Archive for Legislation

OK Senate-passed Bill Lowers Highest Female Prison Rate

67_MAGGOTSSWEETThe Oklahoma Senate Appropriations Committee last week gave unanimous approval to a measure seeking to lower the nation’s highest female incarceration rate. Senate Bill 1278 would authorize the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to enter into a Pay-for-Success (PFS) contract pilot program for those criminal justice programs that have had proven outcomes of reducing public sector costs associated with female incarceration.

With a female incarceration rate nearly twice the national average, Oklahoma’s rate has topped the nation every year since 1994, except in 2003. Pathways to incarceration for Oklahoma women often begin early, with physical and sexual abuse, chaotic home environments and poverty. These childhood challenges often result in decreased educational attainment and can lead to substance abuse and addiction and mental illness. Domestic violence and adult victimization are other pathways to incarceration for women. Children with incarcerated parents have a significantly higher risk of being incarcerated in the future, continuing the cycle of incarceration.

Author of the Oklahoma legislation, David, R-Porter said:

Oklahoma’s history of imprisoning nonviolent women, rather than treating them, is expensive, ineffective and damaging to families. It’s important that we offer alternatives to incarceration to get these women rehabilitated and back to the workforce and their families. Incarceration and poverty are a vicious cycle in our state that we can stop by giving these women the counseling and education they need to get clean, find a job and be able to support themselves without returning to a life of drugs and crime.

With a PFS contract, the state negotiates with a program to deliver a specific outcome, such as reduced incarceration. Private philanthropy provides upfront funding. Once OMES verifies that the diversion or reentry program was successfully completed by a participant, the state would then re-pay a portion of the savings realized. Another benefit of using these contracts is that state payment will never exceed its savings created through the contracted programs.

Under SB 1278, only service providers which have provided programs that successfully diverted women from prison and which have the capacity (size, scale, budget) to serve at least 100 high-risk women would qualify for this initial PFS pilot.

The first PFS contract will be delivered in Tulsa County, which is the largest contributor to the female offender population in Oklahoma. Since fiscal year 2012, Tulsa County has outpaced Oklahoma County and the rest of the state in its female offender receptions.

David adds:

This is a win-win opportunity for Oklahoma. OMES can find nonprofits that have successfully helped currently and formerly incarcerated women gain the skills they need to become self-sufficient, productive members of society again.

This will help decrease the length of sentences and lower recidivism rates, which will in turn help address the state’s prison overcrowding problem and save the state millions in incarceration costs. Once released, these women will also become taxpayers, creating new revenue for the state, and they’ll hopefully be able to support their families and get off state assistance, saving the state even more money.

David said the bill was written for the Women in Recovery program in Tulsa, but others can apply. Any provider program must have at least $2 million in capital, according to the bill.

Family & Children’s Services’ Women in Recovery program began in 2009 as an alternative to incarceration for women who have drug and alcohol addictions and face prison sentences. The program has admitted about 300 women and has had 131 graduates. Currently, 102 are now participants.

Ken Levit is executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), which helped create Women in Recovery. He said the state saves money that would have been spent on incarceration when women successfully complete the program.

The Women in Recovery program offers an alternative to incarceration for Tulsa County judges, district attorneys and public defenders, by combining strict supervision within a comprehensive day treatment format for women with substance abuse problems. Participant requirements and programs include:

  1. Gender-responsive, trauma-informed substance abuse treatment and cognitive behavioral therapies;
  2. Employment and vocational training;
  3. Comprehensive individual and group treatment;
  4. Family reunification/parent-skill training;
  5. Transitional safe and sober housing;
  6. Intensive case management and basic needs;
  7. Employment and vocational training;
  8. Primary health and dental care;
  9. Linkage to community recovery support groups;
  10. Life skills, education, transportation, volunteerism;
  11. Wellness and stress reduction;
  12. Community integration
  13. Aftercare services post graduation.

A woman is potentially eligible to enter WIR if she is 18 years of age or older, is involved in the criminal justice system, is ineligible for other diversion services or courts, has a history or is at-risk of substance abuse and is at imminent risk of incarceration. Women with children are a high priority for program admission. With more than 300 women sent to prison from Tulsa County in fiscal year 2010, the need for alternatives is crucial.

A Bipartisan Victory in Georgia!

English: Great Seal of the State of Georgia

English: Great Seal of the State of Georgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why are they there? They are there because there are not programs currently in the community that judges can send them to,”

-Rep. Wendell Willard, speaking about the incarceration of juveniles for misdemeanor offenses or truancy charge (as reported in the Marietta Daily Journal).

It looks like that is about to change. In a show of bipartisan collaboration that is long overdue Georgia conservatives and their liberal counterparts have joined forces to fix their state’s juvenile justice system. A system that has done nothing but get consistently worse over the past two decades.

Melissa Carter at the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange writes:

Georgia leaders were recently confronted by compelling data showing that the state is expending considerable resources confining offenders who are mostly at low-risk to re-offend, and further, that these expensive and restrictive interventions are not effective. More than half of all Georgia young people in the juvenile justice system recidivate; that is, they are re-adjudicated delinquent or convicted of a criminal offense within three years of their release. This narrative is not unique to Georgia, and states recognize the need to be more effective and more efficient with their limited resources. A broader set of goals must be satisfied, including those promoting public safety, accountability, fiscal responsibility and positive outcomes for young people. Thus, now is the ideal time to correct the public policy course of the last two decades by making smart investments in our youth.

Georgia’s governor recognized this opportunity and has made juvenile justice reform a signature issue. The state is poised to enact a comprehensive statutory reform package (the state House passed the legislation last week) that includes proposals to treat status offenders through a more service-oriented Children in Need of Services (CHINS) approach, separate felonies into two classes based on the severity of the offense to allow for differentiated sentencing, mandate use of standardized assessment tools, and require improved data collection. The bill also contains a fiscal incentive program to create community-based alternatives to detention.

Programs like these are already showing results- improving outcomes for youth and their families, increasing public safety and reducing costs in five states. Seeing them implemented in a state notorious for its juvenile justice concerns is heartening. Even more important is the continuing trend of bipartisan agreement.

It is no secret that these are insanely polarized times, politically speaking. As a result collaborations across the aisle have become almost mythical. Just look at the “fiscal cliff” and the current brouhaha about sequestration. Yet on this issue there is no choice but bipartisan agreement, the numbers are that cut and dried. There are even precedents for it, as I noted here on this blog back in February of 2012 when I wrote about bipartisan progress being made in aphid and Michegan:

The idea of justice reform is often viewed as a province of the liberal left, however the current reality is that more and more conservatives are embracing it now that they are becoming aware of the harsh financial realities. Let us hope this trend continues.

We have the proof. Numerous studies over the past few decades show quite plainly that more community based approaches and rehabilitative programs are more effective at getting people out of the system, which thrills liberals. These same studies also demonstrate a much lower outlay of funds with a greatly increased return on investment, the goal of all true fiscal conservatives.

Let us hope that the common sense prevailing in Georgia leads even more states to do so. It is, after all, far more expensive to do nothing.

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Hangout On Air with the National Juvenile Justice Network!

HangoutWe are proud to announce a new Humane Exposures Hangout! On October 9 at  11 am PST / 1 pm CST / 2 pm EST we will be joined by several of the driving forces behind the National Juvenile Justice Network. We will be discussing the recent  release of an amazing resource they have compiled: Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform: 2009-2011, a compendium of youth justice reforms from across the country. This is an elegantly crafted document that provides capsule summaries of the changes in juvenile justice organized by topic area, state, and year. It covers a broad array of significant new laws, administrative rule and practice changes, positive court decisions, and promising commissions and studies.

I would cite this as a useful resource for advocates, juvenile justice system employees, legislators, and those who simply wish to become more informed on the subject. In it you can learn about recent reforms in other states, find tips on connecting with allies and other advocates, generating ideas for change, and ways in which to educate policymakers or journalists.
Our panel for the day will be comprised of the following people:

Abby Anderson is executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, an advocacy organization that consistently wins major victories for at-risk youth. She has served as co-chair of the Executive Committee of the National Juvenile Justice Network since 2007 and was formerly on the Executive Board of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. In naming her to its prestigious “40 Under 40” list, Connecticut Magazine said: “She has reframed  juvenile justice as a mainstream issue by stressing the savings achieved by getting timely services to kids before their behavior becomes a public-safety concern.”

Jim Moeser is the Deputy Director of the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families, a multi-issue state advocacy organization promoting the safety, health, and economic stability of Wisconsin’s children and families. Jim is currently a member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice for OJJDP. He co-chairs the Executive Committee of the National Juvenile Justice Network.

Sarah Bryer, NJJN’s Director, has been working in the juvenile and criminal justice fields for more than twenty years. Prior to joining NJJN, she was the Director of Policy and Planning at the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES), an alternative-to-incarceration program serving more than 10,000 misdemeanor and felony-level, court-involved youth and adults per year. Before that, she was Manager of Youth Programs at the Center for Court Innovation and has been a victim-offender mediator for court-involved youth in California.

Benjamin Chambers has been writing professionally for over 20 years, and has over 10 years of experience in the field of juvenile justice. Between 2000 and 2007, he worked for the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice in Portland, Oregon, where he was involved in improving youth drug treatment and served on the management team. Between 2008 and 2011, he launched and edited the Reclaiming Futures blog and social media channels, which he built into premier venues for juvenile justice news and resources.

George “Loki” Williams Our own Humane Exposures blogger will be moderating the discussion. Loki has blogged for clients including the National Association of Broadcasters and Kaiser Permanente as well as the Webby Award-winning He is one of the organizers of the Rising Tide Conference in New Orleans, and his work has been seen or written about in The New York Times, The BBC, The New Yorker’s New Orleans Journal, and, among others.

Tune in Tuesday on our Google+ Page! See you there!

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Supreme Court Update: second chance for juveniles?

For those of you following the story we wrote about last week, Supreme Court to revisit life in prison for juveniles, here is a quick update via Newsy:
It is well documented fact that juveniles are biologically distinct from adults developmentally. These physiological and mental differences make it outlandish to treat them like adults when it comes to matters of crime.

While Justice Scalia may be correct in pointing out that the majority of states allow life sentencing he ignores one vital point. Just because it is, as he put it, “the will of the people” does not mean that the people have all the facts.

This is why we continue to produce works such as Born, Not Raised and It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing, to help provide both information and perspective so that we can make better decisions as a society.

Supreme Court to Revisit Life In Prison for Juveniles

Prison cell with bed inside Alcatraz main building san francisco californiaIncarcerating juveniles for life is a uniquely American failing. The U.S. is the only nation that makes this blunder.

Most of the problem stems from the 1990’s when the histrionic term “super-predator” came into vogue among a certain vocal and excitable group. Randy Hertz of The Nation sums up that background nicely:

In the 1990s, a small group of academics capitalized on and galvanized a growing hysteria about violent crime by youths, speculating that an anticipated rise in the youth population, coupled with spurious theories about the exceptional deviance of children of color growing up poor, would lead to a new generation of ‘severely morally impoverished juvenile super-predators…capable of committing the most heinous acts of physical violence for the most trivial reasons.’ Fearing that the rehabilitation-focused juvenile justice system would be inadequate to protect society from this impending menace, lawmakers passed laws that circumvented juvenile court and sent kids to criminal court for prosecution as adults.

Our position on prosecuting kids as adults is abundantly clear. It is detrimental to the kids, to society, and to the financial bottom line. It exposes children to hardened criminals while still at a malleable stage of the development. The list of issues with that approach is long and varied.

Hertz continues with a vital note on the matter. You see, the expert recanted.

The same expert who coined the term ‘super-predator’ now acknowledges that it was nothing but a ghost story, a terrifying myth with disastrous consequences. In an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of Miller and Jackson, this expert—and others—note that the juvenile crime rates actually dropped from 1994 to 2000. But a relative handful of children accused of serious crimes—a grossly disproportionate number of them children of color—found themselves caught permanently in the web spun by academics and politicians, sentenced to die in prison with no hope of release no matter how they might transform and reform themselves. Once we give up on these children, many prisons compound the hopelessness by failing to provide access to educational programs.

This coming week the Supreme Court will revisit the subject. The hearing will involve two different cases, both young boys who at the age of 14 committed murder. Both cases shared another characteristic – a sentence of life in prison with no potential for parole.

The outrage was immediate among advocates, who called the sentence “brutal” for failing to recognize the difference between the actions of the immature youths and the actions of an adult.

Judge Gail Garinger, State Child Advocate for Massachusetts and former juvenile court justice, weighs in on the matter (via The New York Times):

Homicide is the worst crime, but in striking down the juvenile death penalty in 2005, the Supreme Court recognized that even in the most serious murder cases, ‘juvenile offenders cannot with reliability be classified among the worst offenders’: they are less mature, more vulnerable to peer pressure, cannot escape from dangerous environments, and their characters are still in formation. And because they remain unformed, it is impossible to assume that they will always present an unacceptable risk to public safety.

The most disturbing part of the superpredator myth is that it presupposed that certain children were hopelessly defective, perhaps genetically so. Today, few believe that criminal genes are inherited, except in the sense that parental abuse and negative home lives can leave children with little hope and limited choices.

As a former juvenile court judge, I have seen firsthand the enormous capacity of children to change and turn themselves around. The same malleability that makes them vulnerable to peer pressure also makes them promising candidates for rehabilitation.

Let us hope the good sense behind the murder decision in 2005 has a resurgence while they contemplate the current situation. The Alabama Equal Justice Initiative is arguing on behalf of the defendants, and their assertion that life in prison for juveniles constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is one that we support.

It is not that we in any way condone the actions, the loss of human life is horrible no matter the circumstances. The simple fact is that young people and adults have a number of purely biological differences. Brain imaging studies have shown that the parts of the adolescent brain responsible for controlling thoughts, actions and emotions are not fully developed. For this reason alone it is imperative that we use appropriate standards for punishment as opposed to dealing with them like adults.

For more on this subject please check out our latest book- Born, Not Raised: Voices from juvenile Hall. It’s hot of the presses having only been released this last week!

Budget Cuts Endanger The California Dept. of Juvenile Justice

Money 2Under the reduced budget enacted earlier this month, the California department of Juvenile Justice will cease to exist unless counties shell out $125,000 a year per youth offender. That’s bad.

Marisa Lagos of the San Fransico Chronicle notes the conundrum facing California counties in the new year:

Under the automatic cutbacks approved by lawmakers in June and set to take effect Jan. 1, the agency’s $72 million annual budget will be eliminated, and counties will have to pay the state $125,000 a year for each juvenile offender it wants the state to continue housing – or take those youths back to serve their time at local facilities. In a series of letters to Gov. Jerry Brown, the statewide associations representing county governments, district attorneys and probation officials have warned that the change will force counties to make the “untenable” choice between paying millions of dollars a year they don’t have or moving youth offenders to county facilities that are ill-equipped to handle them.

This will have the deleterious effect of pushing large numbers of youths into adult facilities where it only costs about $50,000 per  annually to house inmates, as opposed to the $175,000 apiece for juveniles. The problem is that the extra $125,000 per inmate for juvenile offenders pays for vital treatment and programs. The difference is stark, just look up the recidivism number on kids incarcerated as adults (there’s a lot of documentation in our prior posts, go look around).  Saving that money short term will breed more hardened criminals in the long term. Which is really more expensive?

To add another layer of complexity to the issue. The serious, violent youth offenders are a lawsuit liability for the counties. Criminologist Barry Kriserg, a long time monitor of the department of juvenile Justice, has warned that they could face litigation if the add violent youth offenders into existing county facilities. Of course county officials are worried about more than just potential legal action, as Lagos notes further down in her column:

‘If counties are forced to absorb this population in some fashion at the local level, we are concerned that the mixing of the most serious and violent juvenile offenders with the youth now in our custody and care will greatly compromise rehabilitative efforts with the current local population,’ wrote Mike McGowan, Gregory Totten and Linda Penner – the presidents of the statewide associations representing counties, district attorneys and probation chiefs – in a Dec. 7 letter.

This population, they wrote, ‘is decidedly unfit’ for county facilities, ‘as these youth possess complex criminal profiles often accompanied by significant mental health, behavioral and treatment needs.’

It is those needs that account for the $125,000 per inmate that the budget cuts are trying to save. Failing to address them in the short term can be far cheaper, but is it really worth the expense? That money pays for programs to fight recidivism, programs geared towards the immature psychology and neurology of youth. Without those the potential for kids to enter the system and come out as hardened criminals rather than productive members of society skyrockets. That means more money spent on enforcement, more money spent on court, more money spent on future incarceration, and the unmeasurable cost to the victims of their future crimes.

Which is really more expensive?

Image Source: borman818 on Flickr, used under it’s Creative Commons license

Congress To Slash Juvenile Justice Funds

MoneyThe Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has just taken a blow, one which could possibly put it’s connection with state governments at risk.

Appropriations leaders in both the House and the Senate have finalized a bill which cuts the office’s funding from $275 million in fiscal 2011 to $262.5 million for fiscal 2012.

John Kelly, a writer for YouthToday, has a wonderfully detailed explanation of how these funds are allocated and the series of bills leading to this point. As to the outcome, it seems funding will be cut from a number of programs and tactics that we at HE support:

Prospects on what will happen with the formula funds are complicated. The funds are allocated to the states in exchange for their compliance with four core standards of juvenile justice operations: not detaining or incarcerating status offenders; keeping all juveniles out of adult jails, and separating them by sight and sound from adult detainees in the rare exceptions when jail is allowable; and addressing disproportionate minority contact in the system.

Compliance with these practices is something we desperately need more of, not less. This stance will hobble rehabilitative and community based programs across the U.S. while putting more youth at risk. In the long run the money “saved,” here will probably be spent on incarceration. (In which case it really is not a “saving,” is it?)

SparkAction’s online petition sums it up well:

[…] deep cuts to federal funds that now support state and local juvenile justice and delinquency prevention efforts will hurt kids and families and jeopardize public safety. Cuts of this magnitude will result in more children in dangerous, costly lock-ups, greatly increasing risks of suicide, sexual and physical abuse, and disconnection from family, positive support, education and the workforce.

The timing on this is horrible. Studies consistently show that a rehabilitative approach is not only far more effective but also far less costly than incarceration, which has become a booming business here in the sates. Many states have been becoming pro-active about embracing more theraputic and community driven programs, the exact kind of programs facing the budgetary knife.

 The Wasington Post just ran an editorial spelling out exactly why this is bad legislation:

Delinquency prevention or diversion programs are significantly cheaper than incarceration. According to the American Correctional Association, states spent between $66,000 and $88,000 in 2008 to incarcerate each juvenile offender. The costs associated with imprisoning youths are substantially higher than for adults because of the additional services, including education, that incarcerated youths require. Incarceration may be appropriate for juveniles who commit violent offenses, but it is too often chosen for those who commit nonviolent infractions. The incidence of such counterproductive punishment will almost certainly rise if these federal funds are cut further.

This will not reduce juvenile crime, and it will probably end up costing much more than the alternatives. And when I say cost I mean cost to the youths and their communities as well as the budgetary numbers.

 Image Source: Images_of_Money on Flickr, used under it’s Creative Commons license

Crumbs For The Future – Murder Victim’s Mother Speaks Out Against Mandatory Sentencing

Canada“How can we afford to focus so many resources on locking up the past so there are only crumbs left for the future.”These words come from the mother of Canadian murder victim Candace Derksen.

The occassion was her recent testimony (via videoconference from Winnipeg) at the Canadian House of Commons justice committee. The same committee which is studying their government’s new omnibus crime legislation.

Wilma Derksen’s daughter was murdered 27 years ago at the age of 13. Mark Grant was arrested for the crime much, much later in 2007. After his conviction last February he has a long wait for parole, as he is not even eligible for it until 2036.

Mia Rabson of the Winnipeg Free Press brings us additional details:

‘The sentencing of the man who murdered our daughter did not satisfy our need for justice,’ [Derksen] said.

She said in fact it will cost a lot of money to keep Grant in prison.

She fears the new bill will put more of the limited government dollars available into incarceration and not into the education system and social programs to help raise kids who are healthy and good members of society.

Derksen is not the only one coming out in opposition to the Omnibus Crime Bill, a  recently introduced piece of Tory legislation. It is a Frankenstein monster cobbled together from nine prior bills, all of which the Canadian Parliament refused to pass. Along with amendments to parts of the penal code, mostly geared towards mandatory sentencing, it will also make changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.  Among other things those changes include making it easier to prosecute juvenile repeat offender as adults.

One big sticking point with the incarceration mentality is the sheer cost involved. It is that financial bottom line which is finally motivating some Canadian politicians where statistics have failed. The Winnipeg Sun reports  that provincial Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier  has estimated the cost to Quebec alone would be hundreds of millions of dollars.

Quebec, he argued, doesn’t have the means to pay for it.

‘This bill does not offer the financial support for these changes,’ he said.

‘Quebec refuses to absorb these costs.’

It is to be hoped that the hasty attempts to push the bill through are slowed enough for real debate and a survey of the facts. Even here in the U.S. where prisons are big business, the states are drifting away from the broken and primitive incarceration mentality.

Image Source: alexindigo, used under its Creative Commons license

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


‘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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Age Limit for Foster Care in California Goes Up to 21

SchwarzeneggerThe campus of Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services last Wednesday was the epicenter of an enormous change for California. Governor Schwarzenegger performed a ceremonial signing of Assembly Bill 12, a bill that  will keep foster care kids from aging out of the system when they turn 18. Schwarzenegger called the idea of taking care of oneself at 18 “ludicrous.”

Brian Watt, a reporter for 89.3 KPCC, reports that the Governor refers to this extension of benefits as a partnership:

‘The kids have to take care of things, and also we have to take care of things,’ [Gov. Schwarzenegger] said. ‘We for instance continue giving them financial and social support, which is important for them, but they in return have to go to school, or go to work and meet regularly with their case workers. But let me tell you something: this is the greatest investment that we can make in our state.’

Now, the refrain that “children are our future,” while true, is often invoked but seldom truly heeded. What makes this a practical plan? The governor cited some promising data in his address:

He referred to study results that say for every dollar the state invests in foster care, it saves 2 and a half dollars in the future. Former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass co-wrote the legislation. The Los Angeles Democrat and Congressional candidate said the economic recession has given rise to a common expression: Boomerang Kids.

‘Young people forced by the economy to return to their parents’ home and support,’ said Bass. ‘But what happens to a boomerang that doesn’t have a place to go back to? It just gets thrown away.’

We’d say that a return of two and a half for an investment of one is a no brainer. Not only does it make sound financial sense at a time when it is vital for the state to save money, but it also shields those in foster homes from the trials and tribulations of possibly ending up on the streets.

Karen De Sa, writer for The Mercury News, brings us some supporting data:

Research by the Urban Institute and the University of Chicago has documented these outcomes. Within two years of leaving foster care, one in four teens lands in jail. And with high school graduation rates of less than 50 percent, more than half are unemployed. Close to one in four ends up homeless within 18 months.

Frightening numbers, and ones that stand to increase if the American economy continues to be so erratic. This is why AB 12 is essential, as this real-world comparison demonstrates quite well (also via The Mercury News article):

[…A] study released last year by child welfare researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Chicago estimated that extending foster care can change those outcomes — and result in cost savings for California. The multiyear report tracking young people exiting the foster care system compared Illinois — a rare state allowing foster care through age 21 — with states lacking such support. Illinois youths were three times more likely to enroll in college and 65 percent less likely to be arrested; the young women were 38 percent less likely to get pregnant.

Alanna Connaway, a writer for The Boot, reports a telling statement by a San Jose Assemblyman:

‘For generations, foster care youth faced being kicked out of their foster homes simply because they had turned 18 or graduated from high school,’ says Assemblymember Jim Beall (D-San Jose), who introduced AB 12. ‘Without any means of support, they were left to wander the streets for shelter and food. Many had no choice but to return to the parents who had neglected or abused them. AB 12 ensures they’ll have a safe place to live and stability until they are 21. It will help clear the way for eligible foster care youths go to college and begin careers that will contribute to our society.’

As states across the nation feel the economic noose tightening around their necks, it is essential that we find ways to save money and do so in a way that supports a restoration of the social fabric of the community. This is a hand up, not a handout.

Source: “New law makes 21 age limit for Calif’s foster care system,” 89.3 KPCV, 10/06/10
Source: “California enacts landmark foster care legislation extending the system to age 21,” The Mercury News, 10/02/10
Source: “Jimmy Wayne Reacts to Signing of California Foster Bill AB 12,” The Boot, 10/05/10
Image by Nate Mandos, used under its Creative Commons license.

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