Archive for Humane Exposures

Our Book Explores Family Origins of Delinquent Behavior

If all children are born pure and innocent, how do they end up in in detention? Are they genetically predisposed, does their environment play a factor, is society responsible and what can be done to prevent their incarceration? These are the tough questions Susan Lankford tackles in her book, Born, Not Raised: Voices From Juvenile Hall.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photojournalist and anthropologist, Lankford became aware of America’s disenfranchised in our streets, the emotionally and physically incarcerated, children in juvenile hall and in unsettled homes and began to turn her camera lens and energy on their lives and challenges.

Born, Not Raised is the third part of a trilogy exposing the lives of America’s downtrodden. Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time and downTown U.S.A.: A Personal Journey with the Homeless are the first two books in the award-winning series. Her executive-produced film, It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing takes an in-depth look at a central crisis in the American criminal justice system, stressing the social and economic value of remediation.

In the final volume of her trilogy on interlinked social issues, Lankford explores the troubled psyches of young people incarcerated in San Diego’s Juvenile Hall. The perspectives of psychiatrists, neuroscientists and experts in the field of juvenile justice—combined with striking contributions elicited from the youths themselves—underscore the social and neurobiological impacts of childhood trauma.

Born, Not Raised aims to have a dramatic impact on social policy with its powerful call to action for educators, social workers, psychologists, criminal justice and corrections professionals, as well as parents and parents-to-be.

Lankford says:

I am convinced that early education and youth development are the most effective strategies for breaking the cycle of at-risk behavior and helping our country’s youth thrive.

Born, Not Raised explores: 1) Early childhood development as a determinant for young people turning, or not turning, into at-risk youths; 2) teen pregnancy and gang membership as markers for far more serious and pervasive social issues; 3)
the need for stronger public education and charter schools; 4) programs that work to initiate and excite at-risk youths about learning, discovering and finding their strengths and talents and 5) the critical need for a good-enough, consistent, loving and nurturing figure in the life of a child – especially for children in foster care, and single parent homes.

Lankford adds:

As a society, we can’t afford to ignore those who are marginalized, stuck in the emptiness of poverty, family violence, abuse, or addiction. Together we must search for solutions so that a beautiful life is possible for all the children who are born into and, when necessary, raised by a caring larger society.

Kansas Legislature Permits Early Release of Some Inmates to Become Parents in Communities

The Kansas Department of Corrections now has authority to release some inmates from prison up to a year early to go home and be parents. A Senate conference committee added language into a substitute House bill during the Legislature’s veto session in late April creating “community parenting release.”

The release is for low- or moderate-risk

Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

offenders, said Adam Pfannenstiel, Kansas Department of Corrections communications director. They will likely primarily use it for female inmates, though it is not restricted to woman, he said.

Pfannenstiel said:

Prior to this bill, we actually had a statute in place allowing certain groups of inmates to serve their sentences in the community,” “We wanted to expand it so those who complete appropriate parenting classes and have guardianship over minor children at home might be considered for finishing their sentences in the community.

The DOC has not actually used the previous early release mechanism, though it has been in place more than a yea. Still, they proposed the expansion after learning of a similar program in the state of Washington. “It this point, we have the policy in place,” Pfannenstiel said. “As we carry it out, we’ll look to see who fits it.”

The Senate conference committee amended the original proposal to restrict it to those serving sentences for severity level 4 or lower crimes on the state sentencing grid, or severity level 3 to 5 drug crimes. To qualify, offenders can have no convictions for sex offenses or an “inherently dangerous felony.”

The committee, however, also removed a requirement for GPS tracking and allowed parole officers, as opposed to Community Corrections officers, to supervise the offenders.

The law requires participating inmates complete a parenting class, but it does not specify any specific program.

“It will depend on what their needs are,” Pfannenstiel said, noting the DOC offers some classes, but it may include programs taught by volunteers or others within the community.

Prior to a determination for release, the KDOC will seek information from the Department of Children and Families about any civil Child in Need of Care cases filed on the offender “to determine the best interests of the child.”

The state must also approve the offender’s residence and living arrangements prior to a transfer.

“DCF’s input would be provided on a case-by-case basis, and would be determined by the facts and circumstances of individual cases,” said DCF spokesperson Theresa Freed. The agency declined to offer additional comment on the program.

The Secretary of Corrections retains authority to return an offender to prison if they fail to comply with requirements of the release.

Why Close Women’s Prisons and Treat Their Crimes More Fairly

Women almost never scare us, commit random acts of serious violence, violate our sexual integrity, or form organized crime networks and yet their prisons numbers are now the highest in recorded history. The homogeneity of the human species breaks down when it comes to criminal behavior. Women, who constitute slightly more than 50% of population, commit only about 20% of all crime. They commit even a lower portion of all serious crime.

Episode of fFoxtel Australia's thrilling, dark drama "Wentworth"

Episode of fFoxtel Australia’s thrilling, dark drama “Wentworth”

The sentencing system should be reformed to reduce the growing number of female prisoners but the changes should go much further than has been suggested. We should implement concrete targets to remove the stains on our landscape and societal ethic that are women’s prisons.

Professor Mirko Bagaric, Director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Sentencing at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia, says:

There are remarkably similar patterns of female offending and incarceration in the United States and Australia. In the United States women commit only 17% of felonies, while in Australia they commit about 13% of the crimes dealt with in the higher courts.

Moreover, when it comes to sexual offences, rounded off to the nearest whole number, women constitute 0% of all offenders. The crimes they most commonly commit are drug and property offenses. Thus, in the US, approximately 30% of female prisoners are incarcerated for property offenses, and a further 26% for drug offenses.

Women do of course commit homicide offenses, but nearly always the victim is a relative and the crime was committed against the backdrop of an abusive relationship or depressive mindset. All homicides are heinous crimes but the types of homicides committed by women rarely involve random victims and hence do not engender community fear.

Despite this, the rate of female incarceration in both the United States and Australia is on the increase – far outstripping the increase in male incarceration levels. Women now comprise 8% of prisoners in the United States and Australia, which amounts to more than 200,000 incarcerated inmates in the US and 3,000 in Australia.

Bagaric aontinues:

Nearly every one of these incarcerated women is the victim of a perverse and lazy policy disfigurement that fails to acknowledge the marked differences between female and male offenders. The differences are so stark that not only should women be treated more leniently because they commit less serious crime but they should also be treated more leniently when they commit the same crime as a man.

There are four major differences between male and female offenders. First, women are much less likely to reoffend than men. Their recidivism levels are at least 10% lower in both the US and Australia.

Second, when women are imprisoned they suffer more. They have higher rates of mental illness, making it more difficult for them to adapt to and cope with the prison setting. And US studies show that when in prison they are three times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than male prisoners.

Third, society suffers more when we remove a female from it and place her behind a prison wall. More than 50% of incarcerated women are single parents and even in two-parent households, female prisoners typically assume the main child nurturing role. In relation to non-parental dependency, the majority of carers (60%) are females.

Finally, women are often less culpable when they commit crime. There is a profoundly devastating link between child sexual and violent victimization and female offending. US studies show that 23% to 37% of female prisoners reported that they had been physically or sexually abused prior to the age of 18. The rate is even higher in Australia. Incarcerating females is often simply a lamentable case of victimizing the victimized.

The sentencing system should be reformed radically to deal more fairly with female offending. The starting position is that no female offender should be imprisoned. In relation to most forms of crime, they should be dealt with by way of intermediate sanctions including the greater use of electronic monitoring.
Orange is the New Black’s Jenji Kohan: ‘Women tend to be forgotten when they get locked up’

In the rare instances that women commit heinous crimes, community protection and the need to impose proportionate penalties requires a prison term, but this should be the exception, not the increasing norm. The exception is so rare that the utopia of closing prisons would readily become a reality.

Bagaric concludes:

Implementing these changes will not prejudice male offenders. In fact, it is likely that the opposite will occur. It will encourage a normatively sound and empirically grounded assessment of sentencing law and policy. This would result in a bifurcated sentencing system, whereby imprisonment was largely reserved for only serious sexual and violent offenders. This approach would greatly benefit the approximately 50% of male US and Australian inmates who are imprisoned for other types of crimes, such as drug and property offenses.

The approach would save the community billions of dollars annually and go a long way to correcting the unfathomable public policy misstep which has resulted in 10 American states spending more on prisons than higher education. Best of all, it would not cause the slightest reduction to community safety.

 

One Opinion: A ‘Housing First’ Solution Could Actually Stimulate Homelessness

Ralph da Costa Nunez, PhD
President, Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness:

Recent weeks have brought devastating news for many of the shelters coping with a surge of homelessness in cities across the country: The federal funding they have relied on to house, feed, and care for some of the very neediest Americans is going away.

In New York City, well-established and respected shelter operators such as the Bowery Residents Committee, the Brooklyn Bureau of Community Service, and the Doe Fund are seeing their grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) slashed or zeroed out. The same is happening to Camillus House in Miami, Florida; to Vincent Village in Fort Wayne, Indiana; to the Center for Women and Families in Louisville, Kentucky, and to the Institute for Human Services in Honolulu, Hawaii.

What could explain HUD’s actions? It’s not that the problem of homelessness has gone away. To the contrary, it’s worse than ever in some places—with tent cities springing up in places like Los Angeles and Seattle, the mayor of Portland, Oregon, declaring a state of emergency, and New York City’s shelter population hovers near an all-time high.

Nor is there a sudden cash crisis in Washington. The grants were awarded through HUD’s $2.3 billion Continuum of Care program, which actually got a 5 percent boost in 2016.

17_HUMANEEXPOSURES

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

No, what changed was the minds of HUD policymakers. They have become believers in the philosophy know as “Housing First,” which holds that moving people into permanent, independent housing as quickly as possible is the best solution for homelessness. So they’re dramatically ramping up funding for programs that follow that approach, and cutting support for traditional shelters.

“The government is now just giving vouchers out, which puts people in homes and the government pays their rent,” Denise Andorfer of the Vincent Villages told the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. “But the behavior doesn’t change and most end up homeless again.”

“While transitional housing programs play an important temporary role for people experiencing homelessness, permanent supportive housing has demonstrably better outcomes at a lower cost,” HUD spokesman Charles McNally told Politico New York.

But prioritizing what he called “evidence-based interventions like permanent supportive housing,” this year’s grants “should help New York serve more people experiencing homelessness, and with better results,” McNally said.

He acknowledged that shifting priorities could put some shelters out of business. “McNally said HUD would provide guidance to projects that weren’t funded, to help them wind down and determine how to move their clients from transitional housing into permanent housing,” Politico reported.

The apparent basis for calling the money shift “evidence-based” is HUD’s Family Options Study. Following more than 2,000 families in 12 communities over three years, it has been described as the largest-ever research project comparing the effectiveness of different approaches to homelessness. An interim report based on the first 20 months’ experience was published in July 2015.

But the study is only half-finished. And its complex methodology—which focused on what programs families were offered, as opposed to what they actually used—makes its findings difficult to interpret. Certainly they do not come close justifying HUD’s robbing-Peter-to-pay Paul policy.

The solution that came out looking best based on the study’s preliminary—repeat, preliminary—results was permanently subsidized housing, i.e., an open-ended commitment that government will pay a portion of families’ rent. Of course, that approach gets steadily costlier over time, meaning the cost-benefit analysis at 20 months could look very different at 36 months or 10 years.

Nor is a large-scale expansion of permanent housing subsidies realistically on the table. Federal funding for public housing and Section 8 vouchers has been effectively flat for years. The Housing First programs to which HUD is giving grants provide temporary rent support, typically for two years or less. The Family Options Study’s interim report determined that temporary rent subsidies failed to significantly improve the lives of families who were offered them. They appeared less expensive than some alternatives, but the savings diminished over time as families lost their apartments and slipped back into homelessness.

Here’s more evidence HUD should be considering: Under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, New York City experimented with an aggressive housing-first approach from 2005 to 2011, using rent subsidies to move 33,000 people out of shelters.

But two things happened: families who were not equipped to maintain a stable housing situation began to bounce back into shelter (the return to shelter rate climbed to 60%) and instead of going down, the city’s shelter census actually increased. Officials found that families who had been living doubled up with relatives or in substandard apartments saw what they believed was an opportunity to improve their housing, and entered the shelter system to secure their place in line.

If the Housing First approach had that effect in New York, could HUD’s increasing emphasis on the policy in recent years help explain the current surge in shelter populations across the U.S.?

HUD needs to remember that one size does not fit all. A rent voucher might well be the best solution for an otherwise self-supporting family that has suffered a temporary setback, such as an illness or lost job. But what drives most families into shelters are deeper-seated issues, such as a lack of education and employment skills, mental illness, substance abuse, and domestic violence.

A rent voucher by itself will not make those issues go away. Some families need the support, education, therapy, training, and safety that only transitional shelters can provide. Yet thanks to HUD’s policy, many of those safety-net organizations must now scramble for alternative funding or contemplate the unthinkable.

When will we understand that there never was—or ever will be—one simple path to ending homelessness? Its causes remain multifaceted, requiring a combination of permanent housing, transitional housing, and emergency shelters with requisite services to fight that battle.

Miami’s Camillus House stands as an example of a torn safety net. Shed Boren, Camillus’ executive director, is stunned:

I don’t know what we’re going to do to find the money to make up for this loss’ he told the paper’s editorial board. Camillus alone will lose 75 percent of funding for its Day Center, that represents $346,000 of the center’s $461,000 annual budget. The center is an oasis for those without a roof over their heads, a place where they can shower, find counseling and a mail center, in addition to finding a meal — more than 300 are served each day. The loss of HUD money, will derail the county’s master plan to do away with homelessness by December 2017. I don’t think HUD realizes how impactful this cut will be for Miami-Dade.

With examples such as this it is fair to say that HUD—in the name of housing the homeless—has paradoxically adopted a policy that could stimulate homelessness. By withdrawing the very funding that supports this nation’s homeless safety net, HUD is leading the nation down a perilous path.

Despite Four Supreme Court Rulings, Politics Determines if Juvenile Lifers Get Parole Chances

Almost everyone serving life in prison for

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

crimes they committed as juveniles deserves a shot at going home is the thrust of a series of Supreme Court rulings, the fourth and most recent of which was decided this year. Taken together, the high court’s message in these cases is that children are different than adults when it comes to crime and punishment—less culpable for their actions and more amenable to change. As such, court rulings have determined all but the rarest of juvenile lifers are entitled to “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”

The court left it up to states how to handle this year’s new ruling but suggested parole boards were a good choice. “Allowing those offenders to be considered for parole,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in January, gives states a way to identify “juveniles whose crimes reflected only transient immaturity—and who have since matured.” Most states have taken this option, changing juvenile lifers’ sentences en masse from life without to life with the possibility of parole.

But prisoner’s rights advocates and attorneys have begun to argue that parole boards, as they usually operate, may not be capable of providing a meaningful opportunity for release. A handful of courts have agreed.

Last month, a New York state appeals court judge ruled that the state’s parole board had not “met its constitutional obligation” when it denied parole to a man who had killed his girlfriend when he was 16. Dempsey Hawkins is now 54 and has been denied parole nine times in hearings that, the court said, did not adequately weigh what role his youth and immaturity had played in his crime.

Also last month, a group of juvenile lifers in Maryland filed suit, arguing that not a single juvenile lifer had received parole in that state in the last 20 years.

The lawsuit says:

Rather than affording youth a meaningful and realistic opportunity for release…grants of release are exceptionally rare, are governed by no substantive, enforceable standards, and are masked from view by blanket assertions of executive privilege.

Similar suits are proceeding in Iowa, Michigan, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, where a judge heard oral arguments in mid May.

Sarah French Russell, a Quinnipiac University law professor who studies juvenile justice, said:

There are just two relevant kinds of sentences: those that provide a meaningful opportunity for release and those that don’t. Sentences that are not technically labeled life without parole can deny a meaningful opportunity for release because of the procedures or criteria used by the parole board.

In almost every state, parole board members are political appointees with little incentive to release prisoners who committed violent crimes. Boards operate with wide discretion to make decisions for almost any reason, and in many states, their decisionmaking is shielded from public view and not subject to appeal. A recent analysis by the University of Minnesota law school found that parole release rates in many states remain stuck under 10%, even as the country searches for solutions to mass incarceration. In Ohio, 7% of hearings result in parole being granted. In Florida, the 2014 grant rate was 2%.

One common basis for parole denial is the seriousness of the crime. This may be an allowable metric for adult offenders, these lawsuits argue, but in light of the Supreme Court’s rulings, juvenile lifers must be judged by a different standard.

“No meaningful opportunity [to prove rehabilitation] can be granted where the only consideration at a parole hearing is the severity of the offense,” wrote attorneys for Blair Greiman, who was sentenced as a teenager in Iowa to life without parole for kidnapping and rape, then re-sentenced after the Supreme Court’s rulings.

At 16, high on horse tranquilizers he had stolen from the veterinary supply at his family’s farm, Greiman raped a woman, stabbed her, and left her for dead. Now 50, Greiman says he has a “simple desire to live a decent life and not be defined by the worst act of my life.” In prison, he has earned a degree, become a master woodworker, participated in counseling and treatment and published a novel, the lawsuit says. Yet, repeatedly denied parole because of the seriousness of his crime, Greiman “is effectively placed in the same situation as he was previously—a juvenile offender serving life sentences without eligibility for parole,” his lawyers argue. Fred Scaletta, assistant director of Iowa’s corrections department, said the board cannot comment on pending litigation. Since Greiman filed suit, the board has approved him for placement in minimum security, a step towards work release, and will review him again next year, Scaletta said.

A handful of states have implemented special parole board procedures for juvenile lifers. Massachusetts and Connecticut provide funding for attorneys to represent juvenile lifers before the board. The Massachusetts Supreme Court also said juvenile lifers were entitled to fees for expert witnesses and to appeal the outcome to a judge—all protections that adult offenders do not enjoy.

“In the case of a juvenile homicide offender—at least at the initial parole hearing—the task is probably far more complex than in the case of an adult offender,” the Massachusetts court wrote. Juvenile lifers must be given the chance to prove that their crime was committed, at least in part, because they were young—immature, impressionable, dependent on adults—but to do that requires gathering educational, medical, and legal paperwork, sometimes decades old, from behind bars. “An unrepresented, indigent juvenile homicide offender will likely lack the skills and resources to gather, analyze, and present this evidence adequately,” the court wrote.

California, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Nebraska have all passed laws providing new rules and procedures for parole boards to follow in cases of juvenile lifers.

In New York, attorneys for Mr. Hawkins are lobbying the governor to widen the scope of the court’s ruling in his case and put protections in place for all juvenile lifers facing the state’s parole board.

Even with special protections, lawyers and advocates say, whether juvenile lifers get parole is still largely dependent on the political atmosphere and whims of the board members. From 2013 until last year, half of juvenile lifers who went before the Massachusetts board were granted parole; that rate dropped to zero when a new board chair took over last September. Lawyers for the last 14 juvenile lifers to go before the board—all of whom were denied parole—say they plan to begin filing lawsuits.

New York Should Reinstate Successful “Work Release” Program

According to the American Bar Association, nycthere are upwards of 47,000 laws or local ordinances that penalize those with criminal justice involvement and restrict their full reintegration into civic and social life. The sheer volume of these restrictions may seem paralyzing to reformers – the Kafkaesque “re-entry” maze is certainly confounding to many people leaving prison – but we must take action.

Today, the two greatest challenges facing returning residents are affordable housing and lack of employment experience and marketable skills. For this reason, many state prisoners are released directly into New York City’s shelter system each week, and eventually come to rely on public assistance because of an inability to secure employment.

To that end, New York State must step up and do something substantial to increase reentry success. Reinstituting the work release program – one that has already been tested, and requires no additional research to justify – would address both issues simultaneously. By allowing people to acquire work experience and accumulate some savings to use toward housing expenses, we can provide them with the basis for successful re-entry.

Prior to the late 90’s, all New York State prisoners were work release eligible. If a person was within 24 months of parole eligibility, they could apply for work release. No distinction was drawn between violent versus non-violent charges. According to a March 28, 1994 New York Times article, citing New York State Correctional figures, there were 24,200 work release participants in 1993. By 2010, that number had declined to 1,910. During the 1990s-era hysteria around crime and punishment, then Governor George Pataki, greatly restricted eligibility to the program, by eliminating access to people charged with violent crimes. Ironically, those who may benefit most from the work release experience became excluded—long termers and lifers (people who are parole eligible but have a maximum sentence of life). Subsequently, Governors Eliot Spitzer, David Patterson and Andrew Cuomo have failed to undo these restrictions. This oversight betrays the recent rhetoric around reentry and second chances. National Reentry Week offers an opportunity for Cuomo, and the State Legislature to revisit these decisions and to afford more New York State prisoners access to this valuable, socially responsible program.

How it worked: A person within 24 months of parole eligibility would apply to the Temporary Release Committee at his/her facility seeking admittance into the program. If accepted, they would be relocated to one of various correctional facilities in the community in which they will be eventually paroled and would be required to seek local employment. Once employment was attained, they would report to work each day and return to the facility in the evenings to sleep. Often participants were allowed to stay with pre-approved family members three to four days per week, thus strengthening essential familial and community ties.

Wesley Caines, Re-Entry Coordinator at Brooklyn Defender Services, said:

This program was important prior to its restriction and can be again. First, it served as an opportunity for people, many of whom lacked full-time employment prior to going to prison, to gain practical experience in the workforce; it also allowed for the opportunity to save moneys which could go towards housing costs. It provided a transitional, supervised, landing back into society for men and women some of whom having been away for decades. Currently work release is available only to people convicted of non-violent crimes, most of whom are doing much shorter sentences and presumably are removed from the work force and family contact for a shorter period than those charged with crimes of violence.

While it is true that some prisons offer “programs” (required activities such as, vocational, therapeutic, educational mandates) that might seem at first glance to be job-readying, few of these actually foster marketable skills. Couple that with the average pay of 12 cents per hour, and, after basic commissary purchases, the average state prisoner has little or nothing left for savings. Most will be released back into society with little more than $40.00 (an amount extracted from any source of income a prisoner receives) and a bus or train ticket back to their home county. Those returning to New York City arrive at Port Authority—one block from the heart of Times Square. Housing options for people returning to their communities after prison are abysmal at best and nonexistent at worst. A criminal record restricts some people from residing in public housing, even with family.

Caines continues:

Recidivism is expensive financially and in human cost as well. In 2011, 23,710 people were released from state prison. Of that number, 10,007 eventually returned, or 42.2% (2,041 or 8.6% with new crimes, 7,966 or 33.6% for parole violations). Those of us in the reentry field are well aware that access to adequate housing and gainful employment represent the two strongest indicators for recidivism. It’s far cheaper, more efficient and moral to provide true rehabilitative opportunities for current marketplace job experience. Even with low numbers of participants, work release has shown to be beneficial to people seeking reentry and to local economies. From 1995 to 2010, prisoners participating in work release have earned $148,079,927.73, paid $40,856,515.59 in Federal, State and Local taxes, and inmates have been forced to save $48,277,965.01.

Work release then represents a clear, sensible opportunity for New York State to address two challenges to successful reentry. Let’s not forget that National Reentry Week represents people, our people who have paid us a debt and now must to be made whole. There are ample opportunities for local, state and the national government to be of the people and for the people—47,000 opportunities.

 

More Than 5 Million Kids Have Grown Up With an Incarcerated Parent

The Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzed 2011-2012 statistics nationwide and found that about 5 million children have grown up with a parent incarcerated at some point. “There are too many kids who are suffering because their parents are in prison, and they didn’t do anything wrong,” said Jim Munkres, spokesman of Idaho Voices for Children.

Lauren Necochea, director of Idaho Voices for Children,

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

said it is known that children having an incarcerated parent could have future issues with brain development and performance in school. “We know that when a parent is incarcerated, there is an impact on financial stability (in the family), and toxic stress has long-lasting effects,” Necochea said.

In the recent report, the Annie Casey Foundation stated:

We call on correctional systems, communities and state and local public agencies to help stabilize families and preserve their connections during incarceration — and successfully move forward once parents come home.

The foundation suggested that correctional systems should connect parents returning to the community with opportunities for employment and promote family stability when offenders are re-entering their family’s home.

Kentucky maintains the highest rate of kids with parents who have been incarcerated, at 13%, closely followed by Indiana at 11%. Next at 10% are the states of Oklahoma, Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico and Tennessee. The next worst group of states, with 9% of kids having a parent in the pokey (28% above the national average) are Arizona, Nebraska, West Virginia and Wyoming. The best state is New Jersey with only 3% of children having parents behind bars.

Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation, said.

Our nation’s over-reliance on incarceration has left millions of children poorer, less stable and emotionally cut off from the most important relationship of their young lives. We are calling on states and communities to act now, so that these kids — like all kids — have equal opportunity and a fair chance for the bright future they deserve.

In the last six months, the Idaho Department of Correction has released about 400 inmates onto probation and parole through efforts to reduce the prison population. The newly released inmates were placed back into the community due in part to the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The initiative is a statewide effort to reduce the number people in prison for property and drug offenses and instead keep violent offenders in prison.

Most incarcerated parents in state and federal prisons nationwide are men, and about 45 percent of men age 24 or younger are fathers. For the same age group, about 48 percent of women in federal prison and 55 percent in state facilities are mothers.

The number of children with a father in prison increased by more than half between 1991 and 2007, and those with a mother behind bars more than doubled, according to the Casey Foundation.

Within the Idaho Department of Correction’s custody, about 83 percent of current female inmates have children. That’s about 1,200 of the approximate 1,500 females.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation stated in the report that single-parent household also struggle with poverty due to less income. They found that household income drops by about 22% when a child’s father is incarcerated.

 

 

Racism and Homelessness Deeply Intwined

Numbers show that African Americans and Native Americans end up in the streets and shelters in greater numbers and also stay there longer than their white counterparts. “Black folks are 12.5 percent of the general population but 27 percent of folks living in poverty and about 40 to 45 percent of shelter

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

populations,” Marc Dones, senior analyst for health policy at the Center for Social Innovation. “And the duration and episodes of homelessness tend to be longer and more frequent for blacks and Native Americans.” Dones’ figures reflect numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau.

 

“There’s also a connection to housing discrimination, employment and incarceration,” added Jeff Olivet, the Center’s president and CEO.

The Center for Social Innovation recently hosted a panel on the intersection of racism and homelessness in Boston and throughout the country. Joining Dones and Olivet at the panel was Monica Bharel, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Kicking off the panel, Olivet said:

When we talk about race and homelessness, we have to connect the two. Racism and homelessness are usually discussed as broad, separate issues, but it’s time to infuse a discussion of ‘deep poverty’ into dialogues on racism and to bring race into homelessness.

Dones noted that housing discrimination is embedded in over a century of racist policies, namely, redlining practices. He then showed a map of Boston that featured red splotches over “the areas you’d expect”—communities of color like Roxbury. The Federal Housing Authority wouldn’t back mortgages in those red zones, a practice which persisted until the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Dones explained:

Black people have only been able to get mortgages since the ’70s. Issues exist to this day—for example, blacks are shown fewer options than whites and are offered poorer closing deals.

Finally, Monica Bharel discussed the connection between housing and health:

Place matters more than anything else in health. Housing and income disparities lead to health disparities—and such disparities often overlap with the gap between whites and non-whites.

Bhurel used to work for the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, and while there, she learned the impact that place has on health.

“I would ask my patients ‘what do you need to stay healthy?’ And the most common answer was ‘a home,’” she said.

Olivet and Dones said that policy solutions do exist. For example, the Fair Housing Act has the authority to combat discriminatory housing practices. However, such regulations are totally unenforced. Presidents like Reagan and Nixon opposed housing integration, and Bill Clinton was forced to abandon fair housing goals in the wake of his impeachment scandals.

Dones explained:

It’s not a question of doing new things. It’s about enforcing what’s already on the books. Better communication and standardized language could help agencies coordinate and determine how to award money—specifically distinguishing funds for servicing and those for services. The government could use its money and resources to build housing while letting states and cities handle services.

Olivet mentioned that at the municipal level, communities can analyze numbers to determine the demographics of homelessness and see who’s not getting housing or resources.

The lack of enforcement and subsequent inequality led the New York Times editorial board to call the situation “Housing Apartheid, American Style.” The article concluded that:

In the absence of strong federal leadership, the task of securing fair housing has largely fallen to housing and civil rights groups, which have routinely taken cities and counties and the federal government itself to court for failing to enforce anti-discrimination laws

and that the feds should be ready to withhold money from communities that perpetuate housing inequalities. Currently, the Obama administration is trying to strengthen housing policies and combat discrimination laws.

Virginia and Other States Should Learn From Missouri’s Successful Juvenile Justice Approach

 

Richmond community organizer Da'Quon Beaver

Richmond community organizer Da’Quon Beaver

Missouri’s juvenile justice system has some of the lowest rates in the country for escape, suicide and return to crime. Missouri’s facilities are regional, giving youth the opportunity to be near their families and support networks. The centers are also much smaller, 30 beds on average, than the facility proposed for Chesapeake. Missouri’s facilities are staffed almost entirely by professionals who work directly with youth in addition to providing security, making them less expensive to operate.

The Missouri model is working for young people because it is not based on the outdated prison model. The new proposed facility in Chesapeake is based on the prison model, and so we are unlikely to see the changes we need. Virginia’s Juvenile prisons are failing all of us. The young people coming out of these prisons are worse off for the time they spent there. Their families are stressed and broken by the separation from their children and the financial burden of having to pay child support to the state for their incarcerated child. The communities to which these youth return are less safe.

Da’Quon Beaver, community organizer in Richmond with JustChildren, a program of the Legal Aid Justice Center, says:

I have seen these failures firsthand. I grew up in the juvenile prisons in Virginia after being convicted as an adult for a crime that I committed at the age of 14. I have seen my friends and peers incarcerated for years without visits from their families. I have seen my friends and peers languish in these prisons, receiving inadequate education and therapeutic services. I have seen my friends and peers, upon their return home, struggle to find jobs and make ends meet. I have also seen them end up in the adult prison system or, far worse, dead.

In his budget proposals this year, Gov. Terry McAuliffe promised a new approach to juvenile justice in Virginia. The governor and the General Assembly should be commended for investing in community-based alternatives to incarceration as a part of their budget. However, the governor and House Appropriations leaders have just reached a deal to build a new, 112-bed juvenile prison in Chesapeake, with 64 beds for teens committed to the state and 48 beds for locally detained youth. The General Assembly will vote soon on whether to approve the deal.

Unfortunately, this plan is just more of the same: more prisons for youth in Virginia, not a transformation of the juvenile justice system. Promises of natural light and more therapy cannot change the fact that the facility to be built, at a cost of nearly $40 million to Virginia taxpayers, will still be a prison. Children cannot grow and learn to be good employees, competent parents and productive community members in prisons. Prisons are an ineffective model for juvenile justice. We know there’s a better way.

Beaver continues:

Many of the young people in Virginia’s youth prisons could be better served by remaining in the community. In Roanoke, the Youth Advocate Program is working with high-risk youth and their families outside of correctional facilities. YAP works directly with the family to provide intensive, individualized, holistic care planning and management. An independent evaluation of YAP found that 86 percent of youth remained arrest-free while participating, and 93 percent continued living at home.

I congratulate the General Assembly for choosing to pay for the development of community-based alternatives like YAP in this year’s budget. The fruits of this investment should be realized before committing to build a new prison that may become unnecessary a couple of years down the road.

I am glad that building a new Virginia juvenile justice system is a priority. Investing in community-based alternatives to incarceration could truly be transformational for Virginia’s youth and our communities. However, providing money in the budget for construction of a new prison is a step in the wrong direction. It wastes an opportunity to change the lives of young people and their families and to make neighborhoods safer. Virginia should give the new community-based programs a chance before spending that money.

 

CA Gov. Brown Seeks to Undo His 40–Year-old Error Stifling Inmate Rehab

California Gov. Jerry Brown recently said that the initiative he is promoting for the November ballot would help fix a mistake he made nearly 40 years ago that has sent too many offenders to prison for decades with little hope of rehabilitation. The Democratic governor wants voters to approve a ballot measure that would increase early release credits for inmates who complete rehabilitation programs and allowing earlier parole for nonviolent felons.

He told criminal justice reform advocates gathered for a convention in Sacramento that the initiative would partly reverse the determinate sentencing system that he signed into law in 1977 when he was governor the first time. That law largely dictates criminals’ prison sentences, leaving little room for incentives that Brown says can improve inmates’ behavior.

CA Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr.

CA Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr.

“The problems that I create, I can clean up,” he said to applause. “And I’m cleaning this one up.”

The California District Attorneys Association is challenging whether Brown improperly amended his proposal onto an existing juvenile justice initiative in an effort to get his initiative out quickly.

The association also opposes the initiative itself, arguing that Brown is attempting to reverse numerous state laws and voter-approved sentencing enhancements, with few details or direction on how sentences would be reduced.

Brown said the existing system created two problems.

First, state lawmakers felt that no matter how long the determinate sentences are, they’re never long enough. He said that helped lead to more than 5,000 criminal laws augmented by more than 400 enhancements that can lengthen sentences for factors like repeat offenses or use of a gun.

Second, he said it offers little reward for inmates to improve themselves by participating in rehabilitation programs.

Brown’s proposal would allow the state parole board to consider releasing nonviolent inmates after they complete their primary sentence, without the added time from the enhancements. It would also allow state corrections officials to award earlier release credits to inmates who complete classes or treatment programs.

The move comes as a number of politicians across the country try to walk back decades of get-tough policies. Brown said those led to a surge in prison construction that still left prisons overcrowded until federal judges stepped in. His initiative would also write some of the judges’ sentence-reduction orders into state law.

Similarly, former President Bill Clinton said recently during a tour of three historic black churches in Harlem that his administration “overdid it” with the 1994 crime bill that he acknowledged put too many nonviolent offenders in prison for long sentences.

The state California Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether Brown can continue despite the district attorneys’ challenge.

Brown appealed for support at Monday’s convention as he and other initiative backers scramble to gather the nearly 586,000 valid signatures required for a ballot measure this year.

The two-day convention was organized by Californians for Safety and Justice, an arm of which backed Proposition 47, a successful 2014 ballot measure that reduced penalties for certain property and drug crimes.