probably would have signed it — and not threatened the reforms that he has brought about in criminal justice in the state of New Jersey.

Monitoring race in criminal justice and corrections is important and Christie should make the racial impact statement requirement law. But his recent innovations — eliminating pretrial detention for certain offenders, expanding the use of drug courts — have put New Jersey in a unique position among states and changed its correctional demographics. Proposed bills of any type should be examined to see if they might affect the conditions and growth of women in prison.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford


Pre-trial Release Program Addresses Plight of the Poor

Roughly 60 percent of people housed in American jails have not been convicted of a crime, only accused of one. Jasper County, Missouri officials have already begun identifying defendants who are in jail only because they can’t afford bail. Erik Theis, court administrator for the 29th Circuit in Jasper County, says the program is a response to overcrowding in the Jasper County Jail, which was regularly 15 percent over capacity last year.

Phoro by Susan Madden Lankford

Phoro by Susan Madden Lankford


Twenty-three people have been released under the program since pre-release officer Larry Stout began work in May after his position was included for the first time in this year’s county budget. He interviews defendants and looks into their backgrounds, then assesses the risks of releasing them using tools adopted from the increasing number of U.S. jurisdictions that have decided to carefully release more people from jail before trial.

One of the tools is a simple points system, backed by a statistical analysis of defendants who have been released pre-trial elsewhere in the country. If the defendant has not lived in the area for at least a year, that’s one point. If he has ever failed to appear in court, that’s another. If he has previously been convicted of a violent crime, that’s two points.

After a few more questions, the court official adds it up. If the score is higher than 13, the defendant is deemed “high risk” and will likely be held until trial. But if the score is below six, the defendant’s file is marked “low risk,” meaning he is statistically likely to show up for court.

That gives the judge solid grounds to release the defendant without bail.

Jasper County is at least the fifth county in Missouri to conduct risk-assessments on defendants being held pre-trial. Many have used materials provided by the Houston-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which provides jurisdictions with tools for measuring the risks of releasing defendants from jail to await trial.

Theis used research funded by the foundation to get county officials on board with the policy, arguing that holding defendants prior to trial has few benefits. The policy also has the support of public defense lawyers, who are appointed to represent the indigent.

Darren Wallace, chief public defender for Jasper County, points out that detaining people before they have had a day in court also leads to harsher sentences. That’s because many people will choose to simply plead guilty rather than wait in jail for a trial that could be months away.

“I have no doubt that that is a big factor in many people’s decision to not wait for a trial, when waiting means they’ll be in jail,” he said.

In Kentucky, where bail bonds are outlawed and a statewide pre-trial services office obtains the release of tens of thousands of people annually, the results are stronger. Fully 86 percent of pre-trial releases showed up to trial without any complications.

Theis says the pre-trial program in Jasper County poses no threat to the bond business, anyway, because most of the defendants who will qualify for release under the new program couldn’t afford a bond anyway.

“I think it’s a complement to the bond system,” he said. “These people are not able to use those services.”

In Missouri, top judges have signaled a desire to spread the state-operated pre-trial release offices.

Mary Russell, former chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, praised pre-trial release programs in a State of the Judiciary address in 2014, saying they had netted savings of nearly $4 million over two years by keeping people out of jail. Now the statewide courts are looking into ways to help more counties imitate Jasper County.

“When you’re looking at the trend in criminal justice, there is kind of a push on pre-trial release,” Catherine Zacharias, an attorney for the Office of the State Courts Administrator, said.

State officials have created a risk assessment document with the help of the Arnold Foundation, which it plans to distribute to interested counties. And while county officials would still have to organize their own programs and fund them locally, Zacharias says the state could eventually distribute some funds for pre-trial programs.

Jasper County officials say their main objective for the policy is a reduction in the prison population. To that end, Theis says he hopes to see the program grow.

In nearby Greene County, a pre-trial services office has been active for more than a decade, and pre-trial risk assessments have become integrated into the courthouse routine.

That hasn’t stopped the county’s jail from bursting at the seams, an illustration of the complex challenges that face efforts to ease pressure on county jails.

Between 1997 and 2016, the number of inmates held by Greene County on an average day more than tripled, from 200 to 701. The county pays to house dozens of inmates at jails in other counties.

But the crowded jail is only the most obvious sign of a court system plagued by administrative delays at every step. Even when a person is convicted of a crime in Greene County, for instance, they typically wait another 145 days to learn their sentence.

While the pre-trial program has not solved the problem, Rodney Hackathorn, head public defender in Greene County, says it has helped.

“It’s pretty much become a way of life,” he said. “It works. But in our area here, it’s not enough to keep up with the ever-increasing case load.”

Greene County has three staffers working to fill out the risk assessments forms. Those who have a chance of being released pre-trial can wait as much as three weeks before being interviewed. The office is involved in the release of roughly six defendants per week, and they look into many more cases.

Although Greene County’s sluggish courts have made it difficult for the pre-trial office to measure its performance in terms of reduction to the jail population, staffers say they see the impact of their work during daily check-up phone calls with clients.

They know that jail time can have devastating lives held together by a shoestring.

“The less time people spend in jail, the better chance they’ll have of keeping that job, of keeping that apartment,” said Jarod Denney, a staffer in the pre-trial office. “It turns into this downward spiral. They lose their job, lose their house. How can we expect someone to stay in jail for three months, lose everything, and then get out and do well?”

Bail bonds have been outlawed in Kentucky since 1976. Instead, defendants are released before trial after an interview with a court employee. More defendants show up for court in Kentucky, compared with the appearance rate nationwide.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford


Sonoma County, CA Drops Juvenile Justice Fees

Sonoma County, CA just joined a small but growing number of California counties that have stopped charging daily detention fees to parents and guardians of children in the juvenile justice system. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to stop charging a $32 daily fee and forgive an estimated $4 million in debt held by families with unpaid bills, many dating back more than a decade.

“Thank God,” Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi said. “It takes the pressure off the parents who are already pressured to begin with because their kid is in juvenile hall.”

Adults jailed in California aren’t charged daily fees for room and board. But for decades, California law has allowed counties to charge parents and guardians daily rates for children held at juvenile halls and probation camps. Those fees come in addition to charges for services like probation supervision, public defender representation, electronic monitoring and drug testing.

The bills have come under fire as outdated and unfairly burdensome on low-income families and communities of color. Researchers found some counties were spending more trying to collect payments than they were getting back.

Last year, Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties ended the fees, followed this year by Sacramento and Solano counties.

The California Senate passed a bill last week that would end juvenile justice fees statewide. The bill, Senate Bill 190, was amended to remove a provision that would have required counties to clear existing debts related to the fees. The bill is pending committee assignment in the Assembly.

In addition to the $32 daily detention fee, Sonoma County charged a one-time juvenile supervision fee — recently raised to $150 — and a $50 fee for public

thumb_dollar_sign_BW[1]defender representation. The average stay is 107 days for children ordered by a judge to serve time in juvenile hall, costing parents a minimum of $3,424, according to the probation department numbers.


Shirlee Zane, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, said:

What we’re acknowledging is the restoration of those juveniles very much depends on their families, and if we stress these disadvantaged families with these costs it doesn’t help. I think we went in the right direction, and we’re ahead of the legislation.

Researchers with the UC Berkeley’s School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic found evidence the fees led to garnished wages, intercepted tax refunds and bankruptcy.

In one case, a mother in Contra Costa County was billed more than $10,000 for her son’s detention in juvenile hall even though all the charges against him were dropped.

Sonoma County is “moving in the right direction with a good group of counties now who have all decided to look at this issue and decided it’s not worth it given the impact on families,” said one of the researchers, Stephanie Campos-Bui, who is pushing state lawmakers to support the bill.

Probation chief David Koch has said the fees have been a point of discussion for more than a year among statewide groups of probation department heads.

Two days after the Press Democrat’s May 6 story about the fees, county supervisors asked the probation department to research how much the county would lose by eliminating the fees, and expressed a strong interest in getting rid of them. Koch told supervisors the county can tap into an underused state fund for juvenile probation services to cover the lost revenue, roughly $300,000 each year.


Koch said the fees dated back decades when far more children were housed at juvenile hall, many for minor offenses that wouldn’t result in incarceration today.

He said the fees, approved by the Legislature in the 1960s, were meant to deter parents from dropping off unruly children at juvenile hall, an outdated practice no longer possible.

“It really is just an additional stresser to families that are already stressed, and we don’t want to do that,” Zane said.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Reforms May Cost Louisiana its Title of Incarceration Capital

Ridding Louisiana of its title as America’s most incarcerated state was a major campaign pledge for Gov. John Bel Edwards. But whether it happens, under a compromise reform package pending in the Legislature, may depend less on whether Louisiana’s prison rolls shrink as expected than on what happens this week in a statehouse 500 miles away.

Lawmakers in Oklahoma, the only true challenger to Louisiana’s unbecoming label, are debating a similar plan to revise drug penalties, allow earlier releases for nonviolent offenders, revamp parole rules and pour a hunk of the savings into re-entry programs, specialty courts and victim services.

Recently, backers of the Oklahoma plan were pushing to wrest it out of a committee chaired by a former prosecutor who has repeatedly put off a hearing. If that effort fails, Oklahoma is poised soon to overtake Louisiana, where 776 people per 100,000 residents were locked up under state or federal custody in 2015, federal figures show. Oklahoma stood at 719 inmates per 100,000 residents in 2015.

Alabama and Mississippi were further back, the third- and fourth-biggest jailers in America. Observers say nascent reforms in those two states have left them a safe distance from the top spot.

Unlike Louisiana, which has shed about 4,000 inmates from a peak in 2012, Oklahoma is on a steeply rising vector. The Sooner State is anticipating a 25 percent increase in its prison population over the next decade, even after nearly 60 percent of Oklahoma voters agreed in November to downgrade a host of drug and property crimes to misdemeanors.

Oklahoma already dominates Louisiana, and every other state, in its imprisonment rate for women, which is well over twice the national rate. Louisiana is 12th in jailing women.

“We have the highest female incarceration rate in the world. That alone should tell anyone something in Oklahoma is not working correctly,” said Andrew Speno, Oklahoma state director of Right on Crime, a conservative prison-reform group. Speno blamed “some of the most draconian drug laws in the country” for the state’s rising inmate rolls, with women setting the pace.
“We’re not trying to overtake Louisiana in being No. 1,” Speno said.
Oklahoma’s reform plan would trim its inmate rolls by 7 percent over a decade, according to figures from the Crime and Justice Institute. Passage of those measures would likely leave Louisiana in the top spot regardless of what happens in Baton Rouge, the projections show.

But the Louisiana compromise, hammered out with the state’s powerful district attorneys and sheriffs, achieves Edwards’ campaign goal in one sense: It promises to drop Louisiana’s incarceration rate to Oklahoma’s current rate — and fast, according to projections from Pew Charitable Trusts. Louisiana’s incarceration rate would fall to Oklahoma’s current rate by the end of 2018 if the Legislature moves forward with the compromise plan, according to Pew.
If the legislation passes, several hundred inmates serving time for nonviolent crimes will find themselves poised for release on or shortly after Nov. 1, thanks to a bump in “good-time” credit, quicker parole eligibility and new rules allowing automatic parole releases for some.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

The inmate population reductions expected in the early years under the compromise are actually steeper than those projected for the original legislation, which followed the recommendations of a state task force of criminal justice system stakeholders.

According to Pew, the compromise bills allow prison-time reductions for more nonviolent felons than were slotted for similar breaks under a proposed “felony class” system that the district attorneys torpedoed.

Other measures aimed at nonviolent offenders remain as well, although a proposal to double the threshold for what makes a theft a felony, from $750 to $1,500, was reduced to $1,000 under the compromise.

Louisiana’s reform plan is projected to trim the state inmate population by 8 percent over 10 years, rather than a 2 percent rise expected if the Legislature does nothing.
The $262 million cost savings is based on the $24.39 daily rate that the state pays local sheriffs to house about half of all state prisoners.

E. Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, said:

The purpose of the effort was to focus on nonviolent offenders, and that’s what we did. We’ll see what this does. Hopefully, it doesn’t increase the risk to public safety significantly.

Most of the proposals dealing with violent offenders were expected to reap savings later in the 10-year window — or afterward. Those violent offenders tend to receive longer sentences, and the aborted measures were never slated to be retroactive.

Without them, inmate population reductions are expected to slow in later years. In the 10th year, for instance, the proposed reforms are expected to reap $33 million in savings.

A few measures dealing with some violent offenders remain. The compromise plan would grant an earlier shot at parole to first-time violent offenders who are sentenced after the law takes effect.

Also, a group of about 120 inmates who were convicted of second-degree murder in the 1970s and sentenced to life with a chance at parole, only to lose that eligibility under tough-on-crime laws, would win back a shot at release.

State Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc acknowledged that the reforms would do little to address the aging of the state prison population, which is “stacking up” with older, long-serving inmates who need more medical care. Medical expenses are not factored into the savings estimates. LeBlanc, a key backer of the reforms, said he hopes to exploit a proposed medical furlough process to release some of the state’s frailest, costliest inmates.

He also acknowledged that a surge in inmate releases in the first few years of the reforms will strain the state parole system. LeBlanc said he plans to move some parolees with good records into a self-reporting status to ease the crunch.

LeBlanc pointed to juvenile programs as a priority for the “reinvestment” aspect of the reforms. Under the compromise, 70 percent of the cost savings is earmarked for re-entry, treatment and crime victim programs, up from 50 percent under the original plan.

LeBlanc said:

We need to show the DAs and the sheriffs we mean business here, and we want to invest in the juvenile justice side of this, because we know it’s a pipeline. I’m talking diversion, truancy programs. Those things need attention.

LeBlanc downplayed the goal of losing Louisiana’s tag as the leading jailer in a country with the second-highest incarceration rate in the world. (The U.S. trails only Seychelles, a small archipelago in the Indian Ocean with a penchant for locking up Somali pirates.)
“That’s a bad label to have, but that’s not what this is about,” LeBlanc said of Louisiana’s title. “It’s about doing the right thing. I think we have a good package. I think we’ve done a lot of good. It’s a big step for us.”

LeBlanc said he visited the State Penitentiary at Angola recently to address inmates there, many of whom are serving long sentences for violent crimes.
“I told them this is not over with. This is our first step,” he said. “I don’t want them to give up, and we don’t need to give up.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

San Antonio Police Approach to Homelessness Shifting from Punitive to Helpful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Yale Prison Education Initiative Plans Inmate Teaching Program

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

Zelda Roland

Zelda Roland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland said:

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

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

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

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

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

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

California Contemplates Reforms to Juvenile Detention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Webster of the CJCJ wrote in a public comment,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Los Angeles man wrote:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford