Archive for Humane Exposures

In 29 States It’s Mandatory for Parents to Pay for their Kids’ Prosecution and Incarceration—and in 22 Others it’s Discretionary

Today, statutes in all states make it discretionary (in 22 states) or mandatorythumb_dollar_sign_BW[1] (29) for the court to require a parent or guardian to pay at least part of the support costs for a juvenile who is adjudicated delinquent and placed out of the home.  In evaluating an obligated party’s ability to pay, the court takes into consideration the family’s income, their necessary obligations, and the number of people dependent on this income.

Several states have proposed legislation on this issue. Arizona would add language that would allow the juvenile court to waive all or part of these support expenses if the court determined that extenuating circumstances existed. On the other extreme, Idaho proposed amending the parental support statute to state that the obligation of the parent or legal guardian to pay current and accrued amounts would continue until paid in full, regardless of the juvenile offender’s age. Finally, Utah has proposed a bill that would require the juvenile court to hold a hearing at the request of a juvenile’s parent or guardian on whether they should be required to pay child support for a juvenile being held in state custody.

In 57 of the 58 counties in California, the state with the highest population of incarcerated youth, young people’s families get billed a percentage of the counties’ costs for their prosecution, incarceration and probation.   In Alameda County, which includes Oakland and Berkeley, for suspects older than 16, the meter starts running even before indictment, with a $250 charge for the investigation initiated after an arrest. For a juvenile who’s been detained for the 23-day average time in Alameda County the total bill will be close to $2,000. In that county, the fee for investigations, accurate or not, is charged even if a suspect is exonerated.

 
Beth Colgan, of Stanford Law School, who’s written about the history of fees charged by the criminal justice system, which she says incur as much as 12% interest in some states, said:

We’re trying to get blood from a stone in many situations. Counties often spend a lot more money trying to collect the fees than they recoup. These fees can be detrimental to people’s ability to get back on their feet. One of the strongest arguments against these fees is that they perpetuate inequality and poverty in a way that might make many people uncomfortable.

In the 29 states that require courts to order payment from parents (including California), parents’ financial responsibility begins from the moment an arrest happens. In some cases, parents can negotiate certain fees if they can’t pay, but rules vary around the country. When the bills aren’t paid, officials can involve collections agencies, deduct from parents’ wages or take their tax refunds.

 
Zoe Mathews, a working single mother of three, says she can’t afford the payment arrangement determined by Solano County for $7,500 fees related to her deceased child’s time in detention and on probation. She’s tried to negotiate with the county to waive the fees, but the county would only lower the monthly payment. The phone calls from county bill collections agency stopped, but Mathews is now receiving letters threatening to garnish her wages if she doesn’t pay. Mathews calls the fees to juvenile offenders unfair “double-dipping, ” once an offender has served time.

Incarceration is supposed to rehabilitate you, and you’re paying your debt back to society, so then they’re going to charge you an additional per night stay? I don’t think that’s right at all.

New National Campaign for Youth Shelter Demands Feds Dramatically Accelerate Efforts to Cut Youth Homelessness

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Advocates for homeless people and LGBT youth have teamed up to launch a national campaign demanding the federal government dramatically expand efforts to reduce homelessness among young people. The Ali Forney Center, a New York-based program that offers housing and other services to LGBT youth, and the National Coalition for the Homeless have formed the National Campaign for Youth Shelter. 

It is a collaboration that will build a grassroots campaign to demand a national response to youth homelessness. The campaign notes that each year as many as 500,000 youths up to age 24 experience homelessness while not accompanied by adults, but there are only about 4,000 youth shelter beds in the country.
Jerry Jones, National Coalition for the Homeless’s executive director, says:

It’s a particularly indefensible tragedy that young people are experiencing homelessness. It’s completely outrageous, and I think many people assume this is a problem that someone’s dealing with or that it’s not as large an issue as it actually is. There’s a sense of denial as a country in recognizing we’ve got tens of thousands of kids at any given point out there on the streets with nowhere to go.

Specifically, the National Campaign for Youth Shelter calls for a) A federal commitment to provide all homeless young people ages 24 and under immediate access to safe shelter; b) an immediate federal commitment to add 22,000 shelter beds for young people, as the federal government currently provides existing shelter beds through the underfunded Runaway and Homeless Youth Act; and c) a more accurate and comprehensive effort to count the number of young homeless people in the nation to determine the need for shelter beds over the next decade.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth are disproportionately represented among the population of young homeless people. In some parts of the country, up to 40% of young people who are homeless are LGBT, while only about 5% of the population is. In many cases, being LGBT is why they’re homeless, since their families have rejected them because of their sexual identity. The homeless young people are a largely invisible population, living on the streets, couch-surfing or sleeping in abandoned buildings. They tend to blend in with other teenagers and don’t want to identify themselves as being homeless. It’s very risky being homeless, because they are almost immediately exploited, or there are attempts to lure them into the sex industry. So most homeless young people try to mask their situation.
Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, a Washington-based alliance of organizations focused on needs of low-income and vulnerable people, says:

Making sure our youth can have a decent start in life must be seen as a national obligation. This important new campaign is bringing a shameful national failure to light, and has achievable goals that the public will demand as it learns how we have abandoned so many of our young people.
Lack of shelter for homeless young people reflects misplaced priorities in Congress, which has shown itself willing to hand hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to big corporations while being unwilling either to invest in preventing youth homelessness or to provide even basic shelter to hundreds of thousands of homeless youth.

The campaign has received endorsements and support from more than 30 organizations, including LGBT youth advocates and housing and anti-poverty organizations. It is unprecedented to have so many LGBT organizations join together with prominent national housing and anti-poverty organizations to fight for the humane treatment of impoverished youths. With all this support, the National Campaign for Youth Shelter should build a movement to finally prevent youths from being left to suffer homelessness without access to shelter. The campaign is going to hold rallies in New York City and Washington, DC, to launch the campaign as a priority within the LGBT movement. The New York City rally will be held on June 2.
In 2012, as part of existing federal efforts, The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness adopted the Framework to End Youth Homelessness which calls agencies and systems at all levels and the private sector to accelerate progress on the goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020. The framework describes a more coordinated way to approach the problem of youth homelessness, effective across different disciplines that work with this population.
To achieve the outcomes of stable housing, permanent connections, education and employment, and well-being, the framework focuses on two simultaneous strategies: improving data on youth homelessness and building capacity for service delivery. Improving data will provide a clearer understanding of the prevalence, characteristics, and needs of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness. And building capacity for service delivery includes increasing our knowledge of effective interventions, scaling up the interventions shown to be most effective and a preliminary intervention model that communities can use to develop a systems approach to ending youth homelessness based on current evidence about what works.

In communities across the country, organizations, schools, researchers, philanthropic partners and young people are leading innovative efforts to address youth homelessness. A growing number of communities are using the federal framework and its preliminary intervention model to develop systemic and client-level responses to end youth homelessness.

New Female Federal Prisoners’ Advocacy Group Launches “End Mass Incarceration” Campaign

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

A group Danbury, Connecticut female federal prisoners have taken a stand against mass incarceration and discrimination within the U.S. judicial system, rallying supporters to create change. Out of their efforts a new advocacy group, WomenOverIncarcerated.org, (WOI.org),
recently kicked off its “Enough is Enough: End Mass Incarceration” campaign. The organization is rallying for alternatives to lengthy sentences for nonviolent federal prisoners, urging people to sign an online petition at www.womenoverincarcerated.org  requesting Congress to reinstate federal parole and mitigate federal sentencing.

Last fall, after prisoner Jamila T. Davis received a letter of support for fairness in the justice system, regardless of race, gender or income level, from U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings, a group of white-collar offenders housed at the Danbury Federal Prison Camp For Women (featured in the hit Netflix show Orange Is The New Black), initiated a sentencing-disparity study. It revealed that these women received 300% harsher sentences than affluent white males who committed the same or similar white-collar crimes—and a shocking 480% harsher for African American females. (View this study at http://www.womenoverincarcerated.org).

 
To correct these injustices and reunite families, WOI.org is advocating for alternatives to lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent offenders, and the organization is urging Congress to reinstate federal parole. Unlike most state offenders, some of whom serve less than one-third of their time, due to the absence of parole, all federal prisoners serve 85% of their time, with no recourse. Consequently, the federal prison system is nearly 40% over capacity, and taxpayers are spending $6.1 billion to house nonviolent offenders.
Determined to change the common misconceptions and images of women behind bars, Danbury prisoners came together to create the 2014 WomenOverIncarcerated.org calendar, where each month features a different woman’s story. All women featured are serving lengthy sentences in federal prison, and two of them are serving life sentences for nonviolent offenses. The cost of incarceration to taxpayers, and the faces, backgrounds and stories of these women (many of whom are first-time offenders) have astounded calendar viewers.

 
Jamila T. Davis, a 36 years old federal inmate/author serving a 12 ½- year sentence for allegedly victimizing the now-defunct Lehman Brothers Bank, said:

It was important to me to help create a platform where women could share their stories. After writing my book The High Price I Had To Pay, based on my own case, I realized that the American people have no clue who we are and the type of sentences we are serving.
“While not one Wall Street banker is serving time for the events that spiraled the 2008 financial crisis, ‘small fries’ like me are serving big time! Many of us are women. I received a seven-times greater sentence than the two white males—a seasoned lawyer and banker—who instructed me on what to do. I felt my sentence was totally unjust, so I decided to speak out.

Women are not only punished for the crimes they committed, but they are also punished for entering the so-called ‘man’s’ world of business. The organization believes that President Obama, policymakers and judges should correct the unfair sentencing practices women encounter in the U.S. judicial system, or else our whole society will be negatively affected.

 
The U.S. female incarcerated population continues to grow at alarming rates, and more women are entering the country’s prison system annually than anywhere else in the world. The number of incarcerated women in U.S. prisons increased 646% between 1980 and 2010, rising from 15,118 to 112,797. Today there are more than 205,000 women incarcerated in state and federal prisons here. Most of them are mothers, and many are first-time offenders.

 
According to a study cited at womenoverincarcerated.org/facts/,  Out of the approximately 14,500 female federal prisoners in the U.S., many are serving lengthy sentences for federal offenses, while for comparable charges, state offenders are serving significantly shorter sentences. Contrary to popular belief, these women are not violent offenders who pose a physical threat to society. Most are nonviolent offenders who can be effectively rehabilitated through alternative means to incarceration.

 

These women have been ripped away from their children and families, causing psychological and financial hardships. Unlike state prisoners, female federal prisoners are often housed in states far away from their residences, and it is common for families to have to travel in excess of 500 miles to visit women in federal prison. As a result, many federal female inmates only get to see their children a few times each year, or if they lack the necessary finances, they don’t get to see their children at all. This vicious cycle of incarceration spirals an epidemic of youth vulnerable to criminal behavior, because of the lack of guidance and support from their maternal figures.

 
Tragically, female federal prisoners are simply being “warehoused” in prisons throughout our nation, without receiving adequate programming to foster true rehabilitation. Taxpayers shell out a hefty price to house these prisoners, and in many cases, we also pay for the care of their children. The average cost to house each woman is approximately $30,000 a year, not including medical expenses. The large overcrowded population of female offenders lack access to effective programming and often have insufficient healthcare. More than 57% of females reported abuse before admission to prison, but their special needs tend not be addressed.

 
Womenoverincarcerated.org believes:

Instead of locking mothers away and throwing away the key, at great expense to the general public, these women, of every demographic, deserve a second chance to restore their lives and correct their paths. There are more adequate solutions for rehabilitation than are currently available. These alternatives will save taxpayer dollars, and at the same time will offer female offenders an opportunity to become productive, contributing, members of society.

The organization has five primary goals: (1) To enlighten the general public about the alarming growth-rate of women in prison; (2) to focus light on the true personas of female prisoners, versus those created in movies and on television; (3) to assist in eliminating the stigma of being a “criminal” upon re-entry into society and the workplace, by changing the general public’s perception of women in prison; (4) to advocate for reform in the U.S. judicial system, and to support programs that truly rehabilitate and serve to help women; and (5) to support alternative sentencing for female offenders in order to stop the breakup of families, which is a severe consequence of female incarceration.

In First Eight Years, Redeploy Illinois Diverted 1,232 Youths from Prison, Saving State $60 Million

Wikipedia Juvenile Convicts_(1903)

Young convicts in 1903. Photo credit:Wikipedia

Redeploy Illinois, a nine-year-old program Juvenile-Justice-Program that currently gives 42 counties via 12 sites across the state money to treat delinquent youths in their home communities instead of state prison facilities, has, since its inception, saved the state $60 million in incarceration costs. State Department of Juvenile Justice data show the average cost to house a youth at Illinois state facilities was $111,000 a year, while serving him or her through the Redeploy program cost $7,000. Department Secretary Michelle Saddler says the program “gives youth a second chance” at becoming law-abiding citizens.

 
Administered by the Bureau of Youth Intervention Services, Redeploy Illinois is designed to provide services to youth aged 13 to 18 who are at high risk of being committed to the Department of Corrections. A fiscal incentive is provided to counties to provide services to youth in the juvenile justice system by building a continuum of care for them within their home communities. Based on individual needs assessments, counties link youngsters to a wide array of needed services and supports within the home community, including case management, court advocacy, education assistance, individual/family/group counseling and crisis intervention.

 
Research has found that non-violent youth are less likely to become further involved in criminal behavior if they remain in their home communities and if appropriate services are available that address underlying needs such as mental illness, substance abuse, learning disabilities, unstable living arrangements and dysfunctional parenting. Unfortunately, many Illinois counties lack the resources to effectively serve delinquent youth locally, and this plays a significant role in the court’s decision to commit a youth to a correctional facility. Fortunately, the funds provided to the dozen Redeploy sites fills the gaps in their continuum of services, allowing them to cost-effectively serve youngsters in their home communities and reduce the system’s reliance on corrections. Redeploy Illinois has been hailed as a model for the nation in efforts to reduce cruel, inefficient and ineffective juvenile justice systems.

 
A study released in March of 2010 by the Justice Policy Institute, reported:

Redeploy Illinois is an example of the kind of program other states should embrace as a way to reduce prison costs and prevent young offenders from falling into futures dominated by criminal behavior and incarceration.

This progressive effort to build on the work done in other states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, which successfully reduced juvenile incarceration rates through similarly structured programs, is paying off. Evidence increasingly supports the conclusion that Redeploy Illinois provides a significant return on investment in terms of financial and human resources. The Redeploy Illinois Annual Report  presents data, analysis, and findings substantiating this claim. In financial terms, the average annual cost to serve a youth in the Redeploy program in 2013 was approximately 6% of the annual cost to house him or her in the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ). In 2013 the average per-capita cost to house a youth at IDJJ was a reported $111,000. In 2013, 352 youth received full Redeploy Illinois program services, with an appropriation of $2,385,100. This equates to an annual Redeploy program cost per youth of $6,776.

 
In 2012, 238 fewer youth were committed to IDJJ because of the Redeploy Illinois program, saving Illinois taxpayers nearly $11.7 million. Through 2012, the Redeploy program has diverted 1,232 youth, saving the state a conservative $60 Million in unnecessary incarceration costs. From the human perspective, these 1,232 youth were given a second chance at becoming a contributing and law-abiding citizen of their respective communities. Beyond saving dollars, the program mends lives.

 
A commissioned report by Illinois State University found:

Parents and youth believe the program significantly improved family relationships, youth attitudes, communications with youth and offered opportunities for success. Youth coped with anger better, were more focused on positive goals and committed substantially fewer crimes. Further, probation staff, service providers and the judiciary all exhibited strong support for Redeploy Illinois.

An examination of the program’s first five years found that 73% of the 972 youth accepted into the program achieved a successful (66%) or neutral (7%) program discharge. Successful youth had a 27% lower recidivism rate than their unsuccessful counterparts. Of the 389 youth successfully completing the Redeploy Illinois Program, 61% of were not incarcerated during the three years following discharge from the program, compared to 34% of the unsuccessful youth. In addition, fewer than 13% of youth were terminated from the program because they had committed a new offense while in it.

 
More than 250 youths were served in the Restore Illinois program in 2013, but program officials fear budget cuts if the state’s income tax increase rolls back as scheduled in 2015.

San Diego Fights Rising Costs of Treating Homelessness and Chronic Alcoholism

Photo by Susan Madden Langford

A report just released by San Diego police shows the skyrocketing cost of treating chronic alcoholism and homelessness in San Diego.  According to the report, one man had to be transported to the hospital 52 times and was also arrested eight times in one year, at a cost to the city of $85,000.
In 2013, police arrested 7,600 people, many of them homeless, for drunk in public offenses. The report identified 12 chronic alcoholics who were transported 316 times in a year, at a cost to the city of nearly $470,000.
Sean Fitzpatrick, who has been homeless for more than two years, says:

A lot of these people turn to alcohol because its a cheap way to numb yourself from what you’re going through.

San Diego currently utilizes a number of programs and facilities to fight homelessness and chronic alcoholism. The Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) together with the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) 
are the city’s initial point of contact with both chronic homeless and chronic inebriates living on the streets. Every HOT Team is composed of police officers, county psychiatric clinicians and county mental health eligibility technicians. They seek out and engage chronically homeless persons and place those who are willing in housing linked with appropriate services. The San Diego Police Department and Community Services fund the law enforcement officers in this program.
Last year, the HOT program had more than 2,100 contacts with people on the streets, and 720 were placed in facilities other than jail. That’s an 84% increase from 2012, when 391 received placement. San Diego police and its partnering agencies are calling this program a success.

San Diego’s Serial Inebriate Program (SIP) is offered to chronically homeless, substance dependent people who have been arrested. Like HOT, SIP offers offenders an opportunity to participate in treatment, sober-living environments as an alternative to incarceration, as well as access to emergency room care, transitional housing or long-term care.

When one is convicted of public intoxication and custody time is imposed, clients are offered alcohol and drug treatment instead of incarceration. If the client accepts treatment, they are transported to St. Vincent de Paul Village Family Health Center for their medical and psychiatric evaluation and then to the substance abuse treatment program at Mid-Coast Recovery Center.

The County of San Diego Alcohol and Drug Services Division contracts with Mental Health Services, Inc, to provide substance abuse treatment, case management, City-sponsored housing and other services to support their treatment, plus recovery efforts to help them obtain self-sufficiency. During their six months of substance abuse treatment, clients work with their case manager to plan the next stages of recovery. Graduates have attained self-sufficiency, employment, housing and a renewal of their lives.

Teams work to assess the homeless person’s problems and identify how to help them from a range of solutions. Whether their homelessness has been caused by loss of income, psychological problems, substance abuse, lack of job training and/or other problems, multiple options are available to assist each person. This approach not only provides short-term answers but also develops permanent solutions. The teams provide care, resources and assistance to about 700 arrested chronic alcoholics per year.
San Diego Council President Todd Gloria says:

Living on the streets is more expensive for taxpayers. It seems counterintuitive, but the overreliance on emergency rooms, on 911, on interaction with law enforcement is more expensive than giving them housing in a facility like Connections Housing.

Recently, new Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced $160,000 allocated in the latest proposed budget for HOT and SIP—part of $1.9 million proposed to help with homelessness solutions.
In addition, through contracts with nonprofit service providers, funds from the San Diego’s Community Development Block Grant and Social Services programs help provide services to the Winter Shelter Program, Neil Good Day Center, 150-bed Cortez Hill Family Center and the Seniors Transitional Housing Program. The city’s Homeless Adminstrator represents the city on regional homeless committees, including the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless, the San Diego Regional Continuum of Care Council and the East Village Redevelopment Homeless Advisory Committee.
The City works in collaboration with the County of San Diego to provide mainstream resources to establish a continuum of care for episodic, transitional and chronic homeless individuals and families in the area.
To address the needs of homeless people with special needs, such as mental illness, chronic alcohol or drug abuse, or both, the Mayor and City Council have approved the development of a Special Needs Housing Program. During the past two years the program has provided 100 transitional beds for the severely mentally ill and dually-diagnosed homeless and 100 permanent supportive housing units. Under development are 80 beds for short and long-term residential substance abuse treatment for chronic inebriates and dually-diagnosed homeless veterans, with more housing types to be included in the future.

Countries are Realizing That Addiction is a Medical Problem Not Well Addressed by Imprisonment

Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Around the world an estimated 625,000 women and girls are deprived of liberty, by either awaiting or serving a sentence. In recent years, the population of women prisoners has increased at a faster rate than that of men. In Latin America, for instance, the female incarceration rate has risen from 40,000 in 2006 to 74,000 in 2010.
Traditionally women addicted to illicit drugs have been handled by the criminal justice system. However, over the past decade or so, there has been a slow but gradual recognition that imprisonment is not the most effective response to treating those with drug addiction, and as a consequence, a number of countries have been giving consideration to and/or implementing alternative options to imprisonment (more so in Europea) for addressing drug use and addiction problems. Reasons include overcrowded prisons, cost effectiveness, human rights issues and social and economic development issues. Failure to address the health and social issues related to drug addiction has major implications for public health and safety.

But most especially it has been increasing evidence, informed by research over the past decade, that drug addiction is a chronic medical disorder which can be successfully treated. And that treatment for drug dependence and addiction works best outside of prisons.

Not everyone realizes that drug addiction produces long-lasting brain changes which persist up to two years after discontinuing use. Craving is triggered by people, places and things associated with drug use, and withdrawal continues years after stopping drug use.

While drug use may begin as a matter of choice, once this has progressed to dependence or addiction, a barrier has been crossed and the problem becomes a medical condition, (contrary to the prevailing perception that drug addiction is simply a social lifestyle-related phenomenon over which the individual has control) requiring an integrated approach to its management.

Drug use/addiction triggers a number of severe adverse health consequences which are either fatal or chronic in nature. All body systems are affected. For example, cocaine and crack cocaine use has been linked to heart attack, irregular and increased heartbeat, enlarged heart, brain hemorrhage, acute high blood pressure, renal disorder and impaired respiratory function.

Methamphetamine use causes leakage of the brain blood-barrier, brain edema and morphological abnormalities of brain cells. Marijuana use is associated with cardiovascular disease, impaired respiratory function, negative effect on cognition and increased risk of psychosis and psychiatric disorders. Adolescents and youth are most at risk for these conditions, which may have lasting negative effects on their psychological, emotional and mental health development. And these are just a few of the medical problems associated with drug use/addiction, none of which prisons or their programs are usually equipped to address.

Addiction, as with many other brain diseases, has embedded behavioral and social-context aspects that are important part of the disorder itself. These are played out in aggressive anti-social behaviors, engagement in criminal activities, impaired social interaction, willpower dysfunction and psychotic behavior. Such behaviors have enormous costs for society in terms of direct and indirect economic and social consequences and include: costs on human and financial resources, productivity lost, road and domestic accidents related to drug abuse, health care costs related to mental disorders and diseases that develop in relation to drug dependence, such as HIV.

Therefore, a different approach is needed to address the health, social and security results of drug addiction. Alternatives to imprisonment can prevent and reduce drug use and dependence and drug-related harms to health and society. Research has shown, and many practitioners working in the field support the findings, that alternatives to imprisonment offer workable solutions for addressing the health, security and development challenges emanating from drug addiction.

Many European countries have taken the lead in adopting alternative options for persons addicted to drug with regard to the type of offence committed. The US is still lagging behind. A number of International and UN Mandates support alternatives to incarceration as a preferred strategy for successfully treating drug addiction.

One UN agency has declared:

Member states should develop within the criminal justice system, where appropriate, capacities for assisting drug abusers with education, treatment and rehabilitation services. Close cooperation between criminal justice, health and social systems is a necessity and should be encouraged.

Drug Treatment City Partnerships is an initiative funded by the European Commission, and coordinated by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission and the Secretary for Multidimensional Security of the Organization of the American States. Their objectives are: a) to sensitize prosecutors and judges to drug treatment and rehabilitation as an alternative to incarceration for drug-dependent offenders, b) to help improve the policymaking capacity of partner cities to support the provision of drug treatment by creating a learning partnership among programs in different cities, c) to build an exchange partnership among cities in Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union that will mutually reinforce the knowledge, skills and experience they need to better serve their problematic drug users and d) to allow participants in the judicial system, including individual judges and prosecutors, treatment centers, individual healthcare professionals, city officials and national representatives in the area of drug treatment to study and compare different models of treatment alternatives to incarceration.

RAMP Program Mentors At-Risk and Disabled Youth to Steer them to Careers Instead of Prison

In September 2012, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the federal Office of Justice Programs awarded a $1,538,000 grant to the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) to support its “Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program,” or RAMP, in 10 sites across the U.S. The RAMP initiative is a career-focused mentoring program for youth involved with or at risk of becoming involved with the juvenile justice system.

The IEL’s goals for the RAMP initiative are to prevent and reduce juvenile delinquency and gang participation among at-risk youths, improve their academic performance and reduce dropout rates. To accomplish these goals, the IEL proposed to use the award to fund projects that were focused on decreasing truancy, reducing instances of arrest and incarceration, increasing social competencies and social support opportunities and guiding them through employment and post-secondary education processes. Over a three-year period, RAMP has helped more than 1,200 young people from all backgrounds stay in school, improve attendance and social skills and become part of a pipeline contributing to a highly skilled future workforce.

Identification begins with RAMP staff working with schools and juvenile justice agencies in local communities to identify students most “at-risk,” including students with disabilities, students involved in the juvenile justice system or foster care, tribal youth, and young people with emotional and mental health needs. Many youth involved with RAMP are from low-income, non-English-speaking families and are cared for in varied and often unstable family structures. Many struggle with low school performance and truancy. RAMP provides resources and support for youth with disabilities, including those with emotional and mental health needs, learning and cognitive disabilities, and physical impairments, as well as other youth at risk of not making a successful transition to adult life. Young people are referred to RAMP by community organizations, juvenile justice agencies, schools, and families.

Currently there are RAMP programs in Denver, Houston, Baltimore, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Lansing, Elmira NY, Lake City FL, Wayne County NY, Albany County NY and Windham County VT. The Elmira program has assisted families with children who have or are in need of behavioral, social, and chemical dependency interventions. It has also helped families participate in enhancement programs and services as an alternative to entering into family court or out-of-home placements. The Jacksonville program has worked specifically with a population of youth with autism-spectrum disorders served in special education classrooms. The program in Denver has worked closely with a program that educates students who have been expelled from school or are at-risk, and it also has recruited youth from an alternative high school that educates students who are incarcerated or awaiting trial.

The RAMP model uses a combination of group, peer, and individualized mentoring to promote the successful transition of all youth, including those with disabilities, to employment, continued learning opportunities and independent living. Youth participate in weekly career preparation-focused group meetings, including peer-supported goal setting and exploration of careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. Each youth meets regularly one-on-one with a mentor to develop and implement an Individualized Mentoring Plan. Mentors are caring adults recruited from the community, schools, employers, and partner organizations. At the end of the program cycle, each group of youths works with an industry advisor to complete a high-tech project.

While in RAMP, youngsters have the opportunity to assess and explore their own career interests, develop a plan and set goals for their transition, create a resource map of their community’s high-tech industries, gain workplace skills, build resume-writing and interviewing skills, interact with employers and experience a variety of work settings, give and receive peer support, take advantage of group and personal leadership opportunities, design and build a high-tech-related team project and  have fun.

An assessment of RAMP’s results from2009-2012:
a) 99 percent of students stayed in school—well above overall national dropout rates and far above those for the at-risk students RAMP typically serves;  b) a 95 percent non-offense rate among RAMP participants; c) 90 percent completed the year-long RAMP program; d) 66 percent improved school attendance; e) 58 percent felt their social supports improved as a result of being involved in the program and f) 43 percent saw improvements in assessed social competencies.

But the impact of RAMP goes far beyond the numbers. In communities across the country, the following results have also been seen:
1) Young people involved in the juvenile justice system and those labeled
“at-risk” often see themselves as problems, but RAMP’s emphasis on careers helps shift young people’s self perceptions to their potential.
2) RAMP’s structured approach to self-assessment and goal-setting in a broad range of areas helps youth develop skills such as self-reliance, independence and the ability to set goals that yield solid outcomes in the transition to adult life.
3) The local organizations that operate RAMP in each community ensure that each site is grounded in the local job market and emphasize high-demand fields available close to home. Through mentoring, job-site visits and other career-focused experiences, employers are also exposed to RAMP students, which challenges—and changes—their previous perceptions of students with disabilities and those who have been involved with the juvenile justice system.

Involving family members is critical to begin services and has proven effective in supporting RAMP participants as they set and meet goals. Sites have introduced home visits and follow-up meetings and conversations to encourage family participation. To address the need for records and meeting space from schools, sites have also developed closer relationships with school districts and aligned activities to daily schedules and academic calendars.

RAMP partners curredntly include leading employers in the following fields:
retail management and food services, auto sales and repair, health and hospitality, aviation and aerospace, media and communications and public service.

Strategy to End Homelessness in Connecticut this Year

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Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Connecticut’s emergency shelters serve more than 14,000 men, women and children each year. Hundreds more go unsheltered, staying in cars, in tents in the woods or in abandoned buildings. Many citizens are committed to putting an end to that in 2014.

Lisa Tepper Bates, executive director, CT Coalition to End Homeless says:

Homelessness is a solvable problem, and a problem that we have to solve. Because it is wrong for the most powerful and prosperous nation in the history of the world to tolerate it, and because it is a wrong-headed and expensive public policy choice to do so.

A Pennsylvania study found that the cost of one child homeless costs the state $40,000 per year and Connecticut’s cost of living is about 20 percent higher than Pennsylvania’s. National studies prove that leaving single adults (often with mental illness or other disabilities) homeless on our streets is much more expensive–especially to our emergency services–than housing them with supports.

A few basic elements have to come together to end homelessness.

Crisis response: We need to coordinate our existing resources more effectively: bringing together separate providers of service to the homeless within one community, reducing duplication of effort and combining resources. That also means providers working together as a team to address the urgent housing crisis of every adult, every family with children and every homeless young person as quickly as possible.

Next step, housing: Our goal is to help each person who is homeless return to permanent housing. For some, this means the subsidy and support that they need to remain housed and stable, given the mental illness or other disabilities with which they live. For others, this means the helping hand they need simply to get back in the door of housing–assistance with a security deposit and first month’s rent. For all, it means offering help to connect them with the employment, health, education and similar resources that may benefit them.

The affordable housing gap: After we improve our ability to respond to the crisis, we need to end this problem permanently. The key element is more deeply affordable housing. Connecticut. needs to provide an additional 80,000 units of housing affordable for its poorest residents (those who earn less than 30% of the area’s median income). For 2012, to afford market-rate housing prices in Connecticut (where housing costs equal about 30% of income), household income had to be over $23/hour, but almost half the state’s occupations provide an average wage lower than the housing wage.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing (HPRP) Program allowed providers in Connecticut to greatly expand Rapid Re-housing services in 2010. In three years, 2010-2012, Connecticut providers re-housed 3,100 people in over 1,600 households.

Rapid Re-housing is short-term financial assistance and services such as case management, outreach, and housing search for individuals and families who are in emergency shelter or on the streets and need temporary assistance in order to obtain and retain housing. Rapid Re-housing does not meet the needs of every homeless person, but is an important option for many.

In the first three year since Connecticut clients received Rapid Re-housing services through HPRP, only a small number returned to shelter. These results are consistent with outcomes across the nation. Three years after receiving Rapid Re-housing, 96% of singles and 95% of families had not returned to shelters.

Tiny Houses for the Homeless: An Affordable Solution Catches On – Truth-Out

See on Scoop.itHomeless Issues: Humane Exposures

Tiny Houses for the Homeless: An Affordable Solution Catches On Truth-Out For many years, it has been tough to find a way to house the homeless.
See on truth-out.org

Convict Moms May Benefit From Pending Congressional Sentencing Reform and Declining Female Prison Populations

70_MAGGOTSSWEETToday Congress is moving on sentencing reform, which could further ease the pressure on female prisoners with children. In addition, they may benefit from less emphasis on harsh sentences for nonviolent offenses. 

Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, says:

The decline in women’s incarceration appears to be related to fewer drug offenders in prison. As harsh sentencing policies have begun to be scaled back, and diversion programs expanded, fewer women are now being sentenced to lengthy prison terms for lower-level drug offenses.

Since the early 1970s, the “war on drugs” led to a surge in the US prison population of both men and women. But percentagewise, women saw a greater increase. According to the Sentencing Project, between 1980 and 2010, the number of women in federal and state prison rose by 646 percent; from 15,118 to 112,797. If you count women in local jails, that brings the US total of female prisoners in 2010 to more than 205,000.

Now the trends are reversing. After peaking in 2009, the US prison population has declined annually–something that has been attributed to factors including the recession, and changes in public attitudes and in the courts. In 2011, the US Supreme Court upheld a ruling that ordered California to ease overcrowding in its state prisons.

Congress is now getting into the act. On January 30, 2014, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted for legislation aimed at reducing prison overcrowding further. In a bipartisan 13-to-5 vote, the panel approved the Smarter Sentencing Act,
which would substantially reduce mandatory minimums for some drug offenses and allow federal judges more discretion in determining sentences for nonviolent drug offenses?

The Act amends the federal criminal code to direct criminal courts to impose a sentence for specified controlled substance offenses without regard to any statutory minimum sentence if the court finds that the defendant does not have more than one criminal conviction. It also authorizes a court that imposed a sentence for a crack cocaine possession or trafficking offense committed before August 3, 2010, on motion of the defendant, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, the attorney for the government or the court, to impose a reduced sentence as if provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 were in effect at the time such offense was committed.

Courts must also reduce mandatory minimum sentences for manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, possessing, importing or exporting specified controlled substances. And it orders courts to formulate guidelines to minimize the likelihood that the federal prison population will exceed federal prison capacity, while it emphasizes the need to reduce and prevent racial disparities in sentencing.

Since women are more likely to be incarcerated for a nonviolent offense than men, they may benefit from the law disproportionately. Already, between 2009 and 2012, the female prison population dropped by 4.1 percent.

This trend has particular meaning for prisoners with children. In 2008, 52 percent of women in state prison and 63 percent in federal prison had at least one child under the age of 18, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Six out of 10 women prisoners with children lived with their kids before incarceration.

Most kids don’t have physical contact with their mother while she is incarcerated, because women are often placed in facilities more than 100 miles from home, where visiting is both expensive and difficult. Collect phone calls from prison are expensive, and some mothers do not want to expose children to the prison environment and security procedures, which can be intimidating.

Bahiyyah Muhammad, a sociology professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C., who studied the children of incarcerated parents, suggests:

One solution would be to have offenders serve shorter sentences that are focused on drug treatment and education and that take place closer to their families. That way you keep the family together and allow them to have a role in this rehabilitation process.

A parental classification be implemented for convicted mothers) who have custody of their children, so they can serve their time at an institution designed for parents–that is, “friendlier” for kids.

I think we could save a lot of money if we used alternatives to punish nonviolent drug offenders, especially if they are parents. Parental incarceration has long-lasting effects on children.

Since the 1970s, the dramatic rise in the US prison population has put significant strain on the limited resources available to treat prisoners and to help ex-convicts reintegrate into the outside world.