Duluth Changes its Approach to Homelessness

Not that long ago, not even a decade ago, our societal sense of what was OK had police officers dealing with the homeless by moving them along, by giving them “move on” orders. There, problem solved — although never really.

“And that wasn’t something we did just here in Duluth; that was the practice of all law enforcement,” Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said. “But move-on orders aren’t constitutional, and they don’t happen anymore.”

The approach now is more humane, more human, beginning with an acknowledgement that not having a home isn’t a crime and an attitude that public spaces belong to everyone in the public. No, that doesn’t mean aggressive panhandling should be tolerated, or illegal activity, or anything else that infringes on others’ ability to be in those same public spaces. It does mean, however, that someone simply existing can be allowed to do so — have the right to do so.

The shift in attitude on homelessness prompted the Duluth Police Department, two years or so ago, to create a new policy: “Interactions with Persons Experiencing Homelessness.” Tusken and others in the department found a nationally produced model and then tweaked it and rewrote it, making it uniquely Duluth’s, after meeting with and talking with homeless advocates here and after listening to the stories of Duluthians who had experienced homelessness. Everyone in the department receives training on the policy now.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Tusken said

Substantially, what has changed is our role now is to be a resource in the communit . We work very closely with Deb Holman, (Duluth’s) homeless outreach worker. We now have two embedded (with police officers) social workers who help people get services they need. (Instead of, ‘Move along’), we’re saying, ‘Here are all the resources available to you,’ everything from where you can get meals, shelter, housing, and legal support to what to do if you’re in a violent-partner relationship. …

“Today, we look to give (those experiencing homelessness) referrals and help,” the chief said, rather than the brush-offs and citations of yesterday.

The new approach is producing a more positive Duluth, the city’s human rights officer, Carl Crawford, said:

The biggest thing is that the police department and the city and our homeless coalition are talking to each other now. They’re no longer talking at each other. And that’s a big shift, too. Homelessness is something that happens all over the country. It’s different here because of the extreme temperatures. Here, you’re talking life safety, what’s happening in the extreme cold. Police underwent unbiased training, and I think that has really shed a different light on things. How do we see people with dignity? … As a city we are definitely talking and listening and working on this together. We know there are insights from all sides of the table. “Really, how hardhearted and truly cold would one have to be to stand opposed?”. “Supporting dignity for all doesn’t mean giving up any expectation of personal responsibility by all. … Ensuring human rights is a city responsibility. Specifically including those who don’t have homes can be seen as a right thing to do. They’re people who too often are overlooked, forgotten.”

 

There’s also evidence of changes for the better in addition to the shifts in attitude and approach. Heated public restrooms are being opened by the city earlier in the mornings and left open longer into the evenings. Also, in December, the city added six portable toilets at strategic points at the center of the city.

At the same time, a grassroots coalition of homeless advocates, city leaders, and others has been working since the fall of 2013 to draft a Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights, a guiding document to ensure safety and basic human rights for those out in the cold.

A number of its details still demand to be addressed, but with laws in place to handle most concerns. The News Tribune opined in March:

Really, how hardhearted and truly cold would one have to be to stand opposed?Supporting dignity for all doesn’t mean giving up any expectation of personal responsibility by all. … Ensuring human rights is a city responsibility. Specifically including those who don’t have homes can be seen as a right thing to do. They’re people who too often are overlooked, forgotten.

Although, increasingly, not so much, not with attitudes shifting and approaches to homelessness changing here in Duluth and across the nation.

Our focus, always, can be making sure there are safe places where people can go and adequate housing. But while we’re working on that, there is nothing wrong with also doing what’s possible to ensure everyone is treated humanely — and as humans.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

New Jersey Gov. Seeks to Axe Re-entry Programs

As rehabilitation efforts gain ground in other states, current governor’s withdrawal of funding for NJ nonprofit backed by his predecessor is ‘inexplicable.’

Prisoner re-entry programs are at the forefront of fighting the opioid epidemic in prisoners and reducing state recidivism rates. They aim to make sure that those convicted can make a smooth transition into New Jersey life by helping inmates manage their addictions, earn an education and job training, and create a clear and purposeful pathway from behind the wall back into the community. At this year’s re-entry conference in Jersey City, the emphasis was on battling addiction through medication-assisted treatment, assistance with job training, housing security, and access to education.

Former NJ Gov. Jim McGreevey

Former NJ Gov. Jim McGreevey

 

That work however, is dependent on Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget.

According to Murphy’s budget breakdown for fiscal year 2019, the New Jersey Reentry Corporation will see all its state funding cut. Under the current state budget signed by Gov. Chris Christie, the NJRC received $4 million and was able to expand to eight locations across the state and serve more than 4,000 clients. The NJRC had hoped Murphy would be more generous than his predecessor and provide $5 million in funding as Murphy had spoken about the importance of comprehensive re-entry programs while on the campaign trail.

The cuts would be “catastrophic” for the individuals seeking assistance according to McGreevey, who said he plans to fight for that funding:

“I will give the full measure of every ounce of my being to stand for these persons. The re-entry population ought not to be a political football. These are men and women trying to change their lives and they need to be respected, and they need to be honored for their hard work, their dignity, and their sobriety.

“What’s ludicrous is that we’re willing to spend over a billion dollars to lock people in cages but we’re not willing to spend $5 million for re-entry services. That is inexplicable to me. According to an NJRC report, incarcerating someone for one year in New Jersey costs $53,681 while enrolling that same person in NJRC costs $2,200. I intend to form a collaborative taskforce of representatives from the healthcare industry, law enforcement, legal services and other relevant parties to tackle re-entry in the state.

“If the governor doesn’t want to understand the importance of a re-entry taskforce, the New Jersey Reentry Corp. will form one, but I’d like to do it in partnership with the State of New Jersey.

One major contributor to a successful re-entry is sobriety. For many former prisoners, their ongoing battle with addiction can be the biggest hurdle to their reintegration. According to a National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse report, 85 percent of all incarcerated individuals in the country are involved with drugs or other addictive substances, but only 11 percent of those addicted inmates receive treatment during their incarceration.

Upon imprisonment, addicts are often forced to detox without any medication assistance — a painful, and in some cases life-threatening process that does not equate to permanent sobriety. In fact, detoxing can lower an individual’s tolerance level so that when they are released back into the community and seek out drugs once more (relapse is common with opioid addictions in particular), they are more likely to overdose. Without sustained access to treatment beginning in jail, experts say, addicts are most likely to become incarcerated again. For many, job training and education are of little use if they cannot manage their addiction.

Though Murphy’s budget does not provide the funding McGreevey was looking for, other major power players in the state have announced their commitment to improving the re-entry process in New Jersey.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) noted the $6 billion in federal opioid funding allocated by the U.S. Senate and said he will fight in Washington, D.C. to secure as much of that money as possible to bring to New Jersey and support re-entry programs like the NJRC.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced he will be rolling out an expanded version of his Bergen County Operation Helping Hand initiative to an additional six counties. Under the program, police arrested low-level heroin users and channeled them into a detox program at a medical facility before pairing them with recovery coaches and specialists in the prosecutor’s office.

Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) has also authored a plan to reform the state parole system and integrate re-entry services and rehab programs. The bill, S-761, was approved by the Senate Budget Committee last month.

In other states that are battling the opioid crisis, treating addiction in prisons and jails has proven effective. New Jersey prison reform and re-entry advocates like those at the NJRC are looking to these states to determine where resources in the state could be better integrated. Rhode Island, in particular has seen staggering results. Over a year ago, Rhode Island began providing inmates full access to three medications for opioid addiction — buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone — which experts have called “the gold standard of care” for opioid addiction. It is unique in this approach as no other state prison system provides the same type of access to all three medications, with many providing no medication treatment at all. Since then, overdose deaths among returning prisoners in Rhode Island fell by 60 percent and overall opioid overdose deaths fell by 12 percent in the state. Overdose deaths among released inmates was cut by more than half, according to a recent study.

Buffalo, New York, which started the nation’s first opioid intervention court, is also being looked at as a model for other states, including New Jersey. The system there works like a traditional drug court in that addicts who are nonviolent offenders are led into a recovery program as an alternative to prison time and are often given reduced sentences because of seeking help. Inmates are closely monitored, required to take multiple drug tests, and must check in with a judge throughout their recovery.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Arts Education Reduces Juvenile Recidivism

Using an arts education program has been successful in breaking patterns caused by a dysfunctional, punitive model that has resulted in hyper-expensive often lifelong incarceration and criminal recidivism.

For the first time, at new probation facilities like “Campus”Kilpatrick– not Juvenile Hall — juveniles (aka kids) who are being held by the Probation Department live in Pasadena, CA in six apartment-like, family-like settings that are in marked contrast to the terror-producing, claustrophobic, cinderblock reality that many remember from their own broken childhoods. 

Proof that “the arts can eliminate some trauma” was also attested to by Dave Mitchell who pointed out that there are now only 330 incarcerated juveniles in a residential system that housed over 1500 not so long ago. Mitchell and the others say what is different with their approach using art is, “We don’t want to control, we want to change them.” Clearly the program is achieving a revolutionary result by enabling kids who start out violent, defensive, and closed off, to become open and able to access their soft cores without the fear that has been such a pervasive force in their lives.cell

Up until now, these “circumstantial barriers” have had a far greater impact on juveniles of color, where by every measure of severity from the initial response of police to whether or not the juvenile is incarcerated– and for how long — disproportionally impacts minority youth far more than their White counterparts.

Ironically, whether it’s the juvenile justice system with its subsequent incarceration or in our public education system that is marked by an endemic lack of rigor, what seems to be driving both to the detriment of society iscorporate profit, no matter what the human cost.

Can anyone honesty say that instituting an effective arts education in theproposed publicly funded $3.7 billion jail expansion planned for a Miraloma location would not be a preferable way to try and address the current broken system of juvenile justice? It’s something to consider, especially since, as Kim McGill points out,the present system costs approximately $247,000 for every year a juvenile spends in “camp.”

And this is only the tip of the fiscal iceberg, when one considers that 70% of today’s incarcerated juvenile population is to some degree mentally ill, which will only get worse if left untreated. Up until now, the punitive system of incarceration has had neither the will nor the financial ability to deal with this in a timely manner.

How much of what they deal with on a day to day basis would be unnecessary if school districts like LAUSD did their job and stopped socially promoting students from grade to grade without mastering prior grade-level standards.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Which Women are Locked Up Where…and Why?

With growing public attention to the problem of mass incarceration, people want to know about women’s experience with incarceration. How many women are held in prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities in the United States? And why are they there? While these are important questions, finding those answers requires not only disentangling the country’s decentralized and overlapping criminal justice systems, but also unearthing the frustratingly hard to find and often altogether missing data on gender.

In stark contrast to the total incarcerated population, where the state prison systems hold twice as many people as are held in jails, incarcerated women are nearly evenly split between state prisons and local jails.

Chart from Prison Policy Initiative, 2017

Chart from Prison Policy Initiative, 2017

 

A staggering number of women who are incarcerated are not even convicted: more than a quarter of women who are behind bars have not yet had a trial. Moreover, 60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial.

Avoiding pre-trial incarceration is uniquely challenging for women. The number of unconvicted women stuck in jail is surely not because courts are considering women, who are generally the primary caregivers of children, to be a flight risk. The far more likely answer is that incarcerated women, who have lower incomes than incarcerated men, have an even harder time affording cash bail. A previous study found that women who could not make bail had an annual median income of just $11,071. And among those women, Black women had a median annual income of only $9,083 (just 20% that of a white non-incarcerated man). When the typical $10,000 bail amounts to a full year’s income, it’s no wonder that women are stuck in jail awaiting trial.

Even once convicted, the system funnels women into jails: About a quarter of convicted incarcerated women are held in jails, compared to about 10% of all people incarcerated with a conviction.

So what does it mean that large numbers of women are held in jail – for them, and for their families? While stays in jail are generally shorter than in stays in prison, jails make it harder to stay in touch with family than prisons do. Phone calls are more expensive, up to $1.50 per minute, and other forms of communication are more restricted – some jails don’t even allow real letters, limiting mail to postcards. This is especially troubling given that 80% of women in jails are mothers, and most of them are primary caretakers of their children. Thus children are particularly susceptible to the domino effect of burdens placed on incarcerated women.

Women in jails are also more likely to suffer from mental health problems and experience serious psychological distress than either women in prisons or men in either correctional setting.

All too often, the conversation about criminal justice reform starts and stops with the question of non-violent drug and property offenses. While drug and property offenses make up more than half of the offenses for which women are incarcerated, the chart reveals that all offenses, including violent offenses that account for roughly a quarter of all incarcerated women, must be considered in the effort to reduce the number of incarcerated women in this country. This new data on women underlines the need for reform discussions to focus not just on the easier choices but on choices that can lead to impactful policy changes.

Even the “Whole Pie” of incarceration above represents just one small portion (16%) of the women under correctional supervision. Again, this is in stark contrast to the general incarcerated population (mostly men), where a full third of those under correctional control are in prisons and jails.

correctional_control_women

Three out of four women under control of the correctional systems are on probation. Probation is often billed as an alternative to incarceration, but instead it is frequently set with unrealistic conditions that undermine its goal of keeping people from being locked up. For example, probation often comes with steep fees, which, like bail, women are in the worst position to afford. Failing to pay these probation fees is often a violation of probation. Childcare duties further complicate probation requirements that might require meetings with probation officers, with no extra money to spend on babysitters or reliable fast transportation across town. All of these issues make women particularly vulnerable to being incarcerated not because they commit crimes, but because they ran afoul of one of the burdensome obligations of their probation supervision.

The picture of women’s incarceration is far from complete, and many questions remain about mass incarceration’s unique impact on women. Based on our analysis in this report we know that a quarter of incarcerated women are unconvicted.

While more data is needed, the data in this report lends focus and perspective to the policy changes needed to end mass incarceration without leaving women behind.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Mental Illness Feeds Homelessness and Incarceration

A half-century ago, state governments, led by Calif. Gov. Ronald Reagan, closed mental hospitals, dumping tens of thousands of bewildered patients on the streets, from which many were arrested and imprisoned.

According to D.J. Jaffee, author of “Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails The Mentally Ill,” the problem is that the focus, money and attention in our nation is focused on helping nearly everyone but those ten million mentally ill, and the result is at least 140,000 Americans being homeless, 392,037 in jails and prisons, 755,360 on probation or parole and at least 95,000 who need hospitalization unable to find a bed.

He says:
“When the mental “illness” system disappeared and the mental “health” system replaced it, homelessness, hospitalization, crime, arrest, violence, incarceration, shootings of and by police, and expenditures for mental illness all went up. The only metrics going down are the number of psychiatric beds available to treat the seriously mentally ill and the number of nonprofits, government agencies, advocates and politicians that care. We’re in this mess because the mental health industry convinced the government to abandon treatment the most seriously mentally ill in favor of serving the highest functioning.

“And yet, despite almost yearly attempts to create a better system, the odds of helping the seriously mentally ill today are no better than they were 30 years ago, and oddly, are probably much worse.”

Jaffee takes on the mental health care industry for valuing profits over patients, the courts for stupid judicial rulings and the emergence of recovery/wellness programs that he claims do little if any good for the seriously mentally ill.

His solutions: that money and services should be targeted for the sickest and that we need to stop talking about mental “health” and call it an “illness.” Among other things, his solutions include ridding ourselves of the exclusion that prohibits the construction of longer term psychiatric institutions, largely shuttering the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, handcuffing Protection and Advocacy Groups to stop them from lobbying, better fund evidence based treatments, modify civil commitment, expand mental health courts, and create more hospital beds and housing.

If any of this sounds familiar, it is because much of what Jaffe suggests was included in the original drafts of Rep. Tim Murphy’s Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act that was largely rewritten, homogenized and compromised as it passed through Congress so that it could become law.

One-in-five Americans grapple with a mental illness each year. Homelessness and over-imprisonment continue to be growing problems.

Incarceration and Black Family Changes

Legislative initiatives during the Clinton Administration had profound effects on black families. In the early 1990s, nearly 5 million mothers were on cash welfare. Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare legislation halved the number of mothers on cash welfare. The shift from welfare to work dramatically reduced child poverty, but it also created stresses. While government child-care facilities helped, these mothers still had to balance work and parenthood.black-couple-holding-hands

Mass incarceration substantially increased the difficulty of striking that balance. Between 1998 and 2003, the female-to-male ratio among non-incarcerated black Americans, 25–29 years old remained steady at 1.25: five women for every four men. Whether one relied on Gary Becker-inspired marriage models or feminist bargaining models, it was clear that the scarcity of black men gave them a primacy in dictating sexual relations. Elijah Anderson documented how many of these scarce men, especially if they were older and employed, successfully demanded sexual relations without contraceptives. As a result, one-quarter of the children born to black 15- to 17-year-olds were fathered by men at least six years older than their mothers. More generally, in 2000, 15.3 percent of black teenagers became pregnant, leading to 5.5 percent having abortions and 7.7 percent giving birth.

These scarce men also acted irresponsibly with the partners of their children. Reporting on extensive interviews with poor black mothers for The American Prospect, Kathryn Edin wrote, “Many women say they regard men simply as ‘children; ‘no good,’ or ‘low-down dirty dogs.’ Women tend to believe . . . that the men will not (or cannot, in some women’s words) be sexually faithful.” Reflecting on the high male incarceration rates, one black respondent told Edin, “There’s a shortage of men so that they think, ‘I can have more than one woman . . . and I am going to have two or three of them.” Edin pointed to their irresponsibility, quoting another respondent who recalled how her child’s father spent their “son’s Pampers money on partying.”

These irresponsible partners added further stresses, resulting in what Edin labeled “the father-go-round”: vulnerable mothers sequentially partnering with new men. So prevalent was this dynamic that a majority of black women with multiple children had them with different fathers.

These men most often abandoned their children from old relationships once they had fathered children in their new ones, and many of them were abusive to the children their partners had from previous relationships. As a result, child-maltreatment rates grew dramatically in black families, especially among unwed mothers living with men who were not the father of all their children.

The damage done during this earlier period continued to play itself out in the lives of the children who are now in their high-school years. Schools have to tackle the problem of angry black teenage boys with significant behavioral and academic deficits. Many high schools that serve poor black neighborhoods face bad choices: excessive suspensions or allowing disruptive youth to remain in classes. However, there is reason to believe that positive changes have been taking hold over the last decade.

Between 2006 and 2016, diversion programs induced a 30 percent decline in black incarceration. As a result, the black gender ratio among non-institutionalized 25- to 29-year-olds continuously declined until 2011, when it leveled off at 1.08. Many of the men enrolled in diversion programs became more responsible partners and fathers. In addition, prisons began to provide more effective education programs so that a large share of convicts were able to complete their high-school equivalence degree before or soon after their release. Extensive prison-reentry programs further facilitated their successful integration back into society, increasing the share of men with improved behavioral traits. And the changing gender ratio improved the bargaining power of young black women, so that the black-teen birth rate plummeted, declining by 44 percent between 2006 and 2014.

Just as important has been the substantial increase in the educational attainment of black women. In 2016, 35.31 percent of black women 25–29 years old had no more than a high-school degree, down from 48.51 percent in 2003. By contrast, the share of black women 25–29 years old with at least a bachelor’s degree increased from 16.93 percent in 2003 to 25.06 percent in 2016 when an additional 9.42 percent of this group had an associate’s degree. The figures look even better for black women 30–34 years old: In 2016, 28.15 percent of this cohort had at least a bachelor’s degree, and 14.92 had an associate’s degree.

In other words, today there are many fewer vulnerable black women who must put up with problematic partners and many more successful ones who will not allow their children to suffer the emotional abuse and maltreatment that was such a prevalent a decade ago.

These improvements suggest that basing current policies on evidence from the early 2000s is unhelpful. They do not, however, undercut completely ongoing concerns that too many black children are born to unwed parents. There are still too many vulnerable black women stuck with unfit partners, and too many struggling to raise multiple children born to different fathers. And a significant number of black men still end up back in the prison as they age; the gender ratio among black Americans 30–34 years old was 1.17 in 2016. So we still have more to do to combat black-male unemployment and incarceration before we fully turn the corner.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Reducing Sexually-Transmitted Disease Among Pot- and Alcohol -Using Youth

Adolescents involved in the juvenile justice system demonstrated reduced incidence of sexually transmitted infections after taking part in a one-time sexual risk reduction intervention that incorporates content related to alcohol and cannabis use.

Angela D. Bryan, PhD, from the department of psychology and neuroscience at homeless kidsthe University of Colorado, Boulder, told Infectious Diseases in Children, said:

In any given year, approximately 2 million young people come into contact with the juvenile justice system, so there are a huge number of kids who get processed through facilities like the one where our work was conducted. Most of these facilities and systems do not have the resources they need to do intensive multi-session interventions.

The fact that our intervention can be conducted in a single session with limited additional resources gives it great potential for dissemination. Also, kids who come into contact with the juvenile justice system tend to have higher rates of substance use and risky sexual behavior than their non-justice-involved peers. Our intervention was developed exactly for the kids who most need it.

To explore whether rates of STIs could be reduced with the use of a theory-based sexual risk-reduction intervention that includes content related to cannabis and alcohol, the researchers conducted a cluster randomized trial that compared the intervention with one that included information about alcohol only and one that did not include substance use. All trials were conducted between July 1, 2010, and Dec. 10, 2014, at a juvenile detention facility in southwestern United States.

Participants were tested and treated for STIs before being randomly assigned to a group and again 12 months after the intervention was used. All adolescents included in the study were between 14 and 18 years of age and could speak English. Additionally, all participants had less than 1 month left of their detention term and granted the researchers access to STI results if they were tested at intake.

The clinicians presented 460 teenagers who completed baseline assessment-led discussions, group activities and received active feedback from participants.

Of those who participated and were randomly assigned into one of three cohorts, 75.4% were male and the average age was 15.8 (1.1) years. More than half were Hispanic (57.0%). Through testing, the researchers observed that attrition at follow-up was reached by 21.5% of participants. Those who received a sexual risk reduction intervention with alcohol and cannabis content were less likely to have an STI at their 12-month follow-up (3.9%) when compared with those who received a sexual risk reduction intervention alone intervention with only alcohol-related content

Bryan said,:

I think aspects of the intervention have potential for the pediatric health care system, but only if clinicians and health care providers were comfortable having frank and nonjudgmental discussions of sexual activity and development with their patients. .The young people themselves would also need to feel comfortable talking about sexual activity and substance use with their providers. Finally, we would also need to know whether the intervention was effective done on a one-on-one basis, as the trial we conducted involved delivering the intervention to groups of adolescents.

Programs Help Michigan Hit Lowest-ever Recidivism Rate

At 28.1 percent, the Michigan Department of Corrections already beat its numbers by 1.7 percent in 2018 from last year’s count, which recorded the recidivism rate at 29.8 percent, the lowest ever. Recidivism in Michigan has hovered around 30 percent in recent years, and has proven a sharp decline from 1998 when the rate was a significantly higher at 45.7 percent.

Michigan’s impressive position in

the area of recidivism is speculated to be as a result of important programs and training that the state has put in place with just such goals in mind. The department’s “Offender Success” model provides inmates with education, skills and job training in high-demand fields that can lead to stable careers and lower the risk of re-offense.

“Our communities are safer when we give offenders the tools they need to become successful and productive members of society,” said Heidi Washington, director of the Michigan Department of Corrections. “The department has made it a priority to provide high-quality education, training and support to offenders returning to our neighborhoods, and Michigan’s declining recidivism rates show these efforts are working.”

Some examples of the new DOC training programs include the Vocational Village, which operates at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia (since 2016) and one that opened shortly thereafter at the Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson. These two programs provide training in automotive technology, welding, CNC machining, robotics, commercial truck driving, forklift operation, carpentry, plumbing, electrical trades and concrete and masonry work.

Gov. Rick Snyder said:

Ninety-five percent of people in prison will be paroled, and 100 percent of them need a job. Finding employment is the best deterrent in keeping former offenders from returning to prison. The Department of Corrections should be proud of the work it’s doing to help our returning residents to give them the chance that best helps them find a successful path in life.

Michigan’s recent record-breaking recidivism rate is an important indicator that the Michigan DOC is meeting its mission to prepare prisoners to reenter the community as law-abiding citizens.

Washington added:

When we give offenders the skills they need to lead crime-free lives as productive members of society, it makes Michigan a safer place to live. These figures show our efforts have been effective, and we look forward to building upon that success.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Michigan Recidivism Rate Reaches Lowest Ever Recorded,

L.A.Continues to Try to Arrest Away Homelessness

As the number of homeless people has risen dramatically in Los Angeles, so has the tension between those living in squalor on the sidewalks and the residents who have to walk past their encampments, the smell of urine in the air. City officials struggle to balance the rights of homeless people with the rights of everyone else. The region clearly needs to create more housing, but that has been a maddeningly slow process in a city with 34,000 homeless people.

In the meantime, homeless people are

Photo by Los Angeles Times

Photo by Los Angeles Times

vulnerable to being cited by police for breaking any of a passel of the city’s so-called quality-of-life ordinances, which forbid activities such as sleeping on the sidewalk, urinating in public or possessing a shopping cart. A citation can carry a $300 fine — an unaffordable sum for a destitute homeless person. If it’s not paid or if the person cited fails to appear in court, a bench warrant is automatically issued. That can lead to the homeless person getting arrested and in some cases jailed, then returning to the street, locked into an absurd cycle of debt-driven citations, arrests and homelessness.

If you have no home or place to store your belongings, then you carry around your possessions and rest on the sidewalk during the day. If there are no bathrooms for you to use, then you urinate and defecate wherever you happen to be. If anyone thinks citing and arresting people for doing these things means they won’t do them any longer, they’re crazy.

Officials note that the increase in arrests parallels the growth in the local homeless population. But reflecting the trap set by high fines, more homeless people got arrested in 2016 for failure to appear in court for an unpaid citation than for any other reason.

City Atty. Mike Feuer already runs a series of citation clinics at which lawyers work with homeless people to resolve the tickets on their records that can reduce their eligibility for housing and jobs. That’s great and should continue. But that’s on the back end. We need a better approach on the front end. Police need a more productive way of interacting with homeless people on the streets.

For starters, officers need to have the resources to offer a homeless person an alternative to a citation or arrest on the spot. If they’re not accompanied by an outreach worker to help persuade a homeless person to accept services and temporary housing, they need to have a phone number for one.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck insists that his department’s goal is to get homeless people the services they need, and that officers make arrests as a last resort to stop someone who repeatedly breaks the law. There are already teams of police officers in different parts of the city that go out to encampments along with professional outreach workers. But not every police officer on the street encountering a homeless person has an outreach worker at his or her side. When that help isn’t available, police should be instructed that the preferable way to deal with homeless people is to offer them a choice: Get cited and possibly arrested, or agree to work with a service provider.

Granted, this is not the ideal way to get homeless people linked up with counseling and case management and shelter beds. Even when there is a professional outreach worker at the officer’s side, the homeless person is still agreeing to services at the threat of being cited or arrested by someone with a badge and a gun. In general, homeless people who voluntarily accept help are more successful at working with service providers. Among other things, that means we need more outreach workers on the streets — and more temporary housing that they can offer quickly to homeless people.

But here is what we know does not work: charging people money they don’t have; telling people not to go to the bathroom on the sidewalk without offering them public toilets; putting people in jail for being homeless. Let’s stop telling ourselves that arresting homeless people in encampments is actually cleaning up the streets. It’s not.