Archive for Prison Reform

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.

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.

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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Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling are Woefully Inadequate for Most Youths in Custody

Abused

Abused (Photo credit: Andrea Marutti)

The first national survey of kids aged 10-20 in state and local juvenile custody, the Survey of Youth in Residential Placement (SYRP), released in 2010, found that most of them had experienced trauma and suffered from one or more mental health or substance abuse problems, yet a majority of them (particularly those with the severest needs) received no counseling.

The report found that:

Thirty percent of confined young people had experienced sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, 67 percent had seen someone killed or severely injured, and 70 percent reported that something bad or terrible had happened to them. Only 15 percent reported no trauma incidents in their past.

A large share of juveniles in custody reported behaviors that make it difficult to succeed in a conventional classroom, such as having a hard time paying attention in school (45 percent), having a hard time staying organized (40 percent), and being unable to stay in their seat (32 percent). Surprisingly, all three behaviors were reported at a higher rate by girls than by boys.

Anger problems were also rampant, with 68 percent reporting being easily upset, and 61 percent saying they lost their temper easily. Here, too, girls were more likely than boys to report problems.

Signs of more serious mental illness were also widespread. One in six confined youth suffered hallucinations, one fourth had elevated symptoms for depression, and substantial percentages reported: having suicidal thoughts (28 percent), feeling that life was not worth living (25 percent), or wishing they were dead (19 percent). Girls were far more likely than boys to report each of these symptoms. And, alarmingly, 44 percent of confined girls reported that they had attempted suicide, compared with 19 percent of confined boys.

Sixty-eight percent of confined children reported an alcohol or drug problem in the months preceding custody: 49 percent reported drinking many times per week or daily, and 64 percent reported taking drugs this frequently.

Despite these grave and widespread needs, only 53 percent of the 7,073 youngsters sampled in the SYRP report received any mental health counseling in their facilities, and only 51 percent got any substance abuse counseling. Youth with elevated symptoms for depression, anxiety, anger and hallucinations were less likely than kids with fewer symptoms to receive mental health counseling.

Moreover, 38 percent feared being physically abused in their facilities, 35 percent said staff used force against them when it wasn’t necessary, nearly half of them reported that staff in their facilities conducted strip searches, and one-fourth of the youth reported being held in solitary confinement.

 
A 2010 Justice Policy Institute research review on trauma-informed care for court-involved youth found that:

Confinement has been shown to exacerbate the symptoms of mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and the risk of abuse by staff or other youth can be traumatizing.

In particular, characteristics of correctional facilities such as seclusion, staff insensitivity or loss of privacy can exacerbate negative feelings created by previous victimization, especially among PTSD sufferers and girls. Youth in correctional facilities are frequently exposed to verbal and physical aggression, which can intensify fear or traumatic symptoms.

The survey also found that more than one-fourth of confined youth nationwide were held in facilities that did not routinely screen them for suicide risk, and more than half were in places that did not screen or assess all residents for mental health needs. In addition, suicide and mental health assessments were often completed by unqualified staff, and nearly 9 of every 10 confined youth nationwide resided in facilities that relied on unlicensed staff to deliver some or all counseling services.

Several organizations are today striving to rectify these problems.

Related articles

Building Blocks for Youth 

Findings from the First Ever National Survey of Juveniles in Custody 

Traumatic Pasts, Urgent Counseling Needs, Inadequate Services: Findings from the First Ever National Survey of Juveniles in Custody

 

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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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