Archive for Substance Abuse

The Major Challenges Affecting Women Released From Incarceration

Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing TimeAfter incarceration, women face different problems than men do. They usually have extensive histories of drug use , are likely to be clinically depressed, tend to have low self esteem and have fewer job skills. These factors lead to their being more likely than men to be homeless and to have problems with intimate partners. The process of post-release reunification of mothers with their children can be a unique reentry challenge, along with the need to earn a living while resuming childcare responsibilities.

A comprehensive study of female inmates released in Texas showed that women who do time in that state’s prisons and jails usually have extensive histories of criminal justice involvement, with several prior convictions but few previous stays in state correctional facilities. They are typically incarcerated for low-level property or drug possession offenses, and are likely to have serious and long-term substance use problems. These issues often co-occur with depression and other mental health problems. In the study, 83 percent reported illegal drug use in the six months before prison, and 30 percent reported heavy drug use. Before incarceration the average length of drug use was seven years, with almost 40 percent having used for 10 years or more.

Upon returning home, women experienced more conflict with family members and intimate partners. The goal of finding and retaining a job during the first several months following release remained elusive for the majority of women. They were much less likely to have received job training or to have gained vocational skills while behind bars and were less apt to take part in job placement services upon release. Women exiting prison reported more difficulties meeting their day-to-day financial needs and they experienced more residential instability than did men.

The study reported:

At one year out, women are more likely than men to have problems stemming from drug use and to have partners who drink or use drugs daily. Women are almost twice as likely as men to be back behind bars in a year’s time, typically due to a drug-related offense or a property offense driven by addiction problems.

The vast majority (96 percent) of all women exiting Texas prisons and jails were serving time for nonviolent offenses: 47 percent for drug possession, 18 percent for drug sales or manufacturing, 23 percent for property offenses and fewer than 10 percent for a parole or probation violation.

Twenty-six percent were offered transitional services only in their last week of incarceration. These pre-release programs covered such topics as how to: access alcohol and drug treatment, seek employment, continue education, find a place to live and obtain photo identification. Many released women expressed a need for greater help with housing, education and substance abuse treatment.

The immediate challenges women faced upon release included obtaining housing and adequate financial support, finding gainful employment, achieving independence and providing for their families.

By eight to 10 months out, 31 percent had lived with another formerly incarcerated person, 19 percent were living with someone who was abusing drugs and 22 percent resided with an alcohol abuser. Twenty-three percent reported that her criminal record had been an obstacle to finding housing at some point since release.

Women experienced tremendous difficulties in obtaining legal employment during the year after release. While 58 percent had worked before prison, only 36 percent were working at two to four months following their release

Both before and after incarceration, women had lower rates of employment and lower hourly wages than men and were more likely to work in food service or retail sectors. For many women, only part-time work was available.

Women with a school diploma or GED, those who had been employed in the six months prior to prison and those who took part in pre-release programs worked more often in the months following their release. Those who were married or living as married before prison worked more than those who were not. Abstinence from drug and alcohol abuse was one of the strongest predictors of employment.

Eight to 10 months after release, 65 percent reported receiving financial support from a family member, spouse or friend, while only28 percent reported legal employment as a source. Eighteen percent had received public assistance, 15 percent got Social Security or Social Security Disability Insurance and 10 percent reported income from illegal activities.

At eight to 10 months after release, 70 percent said they sometimes or often had barely enough money to get by, 63 percent said they often had trouble paying their bills, and 59 percent reported worrying about how they were going to survive financially. Thirty percent had trouble keeping housing and another 30 percent had difficulty finding food for themselves and their families. since release. Fully 46 percent were burdened with debt. Twenty-four percent reported that their family had not provided the amount of support they had anticipated, and they were more likely than others to return to prison in the first year following release. About one in seven mothers (13 percent) reported having custody problems since release.

Some women also reported having high levels of conflict with their partners. While only a handful of women reported physical violence or threats, 39 percent reported frequent arguments and 27 percent complained of spousal controlling behavior. Nearly half of women with partners (43 percent) reported that their living mates had criminal records.

Eight to 10 months after release, 36 percent of the women interviewed in the study reported using illegal drugs or being intoxicated in the past 30 days. The most commonly used drugs were cocaine (22 percent) and marijuana (21 percent), with seven percent reporting daily cocaine use. Thirty-one percent of those reporting substance abuse in the past month estimated that they had been intoxicated or stoned on a daily basis during that period. On average, however, the severity of substance abuse among these women was lower after release than before prison.

Sixty-seven percent of the women reported that they had been diagnosed with some type of chronic health condition, with the most commonly reported illnesses being asthma (31 percent), back pain (30 percent) and high blood pressure (25 percent). Twenty-one percent reported having an infectious disease, including tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS and other STDs. Fifty-five percent reported diagnoses of depression and other mental health problems, and 27 percent were likely suffering from undiagnosed mental illness.

Thirty-two percent admitted having engaged in criminal activity, with the most common crime being drug possession (28 percent), followed by drug dealing (10 percent), auto theft (5 percent), petty larceny (4 percent), and assault (4 percent). Twenty-five percent returned to state prison or state jail within 12 months after release.

Those who participated in a pre-release program in prison or state jail were less likely to return, as were those with a high school education or GED. Those under post-release supervision were also less likely to return within a year’s time. The likelihood of return to prison was also lower for those who felt their families were helpful during their reintegration.

The study shows that pre-release family conferencing is critical in both shoring up valuable family support systems and in minimizing the tensions and negative influences that are associated with family relationships. These conversations should include child care responsibilities and custody issues, living arrangements, and financial contributions to the household. They should also provide opportunities for returning prisoners to share their anxieties and personal challenges, to express remorse for past behaviors and to articulate the types of both tangible and emotional support they need from their families.

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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

“Housing First” Approach is Saving Money and Providing Homes for the Most Vulnerable Homeless People

English: A homeless man in New York with the A...

A homeless man in New York with the American flag in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the early 1990s New York University School of Medicine prof Sam Tsemberis and the Gotham organization Pathways to Housing pioneered the “Housing First concept” which focuses on the chronically homeless, without requiring them to first give up alcohol or substance abuse.

Housing First is an alternative to a system of emergency shelter/transitional housing progression. Rather than moving homeless individuals from the streets to a public shelter, from a public shelter to a transitional housing program, and then to their own apartment in the community, Housing First moves the homeless individual or household immediately from the streets or homeless shelter into their own apartments.

Housing First, when supported by HUD, does not only offer housing but also provides wraparound case management services to the tenants. This provides stability for homeless individuals, increasing their success, accountability and self-sufficiency. The housing provided through government supported Housing First programs is permanent and “affordable,” meaning that tenants pay only 30% of their income towards rent.

With Obama Administration support (and 30% of HUD homelessness funds), Housing First resulted in an unprecedented 29.6% drop in the number of chronically homeless living on the streets (175,914 to 123,833 people)—from 2005 to 2007 alone. Today, Housing First programs successfully operate in New York City, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Denver, Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and smaller cities, such as Anchorage AK, Plattsburgh NY and Quincy MA.

Housing First is currently endorsed by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) as a “best practice” for governments and service-agencies to use in their fight to end chronic homelessness. These programs are all parts of the communities’10-year plans to end chronic homelessness, as advocated by USICH.

In Los Angeles County, the Home For Good project hopes to house all the area’s chronic homeless by 2016. Robert Harper and Charles Miller of Americorps make daily rounds of LA’s Skid Row seeking the most vulnerable homeless and working with other agencies to find them housing fast.

Harper declares:

A person is out here about to die and you tell them ‘Sign a waiting list and wait for a year? Come on, now. We’re known as the 90-day people.

When Home For Good case managers meet someone on the street, they create a vulnerability score from items like income, medical history, substance abuse and usual whereabouts. That info is computerized and made available to all participating agencies.

Considerable research has shown that the Housing First approach can save lots of money by keeping the chronically homeless out of jails, shelters and emergency rooms.

Housing First is now growing in popularity in Canada and is in many communities’ ten year plans to end homelessness. In Calgary, fewer than 1% of existing clients return to shelters or rough sleeping, there are 76% fewer days in jail and there is a 35% decline in police interactions This demonstrates improved quality of lives for those in the program, along with a huge cost savings on police, corrections and shelters

The Denver Housing First Collaborative, serving 200 chronically homeless, found a drop of 34.3% in emergency room visits, a 66% decline in inpatient costs, an 82% plummet in detox visits and a 76% reduction in incarceration days. Two years after entering the program, 77% of participants were still housed through it.

In Seattle, the Housing First program for alcoholics saved taxpayers more than $4 million in its first year. Thanks to Housing First, Boston was able to close some homeless shelters and reduce the number of beds in others.

The US Congress appropriated $25 million in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants for 2008 to show the effectiveness of Rapid Re-housing programs in reducing family homelessness. On May 20, 2009, President Obama signed the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act, which allows for the prevention of homelessness, rapid re-housing, consolidation of housing programs and new homeless categories.

The Housing First methodology is also being adapted to decreasing the larger segment of the homeless population, family homelessness, such as in the LA-based program Housing First for Homeless Families, which was established in 1988.

Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania homeless researcher, says:

There’s a lot of policy innovation going on around family homelessness, and it’s borrowing a page from the chronic handbook—the focus is on permanent housing and housing-first strategies.



Enhanced by Zemanta

Correctional System: Responding to Juveniles with Substance Abuse and Mental Health Needs

In their own words:

In order to provide effective treatment and programming to youth with behavioral health needs, juvenile justice authorities and their partners must be equipped to quickly identify individuals who may have these needs, make referrals for full assessments and appropriate services, and provide services both while the youths are in custody and during the reentry process. Presenters focus on the use of assessment tools and other treatment needs, and matching youths to appropriate and effective programs and supports.


  • Randy Muck, Senior Clinical Consultant, Advocates for Youth and Family Behavioral Health Treatment, LLC
  • Valerie Williams, Research Instructor and Co-Director, National Youth Screening and Assessment Project, Center for Mental Health Services Research, Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School
Enhanced by Zemanta

A Conversation with Jeanne McAlister

Today our resident blogger had the opportunity to talk with Jeanne McAlister, Chief Executive Officer and founder of McAlister Institute. The conversation was enlightening to say the least!

Jeanne McAlister, the Chief Executive Officer and founder of McAlister Institute, has been a pioneer in the field of recovery. She has constantly advocated for responsive and needed treatment services and developed programs which could easily be replicated by others. Recognizing that drug abuse negatively affects all aspects of the individual, family, and community life, the goal of McAlister Institute programs is to assist individuals in regaining their lives by supporting the recovery process. As a result, tens of thousands of youth and adults have successfully regained their lives through her vision and with the help of McAlister Institute’s wide variety of programs.

Talking Justice: Dr. Igor Koutsenok and Susan Madden Lankford

Today we have a rare treat for you, our own Susan Madden Lankford sat down for a chat about the current sad state of affairs in the arena of American criminal justice. Fortunately we were able to record most of it for your edification.

Igor Koutsenok, MD, MS, is Director of the University of California San Diego, Center for Criminality and Addiction Research, Training and Application (CCARTA) and he has full time faculty appointment at the UCSD Department of Psychiatry. Among other place he attended St. Georges Hospital Medical School, where he received a Masters Degree in Addictive Behavior. Before joining UCSD, he worked in Bulgaria as Head of Department at the National Center for Addictions and Deputy Director of the Institute of Psychology.

During the last 20 years, he served as an expert for many international organizations such as the Council of Europe, European Union, and the United Nations. Dr. Koutsenok was recruited by the UCSD Department of Psychiatry in 1997. Dr. Koutsenok led the design and implementation of the Workforce Development Training series for substance abuse counselors and criminal justice professionals working in custody and community-based treatment programs in California. He is the UCSD FACT (Forensic Addiction Treatment Certification) Board of Education Director and Director of the Offender Substance Abuse Treatment Institute.

Dr. Koutsenok serves as of the trainers for the National Drug Court Institute, providing training and education for judges and members of the judicial system nationwide. Dr. Igor Koutsenok and Dr. David Deitch designed an innovative approach to reduce recidivism in parolees, which in 2006 was presented to and authorized by the California legislature as Senate Bill 618 – Offender Re-Entry Program.
Dr. Koutsenok is teaching General Psychopathology course for second year UCSD medical students, human growth and development course for 1st year UCSD medical students, as well as he runs support group for 3rd year UCSD psychiatry residents. In 2006-2009 he designed and directed the Cal-METRO training project, a large-scale Motivational Interviewing training project to train over 3000 professionals working in juvenile correctional institutions statewide. In 2010 he designed and conducted a year long San Diego Probation Department Leadership Academy training probation supervisors in practical implementing of evidence based practices in community corrections, such as motivational interviewing, and cognitive behavioral interventions. Recently in collaboration with Christopher Lowenkamp, PhD, he designed the IBIS program – Integrated Behavioral Interventions Strategies. Currently over 300 probation officers and supervisors are undergoing training, coaching and mentoring in implementation of a truly integrated package of behavioral interventions – motivational interviewing, EPICS-II, and incentives and sanctions. He has authored and co-authored over 50 scientific publications and book chapters, such as “Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook” 4th edition, Lowinson, J., Ruiz, P., Millman, R., & Langrod, J. (Eds.), 2004; “Treating Addicted Offenders – A Continuum of Effective Practices”, K.Knight & D. Farabee (Eds.), 2005; “Advances in Corrections Based Treatment: Building the Addiction Treatment Workforce”, Praeger International Collection on Addictions, A. Browne-Miller (Ed.), 2009, “Motivational Interviewing Training for Correctional Professionals – The CalMetro Project”, Praeger International Collection on Addictions, A. Browne-Miller (Ed.), 2009. He is a member of the International Motivational Interviewing Trainers Network. In 2011 he served as a trainer for the new group of MI trainers in Sheffield, England. Dr. Koutsenok has been training motivational interviewing and other treatment strategies in offenders in Bulgaria, Malta, England, Hong Kong, Greece, Poland, Sweden, Mexico, Argentina, Hungary, and Norway. He has been invited as guest speaker to numerous conferences and professional gatherings nationwide and in more than 15 countries. He is a proud father of three.

Susan Madden Lankford

In the early 1990s, Susan Madden Lankford began photographing—and befriending—the homeless on the streets of downtown San Diego. Compelled to learn more, she gained access to a women’s detention center and soon was shooting within its walls, speaking with candor with inmates and staff. Next, pursuing the link between crime and childhood neglect, she met with young people in juvenile hall, challenging them to face their hopes and fears through artwork and the written word. Lankford’s award-winning books on homelessness, incarceration, and juvenile justice are testament to many years of commitment to complex social issues. Her venture in the realm of documentary film continues this work.

Susan Lankford grew up in the Midwest and holds a BS degree from the University of Nebraska. She attended Ansel Adams’ prestigious workshops, studied under such photographic masters as Richard Misrach and Ruth Bernhard, and spent many years as a successful wildlife photographer and portraitist. The parents of three adult daughters, Susan and Rob Lankford live in San Diego.
Please explore the rest of our website for more about Susan and her works!

New Study: Health Care in the Juvenile Justice System

SyringeHealth care is an issue that has been all over the news for quite some time now. Unfortunately the health care of the youthful and incarcerated has often been overlooked as Washington attempts to implement new programs for the voting masses.

Not anymore. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Adolescence has released a policy statement, the first update in a decade to the Health Care for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System. It finds that incarcerated youth are at high-risk for health issues, physical, mental and developmental. Here is the statement’s abstract for an overview:

Youth in the juvenile correctional system are a high-risk population who, in many cases, have unmet physical, developmental, and mental health needs. Multiple studies have found that some of these health issues occur at higher rates than in the general adolescent population. Although some youth in the juvenile justice system have interfaced with health care providers in their community on a regular basis, othershave had inconsistent or nonexistent care. The health needs of these youth are commonly identified when they are admitted to a juvenile custodial facility. Pediatricians and other health care providers play an important role in the care of these youth, and continuity between the community and the correctional facility is crucial. This policy statement provides an overview of the health needs of youth in the juvenile correctional system, including existing resources and standards forcare, financing of health care within correctional facilities, and evidence-based interventions. Recommendations are provided for the provision of health care services to youth in the juvenile correctionalsystem as well as specific areas for advocacy efforts. Pediatrics 2011; 128:1219–123

According to the report nearly 11 million juveniles across the nation were arrested in 2008. Not all of them suffered detention, long or short term, but the average stay behind bars for the ones who did was 65 days as of 2006. Of those in custody, 80% remained in detention for at least 30 days and 57% for at least 90 days. All of them requiring health care of some sort. Unfortunately that health care often does not appear, and when it does it is often substandard.

Ryan Schill, a writer for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, shares some of the policy statement author’s views on why these changes have been enacted:

‘We wanted to advocate for these youth to have the same level and standards of care as non-incarcerated youth in the community,” the report’s lead author, Dr. Paula Braverman, Director of Community Programs at the Cincinatti Children’s Hospital Medical Center said in an email. She said the Committee on Adolescence also “outlined specific recommendations which included the training and skill of the health care providers.’

All too often health care in detention facilities is administered by people with insufficient training in the subject. She also touched on a subject that we here at HumaneExposures find to be vital:

‘We also wanted to highlight some areas for advocacy,’ she said, ‘including the need for adequate levels of funding to provide for the medical, behavioral health and educational needs of these youth.’ Equally important, she said, are intervention programs in the community ‘that address the risk and protective factors related to involvement in the juvenile justice system.’

Once more we have support for the idea that intervention, rehabilitation, and education are vital pieces to the puzzle. With such a preponderance of evidence that these tactics work there is still resistance to them. Hopefully as we see more high stature organizations like The American Academy of Pediatrics weigh in on the subject we will see the needed shift in public opinion.

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

The Second Chance Women’s Re-Entry Court: Choosing Treatment Over Incarceration

Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing TimeJudge Michael Tynan’s fourth-floor courtroom in downtown L.A.’s Criminal Courts building is in our spotlight today. It’s a room that’s usually packed with people that are often discarded by society: the addicts, the mentally ill or disadvantaged, the homeless, and, more recently, the female parolees.

Victoria Kim, a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, writes:

The Los Angeles County Superior Court judge oversees a number of programs known as collaborative or problem-solving courts, designed to address the underlying issues — addictions, mental health, poverty — that lead to repeated arrests and prison terms.

For this, we applaud Judge Tynan. One of the biggest flaws of the current system is that it’s like an over-the-counter medicine that treats the symptoms but often not the ailment itself. This pattern of issues has an amazing impact on the lives of those who experience them firsthand, almost always to their own detriment as well as the society’s. Tynan has a solid understanding of this, and has steadily worked to address these social ills.

Kim brings us a thumbnail view of Tynan’s most recent program, a three-year-old effort that aims to help transition women inmates to appropriate treatment rather than use traditional incarceration:

Since 2007, Tynan has been running the Second Chance Women’s Re-entry Court program, one of the first in the nation to focus on women in the criminal justice system. Through the court, women facing a return to state prison for nonviolent felonies plead guilty to their crimes and enter treatment instead.

Although women make up only a small fraction of prison inmates, their numbers have been climbing for decades at a far steeper rate than men’s. Women are also more likely to be convicted of nonviolent drug or property crimes motivated by addictions or necessity.

As a publisher, we have examined these underlying factors and their influence on the individual and on society. Our award-winning documentary, It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing, addresses them, and looks at both the social and financial cost of not going after the root causes.

Tynan’s work is yet another proof that our assertions are correct. The women in this program are housed in a Pomona drug treatment facility for women called Prototypes. If accepted, the women live there for six months while their schedules are filled with job-skills classes, therapy, support-group meetings, and  chores. Incarcerated mothers and their children are reunited, and the mothers both undergo counseling and attend parenting classes. Pretty comprehensive, isn’t it?

Let’s take a look at Kim’s article once more and evaluate the cost factor:

The treatment, currently funded through a grant from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and donated services from Prototypes, costs about $18,000 for each woman per year. But compared with keeping them in prison and their children in foster care for years, the state is saving millions of dollars, the program’s organizers say.

All of our studies indicate that this is not a fluke, but rather is representative of the savings that can generally be attained once a more proactive social stance is adopted. In short, if we fix the societal ills that lead to incarceration or recidivism directly, it will have more impact for less monetary expenditure than simple imprisonment. Remember, it really is more expensive to do nothing!

Source: “Court program helps women turn their lives around,” The Los Angeles Times, 10/18/10
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time.” Used with permission.

Visit Us on Facebook: Humane Exposures Publishing, downTownUSA, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing.

The Link Between Prostitution and Homelessness

Homeless girlAmong the significant number of homeless teens on the street there are many who have been reduced by circumstances to prostitution. It’s a grim and ugly reality.

One of the factors that makes this issue less visible, in addition to the blind spot many develop towards the homeless in general, is the fact that it does not always adhere to the expectations. The classic stereotype of “hooker and pimp” is only one of many permutations possible on the streets. Prostitution does not always involve an exchange of favors for currency.

Laura Rillos, KVAL News, reports:

[Chris] Mirabal [program manager of Looking Glass New Roads, a day shelter dedicated to homeless youth] said the most common is called ‘survival sex.’  Typically, a person will offer a homeless youth a place to stay and expect sexual activity in return.

Sometimes, said Mirabal, the teen is not aware of the arrangement until after they’ve stayed with a person for a few days or weeks.

This form of predatory behavior is not confined to targeting the female gender. Homeless males find themselves being pushed into these compromising situations as well:

‘They wanted to have, like me have sex with her, while I’m staying on their couch, as part of rent,’ said a young homeless man who wanted to be identified as Brain. ‘I was like, I can’t do that. I’m sorry.’

Brain is 21 years old. He acknowledges his age and gender made it easier for him to say no and leave that situation.

Lack of resources can drive people to desperate measures. Add in the possibility of mental health or substance abuse issues, and the situation gets rapidly worse. When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from it become easier to rationalize things like this.

The escalating harshness of life on the streets over the recent years is also a factor. Young homeless girls in particular are at risk of rape, assault, and descent into prostitution. Without the normal support infrastructure provided by family and friends their vulnerability escalates.

Wendy McElroy, editor of ifeminists and someone who has herself been homeless, has commented on this aspect of the situation back in 2001:

The situation confronting homeless teens is worse today than when I ran away. It was the dead of winter when I left, and for the first nights I slept on the pew of a church whose doors were always open. Today, those doors would probably be locked. I was at one point ‘discovered,’ which was my greatest fear, but the person simply put a blanket over me and left without waking me up. Today, society is numbed to homelessness; we are overwhelmed with compassion fatigue and acts of gratuitous kindness seem to be fewer. We avert our eyes from the hand-painted signs and ignore the rattling cups.

McElroy’s position in the column is a controversial one. She advocates loosening of the child-labor restrictions so that the underage homeless can work and develop their own resources. Her reasoning is that most of the homeless in that age range are fleeing an abusive environment at home, and most programs are geared to return them to that home. Obviously, it is an idea that has gained little traction in the near decade since.

Source: “‘Survival sex’ lures homeless teens into prostitution,”, 02/09/10
Source: “Homelessness and Prostitution,” ifeminists, 05/15/01
Image by Franco Folini, used under its Creative Commons license.

Visit Us on Facebook: Humane Exposures Publishing , downTownUSA, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing

How To Become Homeless

HomelessAs we watch the economy spiral seemingly out of control, the specter of homelessness looms disturbingly close for people of all socioeconomic strata. Add in the chaos in the American housing market, and the picture becomes starkly unpleasant.

It’s a simple fact that we are seeing the number of the homeless grow, and it is disturbingly easy to end up on the streets. Right now, in Colorado, thousands face this possibility as the wildfires ravage the state. I know that feeling well from personal experience. You see, I am a native of New Orleans.

Just over five years ago, hurricane Katrina hit the city, and then the next morning the levees failed, flooding New Orleans. My wife and I had just emptied our savings account to pay for our wedding and honeymoon, and the checking account was low because it was a few days before payday. We ended up evacuating across the country with a total of about $200 and no vehicle.

With our friends, family and support network also scattered across the U.S., things became scary in very short order. Thanks to a few friends in other states we did not lack for a roof, but, as the weeks dragged on, the situation became more and more uneasy. I had a broken hand at the time, and so most earning opportunities were not viable. I was able to pick up a few bucks here and there, but nothing resembling enough income for a fresh start.

It was weeks before we had any inkling of whether we would be able to return to the city, much less whether anything we owned had survived. My then fiancee and I had a backpack of clothes each, a laptop, and our five cats. Things looked bleak.

“What about those legendary FEMA checks for $2,000 that everyone got?” you might ask. Not everyone got assistance, I know I sure didn’t. The Red Cross in New York helped us out with some clothes and a few hundred dollars. Let me tell you, you’ve never seen just how little $300 really is until it is all you have.

I will never forget having to swallow my pride and extend my hand for aid. We made it through thanks to the generosity of friends and strangers in Indiana and New York, but the awareness of the precipice was never absent from my thoughts. A few days before, everything was great: the wedding expenses were paid, I had a great new job, and we had just moved into a new apartment. Then, suddenly, it was all gone, taking all of my social resources with it.

We were very lucky. We made it back to NOLA six weeks after the disaster had struck — to find that most of our stuff had survived. It could easily have gone the other way, leaving us homeless. For many, it did.  I will never forget the fear in my heart during those times.

Just about anyone is susceptible to the whims of Mother Nature, and she can take the roof from over your head in a heartbeat. Whether it is the levee failures in NOLA, wildfires in Colorado, or some other species of disaster — it can happen to you.

Of course, due to my experience, this is what I think of first, but there are many other causes of homelessness. The Walk For The Homeless website enumerates a number of factors, including job loss:

As someone who has been homeless, I can tell you that loss of employment is one reason people, even whole families, become homeless. This is more likely to occur when there is only one wage earner in the family, if employment is seasonal such as construction or lawn maintenance, or if you both work and each earns only minimum wage. While there is usually a combination of reasons why people become homeless a particular one often stands out: illness.  Injury, sickness, and even mental illness can lead to being fired, laid off or replaced. Most of the time if you’re not able to do the work, you are out of a job. When you live from paycheck to paycheck, sometimes all it takes is to miss one or two paychecks and you can end up homeless. This is especially true if you have no friends or family to turn to for help.

Drawing on this information, Drea Knufken at Business Pundit boils things down into the Five Ways to Become Homeless, a list of things and situations that can leave you living on the streets. She also makes a very apt cultural observation:

Homelessness in the United States has always struck me as particularly painful. Penury is not well tolerated in the Land of Opportunity. People think money is easy to come by here, giving extreme poverty an especially powerful stigma.

In some countries, the homeless are seen as being cursed. In America, we do the cursing ourselves, labeling homeless people as lazy — one of Calvinistic capitalism’s direst sins.

The truth is that most homeless people know how to work hard.

This cultural perception is often borne out by observing the way that the majority of people treat the homeless when they encounter them on the streets. Not always, thankfully, but quite often.

Illness, job loss, foreclosure, or natural disaster — all can be harbingers of an upcoming life on the streets. It is worth remembering that these faces could be your own, and it would not take as much as you might think to end up there.

Source: “Why Do People Become Homeless?,” Walk For The Homeless
Source: “5 Ways to Become Homeless,” Business Pundit, 08/15/08
Image by Franco Folini, used under its Creative Commons license.

Visit Us on Facebook: Humane Exposures Publishing , downTownUSA, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing