Archive for Humane Exposures

As Face of Homelessness Changes, So Must Resources

We have come a long way since homelessness among women was not considered to be a problem, but we still have a long way to go. It wasn’t that long ago that programs for the homeless were exclusively for men. The assumption was that all a homeless woman had to do was find a man to take her in and take care of her.

We’ve left those attitudes behind and today there is increasing emphasis on helping homeless women. One good example is Room in the Inn, in Asheville, NC. which takes in women and pairs them with case managers to transition into permanent housing.

Room in the Inn, operated by Homeward Bound, helps up to 12 women at a time. Housing is provided by local churches. Clients at the moment include Pam Pressley, a 42-year-old who became homeless after her marriage and a subsequent relationship collapsed. She tried the Western Carolina Rescue Mission shelter, but didn’t fit in with the regimen:

I had never been homeless before and I needed to figure out how I ended up here and I just wanted to move forward with my life. But I couldn’t do that with the strict requirements of the shelter, working long days, so I had to get out of there.

Her goal is to go back to school to become a nurse after moving into an apartment of her own. “This has all taught me how tough I am and what it means to be a strong woman,” she said.

Pressley is on her way to escaping from homelessness, but there are many others not so fortunate. A significant proportion of Asheville’s homeless population, which numbers more than 500, are women. Roughly 30 percent of homeless women escaped abusive relationships, which means that going back “home” is not at option.

Various agencies are working to meet the need. The Rescue Mission has overnight facilities for both women and families Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministries has Steadfast House, temporary transitional housing for female veterans and children.

But the need is growing, especially for programs of some duration. Clients at Room in the inn may stay as long as nine months

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

, and they are not necessarily people such as Pressley, who was homeless only for a short period of time. Consider alumna Donna Ball, who was homeless for 13 years, generally living off her sister and men with whom she lived:

I grew up with parents who were vocal about the fact I was a mistake and that they didn’t want me, so I started using heroin at 11 years old to escape my life.

Today, she lives in her own apartment and has a full-time job working with children and adults with autism. She is married and has a relationship with her children. She has been clean of drugs ever since her first night at Room in the Inn in 2011.

“I knew she was going to make it,” said Sharon Blythe, who since 2009 has been Room in the Inn’s volunteer programs director. “She was honest from the get-go and wanted to get her life back.”

We need more success stories such as Donna Ball’s. Move for Hunger reports that “on a given night, nearly 20 percent of the homeless population had serious mental illness or conditions related to chronic substance abuse.”

That doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands. It means that we get moving. We need more facilities on the model of Room in the Inn, which provide long-term housing and counseling. More and more, we will need entities specializing in those with drug and alcohol problems or mental-health issues.

Room in the Inn is doing a great job but it can’t solve the problem alone.

Susan Lankford’s book “Born, Not Raised” Garners Praise at

Susan Madden Lankford’s book Born, Not Raised: Voices from Juvenile Hall has, since its 2012 publication, earned enthusiastic praise at the website Back in 2012, a reader identified as “Videoclimber” effused:

This book should be required reading for anyone who works with children. Teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, doctors and nurses, foster parents, church workers, and anyone who cares about children will benefit from reading this book. This is not a fun read, but it is very educational and will leave you wanting to help children in some way, shape, or form. These kids, whose drawings and writings are shown throughout the book, are all crying out for love, guidance, and acceptance. Ms. Lankford does a wonderful job of showing us the feelings and reasoning behind the lives of these children.

That same year, “Susan (aka Just My Op)” wrote:

This book and the two others of the trilogy, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes and DownTown U.S.A, should be required reading for anyone who knows people, judges people, or cares about the marginalized of our society.

In this newest book, Susan and daughter Polly tackle the prickly problem of teens who are living in Juvenile Hall, essentially prison for children. Ms. Lankford’s photography is astounding. Her writing is beautiful. But most importantly, she lets the people she and Polly interview speak for themselves.

She has asked some of these teens to write stories or write about themselves or answer questionnaires. That she printed the actual written responses made these writings all the more powerful. Violence, heartbreak, hardened shells hiding broken children, it’s all there for the reading. The photos in the book, both those taken by Ms. Lankford and those taken by others and used for children to write about, are perfect.

This trilogy is so full of compassion and understanding without crossing that treacherous line into being maudlin. The author doesn’t excuse the behavior but explains it. When I read the first book, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, about incarcerated women, I was very impressed but I doubted Ms. Lankford’s ability to live up to that first book. Silly me. The second,DownTown U.S.A., about homelessness, affected me even more. By the time I got to this book, I expected great things and I was not disappointed. I highly recommend it as well as the other two.

That same year, “Emily,” who also gave the book a perfect five-star rating, wrote:

I’m gonna need about a hundred more copies of this book. As a person who is currently transitioning from being a Chemical Dependency Social Worker to being a Children’s Mental Health Social Worker, I found it incredibly timely and useful. The insight into the contributing factors and developmental arrests that lead to juvenile incarceration and dependency on the system was remarkable. The sadness the reader feels as discovering the thoughts and dreams, however stunted, these kids have chosen to share is heartbreaking. One can tell that just by listening to these kids, the author and her daughter have made a difference in their lives, which just goes to show how needy these kids are and how little it would really take to help them be successful. Unfortunately in our society, enough importance is not placed here, where it should be. Politicians pay a lot of lip service to ‘children are our future’ but then funnel the dollars to back up that statement every other place possible. This book would go a long way to raise awareness if every elected leader would just read it.

Two years later, Kristine Hansen, in another five-star review, wrote:

Deep book. More so than I had expected.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

I had thought in picking this up that I would see some stories, maybe some pictures from kids in juvenile detention. I hadn’t expected the psychology – so deep at times, and then so well explained – that would give this book so much depth. And would teach me so much.

I find myself fascinated by the accounts. And motivated to want to do something to make a difference in the lives of young people who are all hurting so much.

I guess I find this a little bit daunting. Some of these youth are already hardened criminals at such a young age. But how can you read such a thing and walk away, unchanged?

This is the beginning of our journey into foster care. I hadn’t expected this book to have anything at all to do with the research I’ve been doing in preparation to opening our home to youth in crises. Here, something that caught my eye and that I’d picked up randomly, lent something important to my studies, and opened my eyes to things that maybe I’d shied away from. I’m thankful to the author for creating this book. And thankful as well that I’d felt that nudge and obeyed in picking it up.

Seven other readers awarded it five stars. Finally, in 2016, “Lisa” summarized:

A really sad but true look at the lives of those inside Juvenile Hall – especially those frequent fliers.

Chicago Jail Seeks to Reduce Births Behind Bars Due to High Bail

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) this summer drafted legislation aimed at reducing the number of babies born in Illinois jails by providing alternatives to incarceration. With the sponsorship of several Chicago Democrats, HB 1464 cleared the statehouse recently with wide bipartisan support in a 106-8 vote; the bill moves to the state senate, where it’s expected to pass with similar support.

Photo by Scott Olso/Getty Images

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The bill would amend the state’s criminal code so that pregnant women who are arrested and likely to give birth before their release or their transfer to a state prison are deferred from jail via counseling, unsecured bonds that don’t require cash or collateral, electronic monitoring (EM), and other alternatives.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said:

Keeping nonviolent pregnant women in jail through their due date because they’re too poor to bond out defies common sense, reason, and thoughtfulness. Lots of things in a perfect pregnancy require a lot of different things to change in someone’s life: eating habits, stress reduction, and access to medical care. You don’t want people to do that while in jail. And for the morons who say ‘Well, then [the women] shouldn’t commit an offense’—some of these women are in here on traffic violations.

The issue came into public focus this June, when 25-year-old Karen Padilla was jailed while seven-and-a-half months pregnant. Chicago police pulled Padilla over for a broken headlight and arrested her on an outstanding warrant for twice violating probation stemming from a 2015 retail theft.

Cara Smith, chief policy adviser to the CCSO, said the case came to their attention because they were looking at people in the jail who had long continuances—court date delays that are common in the Cook County system, particularly where low-income defendants are concerned. The details of this detainment spurred the sheriff’s office to act.

“We were left thinking, ‘How in the hell did anyone sleep at night knowing we were sentencing a nonviolent probation offender to give birth to her firstborn in jail?’” Smith said.

Cook County Jail, the largest single-site jail in the country, held nearly 300 pregnant women in pretrial custody in the year spanning April 2016 to May 2017. The majority of those women were held in jail before their trial date because they couldn’t afford bail; 17 of them gave birth while in custody.

The Vera Institute’s Kristine Riley, who co-authored the 2016 “Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform” report with Swavola, said:

Even though women make up the fastest-growing segment of the correctional population, jails and prisons have yet to really focus on the needs of this demographic. Across the board, jails tend to not have sufficient resources for women’s health; it can be a challenge to get even pads or tampons. There’s really not a lot of focus on pregnant women in particular; there are instances of women giving birth in jail without proper care—and having miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies.

The dangers to pregnant women are especially acute in rural jails. They tend to have even fewer resources [and] less staffing; the local hospital might be farther away.

While Cook County Jail has a medical wing and administers pregnancy tests to incoming female detainees, Dart said pregnant women are better off not being in his jail unless their charges mean they “absolutely have to be.”

“It wasn’t that long ago that I was in the delivery room,” said Dart, a father of five. “At no point did I think a viable option would be to do it in a corrections setting—even in a hospital wing of a corrections setting—and then shortly after the actual birth, wheel the women out of the room, the baby [sometimes] goes into the foster care system, and the woman goes into her jail cell.”

One notable limitation of the bill is that it won’t keep all pregnant women out of local Illinois jails—just the ones who can’t afford bail and whose pretrial detention is scheduled to extend past their delivery date.

The sheriff’s office conceded that the proposed legislation only targets women likely to give birth in jail and doesn’t address women who spend a significant portion of their pregnancy in jail but are released before they deliver.

Noted CCSO spokesperson Sam Randall:

We are looking to expand this. It is phase one of sorts; we’re looking at ways to address pregnant women in general, but wanted to start here, since [giving birth] is one of the more traumatic experiences a woman can experience in detention.

Randall said judges or the county health provider are likely to be the ultimate arbiters determining a pregnant defendant’s risk of giving birth in jail; in Cook County, for example, the Health and Hospitals System or Cermak, the jail’s health facility, will determine which women are at risk.

There are currently no states that have laws specifically aimed at reducing the number of pregnant women in jail across the board. And while the number of women likely to give birth in jail custody is estimated to be small, Dart said the effect of a single jail birth can be significant for the child, the mother, the community, and taxpayers.

“If you can do anything you can from avoiding a child being taken away from its birth family and given to a foster family, you better do it,” he said.

Dart also anticipates the number of births in his jail will drop dramatically following a Cook County judge’s July order to reform cash bail. His proposed legislation is aimed at the rest of Illinois’ counties, where pregnant women are still likely to be held in pretrial custody because they’re too poor to afford bail.

“A lot of this is out of the control of sheriffs because a lot of things come into play before their role, like the arrest and the charges,” Swavola said.

Forcing a legislative issue would ideally create systemic changes at varying levels of law enforcement and the criminal justice system, ranging from the kind of charges and sentences prosecutors recommend to alternative measures judges could pursue instead of incarceration.

Dart said that he’s leaning on his past experience as a prosecutor and lawmaker to come up with alternatives to incarceration that state legislators and district attorneys can get behind.

Instead of pretrial detention, Dart suggested pregnant women who would otherwise be at risk of giving birth in jail while they await their court date could be given r-bonds, where an arrestee is released on their promise to return to court, or i-bonds, where an arrestee pays no money for release, but faces a cash penalty if they fail to appear in court.

Dart said if a judge has concerns about lifestyles such as alcohol abuse adversely affecting a pregnancy, a woman could be released with mandated counseling or doctor appointments—”a range of things that are better than incarceration.”

Swavola and Riley support alternatives like pretrial supervision and voluntary treatment or services. They generally discourage electronic monitoring, one of the most well-known alternatives to pretrial detention, because it can be overly restrictive for pregnant women who may need to make unscheduled doctor visits, errands, or visits with family. In some jails (though not in Cook County), individuals must also pay for the use of a court-ordered ankle monitor.

“We find most women are coming in to jail for low-level charges like drug use and disorderly conduct,” Swavola said. “You wouldn’t need EM for most of these women.”

Dart conceded that electronic monitoring isn’t a perfect solution for diverting pregnant women from jail, but noted that if it is necessary, the jail can shut off the monitor for periods at a time so that women can visit the doctor, go to work, or even visit with family.

“We can be really flexible, but EM is definitely not the first choice as an alternative to incarceration,” he said.

Smith, the sheriff’s chief policy adviser, expressed confidence that the team’s proposal will pass.

“It should sail through, absent any legislative goofiness,” Smith said. She suspected that when lawmakers take a closer look at how existing policies are affecting pregnant women and their newborn babies, they’ll be motivated to make changes. “No one should deliver a baby in jail. Period.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Pathfinders of Oregon Receives $1.3 Million in Federal Grants for Reentry Programs

Pathfinders of Oregon was recently awarded two federal grants under the Second Chance Act Grant program. Totaling $1.3 million, the grants will fund the development and implementation of two pre- and post-release intervention programs over the next three years, and will serve over 200 incarcerated parents returning to Multnomah County. New funding comes in addition to a current $420,000 federal grant that supports 60 young fathers through the Successful Fathers, Successful Families reentry mentoring project.Pathfinders

Through comprehensive support services that include case management, peer mentoring, gender-responsive trauma intervention and parenting classes, Pathfinders’ existing and new programming will work collaboratively across systems to address the significant barriers parents face in returning to the community and successfully reintegrating with their families.
The Holistically Responsive Reentry Program will serve over 150 men and women of all ages, and includes pre-release trauma intervention. The Strong Together: Young Moms & Their Kids project will specifically address the needs of at least 45 young mothers under age 25. Both programs are designed to support releasing individuals at each stage of reentry, and to address their unique needs in a way that prevents further traumatic exposure as they become positive, pro-social community members. Peer mentoring and case management services will prepare participants for release and help them to acquire the skills and access the resources they need to successfully transition back into the community.

Joseph Tietz, PhD, Executive Director of Pathfinders of Oregon. said:

With this significant multiyear funding from the Federal Department of Justice, we will be able to expand our innovative, best-practice and evidence-based interventions for individuals and families impacted by the criminal justice system. It is rare for a single local non-profit to receive three federal grants in one period. This funding speaks to our commitment to high-quality, impactful, trauma-informed programming, to our strong collaboration with the Oregon Department of Corrections and Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, and to our extremely dedicated and talented staff.

A unique feature of the Holistically Responsive Reentry Program is the inclusion of a pre-release cognitive-behavioral trauma intervention program to help individuals understand the impact of the trauma they have experienced, and develop coping and calming skills. Providing parents with these skills prepares them to participate more fully in post-release interventions and reduces the likelihood of recidivism. Research has shown that unaddressed trauma, such as poverty, emotional and physical abuse, an unstable living environment, substance abuse, mental health issues, and unstable family relationships, can undermine the effectiveness of programs intended to reduce criminogenic behaviors.

Truls Neal, Deputy Director of the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, said:

The big winners in this will be the children, who through no fault of their own, endure a loss of a parent in their lives. We are looking forward to working with Pathfinders as they address this critical transition need of parents returning from prison.

Post-release services will include ongoing peer mentoring and case management using the EPICS-I model, collaboration with Parole and Probation Officers and other service providers, advocacy and referral. Parents also will participate in Pathfinders’ evidence-based Parenting Inside Out program. Participants will have access to the resources available at the Center for Family Success, such as childcare during parenting classes, meals and snacks for parents and children, and referral to other agencies and resources. Center services intentionally focus on parenting and family, an area individuals value and are intrinsically motivated to engage in.

The new programs will establish an infrastructure that provides stability for parents as they navigate across systems and face challenging barriers to reentry. If found to be effective, the proposed intervention is designed to be easily and broadly replicable both by Pathfinders and other organizations across the country, further advancing the state of Oregon as a national leader in reentry service improvement and criminal justice reform.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Anchorage Tries Coordinated Homelessness Plan

Anchorage has a plan to end homelessness, but its implementation is just beginning. And as community leaders dig into the details of solving one of the city’s toughest problems, getting everyone on the same page is bound to get messy. So they’re starting with a conversation.

On Monday, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz called together a group of community leaders from social service organizations, businesses, and statewide agencies. In his conference room on the top floor of City Hall, he explained that a lot of money is going toward helping people who are experiencing homelessness:

Even though we are expending resources now, we aren’t making the necessary investments to turn the corner and solve the problem. We are simply managing the problem.

“In order to solve the problem everyone in the room, and the community as a whole, needs to stop competing for financial resources and start focusing on collaboration.

“It’s about finding a way to use the resources we have separately and finding a way of combining them.

Anchorage Homelessness Plan (Courtesy Nancy Burke) with heat maps showing homeless camps

Anchorage Homelessness Plan (Courtesy Nancy Burke) with heat maps showing homeless camps

During the leadership meeting, presenters offered a graphic of how the system needs to change. Up until recently, getting people housing and services has been fragmented – go one place for food, another for temporary shelter. Organizations were working in silos. Housing was given out on a first-come-first-served basis to people who met certain requirements. Some people who stay at Brother Francis Shelter say they’ve been waiting for months and sometimes years for housing and have had to apply to multiple agencies. They just give up.

Michele Brown,president of the United Way of Anchorage, has played a key role in developing the community plan to end homelessness. She said the new plan calls for something different:

The heart of the local plan to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-reoccurring is tailored services to everyone’s unique needs because everyone has their own story and their own reasoning. But Anchorage also needs housing stock. We need to have more affordable housing. And you need to stay with people when they are in that housing long enough to have them become self-sufficient.

That means more outreach to learn about each person’s needs and desires, so they can be quickly matched with appropriate resources.

Though the coordinated plan is just starting now, the city has found housing for about 400 people since mid-2015. But it’s too soon to say if all of them will be able to keep that housing.

Part of the Anchorage Plan to End Homelessness includes an open data portal with things like heat maps showing where many homeless camps are reported to be.

Community leaders at the mayor’s meeting – many of whom work directly in the field – sat in small groups discussing what needs to happen before this plan can really be effective.

Jim Nordlund is the executive director of NeighborWorks Alaska, which provides affordable housing. He said his organization doesn’t have time to track what every other nonprofit is up to:

I know what we do at NeighborWorks Alaska, but I’m not really sure what all the other organizations do. And somewhere somebody should put a matrix together or something to figure out, ‘Ok, this is what all the organizations do,’ and see where the gaps are.

The day after the first leadership team meeting, I went a few blocks northeast of City Hall to the Brother Francis Shelter and Bean’s Café campus. Most people I spoke to there had no idea there was a new plan for helping people get out of homelessness.

A man who only goes by Birdman said he liked aspects of the plan, like the idea of getting people into housing even before they’re sober and making sure they have support networks in place. But he said that should only happen for a limited period of time.

But Birdman, who has been waiting for housing for three years, says providing highly subsidized or free housing only works on a temporary basis:

If we permanently house them, all we’re doing is enabling them. We’re saying, ‘It’s ok.’ Smack them on the wrist and keep going. No.

He himself has been looking for housing for three years, though he remains hopeful. He said people should have to work for their housing.

But Samantha Coyle, who is also homeless, said the city just needs to get roofs over people’s heads, without any restrictions:

If somebody’s got their own place, let them have the dignity and respect to make their own decisions. Too many rules, especially about visitors, lead people to leave their housing and return to the streets.

She said providing housing first will solve many of the problems and will reduce the number of people abusing substances. But if she was really in charge of the plan to end homelessness? She’d build more affordable housing. Lots of it, she said.

Luckily for Coyle, that’s already part of the plan.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

California Enacts Juvenile Justice Reforms

Gov. Jerry Brown Recently signed nine bills to aid young people facing charges and serving time, a victory for a statewide coalition of criminal justice groups that brought together celebrities and former youth offenders in a push to divert children from a path to prison.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford


California inmates serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles will get a chance at leaving prison under one of several criminal justice bills signed into law recently by Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislation conforms state law to recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions banning mandatory life sentences for those under 18 convicted of murder.

SB394 automatically gives the offenders a chance at parole after 25 years, though there’s no guarantee they will be released. State officials said about three dozen offenders will be eligible for hearings over the next three years.

The new laws will increase parole opportunities and ease punishment for people who committed crimes as children or teens. They will allow courts to seal certain juvenile records and limit the administrative fees that counties charge families with children in juvenile detention.

Five of the bills were part of a package of proposals introduced at the beginning of the year by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). The legislation, they said, was based on studies showing that adolescent brains have not fully matured and research that found court practices and fines disproportionately affect low-income and black and Latino children. Mitchell said:

Sadly, too many poor kids and kids of color today are more likely to end up as victims of the juvenile justice system. If one believes that our children will be tomorrow’s leaders then we must look through a child-development lens.

Among supporters of the juvenile justice legislation was media commentator Van Jones. A nonprofit co-founded by Jones, #cut50, is working to revamp criminal justice policies and sponsored some of the bills, including a measure that will allow offenders who committed a crime before the age of 23 to apply for the youth offender parole process.

Jessica Jackson, national director and co-founder of #cut50, said she and Jones plan to embark on “a listening tour” in the 10 counties in California that have seen the largest upticks in crime, including Los Angeles, Alameda and San Bernardino.

Their hope is to gather with local elected officials, law enforcement and business leaders to discuss what their communities need to implement the legislation and to ensure offenders are not revolving through jail or prison doors.

“This is a historic victory that brings us one step closer to justice for youth,” Jackson said of the legislation’s approval.

Advocates made some early gains. One bill signed by Brown in July requires defendants to pay for their court-appointed lawyers only if they have been convicted of a crime.

Among the most significant bills recently signed is one that limits cities and counties from collecting fees from families with children under 21 in juvenile detention.

Under its provisions, parents and legal guardians will no longer be liable for the costs of transporting minors to juvenile justice facilities or for their food, shelter, drug tests or other care while there.

Those fees vary widely by county, and momentum to revamp the payment systems had been building as the burdens on families steadily continued to climb. Juvenile hall costs range from $3.18 to $49 a day, while daily charges for electronic monitoring are between $3.50 and $30.

At least four counties — Los Angeles, Alameda, Santa Clara and Contra Costa — have repealed or suspended their collection of fees, according to a study released in March by the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley Law School.

That analysis found that many counties engage in fee practices that violate state and federal laws, while some make little revenue or even lose money due to the work it takes to obtain payments from parents and guardians.

Among vocal critics of the court fees is California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. More than 60% of the $1.7 billion generated by the payments goes to fund court programs and services at the state and local levels, she said last year in her judiciary address to the Legislature.

“We have a system of fines and fees that has morphed from a system of accountability to a system that raises revenue for essential government services,” she said.

Among the former youth offenders to applaud the changes was Joel Aguilar, who told lawmakers at a hearing that he was sentenced to life without parole at 17 for his involvement in a robbery and a murder. After serving 25 years in prison, he is now a college student studying philosophy.

“My punishment told me that I was unworthy of redemption,” he said in a statement. “But as I began to meet people who were good, talented, sensitive and generous, I began to believe that I could do good in the world.”

The high court last year ruled that nearly all juvenile offenders should eventually have a chance at parole unless their crime reflects a “permanent incorrigibility.” The justices, and lawmakers backing the bill, cited juvenile offenders’ lack of development and potential for change.

A related bill expands the state’s youthful parole program, which already requires that inmates who were under 23 when they committed their crimes be considered for parole after serving at least 15 years. AB1308 raises the age to 25.

California lawmakers have also filed a package of bills in an attempt to divert children from a school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately affects low-income and black and Latino families.

Sens. Mitchell and Lara  have introduced eight proposals that would extend protections for children facing arrest or detention and ease punishment and burdensome fees for those inside the juvenile justice system. Mitchell and Lara said they wanted their legislation to center on prevention, rehabilitation and keeping families together.

Mitchell said:

Jail is no place for a child under 11. Children are not pint-sized adults. They have a developmental process that they go through to grow into adults. So, for us to expect that a child will have the same judgment, understanding of legal terminology is simply naive.

One of the juvenile justice bills filed this legislative session would take those protections further, requiring people younger than 18 to consult with an attorney before waiving their constitutional rights in interviews with police.

Other proposals would prohibit authorities from incarcerating children 11 and younger and mandate that judges cannot sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole. 

A report released in February by Human Impact Partners, a research and advocacy organization, found black and Latino children made up 88% of young people tried as adults.

The latest victory for criminal justice advocates was Proposition 57, which will now require a judge’s approval before most juvenile defendants can be tried in an adult court.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Why Oklahoma Imprisons So Many Women

For over 25 years, Oklahoma has led the nation in the rate at which it sends women to prison. Roughly 151 of every 100,000 Oklahoma women are behind bars — twice the national average.

Robyn Allen stands in the prison yard at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, Oklahoma. Allen is one of about 1,200 prisoners, including one woman sentenced to death. Allen is serving a 20-year sentence for possession of 20 grams of methamphetamines. 

At a recent national event, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said her’s state’s number one ranking was a “dubious honor” and not something she’s proud of.

“I’ve jokingly told crowds we don’t have meaner women in Oklahoma. We just have some that have some issues,” she said.


Drugs and drug-related crimes, even simple possession, are some of the top reasons women enter the state’s criminal justice system. And, they’re staying longer. Stephens County, a mostly rural area where Allen is from, had the third-highest rate of women in prison. Allen is serving 20 years for possession of methamphetamines — two times longer than the state average.

While other conservative states have reduced sentences for drug crimes, Oklahoma has headed in the opposite direction. Judges and prosecutors haven’t reformed the number of sentences for women. Some have increased women’s sentences for drug crimes over the last decade. Voters, tired of waiting for legislative change, used a referendum last fall to make drug possession a misdemeanor. Those changes took effect in July.

In Tulsa County, the rate for sending women to prison has decreased over the last seven years. That’s due, in part, to a program funded by oil billionaire George Kaiser that aims to send women to treatment instead.

Susan Sharp, a national expert on female incarceration and a professor emeritus at the University of Oklahoma, says women are collateral damage in the war on drugs. She wrote a book called, “Mean Lives, Mean Laws: Oklahoma’s Women Prisoners.” She took the name after having a conversation with a former colleague at the University of Oklahoma about the state’s prison system. She explained:

He very proudly showed me the women’s prison and then even more proudly told me that Oklahoma had the highest female incarceration rate. I asked him why he thought that was. He looked at me and he said, ‘Oklahoma has mean women.’ And after I picked my jaw off the floorboard of his car, I thought about not coming here. … Then I decided that maybe they needed me here.

Sharp’s research shows that poor women in rural areas receive longer sentences, while those who can afford private attorneys get less time for the same crimes:

There are some counties that are extremely harsh, that almost anyone convicted will go to prison. The district attorney is the most powerful player in the courtroom. … And if they are trying to build a reputation of being tough on crime, they’re basically going for the low-hanging fruit.

If the current trend continues, the state’s prison system is expected to grow by nearly 60 percent over the next 10 years. Prisons are already bursting at the seams. Mabel Bassett is over capacity. Bunk beds line the dayroom, where prisoners take classes, socialize and make phone calls.

Joe Albaugh, the director of the state’s prison system, wants reform. Albaugh directed FEMA under George W. Bush, so he’s used to handling a crisis. Oklahoma’s ballooning prison population, however, is something else.

From his office on the campus of a minimum security prison in Oklahoma City, Albaugh tried to answer the question of why some of Oklahoma’s prison sentences are so long:

Judges say, ‘You know, you’ve been before me five times, Suzy Jones, and there won’t be a sixth time. I’m going to send you to prison so you can get some help.’ Practically, there is no help in prison. We are very limited in our programs, and there just is the belief that we ought to “lock them up, throw away the key.” And it doesn’t work.

Albaugh says the state needs to spend less money sending women to prison and more money on treatment. The state spends $500 million a year on prison — about twice as much as it costs to provide treatment on the outside. This, in a state where school budgets have been slashed and some districts can only afford to send kids to school four days a week.

Albaugh adds:

Ninety-four percent of our population returns to society. And what do we want? We want better neighbors. And the way we’re doing things and approaching things in our criminal justice system when it comes to prisons, we’re just a warehouse organization; that’s all we are. If we don’t do something different, our population with women will increase 57 percent over the next 10 years.

That growth is huge when compared to other red states like Utah, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas. They’ve chosen to reduce their prison population and reform their criminal justice system.

Tulsa DA Steve Kunzweiler has one theory why women like Allen in smaller towns get longer prison sentences. He’s been a DA in mostly rural counties and says, in small communities, everybody knows everybody’s business.

Kunzweiler says:

Everybody knows who that lawbreaker is. And so there is an expectation to, at some point, ‘get this person off my street because I’m tired of them breaking into my barn or breaking into my outbuildings.’ It’s hard to convince the community that you need to wrap your arms around the very person that you’re cognizant that is probably going to be going out stealing stuff.

Incarceration doesn’t just affect one woman. When you send a woman to prison, it can affect generations of Oklahomans. Often, women are the sole breadwinners and caretakers of children. When they go to prison, kids may end up with their dad, who may be the reason mom is in prison in the first place. Some kids end up with other relatives who don’t want them or have a full house already. Some end up in foster care.

A recent study by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services shows that if mom goes to prison, there’s a good chance one of her kids will, as well. Susan Sharp knows about that domino effect.

“You can sometimes find … three generations of a family incarcerated at the same time. For example, a mother, a grandmother, the daughter,” she said.

The majority of women incarcerated in Oklahoma are doing time for nonviolent crimes and drug-related offenses. As Sharp explains, women, particularly mothers, are treated more harshly and sometimes receive longer sentences than men because their crimes are drug-related:

I think the general population of the state feels that a woman — particularly a woman who has children — who uses drugs, violates all the norms in a way that they find unacceptable and they would rather see those children grow up in foster care than to be with a mother who had a drug problem.

Sharp also explains that Oklahoma has outdated attitudes about what constitutes proper womanhood:

This is an extremely conservative state and an extremely religious state and very evangelical and a lot of biblical literalism. So, the belief that women have a certain role in society — that role is to give up themselves and put themselves and their own wants, goals, desires secondary to taking care of their husband and children.

According to the data, Native American women comprise 12 percent of Oklahoma’s prison population, while representing only 9 percent of the state’s population. Muscogee Creek Nation’s Reintegration Program is one way to ease the transition from prison to home. It’s funded by the tribe and helps ex-offenders get jobs, housing and rebuild their lives while supporting Native American culture. Tony Fish, the program manager, laid out the key reasons he thinks the program works:

I feel like, on our state side, we don’t hold the value in people like we do our tribal side, because that is part of our culture and who we are. We hold value in people, and we look at things through different lenses.

The program isn’t just for Native people. Fish explained they have resources for non-Indians, too. They visit prisons frequently, targeting inmates when they are about to go home.

So far, the program has helped hundreds of inmates transition from prison yard to a home since 2012. It’s funded by a mix of money from the tribe’s gaming efforts and other business ventures.

Another bright spot is a program in Tulsa called Women in Recovery. When a woman pleads guilty, a judge can sentence her to Women in Recovery. The program lasts 12 to 18 months and has helped hundreds of women with job training, finding a place to live, reconnecting with their children and dealing with the trauma that landed them in prison in the first place.

At a recent graduation, Rona Stone spoke to a crowd of supporters and families. She spent nearly her entire life suffering from addiction, selling drugs and losing her teenage son to gang violence before she came to Women in Recovery.

“I have been trying for 27 years to fight this disease on my own, but I realized I just couldn’t do it. Women in Recovery saved my life,” Stone said.

If programs like Women in Recovery work so well, then why aren’t there more programs like it in the state? One of the biggest reasons is lack of funding. The program in Tulsa is funded by oil billionaire George Kaiser. The other reason is pushback from powerful prosecutors who don’t favor reducing sentences.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

San Diego Program Helps Inmates Avoid Returning to Prison

While Desiman Miller was incarcerated at the East Mesa Reentry Facility (EMRF), he made a promise to himself — he would learn as many new skills as he could during his time there so that when he left he would have the best chance for success. He enrolled in more than 25 classes and spent his free time reading.

In greater San Diego, Desiman and justice-involved individuals like him have more than a 50 percent chance of going back to jail after release within three to five years. This dire statistic makes it very hard for ex-offenders to rebuild their lives, to reconnect and support their families, and to be a positive influence in their communities.

EMRF Inmates/Photo by Nelvin C. Cepeda. S.D.Union-Tribune

EMRF Inmates/Photo by Nelvin C. Cepeda. S.D.Union-Tribune


Employment is critical to successful re-entry. When an ex-offender finds and retains work, the likelihood of reoffending is significantly reduced. Unfortunately, the chance of an ex-offender finding employment is uncertain at best.

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said,

When someone leaves a county or local jail, very real barriers too often stand in their way as they try to find a career and lead a successful life. We have to do more to help them land on their feet as they return to their communities.

Ensuring employment as a means of breaking the cycle of recidivism is a common-sense approach that strengthens communities and improves public safety.

An innovative partnership between the San Diego Workforce Partnership, Second Chance, and the county sheriff’s and probation departments has resulted in the creation of career centers within EMRF and the Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility (Las Colinas). The two-year program, called Reentry Works San Diego, will provide 1,000 justice-involved individuals with critical services including: pre- and post-release employment readiness, assessments, résumé assistance, interview skills, entrepreneurial workshops, mentorship, a computer lab for job searching, placement services, and access to support and training post-release.

At Las Colinas, an all-female facility, approximately 65 percent of the ex-offenders return home to care for children. Reentry Works staff not only focus on employment skills but also connecting participants to child care and other support services prior to release.

We are on the right path. We are more than one year into the program and initial results show a significant reduction of recidivism. So far, only 13 percent of those individuals who participated in pre-release activities have recidivated. Remarkably, only 3 percent of those individuals who have participated in pre- and post-release activities have returned to jail. At an investment of only $850 per program participant, the return on investment has proved to be invaluable.

While this effort represents a big step forward in the challenge of effectively reconnecting the justice-involved to our communities, more must be done. There are approximately 8,000 inmates in county correctional facilities. Every year, 95 percent re-enter our communities. Our vision is to implement Re-entry Works in every prison and jail in San Diego County. Imagine the impact to our communities, to the family members of those incarcerated, and the individuals who have done their time and are ready to become productive members of our region.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown brought this message to San Diego, highlighting training programs in our state’s jails and calling upon our region’s employers to find the potential in ex-offenders who can add value to the workforce and to hire them.

We are very optimistic that these smart investments will increase successful re-entry and employment rates, improve public safety and build stronger neighborhoods.

The next step to making our vision a reality is to build on these programs and find more investors. We need the public and private sector in our region to fund programs like these and help make this vision a reality. Federal funds are just a start. Our community now needs to embrace and invest in this model. Re-entry Works really works.

Desiman recently exited EMRF, graduated from Re-entry Works and immediately landed a job. “I probably wouldn’t be as confident as I was in my job search,” Desiman says. “Knowing that I can get a job because I’ve already got these skills … [Re-entry Works] helped me out a lot.”

Breaking the cycle of recidivism and connecting justice-involved individuals to employment has been proven to work. There are no easy fixes. Rebuilding a life after release is challenging, but we all benefit when more individuals like Desiman remain with their families, get jobs, and rejoin our community.

The authors of this article are County Sheriff WILLIAM GORE, Chief County probation Officer ADOLFO GONZALES & CEO of San Diego Workforce Partnership PETER CALLSTROM.

Other San Diego programs that aid inmates preparing to enter society are detailed in Susan Madden Lankford’s film “It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing, available through this blog.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Alaska Vocational Education Improves Inmate Confidence, Prospects

In Alaska, two-thirds of people who leave prison end up going back within three years. Former inmates who can find decent jobs within a year of release are half as likely to re-offend, according to an Alaska Department of Labor report.
So how does the Department of Corrections want to cut recidivism? By teaching the trades.

Wesley Nicholl/Photo by Anne Hillman, Alaska Public Media

Wesley Nicholl/Photo by Anne Hillman, Alaska Public Media

Wesley Nicoll is learning carpentry as he nears the end of his sentence at Wildwood Correctional Center in Kenai. Nicoll said it’s an important supplement to the substance abuse treatment he’s received while incarcerated. “To keep my hands busy — I feel ready to be productive when I get out,” he said. It’s a huge change from his last release three years ago. “Before I was just getting released and being relatively aimless.”

Nicoll has been in and out of prison for about 12 years, mostly for drug-related crimes. He developed an addiction to opioids after a couple of severe injuries.
In the past, he was released without feeling like he developed any skills or support systems in prison.
“The last time I got out, looking for work and getting turned away multiple times, it got extremely frustrating,” he said. “After so long, I just kind of gave up and went back to what I knew,” using and selling drugs.
Which is what Department of Corrections staff, like vocational instructor Tim Ward, are trying to prevent. Two years ago, Wildwood didn’t offer much to help prepare people for release.

Ward walked through the vocational education center, which is still in a state of expansion.
“This building used to be a storage area. It was just full of racks with pallets of junk,” he said, laughing at the memory. Now it has a new classroom, a small area for carpentry, and extensive metalworking tools. Ward has his students build practical items that can be used, like sheds and barbeque grills. They even built the booths they learn to weld in. Participants can earn national certifications, too.

“The whole hope is they can get out of prison, get a job, and not come back. And this is the tool for that,” he said.

Wildwood Superintendent Shannon McCloud said the vocational education program is just an example of ways corrections institutions across Alaska are trying to be more than just punitive warehouses for people. There’s a push for more programs in every state prison that help inmates develop the skills they need to re-enter society and stay there.

McCloud, who has worked in corrections for more than 27 years, says:

The whole idea of incarceration has changed. I think people realize that these people are going to get out of jail. So, what can we do to put out a better product than what we received? So let’s work with them. Let’s get them out. Let’s try to help them not come back. I mean, that’s our motto.

She said the idea behind the vocational education classes was to give people viable skills to seek jobs, but the program is accomplishing a lot more.
The inmates are “different when they’re over there. I mean, they’re like men. They’re not like these punk kids, ‘cause they know that’s what they’re supposed to be over there. Grow up. Get a skill. Move on,” she said.

And moving on is exactly what Nicholl is doing. When we meet againa month later – it’s at a bustling coffee shop in south Anchorage. He released from Wildwood a week earlier.

Through his family, he’s already received some job offers based on the certifications he earned at Wildwood, but he wants to find a job on his own.
The certifications help, he said.

“It makes me a lot more confident while I’m job searching, that’s for sure.”
He also has a full ride to college starting in January thanks to the help of his Native corporations.
Nicholl said it’s the first time in six years he’s released from prison prepared and sober – and he actually wants to stay that way.

“I spontaneously smile. I spontaneously catch myself laughing because it’s hard to believe it’s real sometimes,” he said, grinning.

He took a sip of his coffee, prepared to look for a job and move on with his life. He said he’s scared but ready.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

San Diego Needs a Permanent Homelessness Policy, Theisen Claims

Members of the Coronado Roundtable were treated to an in-depth look at the problem of homelessness in San Diego recently when Thomas Theisen, the immediate past president of the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness, a retired patent litigation attorney and longtime community volunteer, addressed the issue.

Theisen discussed how other communities such as Houston, Chattanooga, Fresno, and the state of Utah have significantly reduced their situational homeless and chronic homeless populations, the latter defined by the Federal Housing and Urban Development Department, as those who have been homeless for more than twelve months and are disabled. Many cities and some states (Connecticut and Virginia) across America have completely eliminated veteran homelessness.

The situation in San Diego is not as rosy. Total homeless grew from 8,506 in 2014 to 9,116 in 2017. The chronic homeless population grew from 1007 to 1750 (an increase of 72 percent) during the same period, and is especially serious. Veteran homeless population decreased from over 600 in 2015 to 454 in 2017, but is still a major problem.

While San Diego was a pioneer in transitional housing like Father Joe’s Village, which provides dormitory-style accommodations for 12-18 months, Theisen said such programs are generally not successful. They create a revolving door for the homeless, under-serve the chronic homeless, and provide short-term benefits at best. The same is true of homeless “safe zones” with temporary tent housing.

Theisen said that San Diego’s major problem is the lack of adequate permanent housing for the homeless. It needs to adapt what he calls a “Homeless First” policy, wherein the homeless are immediately moved into permanent, not transitional, housing, and their individual circumstances, such as the cause of their homelessness, substance abuse, and mental illness are subsequently addressed. This “Housing First” policy has been very successful in getting the homeless off the streets in New York and Seattle.

San Diego’s lack of low-income housing is exacerbated by high cost, a lengthy permitting process and, most importantly, its low priority with the local government. It needs a strong advocate and aggressive leadership.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

In closing, Theisen stressed the following points:
-75 percent of San Diego’s homeless are local and 95 percent of the 5000 interviewed in 2017 said they would move off the street if affordable housing were available.
-What should one do when a homeless person asks for money? Reply” I’m sorry, I don’t do that.” Better still, take them to a fast food restaurant and buy them a meal. Giving money may make you feel better, but offers them no benefit.
-The most important thing local citizens can do is support affordable housing and become an advocate for them with their elected representatives.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford