Archive for Prison

Convict Moms May Benefit From Pending Congressional Sentencing Reform and Declining Female Prison Populations

70_MAGGOTSSWEETToday Congress is moving on sentencing reform, which could further ease the pressure on female prisoners with children. In addition, they may benefit from less emphasis on harsh sentences for nonviolent offenses. 

Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, says:

The decline in women’s incarceration appears to be related to fewer drug offenders in prison. As harsh sentencing policies have begun to be scaled back, and diversion programs expanded, fewer women are now being sentenced to lengthy prison terms for lower-level drug offenses.

Since the early 1970s, the “war on drugs” led to a surge in the US prison population of both men and women. But percentagewise, women saw a greater increase. According to the Sentencing Project, between 1980 and 2010, the number of women in federal and state prison rose by 646 percent; from 15,118 to 112,797. If you count women in local jails, that brings the US total of female prisoners in 2010 to more than 205,000.

Now the trends are reversing. After peaking in 2009, the US prison population has declined annually–something that has been attributed to factors including the recession, and changes in public attitudes and in the courts. In 2011, the US Supreme Court upheld a ruling that ordered California to ease overcrowding in its state prisons.

Congress is now getting into the act. On January 30, 2014, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted for legislation aimed at reducing prison overcrowding further. In a bipartisan 13-to-5 vote, the panel approved the Smarter Sentencing Act,
which would substantially reduce mandatory minimums for some drug offenses and allow federal judges more discretion in determining sentences for nonviolent drug offenses?

The Act amends the federal criminal code to direct criminal courts to impose a sentence for specified controlled substance offenses without regard to any statutory minimum sentence if the court finds that the defendant does not have more than one criminal conviction. It also authorizes a court that imposed a sentence for a crack cocaine possession or trafficking offense committed before August 3, 2010, on motion of the defendant, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, the attorney for the government or the court, to impose a reduced sentence as if provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 were in effect at the time such offense was committed.

Courts must also reduce mandatory minimum sentences for manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, possessing, importing or exporting specified controlled substances. And it orders courts to formulate guidelines to minimize the likelihood that the federal prison population will exceed federal prison capacity, while it emphasizes the need to reduce and prevent racial disparities in sentencing.

Since women are more likely to be incarcerated for a nonviolent offense than men, they may benefit from the law disproportionately. Already, between 2009 and 2012, the female prison population dropped by 4.1 percent.

This trend has particular meaning for prisoners with children. In 2008, 52 percent of women in state prison and 63 percent in federal prison had at least one child under the age of 18, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Six out of 10 women prisoners with children lived with their kids before incarceration.

Most kids don’t have physical contact with their mother while she is incarcerated, because women are often placed in facilities more than 100 miles from home, where visiting is both expensive and difficult. Collect phone calls from prison are expensive, and some mothers do not want to expose children to the prison environment and security procedures, which can be intimidating.

Bahiyyah Muhammad, a sociology professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C., who studied the children of incarcerated parents, suggests:

One solution would be to have offenders serve shorter sentences that are focused on drug treatment and education and that take place closer to their families. That way you keep the family together and allow them to have a role in this rehabilitation process.

A parental classification be implemented for convicted mothers) who have custody of their children, so they can serve their time at an institution designed for parents–that is, “friendlier” for kids.

I think we could save a lot of money if we used alternatives to punish nonviolent drug offenders, especially if they are parents. Parental incarceration has long-lasting effects on children.

Since the 1970s, the dramatic rise in the US prison population has put significant strain on the limited resources available to treat prisoners and to help ex-convicts reintegrate into the outside world.

In 37 States, 180,000 Female Ex-drug Offenders, Particularly Minority Women, are Subjected to a Cruel Lifetime Embargo on Welfare Benefits

English: Logo of the .

English: Logo of the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 12 states, felony drug offenders face lifelong exclusion from most public benefits, even after serving prison time.   In 25 other states, women incarcerated for drug offenses are subjected to a partial embargo of benefits.

This is because of a hastily added provision to the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), also known as the Welfare Reform Act, which aimed to reduce welfare dependence. Not only are women with drug convictions unlikely to get the help they need before or during their incarceration, but thanks to this provision many of them, after serving their time, will also face being barred for life from receiving most forms of public benefits—including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

The purpose of the prohibition, supposedly, is to deter drug use and the criminal behavior that sometimes arises from it by making it harder for addicts to trade food stamps or use cash benefits for drugs. However, a new report by the nonprofit Sentencing Project, titled “A Lifetime of Punishment,” examined the impact of the PRWORA provision and found no evidence that this goal was being achieved. On the contrary, by denying benefits to those most in need, the ill-conceived embargo may be having a particularly devastating impact on women and children of color and is more likely to perpetuate the cycle of poverty and addiction that leads people to abuse or sell drugs in the first place.

Minority women are feeling the brunt of the prohibition. Today nearly one-third of women in state prisons are incarcerated for drug offenses, and approximately two-thirds of them are black or Hispanic, even though data collected by the Department of Health and Human Services have shown that white women use drugs at roughly the same rate.

Over the past 30 years, the female prison population has increased at nearly twice the rate of the male prison population, an unprecedented development primarily attributable to the war on drugs.

A policy that denies those with drug convictions access to food and cash benefits for life starts to look especially cruel when you examine the lives of women who end up in prison. As of 2003, 74 percent of women in state prisons had substance-abuse issues, 57 percent reported having been sexually or physically abused prior to their incarceration, about 73 percent had some kind of mental-health problem and almost a quarter suffered from a psychiatric disorder. Sixty-four percent of women in state prisons did not graduate from high school, almost half were unemployed a month prior to their arrest and nearly two-thirds were mothers of minors.

Marc Mauer, a co-author of the Sentencing Project’s report and an expert on criminal-justice policy reform, comments:

It’s really irrational for Congress to have passed something as significant as this ban is for re-entry and life prospects of prisoners and not to have allocated any funding to evaluate its impact or to see if the legislation is meeting its goal.

The provision allows states to opt out of the prohibition if they wish, but so far, only 13 have done so. Twenty-five states have modified embargoes that either impose time limits or allow benefits contingent on completion of drug-treatment programs. Twelve states—including ones with high poverty levels and large prison populations like Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas—still have outright lifetime embargoes in place.

Bills have been introduced in Congress to repeal the prohibition, but none have gained enough support to change the policy. Meanwhile, a recent Farm Bill amendment introduced by Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter that sought to expand the scope of the embargo to retroactively include other felony convictions was approved by the Senate. Congress has yet to realize that in helping prisoners reintegrate into society, especially the most vulnerable among them, the carrot approach is much more beneficial than the stick.

When Martha Stewart left prison in 2004 after serving a five-month sentence for conspiracy and obstruction of justice, she issued an emotional plea on behalf of the women she did her time with, many of whom were locked up for nonviolent drug offenses:

I beseech you all to think about these women. They would be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in prison, where there is no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate, no programs to educate and no way to be prepared for life out there.

Stewart realized that many women with drug convictions were victims of lives crippled by poverty and hardship and that a little assistance from the state would be much more beneficial to them than a heavy dose of punishment.

PRWORA was a cornerstone of the Republican Contract with America and was introduced by Republican Rep. E. Clay Shaw, Jr. Bill Clinton signed it into law on August 22, 1996, fulfilling his 1992 campaign promise to “end welfare as we have come to know it.” Immediately, three assistant secretaries at the Department of Health and Human Services resigned to protest the law.
They believed that the 1996 welfare reform law destroyed the safety net, increased poverty, lowered income for single mothers, put people from welfare into homeless shelters and left states free to eliminate welfare entirely. It forced mothers with children from welfare to work, but many of them did not earn enough to survive. Many were just pushed off welfare rolls because they didn’t show up for an appointment, could not get to an appointment for lack of child care or were not notified of the appointment.

Feminist critic Barbara Ehrenreich charged:

PRWORA was motivated by racism and misogyny, using stereotypes of lazy, overweight, slovenly, sexually indulgent and ‘endlessly fecund’ African-American welfare recipients. PRWORA dismissed the value of the unpaid work of raising a family and insisted that mothers get paid work, no matter how dangerous, abusive, or poorly paid.

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Although Oklahoma Tops US in Female Incarceration, In Tulsa, the Muddy Paws Dog Grooming Program Has Had No Recidivism Among its First 84 Inmate Grads

A photograph of a cell block in the Wisconsin ...

A photograph of a cell block in the Wisconsin State Prison. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the motto of “pets helping woman inmates shed their shaggy past,” Pets Helping People’s Muddy Paws program in Tulsa  has so far trained 84 incarcerated females from the Turley Correctional Center, Drug Court and Women in Recovery to be pet groomers and kennel technicians. Since then, none of them were subsequently arrested for crime.

Oklahoma leads the country in female incarceration, with nearly double the national average. The 2012 fiscal year annual report for the state’s Department of Corrections shows Oklahoma at a rate of 121 female inmates per 100,000 women, versus the US average of 65.

Each class rotation runs 40 hours each week for four months, at a cost of $7,000 per inmate student, but training is provided at no charge to the trainees. Pets Helping People (PHP) utilizes rescue and shelter dogs to teach grooming techniques, and this increases the chances for pets to be successfully adopted into a loving home.

Katheryn Pennington, a PHP board member and volunteer, said

The state needs to deal with the reintegration of these women into society, and PHP is helping to address this crisis. Muddy Paws graduates are employed in local businesses, pay taxes and participate in society. By learning a trade, these women have the dignity of supporting themselves and their families, thereby preventing repeat behavior. Investing in these graduates is an investment in the future.

The program, which allows another chance for many Oklahoma women who are willing to work for it, is expanding. Proceeds from a recent fundraising event will go toward a new grooming and training room at Muddy Paws.

Program graduate Brandi Navarro was in and out of trouble before she sold two Lortabs to an undercover cop. She landed in jail for three months before heading to Drug Court. After Muddy Paws training as a dog groomer and kennel technician, she was one of four ex-inmates who went to work full-time at a Tulsa shop called Shaggle Waggle.

When Navarro first came to Shaggy Waggle, she was shy and didn’t talk much, according to Dexter Stroud, who owns the grooming business with Dwynne Cook. Eventually, Navarro grew more relaxed as she became more proficient in her new skills.

Navarro said

I never would have thought I would be grooming dogs, but I’m really proud, and I feel really important to myself and others. I’m happy, clean and sober and feel like I have a purpose in my life now.

Perhaps your community would like to start an inmate training program in dog grooming or some other field. Everybody benefits, the women, the community and the shelter dogs.

 

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Oklahoma’s Cruel Drug Laws and Outdated Sentencing Guidelines Help Make it the U.S. Leader in Female Incarceration

Oklahoma State Capitol

Oklahoma State Capitol (Photo credit: StevenM_61)

At a recent forum, University of Oklahoma sociology professor Susan Sharp charged that her state’s drug laws are “mean,” and that its tough-on-crime sentencing guidelines are to blame for nearly all of the women serving lengthy prison terms there. Oklahoma’s backwards prison system provides little help to addicts and the mentally ill, and the state is full of “lock ‘em all up” politicians who are unconcerned with rehabilitating criminals.

In recent years, Oklahoma has been the state that imprisons women at the highest rate in the nation. Oklahoma locks up 128 women per 100,000—nearly twice the national average. At the end of the last fiscal year, roughly 2,600 women were incarcerated in Oklahoma prisons, a figure that has remained relatively flat since 2005. A disproportionate percentage of them are black, and 85% of all female prisoners in Oklahoma are mothers.

Sharp declared:

Women usually end up in prison due to three factors: coming from poverty-stricken backgrounds, being in relationships with men who engage in criminal behavior, and suffering from a long history of abuse. As girls growing up in these environments become women, they usually fall into a criminal lifestyle due to one of these three pathways. Yet we’ve ignored these families for generations.

Sharp complained that too many women are being sentenced to lengthy prison terms for having quantities of drugs that would bring little to no punishment in other states. She also spoke out against drug traffickers being forced to serve 85% of their sentences when drug rehabilitation would do more good at a considerably lower cost to the state.

The way Oklahoma defines drug trafficking is the root-cause of the problem. Someone arrested with five grams of crack cocaine can be charged with trafficking and face a sentence up to 25 years. Yousef Khanfar, an award-winning photographer who has spent years photographing and interviewing women in Oklahoma’s prison system, said at the same forum: “In Chicago and other places, if they found you had only five grams of crack cocaine, they would flush it down the toilet. Putting someone in prison for 25 years costs $2 million or $3 million, whereas a year in rehab costs about $50,000.

Sharp charged that Oklahoma doesn’t invest enough money in mental health facilities and drug-treatment programs. She also criticized the state’s participation in a new Justice Reinvestment Initiative program that sends men and women on parole back to prison for the slightest infraction—even missing an appointment or failing to pay a monthly fine. ““We have set up debtors’ prisons in Oklahoma,” Sharp laments.

Jane Nelson, chair of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, said:

We hope to see legislation enacted in the next legislative session that will find alternatives to prison for women convicted of nonviolent offenses. Too many women are going to prison, destroying their families, because of addictions.

One study reported that while 40% of Oklahoma women sent to prison were black, only 29.6% of black women were placed on probation, whereas 53% of Oklahoma white women were sentenced to prison (versus 29.4% of women nationally), and a whopping 63.7% of white gals got probation.

Another study revealed that only 9.2% of Oklahoma female prisoner were found guilty of violent offenses, versus 34.6% for drug offenses and 15% for simple drug possession. Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate for drug offenders is higher than the national average. This speaks to the need for effective drug abuse programs both inside the institutions and in the communities.

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Netflix’s 13-hour Series “Orange is the New Black” and Britain’s 106-episode “Bad Girls” Dramatically Focus on the Plight of Incarcerated Women

English: Orange and black rectangle Italiano: ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently watched and thoroughly enjoyed all 13 episodes of Netflix’s new women-in-prison drama, Orange is the New Black based on Piper Kerman’s book about her time in federal prison. I thought the many characters were richly portrayed, the well-written episodes were compelling and dramatic, and the series focused on many of the issues that plague incarcerated females.

I also greatly enjoyed the first two seasons of the excellent British incarcerated women series Bad Girls. You can see the powerful 10-episode first season on Netflix, and many scenes are free on YouTube. There have been 106 episodes broadcast in Britain from 1999 to 2006. The series features 50 disparate female characters. A stage musical version ran briefly in 2007 and is available on DVD. Bad Girls won 10 major British awards, including Most Popular Drama, Best Loved Drama, three Best Actresses and a Best Actor. In Britain, population 60 million, several episodes attracted more than 9 million viewers. It has aired in many countries, including Montenegro, Finland, New Zealand and Georgia. It has been reported that Oscar winner Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under) is adapting an American version of Bad Girls for HBO.

In the American series, Orange is the New Black, there were many minority and lesbian characters, an elderly prisoner and even a transgendered inmate. Both series dealt with mental illness, drug abuse, chronic disease, prison rape, sex for favors, abusive and manipulative guards and other pressing issues. Bad Girls dramatized prison pregnancy and childbirth. Both series have mother and daughter prisoners.

In the first harrowing season of Bad Girls, a pregnant prisoner miscarries in her cell, an inmate is viciously strip-searched by fellow prisoners for concealed drugs, and bullying drives another prisoner to suicide.

Both series dramatize that women’s prisons are terrible, often inhuman places. In 37 U.S. states, today, women can still be shackled during labor and delivery.

According to the Women’s Prison Association

The female prison population has soared by 835 percent over the last 30 years, while the male prison population rose by 416 percent. More than two-thirds of women in prison are convicted of nonviolent offences, such as drug-related crimes.
In 2008, 93 of every 100,000 white women were incarcerated, while 349 of every 100,000 black women and 147 of every 100,000 Hispanic women were. Fifty-one percent of women in prison are aged 30 to 44.

Women in prison face challenges different than those faced by men in prison, and female incarceration tends to treat the sentence inflexibly. For women, sentence is a sentence, whether or not there are children waiting for the mother outside.

According to The Sentencing Project, Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any other state, with 130 out of every 100,000 women in prison, whereas Maine locks up only 21.

Women in prison (59 percent) are more likely than are men (43 percent) to have chronic and/or communicable medical problems (including HIV, Hepatitis C and sexually transmitted diseases). Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of women in state prisons in 2004 had symptoms of a current mental health problem.

Finally, Carole Seligman, office manager of Prison Radio, a production studio aiming to challenge unjust incarceration practices, said:

This country is notorious for not granting compassionate release to prisoners with terminal illnesses who are elderly and are dying and denied to die at home.

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Oxytocin, the “Love Hormone,” Shows Signs of Benefitting Incarcerated Women

imageOxytocin can benefit incarcerated women by reducing the stress one experiences in uncomfortable circumstances. Humane Exposures founder, writer Susan Madden Lankford, contends that this is a normal “clutching together” of the women who end up in prison open dayroom or patio experiences.

Oxytocin, sometimes called “the love hormone,” has been shown to aid maternal bonding, increase social recognition, raise trust and empathy within groups, affect generosity and inhibit tolerance to opiates, cocaine, alcohol and other addictive drugs, while reducing withdrawal symptoms. It may also be an effective treatment for autism, by reducing repetitive behavior.

Madden observes that women “really bond together in prison units, over their disdain regarding guards and other staff at the facilities, over their physical conditions, over being mothers deprived of their children and so on. Oxytocin is such a strong hormone that women actually do not fear returning to jail, thereby aggravating our recidivism rates in local and state facilities,” she notes. There is evidence that oxytocin may actually aid in increasing women’s health while they are incarcerated.

Dr. Shelley E. Taylor, a research professor at the UCLA Psychology Department, [please link to: has written:

Socioemotional resources, including optimism, mastery, self-esteem and social support have biological and psychological benefits, especially in times of stress. Our research program of the last 25 years has explored these resources and documented their many benefits, and, as such, attests to the powerful ability of the human mind to construe threatening events in ways that are protective of health.

“Our current research assesses whether oxytocin acts roughly as a social thermostat that is responsive to the adequacy of social resources, that prompts affiliative behavior if those resources fall below an adequate level and that reduces biological and psychological stress responses, once positive social contacts are reestablished.

Female rats given oxytocin antagonists after giving birth do not exhibit typical maternal behavior. In contrast, virgin female sheep show maternal behavior toward foreign lambs upon cerebrospinal fluid infusion of oxytocin, which they would not do otherwise.

Taylor adds:

There is some evidence that oxytocin promotes ethnocentric behavior, incorporating the trust and empathy of in-groups with their suspicion and rejection of outsiders. Furthermore, genetic differences in the oxytocin receptor gene have been associated with maladaptive social traits such as aggressive behavior.

Because oxytocin is destroyed in the stomach, it is generally administered by nasal spray. Several female prison medical staff have been experimenting with oxytocin, and the results are favorable so far.

Youth Incarceration Down in U.S., Colorado

Map of USA with Colorado highlighted

Map of USA with Colorado highlighted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

U.S. juvenile detention has fallen to the lowest level in 35 years, due largely to the increase and growth of remediation programs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement, 44 states have reduced their confinement of juveniles rates between 1997 and 2010, with declines of 66% in Tennessee, 57% in Arizona, 48% in California and 44% in Texas. On the other hand, incarceration rates rose over the period In Nebraska, Idaho, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and South Dakota. Over the same period, youth violence dropped significantly.

Bart Lubow, director of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, whose recent study is titled “Youth Incarceration in the U.S” states:

The decline is very significant because America for a long time did nothing but build up its incarcerated young population. But in recent years, there has been a radical sea change. It is a highly important social development that has largely gone on under the radar.

The findings reflect a trend toward less harsh treatment of youthful infractions. Scientific research shows that youths can more easily control destructive impulses as their brains mature.

Most juveniles are confined for minor offenses—such as violating curfew or running away from home—offenses that would not be considered illegal if committed by those 18 and older.

Juvenile justice systems still treat children of color much more punitively than Anglo kids—confining five times more African-American youngsters and two-to-three times more Latinos and Native Americans than Whites.

The Casey Foundation finds wholesale incarceration counterproductive and provides technical assistance to 200 jurisdictions attempting to reduce it.

According to Bartholomew Sullivan, writing in the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

 The Casey Report recommends five steps to accelerate the drop in youth detention, including restricting incarceration only to those “who pose a demonstrable risk to public safety” and upending the financial incentives for correctional placement.

The recent de-incarceration trend provides a unique opportunity to implement responses to delinquency that are more cost-effective and humane and that provide better outcomes for youth, their families and communities.

The number of juveniles committed to the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections has dropped by 44 percent in the past seven years, the result of programs that have put more focus on rehabilitation than detention. Declining populations at the facilities are a result of successfully combining front-end programs—designed to help adolescents before they enter the justice system—and efforts to stop released juveniles from returning.

Colorado Director of Youth Corrections John Gomez states:

Declining populations at our facilities are a result of successfully combining front-end programs—designed to help ad<olescents before they enter the justice system—and efforts to stop released juveniles from returning. We’ve continued to work at ensuring that we are providing the right services at the right time.

With fewer juveniles in detention, the Colorado Department of Human Services, which manages youth corrections, has asked lawmakers to move nearly $8 million from youth corrections to child-welfare services, including early-intervention programs for children and teens before they enter the juvenile justice system.

In the past year, Colorado has enjoyed a 13% drop in youth recidivism. And more juveniles being released from youth corrections are equipped with skill sets that will help them when they return home. While serving their commitments, juveniles can earn their GEDs or high school diplomas and work with their families before being released.

 

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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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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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