Archive for Humane Exposures

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.

Canada’s 5 Women’s Prisons Are Places of Despair–Especially for the Indigenous Majority

Over this time, some drastic changes have taken place in the way Correctional Service Canada (CSC) treats prisoners. Double bunking, mandatory minimum sentences and inmate pay cuts have turned the prisons into places of hopelessness and anger. Whereas the men’s prisons have become more violent as a result, the women’s have become places of despair and depression.

carol-finlay

Writer Carol Findlay

There are five women’s prisons in Canada serving the five CSC regions. Because there are only five, inmates are rarely incarcerated close to home. Also, indigenous people are vastly over-represented in prison populations: 68 per cent of federally incarcerated female inmates are indigenous (Edmonton Institution for Women is more than 90 per cent).

According to Globe and Mail writer Carol Findlay, who has visited the prisons for seven years:

Our prisons are a continuation of the harm done to indigenous peoples through the residential schools. There’s a strong connection between this harm done and the violence, substance abuse and crime we see in the children and grandchildren of former students of the schools.

Incarcerating indigenous women, especially those who are far from their people and cut off from their culture, is a repetition of what happened in the schools. Few families have the means to visit. When a man goes into prison, often his wife or partner keeps in touch, and the family, although fragile, has a chance of survival. When a woman goes into prison, she is often the sole support to the family, and her children go into foster care. This is a huge issue for female inmates, often resulting in or exacerbating mental illness: About 60 per cent of women in penitentiaries are mentally ill. CSC administrators say it’s their biggest issue.

When you enter a women’s prison, you can feel despair, hopelessness and depression. It’s both palpable and horrifying. Cut off from their families and culture, and locked up in a ‘white man’s justice system’ makes these women ill, both mentally and physically. There aren’t enough psychologists to give meaningful talk therapy, so women are medicated. I have been in book club circles in which I am aware that most of the women are on mood-altering medications. I was told in one institution that as soon as a woman enters the system, she goes to a special unit where she is ‘stabilized’ with medication.

Early on in my visits to the women’s penitentiaries, I realized that there were no books written by, or relating to, the cultures of Canadian indigenous people in the libraries. My organization, Book Clubs for Inmates, then bought sets of books written by some of our great aboriginal writers, and these titles are on all our lists for the book clubs. Although we are pleased to help, and have privately donated funds, we wonder why we should have to do this?

One of the main issues relating to the prevalent despair of the women, Findlay believes, is that there is no meaningful job training inside. When they are released, the women can only get minimum-wage jobs, not enough to support their children and get them back. Thus we have here all the same marks of the residential schools: Indigenous people cut off from their families and culture, and families, which are already broken, unable to be reunited after incarceration.

Findlay concludes:

Indigenous peoples were badly served by Canada’s residential schools. Many of the schools’ children are now in the penitentiaries because of crime that is related to the destruction of their families by these very schools. Prisons further break down family life and exacerbate the cycle of poverty, crime and violence both on and off the reserves.

We all need to become more educated about what is happening to indigenous people in prisons, especially in the women’s prisons as these problems are the most extreme and damaging for future generations. If we don’t address these issues, we become complicit in the ongoing tragedy of the residential schools.

Wilmington NC Experience Found “Housing First” Preferable to Shelters

Katrina R. Knight, executive director of Wilmington, NC’s Good Shepherd Ministries, entered the homeless services arena in 1999, when most still thought emergency shelters were the best they could do by our homeless neighbors. Since the early 1980s they had developed homeless service systems nationwide where they brought homeless folks in and kept them for months or even years as — in the most well-intentioned way — they worked to address their often multiple challenges before deeming them “housing ready.”

The thinking went: “He won’t be able Good-Shepherd-Logoto hold onto an apartment with his health issues” or “She’ll have to complete our life skills program before she can live independently.” For shelter guests with the most serious physical and mental health challenges, there was often no vision of a return to housing that seemed remotely realistic. All the while, the homeless populations increased, shelters were added, and emergency stays grew longer and longer.

Knight recalls:

Like many homeless service providers, my thinking has changed radically since that time, largely due to the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ continual spotlight on Best Practices, and by the growing body of research pointing to more effective strategies for achieving transitions to housing. In the last 15 years we’ve learned a great deal about what works in terms of moving people from crisis to stability, and doing so in more expedited ways.

In a nutshell: we can keep adding shelters and shelter beds and allowing the ranks of homeless individuals and families to swell, or we can invest in housing strategies that shorten the length of people’s crises and return them more quickly to housing and stability in the community. It’s been a tough sell, even to the homeless services community itself. We’ve been challenged to rethink our entire approach to homelessness, to look at evidence-based strategies, and to reconsider our own role in addressing the issue — are we working to end the problem or simply managing it?

Here in the Cape Fear region, homelessness is first and foremost a symptom of poverty, an economic crisis brought on by the mismatch between our neighbors’ incomes and what they need to earn to afford housing in our wonderful but expensive community. Slowly, we’ve moved away from an almost exclusively shelter-based focus in favor of this housing + services direction. At first we were successful with the easier cases to re-house, like the two-parent family whose dad had been laid off but who could be moved to a new apartment when he located work again in short order.

She remembers that housing for the tougher situations, with folks who first needed help with the long and intimidating process of applying for disability assistance, took longer to figure out. Over time, however, Knight and her team have been able to drive down the overall size of our homeless population through this new emphasis on housing. The chronically homeless, disabled individuals who were outside her door every morning a decade ago are in homes of their own today. Still disabled, still low income, sometimes in need of a little handholding to navigate their medical and other appointments, but housed and living with dignity in the community rather than in the local shelter.

Knight continues:

As many as 50 new faces arrive at Good Shepherd every month, but they’re no longer 50 new guests in addition to a significant sub-population of chronically homeless individuals. In the process, our nightly census has decreased, from more than 100 men, women, and children when the Night Shelter opened in 2005 to closer to 60 every night now. It’s a testament to the regional effort around rehousing, and when the State asks whether we don’t now have too many shelter beds, at Good Shepherd and in the community, they’re right to ask the question, and to keep the pressure on us to redouble our rehousing efforts.

Moving homeless individuals and families to housing before first solving all of their problems seems counter-intuitive, even for folks who work in it every day. We have a surplus of available shelter beds — for men, for women, for families with children. What we do not have is a ready inventory of modest, affordable apartments for their transition out of homelessness (or to prevent their entering housing crisis in the first place).

Good Shepherd shelters the spectrum of neighbors who find themselves in housing crisis: parents with their children, veterans, single men and women, persons with disabilities, and individuals from varied religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds. Some have a mental health issue, but most do not. Some are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, but most are not. In fact, sometimes it seems that the only thing they all have in common is their inability to access affordable housing.

After many years, the regional Cape Fear Housing Coalition seems to be gaining traction in its efforts to rally widespread support for increasing the affordable housing stock in its community. A Task Force on Affordable Housing currently in formation promises to bring key stakeholders from the business and building arenas to the table. The NC Housing Finance Agency continues to make important investments—through tax credits and construction loans—in private and public efforts to develop rental housing for the very low income.
Good Shepherd is working to develop SECU Lakeside Reserve, a modest housing development marrying affordable apartments with on-site services for homeless persons with disabilities.

Private individuals, congregations, and foundations are donating to this Best Practice strategy for moving those with disabilities out of homelessness. They see the importance of our existing safety net, including Good Shepherd’s shelter, but are responding to the opportunity to invest in real — and lasting — change for their homeless neighbors. Shelter is a response to homelessness. Affordable housing is a solution.

Knight concludes:

The momentum is there if only we commit to spurring it further. The time has come to gather our collective will to embrace these solutions and bring them to scale, so all of our Cape Fear neighbors have access to a decent and affordable place to call home. If ever there were a community with the heart and wherewithal to achieve such a thing, it is ours.

Proposed Georgia Budget Shifting Funds to Juvenile Community Programs Like Second Chance Court

Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Counties across Georgia have deployed an ongoing juvenile justice reform effort since 2013. Like states across the country, Georgia wants to keep teens out of prison and in their communities, with better outcomes for families, public safety and the state’s bottom line.

The Georgia Legislature passed the reforms unanimously in 2013, shortly after making major changes to the criminal justice system. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, a former juvenile court judge, has championed the changes.

The latest budget proposal from Gov. Deal calls for closing one long-term youth detention facility and moving more than $5 million into community-based alternatives. For example, the budget proposal includes $2.7 million for 40 “step-down” slots that help move kids from secure detention to residential facilities.

The Georgia reforms, rooted in an overhaul of the juvenile justice code, included a move away from locking up status offenders and the creation of a statewide database of juvenile justice referrals and results. The state also launched the Juvenile Justice Incentive Grants program to fund evidence-based programs in the counties that take their cues from programs like Second Chance Court.

Since 2013, the number of youth in secure confinement has dropped by 17 percent and youth awaiting placement has decreased by 51 percent.

Georgia’s reforms hit many of the marks for reforms rooted in evidence about what works, said Mark Lipsey, director of the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University. Lipsey has helped the state, and many others, evaluate how well programs are working. Lipsey pointed to the state’s decision to make the reforms in the statute, emphasize evidence-based practices and assemble strong leadership teams as signs of a very strong effort.

“I think what’s going on there is very much state of the art and quite remarkable,” he said.

When lawmakers were considering the reforms three years ago, researchers at the Pew Charitable Trust said the state could save $85 million during the next five years, largely from avoiding the costs of building two new secure facilities.

Now, as the number of youth in detention facilities come down, the state has the potential to take money they would have spent on running the facilities and put the funding into additional community programming, said Joe Vignati, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.

From fiscal year 2014 to the fiscal year 2017 proposal, funding for community services grew 17 percent, from $82 million to $95 million in a budget of $334 million. Meanwhile, funding for secure commitment grew 11 percent, from $85 million to $95 million and secure detention grew 12 percent from $107 million to $120 million.

Vignati said the costs of long-term and short-term confinement should continue to come down — and the savings redirected to community programs — as the state gets a handle on just how low the number of juvenile offenders they house can go.

The state also has steadily increased the amount of funding dedicated to Juvenile Justice Incentive Grants program, from $6 million in the fiscal year 2014 budget to $8.8 million in fiscal year 2016. In the participating counties, 1,666 youth had access to evidence-based programming in the second year of the program, up from 1,122 in the first. The programs all are ranked “effective” or “promising” on a federal registry to reduce criminogenic behaviors in juveniles and the counties have chosen programs rooted in individual, family or group therapy.

Overall, the counties saw out-of-home placements drop 54 percent in fiscal year 2015, compared with a 2012 baseline.

Steve Teske, the Clayton County juvenile judge who started Second Chance Court and has helped lead the charge for reform statewide, said the grants have been instrumental in his county. The Second Chance program already was underway and showing significant decreases in secure commitment when the incentive program began. However, the grant allowed the county to target the needs of youth who still were being committed, often for family dysfunction, Teske said. During fiscal year 2015, out-of-home placements dropped 63 percent in the county.

The Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, which is charged with making recommendations to improve both the criminal and juvenile justice systems, called for the next wave of juvenile reforms to focus on schools in its latest annual report.

Schools are one of the largest sources of referrals for the juvenile justice system. The proposed reforms aim to clarify the roles of schools and law enforcement on campuses.

A student who shouts a swear word should be disciplined at school, not accused of disorderly conduct and sent to the juvenile justice system, said Teske, who is a member of the council. Similarly, a schoolyard fight shouldn’t automatically bring assault charges.

“The overall objective is to stop criminalizing kids for what is typical adolescent behavior,” he said.

The report recommended that schools be required to develop and use a system of progressive discipline before a juvenile complaint is filed and that school systems enter into model agreements with law enforcement that clearly delineate how student behaviors will be addressed. The council also recommended measures to improve the procedural fairness of school disciplinary proceedings.

The report also calls for the state to restrict secure detention for anyone age 13 or younger, unless they are charged with a serious crime such as murder. Since the reform, the state has seen a spike in the number of younger children held in secure detention.

The council said:

By expanding the detention of younger children and exposing such youth to the trauma correlated with detention, Georgia, is, in effect, voiding the beneficial effects of juvenile reform for this most vulnerable population.

 

College Education in Prisons is Returning–With Big Societal Dividends

An old idea — offering prison inmates the opportunity to earn a college education — is once again gaining momentum in the U.S and in Washington state. If it lasts, taxpayers will ultimately benefit (as will inmates who get an education). Before 1994, there were about 350 college prison programs nationwide, run by public colleges and universities. It ended when Congress eliminated federal student aid to prisoners.

A year later, Washington state lawmakers mortarboardbanned the use of tax dollars for higher education in prison. Politics were in play. Many legislators were motivated by a foolhardy need to show the voters they were being tough on crime.

Inmates who take part in education programs are less likely to reoffend — 43 percent less — when released from prison, according to a Rand Corporation study. A study by the Indiana Department of Correction had even more dramatic findings. The study showed inmates who took college courses went back to prison at a rate of just 5 percent compared to the national average of nearly 68 percent within three years of release.

The editorial board of the Walla Walla, WA Union-Bulletin writes:

But even if fewer inmates are put on the right path, society benefits greatly. It means crimes won’t be committed. There will be fewer victims of crime. And our prisons will have fewer inmates.

College education in American prisons is starting to grow again, including in Washington state. The pendulum swing back to prison education comes as states look for ways to cut the cost of incarceration, which has been about $80 billion annually in America.

“Education in prison is transformative. It leads to safer communities, and that’s to the benefit of everyone,” said Fred Patrick, director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York nonprofit that combines research and demonstration projects associated with criminal justice.

Now more dollars are starting to follow those results, led by a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Education to experiment again with federal Pell Grants for inmate students. So far 47 states have applied to participate in that program.

Washington state is also considering spending more on education programs. The state has 16,500 inmates, of whom about 11,000 are involved in some sort of education program. At the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Community College offers inmates learning programs and it also serves the Coyote Ridge Correction Center in Connell.

The editorial board continues:

Lawmakers who have approved the funding for these education programs are not being soft on crime; they are being smart about crime. Providing opportunity for inmates to get an education is ultimately a way to fight crime by reducing it.

Deplorable Conditions Reported at L.A.’s Eastlake Juvenile Detention Center

More than 200 kids in Los Angeles are languishing in a 100-year-old decaying detention center that one probation monitor likens to a “Third World country prison.” According to a scathing new report on conditions in L.A. County’s main juvenile detention center, Central Juvenile Hall,  most of whose young inmates are waiting for their trials to start  are living in squalid units and tossed in solitary confinement for minor infractions.spring_teach

Boyle Heights community leader Azael Martinez, who also volunteers as a probation department monitor, was pegged to investigate and report on the county’s juvenile facilities and discovered that the 22-acre compound, commonly referred to as Eastlake, has walls that are covered in scum and graffiti, kids are forced to use staff bathrooms because theirs don’t have running water and they are also drenched in urine that splashes on them because the facility’s urinals are broken or covered in waste. Martinez also found that staff routinely put kids in isolation for reasons that don’t fall under the department’s guidelines, such as sharing food. In his report, Martinez called the conditions “deplorable” and described the culture of apathy among staff. In general, employees at the facility feel victimized and don’t take responsibility for the “unacceptable” environment.

Martinez wrote inhis report:

It appears that no one cares. Staff does not know who is in charge and are quick to push the blame elsewhere.

Officials have already launched their own investigations of the facility. But the city has long known about the decrepit conditions at Eastlake, which is more than 100 years old. In 2014, a grand jury reported that the detention center is literally falling apart, with broken pipes and rotting facades:

Bath towels and duct tape were used in a futile attempt to repair broken pipes and prevent seepage. There was an indistinct foul odor in the hallway suggesting that sewage or stagnant water was present.

They found a “dilapidated” modular building used to house foster youth facing criminal charges was “totally isolated from the main facility and surrounded by barbed wire fencing which gives the appearance of an adult prison, not a youth facility.”

Supervisors have expressed an interest in rebuilding the facility altogether, but also point to the high cost of doing so. Two years ago, the county funneled billions of dollars into men’s and women’s jails, and allotted $48 million to rebuild another juvenile facility. Only $5 million was given to Eastlake for repairs.

Several high-level county officials echoed the grand jury’s concerns. Trying to repair and modernize the existing buildings “is like putting a jet engine on a Model T,” Probation Department chief Jerry Powers said.

“It’s been a horrible facility for a long time,” said Supervisor Gloria Molina, whose district includes the hall. “We’ve tried to clean it up and rehab it and everything, but it needs to be rebuilt.” Advocacy groups, including the Youth Justice Coalition, say the aging central hall is no longer needed and should be torn down and not replaced. At this point, however, no detailed study of the facility or its future has been conducted. It’s unclear whether county officials will back what Powers estimated would be a $50-million replacement price tag for the hall, when so many other costly projects are underway.

Supervisor Don Knabe said:

It costs $230,600 a year to incarcerate one kid. If I had my choice and had all the money I needed, I would support blowing the whole thing up and starting over again. But funding a new central juvenile facility could be difficult.

In the meantime, the county board has been pouring millions into repairing and keeping open the hall’s labyrinth of buildings behind the Eastlake Juvenile Court. Staff at the hall say they struggle to stay on top of recurring problems with leaking and broken pipes and malfunctioning air conditioning. At the same time, money has been pumped into a patchwork of improvements that include a new swimming pool and replacements of some of the oldest buildings.

Edilberto Flores, 18, spent a month in the hall awaiting trial when he was 16. Most of the time, the hot water in the showers didn’t work and his cell was so cold during the winter that he had a hard time sleeping, he recalled. Flores said there was mold on the floor in his cell that he suspected was the result of past inmates relieving themselves in the corner when they couldn’t get staff’s attention for a trip to the restroom. A 17-year-old girl who stayed briefly at Central Juvenile Hall in 2010 while being transferred between other facilities, said she couldn’t take a shower because the water was brown.

Officials note the number of detainees in the county’s three juvenile halls has declined sharply over the last several years, a result of falling crime rates and alternative programs for youths accused of lower-level crimes. The population of the three juvenile halls is down from a high of more than 1,700 in 2006 to about 800 as of last week. Central Juvenile Hall, which can house about 600 inmates, is less than half full. Powers acknowledged that minors detained at the central hall could be shifted elsewhere in the system. But that would create other problems related to transporting juveniles to the central court for proceedings in their cases.

Whether officials ultimately close it down or rebuild it, decisions about the future of Central Juvenile Hall will probably be influenced by recent shifts in thinking about treatment of young offenders, with more emphasis on rehabilitation than punishment and containment of problem minors. Federal authorities are monitoring the treatment of young inmates in probation camps and halls. And the Malibu juvenile camp is being redesigned to support treating and counseling small groups of inmates, a model that advocates say is more humane and more likely to reduce recidivism. Molina said that if Central Juvenile Hall is rebuilt, the facility’s focus should be more “in line with the sort of rehabilitative aspect of what we’re supposed to be doing.”

In addition to being placed in wretched conditions, there is little evidence to suggest that youth detention in L.A. County is serving its primary purpose. Juvenile justice is supposed to be rehabilitative in nature, but a Cal State L.A. study concluded that one-third of juvenile offenders are re-arrested within a year of their release from detention. The vast majority of offenders have a mental illness and half have histories of substance abuse. Youth who spent time in the system reported that rehabilitation programs are few and far between and participating in them is a privilege that can be revoked. Some facilities have no programs at all, and many lack trusted adults to mentor and counsel kids in the system. L.A. County currently has the largest juvenile justice system in the country.