Archive for It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing

Justice Reinvestment in Louisiana

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, at campaign e...

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, at campaign event for presidential candidate John McCain in Kenner, Louisiana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Something has to change in Louisiana, and if Bobby Jindal lives up to his latest press release it just might. It seems that some extensive changes may be coming to Louisiana’s justice system, particularly as pertains to juveniles.

First, for context, it should be established that my home state leads the planet in incarceration, with inmate populations doubling over the period between 1991 and 2012. Amnesty International reports the current number of incarcerated to be right around 40,500 which makes Louisiana’s incarceration rate the highest in the world.

An Amnesty International statement from 2008 spelled it out, and population numbers have done nothing but rise since then.

“…As of December 31, 2007, nearly 2.3 million persons were incarcerated in US prisons and jails, giving the United States the largest incarcerated population in the world. Within the US, Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration, nearly five times that of the lowest state, Maine.”

State Governor Piyush “Bobby” Jindal has frequently come under fire for his aggressive privatization of Louisiana’s jails and prisons so it is surprising to see his latest stance on fixing a juvenile system that is rightly and frequently termed horrific. It is a stance that we here at HE espouse, and it is our hope that it gets implemented.

So, what changes are in the offing, and what response are they getting in Louisiana? The Advocate reports:

Several lawmakers, who often differ with Jindal, praised his proposals, including state Rep. Patricia Smith and state Sen. Sharon Broome, both Baton Rouge Democrats.

‘I want to thank the governor for putting treatment as a priority,’ Smith said.

Others who endorsed the changes included Debra DePrato, director at the Institute for Public Health and Justice at the LSU Health Sciences Center, and Dana Kaplan, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project.

The plans will be included in bills submitted to the Legislature, which begins its regular session on April 8.

Jindal wants to:

  • Expand what he called Louisiana’s highly successful drug courts beyond the current 48 programs statewide.
  • Release certain non-sex, non-violent drug offenders into treatment rather than continued incarceration.
  • Revamp a state program that he said has strayed from its mission of aiding at-risk youths.

So, in an instance that I find shocking, Louisiana politicians are getting behind the right course despite differences in party affiliation. Blue Dogs, Dixiecrats, conservatives and liberals in this most contentious of states are unifying on this subject. As a native, trust me when I say that if it can happen here it can happen anywhere in the US.

The bills to enact these changes will hit the floor in early April, so it is a little early for cheering, but just the attempt is a major step forward. Louisiana is infamous for its draconian and primitive approach to incarceration, inspired by the gaols of the French no doubt. To see a more fact-based and rehabilitation-oriented mindset become part of the process is amazing.

The part of Jindal’s plan aimed directly at juvenile justice concerns a program called FINS – Families in Need of Services. Described as a “pre-delinquency intervention” program, it was originally designed to connect with services for at-risk youth in an attempt to keep them out of the court and prison system.

According to the Juvenile Justice Implementation System, more than 11,000 youngsters between the ages of 10 and 17 were referred to them in 2010. These referrals are made by parents, teachers or law enforcement and can be for anything from truancy or running away on one end of the spectrum to criminal behavior, drug, alcohol or firearm possession on the other. The fact that these referrals are often abused makes more sense when you know that the letter of the law includes being “ungovernable” as a valid reason for them.

NOLA.com reports.

 

‘FINS has strayed from its mission of addressing the root causes of non-delinquent behavior, instead advancing at-risk youth through the traditional court system and further into the juvenile justice system,’ the press release said. ‘The result has been a higher juvenile incarceration rate, not less criminal behavior.’

State Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said she was ‘pleased’ with the proposal, adding, ‘We have what we call a “cradle-to-prison-pipeline.” Trying to catch juveniles before they enter into the prison system is tantamount to being able to reduce the adult prison population.’

This is big. I don’t just say that as a New Orleans native either. If Louisiana politicians can come together across party lines to enact programs like that here, then there is hope for bipartisan collaboration in other areas of the country. As our own political class is slowly realizing, it is vastly more expensive to do nothing!

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Juvenile Justice in Georgia: A Huge Step and Huge Savings

Chain Handcuffs

Chain Handcuffs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Lock ‘em up and throw away the key!”

That has been the campaign rhetoric in Georgia for quite some time now, and many are glad to see it begin to fade. The stance of no tolerance coupled with long sentences is hopefully drawing to a close, despite remaining entrenched in certain quarters.

Channel 6, ABC News brings us this brief bit of coverage. You will note that while it does talk about the $88 million dollars in savings, a lot of air time is given to a policeman who embraces the hard-line– one that has failed to work for many years now.

While the hard-line attitude has been typical of Georgia politics for quite some time, the pressures of mounting facts and dwindling resources are creating support for this sort of legislation. Macon.com notes some of the particulars:

Chairman Wendell Willard said the latest version has the backing from state and local agencies, including Georgia’s district attorneys association. Youth advocates and many juvenile judges also are pushing the measure. And Gov. Nathan Deal has included money in his 2014 budget proposal to help expand the community programs.

“We hope we are making major strides in finding better practices,” Willard said.

Georgia spends more than $90,000 per year on each youthful offender behind bars. It costs about $30,000 to serve a delinquent at a non-secure residential facility. About 65 percent who are released end up back in jail, Willard said, a rate he called “totally unacceptable.” The new model, he told a packed hearing room at the Capitol, should “save lives that would otherwise continue down a road of ruin.”

Among other measures, the redesign would place a greater emphasis on access to drug treatment and mental health counseling. Some residential programs still would involve confinement, but differ from adult short-term jails and long-term prisons.

Willard’s bill now moves to the Rules Committee, the panel that sets the House debate calendar. The measure is not expected to encounter any resistance.

If the proposed changes pass the rest of their legislative challenges, it will bring Georgia in line with the national trend toward treatment and counseling instead of incarceration. More than twenty states have made significant changes to their juvenile justice programs over the last decade in an attempt to reverse the damage caused by harsh laws enacted in the ’80s and ’90s.

Georgia, even with these changes, will reamin one of fewer than a dozen states that cap the juvenile system’s jurisdiction at 16 years old. The majority of states set the cap at 17 .

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Forget the polarization, both sides agree on incarceration

English: Newt Gingrich at a political conferen...

English: Newt Gingrich at a political conference in Orlando, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know it’s hard for many to believe in our polarized political climate, but there are issues on which liberals and conservatives are in accord. The brouhaha of election season has now ended, and we would like to shine a light on one of those subjects; incarceration.

There are some constants when considering the plight of the incarcerated, be they women, juveniles, veterans or some other demographic. These are things that cross party lines, and exist at the intersection of financial pragmatism and humanitarianism.

There are reassuring stirrings online. Take this November 13th article from The Reality Based Community by liberal blogger Harold Pollack:

 For obvious reasons, liberals can’t fix this alone. But there’s good news. They’re not alone. One bright spot in modern conservatism has been the new concern expressed by many prominent figures from Bill Bennett to Newt Gingrich to the over-incarceration problem.  Twenty years ago, culture-war conservatives supported harsh criminal justice policies. Since then, many conservatives have subsequent found reason to reconsider. Conservatives have different reasons for this change of perspective. Libertarians lament the expansive reach of the surveillance state, and the needlessly harsh punishment of many nonviolent offenders. Religious conservatives lament the incredible waste of human potential implied by the warehousing of so many people. Fiscal conservatives lament the billions of dollars spent to finance such policies.

This is key. Both sides need to see the common ground that exists on these issues. The fact that some are starting to notice it and write about it is heartening. The idea that conservatives and liberals cannot cooperate for the common good, or cannot find common ground on social issues, is a a mistake at best and a fabrication at worst.

We need to ignore the polemics of partisan politics and take a look at the people and groups who are guided by facts and research. For instance, many on the left are surprised when they learn that they have an ally in none other than Newt Gingrich, as reported in The Washington Monthly:

 “There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential,” Gingrich wrote in 2011. “The criminal-justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.”

None of Gingrich’s rivals in the vicious Republican presidential primary exploited these statements. If anything, his position is approaching party orthodoxy. The 2012 Republican platform declares, “Prisons should do more than punish; they should attempt to rehabilitate and institute proven prisoner reentry systems to reduce recidivism and future victimization.” What’s more, a rogue’s gallery of conservative crime warriors have joined Gingrich’s call for Americans to rethink their incarceration reflex. They include Ed Meese, Asa Hutchinson, William Bennett—even the now-infamous American Legislative Exchange Council. Most importantly, more than a dozen states have launched serious criminal justice reform efforts in recent years, with conservatives often in the lead.

I think it is important to point this out. Our nation’s dialogue all too often deteriorates into petulant name calling and far-fetched “facts”. A close look at the work actually being done across the country shows that both sides are finding positive results with rehabilitation instead of incarceration. From a fiscally conservative stance it quite simply provides “more bang for the buck,” while the socially conscious element of this approach appeals to liberals. Like all good plans it satisfies on multiple levels, the key one being results.

I’d like to make this  call to action. Let us each reach out to those on the opposite side of the political divide and work with them on this. You might make some friends while doing good at the same time.

There are representatives of both the Left and the Right on our team at Humane Exposures. I consider it one of our strengths. I also consider it important that we are an example of the fact that both sides can work together for the common good and the future of our children.

Want a little bit more info on why It’s more expensive to do nothing? Check out this trailer for our documentary of the same name:

 

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It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing About Homelessness in Canada

There is a very interesting study that was recently released in Canada. The findings may provide some insight into the issues of homelessness we face here in the US.

The substantive report (150 pages of it) analyzed the costs of homelessness, including oft-forgotten peripherals like emergency medical expenses and policing. It then compared them to the cost of implementing services and programs designed to combat the problem.

Via The Vancouver Sun:

The estimated annual cost of $55,000 per homeless person takes into consideration the high risk of infectious diseases. The study says some individuals can be slow to accept treatment because they don’t recognize their mental illness, and may circulate through the court system because of a need to get drugs and food.

The study argues that if housing and support were offered to these people, it would cost the system much less – just $37,000 a year.

The report calculated that a capital investment of $784 million is needed to provide adequate housing to the 11,750 homeless people, and a further $148 million per year is required for housing-related support services.

But the study argues that after removing what the province is paying for health care, jail and shelters, and by spreading the capital costs out over several years, taxpayers could ultimately stand to save nearly $33 million annually.

The interesting part is how well these findings complement the research already done on juvenile incarceration and the incarceration of women. In our documentary, It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing, we examined the fiscal and societal gains that can be attained by implementing rehabilitative programs. They are substantive and invite and obvious parallel to the Canadian study’s findings on homelessness.

Another common thread between the two subjects is the recurrence of mental illness and substance abuse as part of the equation. These factors, if not addressed, tend to spiral out of control. Those subject to them can find themselves on a downward path that can be counteracted with the correct therapy and support programs. (On a personal note I know two people who used programs like that to get a grip on things while fighting those battles. They are now well-respected professionals in our community.)

I don’t know of any studies of this nature going on stateside, but it might be worthwhile to encourage it. Our own look at similar fiscal waste, and the human impact it has, was presented in the documentary It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing.

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Join the Discussion

One of the main reasons that we create and publish our books is to incite dialogue and hopefully action.

The topics we have covered in our trilogy – homelessness, women in prison, and juvenile justice – are some of the great challenges that face our communities. By shining a spotlight on the destructive cycles that contribute to these issues we hope to not only educate, but to also motivate people into making a difference.

When these issues are addressed two key things happen:

  • The economic burden on society is lightened.
  • The social burden on society is lightened.

It is that rare animal in the political arena: a truly bipartisan “win-win” scenario.

A focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society has been proven fiscally conservative; the savings over the long term are incontrovertible. At the same time the focus on social factors such as generational cycles of neglect or abuse appeals to the classic liberal stance. This is one area where, no matter how toxic our politics may become, both sides of the aisle have reason to get on board.

How can you help? For one thing you can join the discussion. In the interest of reaching as many people as possible we have been branching out into the world of social media. Join us on our Facebook Page, Google+ Page, or Twitter. Ask us questions, share your stories, or just follow along as we keep you abreast of the latest news on these topics.

Of course we would love it if you would buy our books and share them with friends as well. I highly advise our most recent effort – Born, Not Raised: Voces  from Juvenile Hall – because there is a lot of legislation going on right now across the U.S. that concerns our juvenile justice system. As state budgets get tighter, some are embracing the financial logic in our proposals, while others are backsliding to older, less effective strategies.

It is important to get informed on these issues, as in one way or another they impact all of us in the end.

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

The Economics of Investing in Children – A Keynote by James J. Heckman

Nobel Prize-winning economist James J. Heckman gives the keynote address at the Center for Child and Family Policy’s tenth anniversary event, March 29, 2010.

(In case you wish to skip the introductory speakers the keynote begins at 8:15 when Heckman takes the stage.)

Susan Madden Lankford talks about Born, Not Raised on KPBS

Yesterday our own Susan Madden Lankford was a guest on KPBS, both TV and radio! Here is the video of the televised portion of proceedings. (a link to the 17 minute audio interview on KPBS radio appears after the video.)

For a much more in depth interview check out the one she did for KPBS radio that same day -‘Born, Not Raised’ Explores The Links Between Development And Juvenile Crime

An Audio Interview with director Alan Swyer

Welcome to our latest Humane Exposures audiocast! Today we sit down with director Alan Swyer, who directed our own feature length documentary, It’ More Expensive to Do Nothing, as well as The Buddy Holly Story, Beisbol, and more.

About Alan Swyer

Alan Swyer has been a faculty member at the American Film Institute, the University of Southern California, and Pepperdine University, and now teaches at Chapman University.  Internationally, he has given seminars on writing and directing in both France and Singapore.  Mr. Swyer studied at the Sorbonne University in Paris and speaks fluent French.

As a filmmaker, he has worked as writer, director, and/or producer on projects ranging from our own It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing to HBO’s award winning Rebound; The Buddy Holly Story; Alfred Hitchcock Presents; and his award-winning documentary The Spiritual Revolution.  Among his other work is Beisbol, the winner of the 2009 Imagen Award for best feature-length documentary, which is the definitive look at Latin baseball—its origins, lore and impact upon the game today with narration by Andy Garcia. Beisbol just screened at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Coooperstown; and Leimert Park, about a black cultural mecca in Los Angeles. He has also directed assorted music and video and commercials, and produced the NBC special entitled The Diabetes Epidemic: Challenges & Breakthroughs.

Mr. Swyer served as film critic for the Hollywood Reporter, as well as being a frequent contributor to Britain’s Blues & Rhythm.  He has produced albums including a Ray Charles compilation of love songs and has written liner notes for CDs ranging from The Best of Big Joe Turner, to The Fiftieth Anniversary of Doo-Wop, and Ray Charles & Betty Carter.

Mr. Swyer is also an activist of note, having created, in conjunction with the LA County Probation Department and the Juvenile Judiciary of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Teen Court, which has had remarkable success as an “intervention” for the first-time juvenile offenders.  In addition, he is a Board Member of the Compton Baseball Academy, whose purpose is to get at-risk youth off the streets and onto the playing field.

Attack at the Bridge City Center for Youth raises new calls for reform

For those who are unaware, I am a native of New Orleans. This is one reason that I take the issue of juvenile justice so very seriously. All one needs is a moment on Google to see just how many hurdles we face down here ranging from the disparity in how justice is meted out according to race to the profound lack of effective facilities and trained staff.

This was thrown into very sharp relief recently when a 26 year old juvenile justice specialist was attacked in the Bridge City Center for Youth. The unnamed woman watched as inmates barricaded the door, ripped the phone from the wall, smashed her radio, and spent the next 45 minutes groping and threatening to rape her. The three youth’s involved were age 14, 15, and 16 respectively.

WDSU TV reports:

According to the Sheriff’s Office, as one of the boys cursed and taunted the woman, one of the boys was seen with his genitals exposed in front of the woman. The accused “ringleader,” Normand said, was being held in the facility on attempted murder charges.

The woman was rescued after one of the boys covered the security camera with a rug, blacking out the camera. An employee passing the video viewing room noticed the camera blacked out and alerted other counselors.

There are many troubling aspects to this, and in my opinion most of them are directly traceable to lack of funding and accountability. An editorial on NOLA.com points out many of the worrisome issues surrounding this incident:

But while the office is characterizing its response as swift, one important action didn’t happen quickly: reporting the incident to local law enforcement. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office didn’t learn about the attack until two days after it happened, according to spokesman Col. John Fortunato. That delay is hard to understand. Even though the suspects were already in custody, local law enforcement officials surely should be alerted when a crime takes place at the center. If calling the Sheriff’s Office isn’t part of the youth center’s protocol, it should be.

Investigators also need to determine why a single female counselor was supervising 11 teenage boys on her own. Two other employees were absent, but there should be a better backup plan when there are staffing shortages.

How’s that for a direct effect of staff shortages? Having a young woman assaulted and threatened with rape. It’s a side of the equation that many don’t even consider. The editorial also touches on the aspect that I find most troublesome – how long it took for someone to notice.

The WDSU report notes that the woman was assigned to the justice dormitory because two other employees were absent. That may well be the case, but one young woman to eleven youth offenders is not a safe equation no matter how you slice it. The editorial continues:

It’s also troubling that it took nearly an hour for other staffers to realize the woman was in trouble. Another employee, who happened to be passing the video control room, noticed an inmate throwing a rug over a camera, Col. Fortunato said. Video cameras are only useful as a monitoring tool if someone is paying attention to them.

So another staffer noticed because he happened to be walking by the video monitoring room? Where were the staff that were supposed to be watching the feed? Were they downsized out of a job or were they simply neglecting their duties?

Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident for the facility. Not only that but the local law enforcement agrees with assessment that budget cuts are to blame. Maya Rodriguez of WWL TV brings us the details (keep your eyes out for Dana Kaplan, who we recently interviewed here on HE):

“The state has got to step up and provide the necessary funding to make sure that these facilities are safe and secure and that’s not what’s happening at the present time,” said Sheriff Normand. How true. His campaign to release juvenile records however is an iffy one. A number of programs like that have been being implemented across the U.S. and many of them have crashed and burned. Among others the ACLU is challenging the practice in a number of jurisdictions.

It’s easy to get mad at the offenders here, their behavior was vile there is no doubt. If we wish to effect any sort of lasting change, a way to prevent this sort of incident, then we need to look at long term solutions. That requires funding.

The really frustrating part is that funding of the proper programs now will result in both more effective programs and less overall financial expenditure. With budgets tight everywhere politicians want to show immediate savings, even if that means that the long term costs, both human and financial, will skyrocket.

The Economics of Incarceration in Arizona

MoneyThe economic side of the penal system is something we look at a lot. In so many cases, the return of preventative programs vastly outstrips the return we see from imprisoning people. Our documentary is titled It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing because that is, quite simply, the case.

Of course, there are also darker sides of the economic angle that bear scrutiny. When we speak of the economic factors, we are talking about ways in which to spend less and achieve better results. For some others, it is a matter of how much can be made from the business of incarceration.

Laura Sullivan has a very illuminating piece on NPR (you can read it or listen to the audio) focusing on this very subject. She takes a look at the spiderweb of business interests that stand to reap serious financial gains from Arizona’s new immigration law. [Note: this is not a debate about the law itself, but an examination of the way in which the prison industry has influenced the letter of the law for its financial gain. Comments debating immigration law will be considered off topic and not published.]

While there has been both forceful opposition and support for the law, it would behoove both sides to look closer at the way the law came about. NPR did some digging:

NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry. The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.

What follows is a hard look at the influence of lobbyists. It starts with the Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, who claims the bill was his idea. His stated stance is that Americans need to look at the cost of not enforcing our laws and securing the border. The interesting part is that instead of bringing his idea up on the Senate floor, he instead brought it to a meeting of a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that took place last December at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C.

If you look at the composition of the group, an interesting picture develops:

It’s a membership organization of state legislators and powerful corporations and associations, such as the tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association. Another member is the billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America — the largest private prison company in the country.

Both members of the Corrections Corporation of America and Pearce are not only members but also sit on several of ALEC’s boards. Model legislation was developed at the Hyatt, legislation that was adopted almost verbatim four months later. Pearce claims that even though lobbyists were in attendance, he did not go to meet with them, but rather to meet with other legislators:

Pearce may go there to meet with other legislators, but 200 private companies pay tens of thousands of dollars to meet with legislators like him.

As soon as Pearce’s bill hit the Arizona statehouse floor in January, there were signs of ALEC’s influence. Thirty-six co-sponsors jumped on, a number almost unheard of in the capitol. According to records obtained by NPR, two-thirds of them either went to that December meeting or are ALEC members.

That same week, the Corrections Corporation of America hired a powerful new lobbyist to work the capitol.

This is an economic angle that we need to watch. There is no way to fight the bloating of our prison system without realizing that this is big business. There are so many jobs and so much money wrapped up in the penal system that it’s truly frightening. The approach to imprisonment being taken in Arizona and many other places seems to view an increase in the number of people incarcerated as a good thing, since, after all, it creates jobs and salaries. The fact that it costs taxpayers far more than the alternatives does not enter into that kind of logic.

This is not merely a problem in the areas near the border when immigration is such a massive issue. On the first of last month, I wrote about the astounding and disturbing state of affairs in Canon City, CO, the town with 13 prisons. Just to put it into perspective, Canon City has 36,000 residents, which makes it roughly one prison per 2,700 people. Sounds like big business to me, especially since one of those 13 is the Supermac, the new “Alcatraz of America.”

It does not matter whether this happens in Arizona, Colorado, or some other state. The fact remains that we have 5% of the global population and roughly a quarter of the world’s incarcerated here in the U.S.A. If the trend of embracing the corrections system as a revenue-generating business continues, those numbers will become even more out of balance.

So, as the prison system in Arizona hits a major growth spurt, I’d like to leave you with two short quotes to keep in mind:

‘When we provide treatment, we can cut recidivism rates down 25, 35, sometimes 40 percent.’
– Douglas B. Marlowe, J.D., Ph.D., Chief of Science, Policy and Law, National Association of Drug Court Professionals

and

‘It makes long term economic sense to try and take care of these people in a humane way, and help them heal.’
– Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Child Trauma Academy

Source: “Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law,” NPR, 10/28/10
Image by AMagill, used under its Creative Commons license.
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