Archive for Humane Exposures

A Growing Movement Is Fighting the Criminalization of Homelessness

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Homeless people and their advocates across the United States are pushing back against cities’ attempts to erase the problem of homelessness by criminalizing it and demanding that their basic rights be recognized and protected.

As the national momentum grows around individual states’ proposals for a “Homeless Bill of Rights,” dozens of social justice and homeless advocacy groups in three states have united in the effort, surveying homeless people about their priorities and working to draft legislation to put before lawmakers early next year.

Ray Lyall, a member of Denver Homeless Out Loud, one of the groups behind the initiative, said:

Instead of trying to solve homelessness, cities around the country have criminalized it. We want basic human rights; we want to be able to sleep and we want to be able to sit down. Homeless people are almost always told to get up, to move along; we can’t sleep, we can’t sit. There’s a lot of the general public who come out and hand food out, and they’re trying to stop that. We did a report on the availability of bathrooms here in Denver, and there’s absolutely none  open 24 hours.

Lyall has been doing outreach with Denver’s 11,000 homeless residents to build support for the initiative and says he is very optimistic a homeless bill of rights will eventually pass in Colorado. The coalition of groups pushing for the bill has identified a series of priorities they want legislation to address — from access to toilets to the right to eat and share food in public to the right to sleep in parked cars and in public parks without discrimination.

Many cities’ prohibitions against these activities unfairly target the homeless. Michael Stoops, director of community organizing at the DC-based National Coalition for the Homeless, said:

If you talk to homeless folks, the criminalization of homelessness is a big issue because they are being cited, harassed and arrested for things that they have no control over. They have to sleep in the park; they have to sit on the sidewalk.

Where restrictive laws are in place, the homeless are disproportionately singled out for enforcement, advocates state.

While the proposed bill of rights focuses on “essential” activities like sleeping, eating and sitting, the advocates are also pushing for more substantial, long-term solutions.

Lyall who has been without a home, for a second time, for a year and a half, explained:

We want real affordable housing. What they call affordable housing here is for someone who’s either a nurse or works for the fire department or something like that. There is no real affordable housing; a person making $10 an hour can’t afford a home in this town.

The current effort — in Colorado, Oregon, and California — is only the latest towards the recognition of the rights of the homeless. Three states have already passed similar bills, and others are working to end legalized discrimination against the homeless.

There’s a movement around the country for a homeless bill of rights. Instead of trying to solve homelessness, cities around the country have criminalized it, and so in response to that, many are fighting against proposed anti-homeless laws throughout the country, and the most recent positive outcome has been some states adopting full-fledged homeless bills of rights.

Following the example of Puerto Rico, which passed its own bill in 2007, Rhode Island, in 2012, was the first state to adopt one. A year later, Illinois and Connecticut followed.

Those bills are important victories, but they don’t directly tackle the criminalization of homelessness, critics say. The end result with the Rhode Island bill is that the rich as well as the poor are forbidden from certain behaviors.

Last year, California pushed for a bolder bill, but it was rejected. However as cities and municipalities have cracked down on the homeless by banning their most basic behaviors, support for a broader recognition of their rights has grown.

Stoops said:

California’s homeless bill of rights that got defeated — and advocates are working on having it reintroduced — had a strong component against the criminalization of homelessness. The Rhode Island bill may not be as strong as the proposed California bill, but it was the first in the nation, and we are quite happy that it got passed. There’s always a more idealistic version of any bill, but you always have to look at what’s possible.

In the capital, National Coalition for the Homeless is working to end discrimination against those without a home by adding “homelessness” as a protected class under the district’s 1977 human rights act. If the push is successful, the district will be the first to make it unlawful to discriminate against homeless individuals in housing, employment, public accommodation and educational institutions.

Stoops said:

Here in Washington DC, our initial goal is to get homelessness added to DC’s civil rights law. The criminalization of homelessness is an issue, but so is discrimination. Right now, it’s legal to discriminate against the homeless population, meaning that landlords and employers can refuse to rent to or hire people simply because they are homeless. We want to stop that.

Critics Point to Serious Problems in Louisiana’s “Reformed” Juvenile Justice System

Photo from Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Photo from Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Reports of guards molesting children, gladiator-style fighting and a lack of basic education for kids as young as 14 once gave Louisiana’s juvenile justice system the reputation of one of the worst in the country. So in 2003, the Louisiana Legislature passed sweeping reforms. Over time, those efforts helped whittle down the number of kids locked in sprawling, prison-like facilities, from more than 2,000 to about 350 today.

Rather than locking up juveniles, Louisiana now relies more on community-based services such as family therapy to deal with behavioral disorders and drug addiction. New rules in youth facilities forbid restraining chairs, mace and excessive time in solitary confinement. On paper, Louisiana is called a “model” state by reform agencies, almost achieving what criminologist Barry Krisberg calls the “American juvenile justice ideal.”

But people close to the system say Louisiana’s reform efforts haven’t gone nearly far enough to be considered a model for anything. Frustrated family members, defense lawyers and criminal justice reform advocates sharply criticize the way the state treats its youngest convicts. Many say the state’s juvenile justice system is regressing to what made it infamous more than a decade ago.

Grace Bauer, executive director of Justice For Families, a national organization that opposes youth incarceration, says:

Louisiana should be ashamed. The system is not the answer, if kids are getting locked up in one of these cages. It’s so backwards. We’re moving backwards.

Critics say that one of the most telling indicators of this is the state’s lack of investment in facilities that don’t lock up kids, such as group homes and medical treatment facilities. Meanwhile, state officials have decided to build three more prison-like facilities, and construction on one began in August.

Although more juvenile offenders are now in alternative facilities, conditions there sometimes border on inhumane, according to state inspectors. They charge that children are forced to go without prescribed medication, are punished with long stretches in solitary confinement and have been maced by staff.

According to reports by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice, created to oversee the system, provides inadequate monitoring of prison alternatives such as group homes, .

Bauer adds:

We were once ahead of the rest of the country on this stuff, but now it’s almost like the administration is not bothering to read the science that’s out there.

In the 1990s, following a “tough on crime” approach to juvenile justice, Louisiana had the highest youth incarceration rate in the country . And youthful offenders were likely to break the law again. Judges handed out inconsistent sentences, and many juveniles ended up in adult courts.

During a series of public hearings, youth advocates, legislators, judges district attorneys and citizens began to identify problems in the system. In 1995, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch determined that all four of Louisiana’s youth prisons violated international human rights standards.  Tallulah Correctional Center for Youth in the northeast corner of the state stood out, because of its cramped dormitories, windowless isolation cells and pervasive corporal punishment. Children said they never had enough to eat and were often maced by guards.

A 1996 U.S. Department of Justice investigation found that over 20 days 28 children at Tallulah were hospitalized for serious injuries, and some kids clearly suffered sexual abuse. In 1998, the newly formed Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana sued on behalf of youth in Tallulah. When the Justice Department joined the suit,  it kickstarted reform of the juvenile justice system.

Things didn’t get better right away. Six years after the Human Rights Watch report, Bauer’s son Corey was sent to Tallulah on a theft conviction. At that time, fractured jaws, broken noses and punctured eardrums were everyday occurences there. Bauer claims that her 14-year-old son was raped, abused and neglected, suffering heart problems, severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 2003, the Louisiana Legislature passed Act 1225, which laid the foundation for therapeutic approaches. The state closed Tallulah and increased supervision of parolees. And the state Office of Juvenile Justice became separate from the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

Louisiana changed its policies to emphasize community involvement, facilities that are more like homes and follow-up care after incarceration. The new rules targeted kids who hadn’t committed serious crimes, offering them intensive therapy, treatment for drug abuse and mentorships. In the 11 years since, more and more young offenders have gone to alternative facilities rather than adult-like prisons.

Beauregard Parish District Attorney David Burton says:

We have the right idea, but we’re in a transition state and still have a ways to go. We’re doing the best we can with the cards we’ve been dealt.

Louisiana now operates three youth prisons for teenage boys around the state: Monroe, Columbia and Bridge City, near New Orleans. A private company runs a facility for girls in Coushatta in the northwestern part of the state. These places are not nearly as crammed as they used to be. The rate of youth imprisonment in Louisiana dropped by more than half from 2001 to 2010 — one of the biggest drops in the country.

That’s important because kids are more likely to thrive in community-based programs and group homes than in prisons, according to groups such as the Justice Policy Institute.

The Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice contracts with seven non-profit firms to run juvenile group residences and inpatient treatment facilities, and others are available through the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals. However, those seven facilities have been flagged for serious problems. According to numerous investigations by the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services:

  • Children in private facilities are sometimes forced to go without medical care and haven’t been given prescription drugs that they need.
  • Youth at some facilities have been restrained or held in solitary confinement for more than 24 hours.
  • Children say they’ve been abused or maced by staff.
  • Employees have been hired without undergoing criminal background checks.

Joshua Perry, the executive director of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, said his staff found dire conditions in the residential children’s home Christian Acres Youth Center, based in Tallulah. When two of his team’s lawyers visited in May, Perry said:

 There were dorms surrounded by barbed wire. Children were sleeping in 12-room dorms on old hospital beds. And there were no vocational programs or services for children with special needs. It’s really astonishing how little accountability there is for adults who hold kids’ futures in their hands. Adolescents are really sensitive to hypocrisy. Don’t think they miss it for a second if they aren’t being treated fairly.

Perry believes there are too few of these facilities in the state, which means parents, lawyers and state officials have to travel hundreds of miles to check on kids, and this contributes to poor oversight.

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor has criticized the way these homes and treatment programs are overseen. The state’s juvenile justice agency can send youth to 44 residential facilities that aren’t prisons, but the Office of Juvenile Justice doesn’t directly run any of them. They aren’t all managed by the same organization, either — a system that, according to critics, invites problems.

Legislative auditors found that the Office of Juvenile Justice had reduced the number of contracts with residential facilities from 20 in 2009 to 12 in 2013. Devastating budget cuts meant that school-based counseling and other community programs, which allowed kids to go home at night, were slashed by 57% from 2012 to now. Yet officials have announced plans to increase the number of prison-like facilities from three to five in coming years.


Coalition of 50 Cumberland Co., NJ Groups Seeks to Intervene in Schools and Reduce Youth Imprisonment

Photo from Wikipedia

Photo from Wikipedia

Today, the Cumberland County Positive Youth Development Coalition, comprised of nearly 100 members representing more than 50 law enforcement agencies, municipal and county governments, school districts, chaplains and youth-serving organizations seeks to intervene in schools before troubled youth are forced into the juvenile justice system.

Since 2009, when the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers University–Camden was tasked by New Jersey’s Office of the Attorney General to identify potential policies, practices and programs which could prevent or reduce juvenile delinquency, the city of Vineland saw a 76 percent decrease in juvenile arrests before expanding the coalition in 2013 to include Cumberland County cities Bridgeton and Millville.

Tracy Swan, senior project coordinator for the coalition, explains:

We want to prevent the juveniles of today from becoming the young adults of tomorrow who are committing violent, heinous crimes.

For the past two years, the coalition has been supported by $120,000 in grants from the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders. In November 2013, the Rand Institute conducted a data walk, collecting demographic and crime data, such as age, gender, locations where crimes were committed and where perpetrators lived, from the three municipal police departments. They subsequently created a landscape of Cumberland County to show the coalition the five primary locations for juvenile crime.

Vineland High School North and South campuses were the two prime hotspots, but, the statistics don’t necessarily mean that more crimes are being committed there–only that more juvenile arrests are occurring there.

Swan adds:

This tells us that the school is relying on law enforcement first versus any internal policies that they might employ to de-escalate situations and achieve conflict resolution.

Rand Institute recommended that law enforcement be called as the last resort, and not the first. Swan believes that when officers are called to resolve a physical conflict, it also increases the possibility that, in addition to disorderly conduct, juveniles could be charged with assault on a police officer and assault on school personnel as a result of breaking up the fight. As a result, even if juveniles didn’t have any prior criminal history, they would have to contend with the ramifications of new charges on their record. “In most cases, these incidents could probably have been handled by security guards, guidance counselorsor teachers,” says Swan.

The data walk also revealed that many juvenile arrests occurred in the morning, prior to the start of school. Based on these findings, the Rand Institute suggested that since police officers already visit the schools on a daily basis, visits should be made in the morning to create a visible deterrent. Even if kids are just sitting in a car, having that visible police presence makes a huge difference, Swan feels.

The coalition principally aims to reduce the number of arrests by increasing the number of stationhouse adjustments performed by chaplains. Through an agreement with the three police departments, youth who are arrested for a first-time, non-felony offense meet with a chaplain, who provides counseling and assigns them four hours of community service.

Over the past year, Vineland chaplains have been assigned to middle and high schools, where they speak with juveniles and, when necessary, perform stationhouse adjustments. The chaplains also visit the schools periodically to establish a rapport with the students and work closely with guidance counselors, school psychologists and administrators to identify at-risk youth before they show delinquent behavior.

Swan points out:

School personnel learn that the chaplains are invaluable tools who can be called on before they call law enforcement. If there are charges that can be stationhouse adjusted, then juveniles can receive community service and get back on the right track, instead of going through the courts.

The coalition demonstrated the success of the practice last summer. In an effort to indoctrinate the newest chaplains, the coalition partnered with the Family Success Centers in Vineland, Bridgeton and Millville, a network of community-based gathering places that offer family support services, to organize a countywide curfew sweep on August 1. Twenty-six youth were escorted to these centers, where they met with a chaplain who advised them of curfew restrictions, the spike in crime statistics after dark and the range of available social services and resources. Overall, the sweep was a success, since no juveniles were arrested and all were released to a guardian.

Swan reports:

This was a non-punitive educational event where we were more interested in sending a message to the kids that they could pass on to their peers. The sweep did uncover a .45 caliber gun and two knives.

The coalition now hopes to duplicate that success by involving school districts and their respective personnel in a much more systematic way.

Swan concludes:

That’s really our focus this fall, so that by the end of the spring, we have a fully integrated relationship with the schools. All school districts in the county are invited to participate. For the coalition to be effective, we need that synergy to exist between the schools, law enforcement and social services.

10 Depressing Facts About Women In Prison

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

The reality of women’s prison’s is more frightening than Orange is the New Black, from abuse by guards, to losing children to giving birth while shackled to the bed.

1. The First Women’s Prisons

Women’s prisons are a relatively new concept. In the past, the rare female inmate was usually housed in a separate part of a men’s facility. The first federal prison for women was in Alderson, West Virginia, where it opened in1927. There was nonexistent security, and inmates were put to work with clerical, cooking and farming duties instead of being locked in cells 23 hours a day. Most of these women were not black widow murderesses, but girls who had fallen into drugs or alcohol during the Prohibition era.

2. The Exploding Incarceration Rate

The U.S. incarceration rate is something of an international joke–higher than that of any other nation in the world, including totalitarian regimes like Russia and China. Even among these astronomical numbers, the fastest-growing population of prisoners in the United States are women.

Women’s prisons didn’t even exist 140 years ago, but today there are over a million women in the criminal justice system. Between 1980 and 2006, the population of women in prison jumped 800 percent. The situation is even more grim for minorities, who comprise two–thirds of all incarcerated women. Tragically, most women behind bars have been convicted of nonviolent crimes like drug possession or prostitution, and even violent offenders have heartbreaking stories. For example, up to 90 percent of women convicted of murdering a man were abused by that man.

3. Giving Birth

In 30 US states, women can be shackled down while giving birth, a step that has been condemned by the ACLU and various health organizations. Amnesty International has called this a violation of human rights. Binding a woman during labor presents a host of unique problems for the mother, the child and the physician.

4. Displacing Families

Many women behind bars were primary caregivers for their children. When they are locked up, they are left with few options. The lucky kids can be placed with relatives, but more often, they are sent to foster care. Many of these kids are lost to their mothers forever. The 1997 federal Adoption and Safe Families Act requires states to terminate parental rights to children who spent at least 15 of 22 consecutive months in the foster care system, freeing them up for adoption. The median minimum sentence for incarcerated women is 36 months. Unfortunately, women’s facilities are often located so far away from home that it can be difficult or impossible for families to visit. Isolation from their loved ones usually harms prisoners’ attitudes or reintegration with society.

5. Death Row

Fewer than two percent of those on death row are women. In the last 200 years, the only woman sentenced to death for a lesser crime than murder was Ethel Rosenberg, who was questionably convicted of treason for providing the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.

6. Healthcare

Prisons are woefully unprepared to attend to the unique health problems women face. Routine gynecological care and mammograms are often unavailable, so women behind bars frequently succumb to diseases like cervical cancer, which can be successfully treated in its earliest stages if detected by Pap smear.

There is a much greater incidence of substance abuse problems and communicable diseases like HIV and hepatitis C among women in prison than men, often due to a history of trading sex for drugs. Women are more susceptible to a number of chronic conditions such as varicose veins, constipation, anemia, urinary tract infections and migraines. They also outstrip incarcerated men in mental health issues, often from being the victims of lifelong abuse. Unfortunately, the vast majority of incarcerated women fall well below the poverty line, so even before they were imprisoned, they had little to no access to healthcare.

7. Assault and Abuse by Guards

Ideally the guards and support staff at women’s prisons would all be female. Unfortunately, approximately 40 percent of them in US women’s prisons are male. In some states, that number is even higher. So abuses like beatings and rape are terrifyingly common.

The most infamous institution is the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama. An investigation found that for decades more than one-third of its guards have had sex with inmates, often in exchange for basic commodities like cigarettes and toiletries. Although there are indications that Tutwiler is improving, it still is listed among the worst prisons in America. The federal government has stated that the circumstances there are so bad as to be unconstitutional.


The first two seasons of the outstanding Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black were a runaway success, and it been renewed for a third season. The story is based on the real life experiences of well-educated middle-class woman Piper Kerman who spent 13 months behind bars, starting in 2004, for laundering money for a West African drug kingpin. Her best-selling memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison was adapted into the Netflix series to great critical acclaim. One of the many compliments the show has garnered is that it features well-developed characters rather than the stereotypical criminals who often fill such portrayals of the prison system. Among them is a transgender woman named Sophia Burset, who is played by transgender actress Laverne Cox. Today Kernan is a frequent public speaker and nonprofit activist, serving on the board of the Women’s Prison Association.

9. Babes Behind Bars Exploitation Films

Before Orange Is the New Black, movies about women in prison were more along the lines of soft-core porn and often featured themes of lesbianism, nudity and cat-fighting. While such films hit their stride in the late 1960s, they date back to the release of 1931’s Ladies of the Big House. The genre, called “women in prison” or “WiP,” is popular in several countries, including Italy and China. Several cinema guides dedicated to the genre are available. Today, in the age of hardcore pornography, the WiP genre remains prolific.

10. Women’s Prisons Around the World

While women’s prisons in the Western world are very bad, the conditions of such facilities elsewhere are completely deplorable. South Africa has some of the worst women’s prisons on the planet, described by a former inspector as “shockingly inhumane.” Former prisoners have described scenes in which dozens of people are crammed into a cell with just one shower, sink and toilet, leading to outbreaks of violence that guards are unwilling or unable to control.

Even in Greece conditions can be nasty. At Thiva Women’s Prison north of Athens, vaginal and rectal canal searches are frequent, and those who refuse to submit to this demeaning procedure are put into solitary confinement and plied with laxatives until it can be determined they aren’t concealing anything. Although Greek prisons claim that such practices have been discontinued, they continue to be seen by visiting monitors from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture.




Cleveland Lowers Chronic Homelessness by 73% With its 8-Year “Housing First” Program


Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Eight years after starting its work to end long-term homelessness in Cuyahoga County, the Housing First initiative is taking another step closer to its goal. The coalition of more than 40 private and public organizations just opened an $11 million building with 65 furnished and subsidized studio apartments. The four-story complex, Buckeye Square, is the ninth opened by Housing First.

With the expected opening next year of a 10th building, Housing First will be more than halfway to its goal of building 1,271 units for chronically homeless individuals.

Those units have yielded direct results, said Jennifer Eppich, Enterprise Community Partners senior program director in Cleveland:

We have seen a 73% reduction in chronic homelessness in Cuyahoga County as a result of our collaborative effort, and less than 2%  return to homelessness.

All of the new residents, like those in the other Housing First buildings, had been classified as “chronically homeless,” a group that makes up about 20% of the overall homeless population. That means they have had a year or longer of homelessness, and all have at least one disabling condition.

Mark McDermott, Ohio market leader for Enterprise Community Partners, the national nonprofit leading the Housing First Initiative, said:

It’s permanent housing, not transitional. Our model is based on giving those members of the community a permanent place to live, where they can work to solve other issues. Housing gives residents security and stability to combat other issues and get back on their feet.

Support for residents includes on-site social services, common laundry facilities, a computer lab and a 24-hour staffed front desk.

Enterprise leads the Housing First Initiative by assembling financial support, getting the backing of local leaders and providing technical help.

Buckeye Square was funded mainly through the use of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, the country’s main tool for creating and preserving affordable housing.  Additional financing included HOME funds, the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program and the local Continuum of Care. Enterprise also provided a predevelopment loan of $572,600.


Congress Needs to Wake Up, Fund and Reauthorize the Federal Juvenile Justice Act

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

After seven straight years of near inaction by Congress, and a drastic decline in funding since 2002, the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquncy Prevention Act (JJDPA) desperately needs to be reauthorizerd and effectively funded. The JJDPA is the single most  important piece of federal legislation affecting youth in juvenile  justice systems across the country. It is the primary vehicle through which the U.S. government sets standards for state and local  juvenile justice systems, and it provides direct funding for states, research, training and technical assistance and evaluation.

Since the  original enactment of the JJDPA in September 1974, its periodic reauthorizations have been very contentious, as the Act’s opponents have sought to  weaken its protections for youth, reduce prevention resources and  encourage the transfer of youth to the adult criminal justice system.

Despite a decline in juvenile offenses over the past decade, the population of youth confined in pre-trial secure detention has steadily  grown. On an average day, more than 27,000 youngsters are estimated to reside in locked detention centers — a number that has grown 72 percent since the early 1990s. Moreover, jursidictions continue to imprison youth in spite of research demonstrating that  juvenile detention has critical, long-lasting consequences for court-involved juveniles. Projects such as the 22-year-old Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation work to demonstrate that communities can safely reduce  their reliance on secure detention of young people.

In 1974, when the JJDPA was enacted, an estimated 500,000 kids were housed in adult jails and prisons each year, very often for status or very minor offenses – and subject to everything from verbal abuse to physical and sexual assault.

Locking up youngsters whose actions would not be considered offenses at the age of majority, such as skipping school, running away, breaking curfew and possession or use of alcohol, unnecessarily exposes them to the negative influences and social stigmatization of incarceration. These young people – who  frequently are girls – often have unmet mental health or education needs and are better served by the appropriate human services agency, rather than the justice system.

Without JJDPA there would be no national acknowledgement of disparate treatment of youth of color in the system. This, despite the fact that we know youth of color are much more likely than white youth to be arrested, detained, and incarcerated for similar offenses.

Without JJDPA there would be no Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). OJJDP has accomplished much, and lately it has worked to prevent gang involvement, girls’ delinquency and underage drinking. It assists victims of child abduction and commercial sexual exploitation. OJJDP also supports mentoring, tribal youth programs and services, AMBER Alert and community- and faith-based initiatives.

The Act created this office to help states enact system change, and without it no federal funding for the states would be available to advance juvenile justice reforms. The only federal agency focused on juvenile justice would not exist. There would be no federal technical assistance, federal research and evaluation or national standards.

Fortunately, leaders in the juvenile and criminal justice field recognized the need for national leadership and worked with Congress and the Ford Administration in 1974 to pass the bipartisan law we have today. Tens of thousands fewer children are being held in adult jails, status offenders are far less likely to end up in secure detention, states are working to address racial and ethnic disparities in their systems and there is some – though declining – federal support for all these efforts.

If the JJDPA is implemented for another five years, it will embrace the recommendations in the National Academy of Sciences report “Reforming Juvenile Justice,” the Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence and the Act 4 Juvenile Justice campaign. No youth will be in an adult jail or prison anywhere in the United States. No runaways or truants will be locked up. Racial and ethnic disparities will decline. A vibrant and robust OJJDP wll engage with directly impacted youth, their parents and families, led by a formerly incarcerated youth. Robust funding will be provided to states and localities to reduce detention, end the use of the training school approach and create a rich array of community-based alternatives to incarceration and other supports for youth.

There should really be no dispute over the many social advantages from reauthorizing and robustly funding JJDPA.

Nebraska is Successfully Transitioning from Incarceration of Non-violent Juveniles to Treatment

Until recently, Nebraska juveniles who committed offenses were being tossed en masse into confinement, even though a large portion of the youths could be helped through alternative treatment at far lower costs.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Especially disturbing was the situation at the juvenile center for boys at Kearney, where nonviolent youths were housed in a huge common area with violent youths, and the assault rate on staff personnel exceeded that of the state correctional system.

Staff turnover was high both at the Kearney center and the one for girls at Geneva. Conditions at the two centers were impeding the system’s ability to provide rehabilitation, which was the reason for establishing the two facilities.

The good news, witnesses explained to the state legislature in 2012, is that sensible reform is possible. It has worked effectively in Douglas County and various other states. A shift toward treatment in Texas, for example, allowed that state to cut $117 million from its juvenile justice budget and close three detention centers. Savings of $45 million were returned to county governments to provide community services.

The cost differences between treatment and confinement are great. It costs around $260 a day to house a young person at the Kearney center, compared with around $65 for treatment at a group home, lawmakers learned. A pilot project in Douglas County emphasizing treatment kept 83 percent of juvenile offenders in their homes over nearly a four-year period, and three-fourths completed probation successfully.

Given these facts, the Nebraska Legislature and Gov. Dave Heineman adopted major changes, assigning the Office of Probation Administration authority to handle juvenile justice cases. The state is now two months into that reform effort.

Passage of Legislative Bill 561 moved all supervision of delinquent juveniles from the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Office of Juvenile Services (OJS) to Nebraska’s Office of Probation Administration. Along with that  came $14.5 million to be spent on new services for youth along with a grant program to aid counties focusing on the developing of front-end services for youth. The changes are intended to decrease the dependency on juvenile detention center stays, place more emphasis on rehabilitation, increase family engagement and provide more services at the community level.

Even at this early stage, the number of youths imprisoned at the two juvenile centers has declined: 92 boys now at Kearney compared with 135 a year ago, and 52 girls at Geneva, down from 66 a year ago.

Just over 80 percent of juveniles supervised by probation are being helped at home, up from 40 percent a year ago, when the state’s Department of Health and Human Services was handling the cases.

However, the state faces challenges. Sometimes complications arise when parents of probation youth refuse to cooperate. Another challenge is when the state HHS has to handle juvenile cases involving youths with severe mental health needs or developmental disabilities.

Some problems can be addressed through changes in procedure, state statute and/or budget appropriations. More state funding will be required to start or increase local treatment services. This is also true for reimbursing county governments for their costs involved in juvenile justice matters, such as transportation. State lawmakers will need to examine the options on information-sharing to ensure that juvenile probation cases are properly monitored and analyzed.

In addition, the Nebraska Crime Commission has added two new positions to oversee the Community Based Aid funding and Diversion services statewide. Community Based Aid replaced has increased funding to $5 million.

Change of this magnitude can be difficult, but the state’s system stakeholders  have been working collaboratively to provide training, interpretation, development of services and most importantly seamless transition of services for youth and their families.

An editorial in the Omaha World-Herald declared:

Putting Nebraska’s juvenile justice system on a new path was a sound decision. With appropriate follow-up, this reform should bring significant benefits to the youths and the state.

Strong writing, subject and cast make England’s “Bad Girls” compelling television

By Alan Waldman | Reprinted from The Rag Blog | September 1, 2014

[In his weekly Ragblog column (, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. Most are available on DVD and/or Netflix, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

I am very interested in the topic of female incarceration, and I write a blog article about it every third week at Human Exposures. I loved both seasons of Netflix’s powerful women-in-prison drama Orange is the New Black, and a dozen or so years ago I watched and enjoyed the first riveting season of the dramatic British TV series, Bad Girls. Here’s the first part of an episode (and from it you can access the remaining parts).

In Britain, Bad Girls was very popular, running for eight seasons and 107 episodes, from 1999 to 2006. It is set in the fictional Larkhall women’s prison and features a mix of gritty and light storylines. Simone Lahbib, Debra Stephenson, Claire King, and Lara Cazalet star in this shockingly honest British series where the new inmates must quickly learn how to survive in a brutal and often deadly environment.

Waldman’s film and TV treasures you may have missed

Bad Girls deals with much controversial subject matter. In the first season a pregnant prisoner miscarries in her cell, another is viciously strip-searched by fellow inmates for concealed drugs and a third commits suicide due to being bullied.

One story arc revolves around the developing romantic relationship between a prisoner serving a life sentence for the murder of a policeman who attempted to rape her girlfriend and the previously engaged female Wing Governor. Other storylines include the pregnancy of a young drug addict, the appeal of wrongly-imprisoned woman (frequently referred to as “posh bitch” by other characters) and the illicit relationship between the male senior officer and the resident bully and drug dealer, serving life for murder.

The first season’s 10 episodes are on Netflix. Bad Girls won 10 major awards and garnered seven other nominations. These include seven National Television Award Most Popular Drama nominations and two wins, four TV Quick Best Loved Drama Awards, two Most Popular Actress noms for Debra Stephenson, and acting award wins for Stephenson, Claire King (twice), and Jack Ellis.

At, 92.6% viewers polled gave the series thumbs-up, 44.8%rated it a perfect 10, and it was very strong with all demos, particularly females and most particularly with females 45 and older. The first episodes of seasons two and three drew more than 9.4 million viewers in a relatively small country.

Simone Lahbib

Simone Lahbib

It was created by Maureen Chadwick (who wrote 24 episodes and won a TV Quick Best New Drama Award for Waterloo Road), Ann McManus (penned 23 episodes and co-created Waterloo Road) and Eileen Gallagher (won an OBE honor for services to broadcasting). The series had 23 writers over its eight seasons.

The cast was headed by Victoria Alcock (Call the Midwife, Eastenders, The House of Eliott) and Kika Mirylees (Jonathan Creek, Eastenders, and Lovejoy). Wonderfully evil is sexy Debra Stephenson (Playing the Field, MI-5, and Coronation Street).

Jack Ellis, who won a best actor award for playing a mean, randy guard, has 55 other credits, including Prime Suspect, Inspector Morse, and Coronation Street. Simone Lahbib took over the female lead in the wonderful crime series Wire in the Blood and also appeared in the equally wonderful Philomena and Downton Abbey. And I greatly enjoyed Lara Cazalet as the adulterous barrister in New Street Law.

A musical comedy adaptation of Bad Girls, based on the characters and storylines of the first season, ran in London’s West End in 2007. In 2006 it was announced that FX would bring an American version of Bad Girls to U.S. screens, but its original pilot script was scrapped over the show’s “really gritty and unpleasant” feel. An NBC version was also mentioned in the trade press. But now HBO’s version of Bad Girls is being developed with creative input from Six Feet Under writer Alan Ball, and it is supposedly due to bow this year. The DVD has been released in at least 19 countries, including Montenegro, Georgia, Finland, and New Zealand.

Although I loved and heartily recommend Orange is the New Black, I found my one season of Bad Girls even grittier and more dramatic.

[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine. Read more of Alan Waldman's articles on The Rag Blog.]

Campaign to End Veteran Homelessness is Making Good Progress

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

The number of homeless veterans dropped below 50,000 last year, in the fourth consecutive year of decreases since White House officials refocused efforts on getting that population into stable housing. Data from HUD’s annual point-in-time count of homeless Americans — conducted each January — showed 49,933 veterans living on the street in 2014. That’s down 13.8% (almost 8,000 individuals) since the 2013 count and 33.3% lower (almost 25,000 vets) since 2010.

Michelle Obama, HUD and the VA recently challenged mayors to commit to ending Veteran homelessness in their cities by 2015. So far, more than 95 mayors and governors in 46 states have accepted.

HUD Secretary Julián Castro said:

In just a few years, we have made incredible progress reducing homelessness among veterans, but we have more work to do.

However, the latest numbers also show the difficulty of completely ending the
problem. Despite focused efforts and increased funding for veterans assistance
projects, officials need to double their progress from the past five years
in order to reach that 2015 goal.

Housing advocates have praised HUD, VA and the Interagency Council on Homelessness for their efforts working with outside groups in recent years, noting that federal voucher programs and the “housing first” approach have helped quickly move veterans off the streets and into stable shelter. The VA Supportive Housing voucher program alone has served more than 74,000 veterans since 2008, providing direct funding to community groups which can assist individuals with immediate needs.

The White House just announced a new partnership with TriWest Healthcare Alliance to connect women veterans facing homelessness to employment and benefits services. Pilot programs will launch later this year in Seattle, Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Honolulu. About 8 percent of the homeless veteran population (roughly 4,000) are women veterans who often face extra challenges in affording housing due to child care issues, dealing with the psychological effects of sexual trauma and gaps in health care offerings.

The VA is currently taking steps to aid homeless female Veterans. These include the:

SSVF awards grants to private nonprofit organizations and consumer cooperatives who will provide supportive services to very low income Veterans and their families residing in or transitioning to permanent housing. The grantees will provide a range of supportive services designed to promote housing stability. SSVF grants are released throughout the year.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and VA Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH) partner to provide permanent, supportive housing and treatment services for homeless Veterans.  To date, HUD has allocated more than 74,000 Housing Choice vouchers across the country, which allows Veterans and their families to live in market rate rental housing while VA provides case management services. A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the local public housing authority on behalf of the participating Veteran. The Veteran then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program. The case management services facilitate the attainment of the Veteran’s recovery goals. The HUD-VASH Program is for the most vulnerable Veterans, and provides special services for women Veterans, those recently returning from combat zones, and Veterans with disabilities.

The Grant and Per Diem Program funds community-based agencies providing transitional housing or service centers for homeless Veterans. Through the program, each year (as funding is available) VA offers grants that may fund up to 65 percent of the project for the construction, acquisition, or renovation of facilities or to purchase van(s) to provide outreach and services to homeless Veterans.

Women Veterans Health Care Program – Since 1988, the Women Veterans Health Care program has provided focused care for women Veterans in a safe environment that aims to raise the standard of women’s health care. It focuses on primary care, reproductive health, and other health issues unique to women. Women Veterans need not worry about their specific health issues not being accommodated by VA.

VA Mental Health for Women Veterans – VA recognizes that women Veterans experience their military service in different ways than men and also deal with unique mental health conditions. Because of this, VA provides specialized services to help women work through conditions such as PTSD or Military Sexual Trauma.

Latin American Women Prisoners Pay a Heavy Price for Transporting Drugs


Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

As growing numbers of women (up from 40,000 in 2006 to 74,000 in 2011) suffer in Latin American jails on drug-trafficking charges, their role in organized crime is under examination, as are the prison system that crowds and mistreats them and the patriarchal society that systematically fails them.

According to an October 2013 paper by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), most female prisoners are incarcerated because of drug-related crimes – usually trafficking. In Brazil, 60 percent of women prisoners are in jail for trafficking. In Ecuador, only 18.5 percent of female prisoners were in prison for drug offences in 1982, but that figure now stands at 80 percent. The same upward trend is evident in most Latin American countries, where an average of 70 percent of incarcerated women are doing time for drug-related offences.

Why so many women are being held and tried on drug-trafficking charges, as well as what are the devastating impacts of their incarceration on them, their families and broader society, were discussed at a panel discussion at the UN in New York earlier this month, where drug policy experts spoke about the need for both drug policy and prison reform.

So many of the women serving time or waiting to be sentenced were incarcerated for carrying or “muling” drugs. These women, who tend to be uneducated and poor, are usually “on the lowest rungs of the crime ladder”, according to the briefing report.

The poorly paid “mules” carry drugs in their luggage, strapped to their bodies or swallowed in capsules. Usually several of them are put onto international flights so that even if some are caught, others will get through.

According to the researchers:

Many of these women seemed unaware of the risks involved when drawn into the trade by their partners or families, who would tell them: ‘Just carry this. Nothing will happen; everything will be all right.’

Corina Giacomello, panelist and author of the IDPC briefing paper, Women, Drug Offenses and Penitentiary Systems in Latin America, said analyzing the plight of these women was an opportunity to confront three intersecting problems: gender issues, drug policy and prison policy:

We don’t usually see the connections between these issues, but these women are like a mirror; they’re an intersection of all these things.

Once these women are inside, the exploitation and abuse continue. Most of the women lack the knowledge or money to access lawyers and so may spend years awaiting trial.  According to a January 2014 report by the Organization of American States, most women jailed on drug offences are awaiting trial as prisoners.

They are usually separated from their children – or housed together with them in abysmal conditions. Latin America’s prisons are already infamous for overcrowding, inhumane conditions, violence and lack of any rehabilitation programs. Added to this is the sexual exploitation of women who are repeatedly raped by prison guards and other inmates. “Prison is a masculine space built by men for men,” said Giacomello, adding that the penal system is ill-equipped to cope with the rapidly growing numbers of female prisoners who may be pregnant, nursing or mothers of small children.

When women are sentenced, they tend to get stigmatized, and when they start their sentences they are often abandoned; they don’t get visited. These unfortunate women can spend months without seeing their children. This leads to all kinds of health and mental health problems. The OAS reported, “In addition to the potential breakdown of their families, abandonment by their parents and loss of property, incarcerated women face disproportionate levels of social stigmatization.”

Leonel Briozzo, Uruguay’s vice minister of public health,  told the panel that prisons were places where people could learn more about illegal activity rather than rehabilitate themselves:

We have to understand that jails are not the correct places for people to stop using drugs. Real transformation needs to take place.

Among the recommendations are initiating more campaigns to make women more aware of the risks of trafficking drugs, as well as applying the UN’s Bangkok Rules to cater more effectively for the needs of women in the prison system.

Giacomello said:

For too long drug policy has stayed in a kind of ivory tower, divorced from human rights or gender policy. We need to make drug policy penetrable from a human rights perspective.