San Diego’s Deadly Homelessness Crisis Deepens as Police Criminalize People, Confiscate Tents & Belongings

Rapidly rising numbers of people are living—and dying—on the sidewalks, parks and canyons of San Diego County. San Diego has the fourth-largest homeless population in the country—behind New York, Los Angeles and Seattle–8,741 across the county and 1,162 living outdoors downtown—a 43 percent increase in a single year. In San Diego, 16% of the homeless

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

are veterans, more than any other city in the top 10.

Living on the street is deadly. One study puts the average life expectancy at 42 years for the chronic unsheltered homeless, compared to nearly 79 for the general population.

Seven people have died in the four months since the opening of Alpha Square, a new building in San Diego’s East Village with 203 permanent apartments for the most damaged people from the streets. None died from violence or overdose.

Three myths about San Diego homeless are that they’re mostly mentally ill, that they’re largely transplants seeking warm weather and that they are too shiftlless to go into shelters.

But the current national estimate today is that the percentage of chronically homeless adults with serious mental illness is close to 30 percent.

The Regional Task Force on the Homeless estimates that 70 percent of San Diego’s unsheltered homeless population became homeless in San Diego and that just 24 percent became homeless elsewhere before coming here. A VA think tank tracked more than 113,000 veterans who accessed the agency’s homeless services and found just 15 percent moved across large geographic areas during a two-year period.

And many people do want to get in shelter but can face weeks-long waits and seemingly complex sign-up processes to get into those beds. The latter can be enough to discourage some people. More crucially, shelters aren’t always inviting places for the homeless. Many are uncertain the resources being offered will work for them.

Some shelters have rules that frustrate homeless people. They can’t drink or must abide by a curfew. Or they can’t sleep beside their partners or bring their pets. Forced to choose between a roof and their closest companions, many choose their companions.

Why does San Diego have such an acute homelessness crisis? Something is deeply wrong. Unemployment has been falling since 2010. Public funding has poured into local homeless programs by the hundreds of millions each year. Government seems to have turned the problem over to private entities, and they appear to be struggling.

They problem is greatly enhanced because the city chooses to criminalize homelessness and send the police and other agencies to confiscate their tents, blankets and possessions while sweeping them from areas tourists will notice.

A caravan of police cars with flashing lights rolled up on 17th Street east of Petco Park on a recent Monday morning. Officers and city environmental service workers were conducting what’s become a weekly ritual: moving the homeless off the sidewalk. About 160 people live on the street there, and they knew the cops were coming. The city posted warning signs days in advance. The sweeps have occurred every Monday for months.

“This is where I stay. I’m homeless,” said a man who goes by the name Brother Shine. He said he has lived on 17th Street and the surrounding blocks in San Diego’s East Village for 10 years.

When the police and city workers moved in around 7 a.m., Shine and his homeless neighbors piled their blankets, tents, mattresses and clothes into carts. They pushed with one hand and used the other to balance buckets and containers on top of their overflowing loads. One woman wheeled a beige couch. A man lugged his gas barbecue. Some pulled pets on leashes.

“I do it every Monday,” said Shine. “I gotta clean up every Monday and come right back like I’ve been doing. It’s just a hassle.”

The homeless headed to the Neil Good Day Center on 17th near K Street. The center operates during daytime hours and is partly funded by the city. It provides bathrooms, and has mail and laundry services for people who live on the streets. On Mondays, the center’s patio is filled with stuffed carts.

“We’re not roaches or ants. We’re human just like them,” said Steven Hillard, who has been homeless for 15 years. “Do they gotta come with five or six police cars with their lights on, like it was a crime scene?”

While the sidewalks are cleaned up, Hillard said, the day center provides a safe spot for a few hours until the police and city crews leave.

By late afternoon, the homeless return. They wheel their belongings back and settle in for another week.

Advocates for the homeless say the weekly sweeps are an effort to hide the city’s downtown homeless problem before out-of-town tourists arrive. One says, “We know we need more permanent housing. We need more affordable housing. But we also need supportive services to match up with the housing, and we need a better way to connect people up with the resources available.”

Approximately 8,700 people experience homelessness, across San Diego County. Those who have continued exposure to outdoor elements like extreme heat, hypothermia, and frostbite, are at increased risk for developing health conditions, and such conditions can be life threatening. In an effort to lessen the health impacts of exposure during inclement weather, 2-1-1 San Diego provides emergency shelter information and referrals to partner agencies who can accommodate the immediate severe weather housing needs for the homeless.

During unusually hot, cold or wet weather, inclement weather response agencies are been activated. Inclement Weather Hotel/Motel Vouchers are also available.

Women Occupy San Diego is circulating a Change.org petition calling upon Mayor Faulconer to confront the nightmare of homelessness. They are demanding Emergency Humanitarian Action to stop criminalizing homeless people in San Diego. Over 500 people have signed the petition.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

 

Black Kid 24 Times More Likely to Be Sentenced to Confinement in Racist New Jersey System

“Youth prisons are failing our children in this state,

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

but particularly our children of color,” explained Andrea McChristian from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. If you take a look inside New Jersey’s juvenile justice system you’ll see the racial disparities laid bare: 75% of incarcerated kids are black. That gap among races is the third-highest in the country.

McChristian continues:

The research shows that a black kid in New Jersey is 24 times more likely to be sentenced  to confinement than a white child. And this starts at arrest where black kids are more likely to be arrested. They’re less likely to be diverted and they’re more likely to end up in our state’s youth prisons.

It’s a trend that’s existed for decades, and while the issue is getting more attention these days, the stats remain the same, according to a new report by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. McChristian is its lead author.

She said:

It’s not because black kids are somehow more criminally culpable than white children. Actually, there are few differences between black kids and white kids in terms of delinquent behavior, in terms of committing status offenses — which are offenses that are only criminalized if you’re a minor, like underage drinking. So this is actually about policy.

Fred Fogg is the regional director of operations for New Jersey and Delaware at Youth Advocate Programs. He works to engage kids and their families in community-based alternatives to jail time. At around $75 a day, those alternatives run at just a fraction of the cost of full-time confinement which can hit above $500 a day — nearly $200,000 a year per person.

Fogg said, “Most of the youths that are incarcerated are for nonviolent offenses.”

Fogg says alternative programs that keep kids in the community cut down recidivism rates. As it stands now, three out of four kids are re-arrested. Nearly half land themselves back in jail within three years.

“White youth involved in juvenile justice issues tend to have better access to diversion programs than African American youth,” Fogg said.

The number of incarcerated kids in New Jersey has fallen by half over the last two decades as some offenders found their way to diversion programs. But according to the report, that just widened the gap between black and brown and white.

Kathy Wright of the New Jersey Parents Caucus asks:

When we look at young black boy or a young Latino boy. What do we think about them? Do we really believe that the prison is the best place for them to be in? Is that where we are truly going to rehabilitate them?

McChistian added:

We need to start realizing that these are children. That the research has show that the adolescent brain is still developing and that deviant or anti-social behavior peaks at age 16 and 17 and then declines as a child matures, but we aren’t thinking that. We aren’t thinking that OK locking a kid away who is honestly going to age out of this type of behavior, doesn’t make sense.

Fogg said:

They’ve gone in these facilities as children and they’re coming back chronologically as adults, but they’re not developing into men in correctional facilities. They’re on pause for the most part.

With a new administration taking shape, McChristian expects reform at the federal level to come slowly. Instead, her organization is looking toward local and state level policy changes which have proven effective, in New Jersey, when it comes to bail reform and reentry initiatives.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

ACLU Urges Denver Police to Cease Taking Blankets From Sleeping Homeless Persons

homeless-jesus-20160120

Photo by
Susan Madden Lankford

The ACLU of Colorado sent a letter to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and the Denver City Council responding to widely-circulated videos showing Denver Police taking blankets, tents and survival gear from people experiencing homelessness as “evidence” of violations of the Denver camping ban, which criminalizes sleeping outside with a blanket, sleeping bag, or any other form of cover or shelter.

The letter demands that the City immediately (1) direct its police officers to cease confiscation of blankets and other survival gear possessed by people experiencing homelessness, (2) suspend enforcement of the Denver Urban Camping Ban through the winter months, using that time to explore alternative approaches to homelessness that do not criminalize people for having nowhere they can afford to live and (3) end the coordinated sweeps of people experiencing homelessness, whether they are conducted through police, public works, private security, all of the above, or any other means.

ACLU of Colorado Executive Director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley wrote in the letter:

It is not an inherent crime to sleep outside, and many people right now have no other viable option. Denver’s shelters are simply unable to serve all people in the Denver area experiencing homelessness, even in the short term, much less as a long-term solution. Until real solutions become Denver’s priority, the city’s ongoing policing-first approach to homelessness is a cruel waste of funds, curtailing fundamental constitutional rights, causing deep human suffering, and endangering lives.

On July 1, CBS4 Denver reported that the City of Denver paid Custom Environmental Services, Inc., an outside contractor, from a fund that included private charitable donations – most notably, donations made through meters around the city and at Denver International Airport – for work crews to confiscate the possessions of unhoused people during controversial anti-homeless sweeps initiated by Mayor Hancock.

Woodliff-Stanley wrote:

While Denver is home to many people of good will who value freedom, compassion, and care for all people, especially those in the most vulnerable circumstances, the City of Denver’s record on the treatment of people experiencing homelessness is abominable. From the inappropriate use of a Homeless Services Donations Fund to forcibly move, harass, and take the property of unhoused persons to increasingly aggressive sweeps of people experiencing homelessness, ratcheting up arrests of people whose only crime is to have nowhere to live, and now the use of police resources to confiscate blankets and survival gear on bitter cold nights, the City of Denver is exhibiting a level of cruelty that should bring deep shame to Mayor Hancock and other city officials.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Many Failures at Darwin, Australia Correctional Center for Men and Women–After 2 Years

A leaked report into the two-year-old Darwin correctional center, which was sat on by the previous government and then only partially released by the current one, has reportedly revealed details of rampant failures in the $1.8 billion Australian dollar, 1,000-bed facility.

A leaked copy of the report by the former head 46467aa995b6fe5ad949b57f872d27d2of Queensland corrective services Keith Hamburger details inadequate construction and operation of the Northern Territory prison. which opened in 2014.

Hamburger’s review reportedly reveals prisoners had time-limited showers and at one point were rationed to three toilet flushes a day for men and four for women.

Female prisoners were denied the same rehabilitative and medical services the men received, according to the report, largely because their prison had been placed within the grounds of the men’s facility.

It was also overcrowded, reaching a total in May of 141 women in a space designed for just 76, the report said.

“Co-correctional facilities usually provide inequitable access by female prisoners to medical, programs and industries – and this has proven to be the case at [Darwin correctional precinct],” Hamburger wrote.

The inadequate design of the prison also meant work and education programs were only able to be delivered to about half of the inmates.

The current department was working towards a recommissioning of “the daily structure of what happens within”, and said there were moves to restart plans from their previous time in government, including a culturally appropriate work camp in the Barkley region and a low-security facility in Katherine.

Minister for justice Natasha Fyles was questioned about concerns the prison does not allow for significant cultural needs and taboos for the 86% of the population who are Indigenous. She said it was:

a sad indictment on the Northern Territory that we have to make sure our correctional facility is culturally appropriate, with such a high rate of Indigenous incarceration.

The work camp and other plans would support low-risk Indigenous inmates, and the NT government is working to address high incarceration rates.

The sewerage issues had been resolved, and the claims about toilet and shower rationing referred to a two-week period of heavy rain and flooding.

In October, the government released the executive summary of the long-awaited report, citing unspecified privacy issues. The previous government was widely criticized for going back on its word to release the report amid national outrage over abuse inside juvenile detention. Recently, Fyles said she would seek new advice on releasing a redacted version of the full report.

The executive summary itself revealed that Hamburger found the adult prison to be “not fit for purpose” and commissioned “under a flawed approach” by the former government in 2008.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Canadian “First Nations” Prisoners Released Without Proper Rehab

Indigenous offenders are too often released back into society without adequate rehabilitation, according to a new report from Canada’s spending watchdog.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson just released

Auditor General Michael Ferguson

Auditor General Michael Ferguson

his fall report, which includes a review of how Correctional Service Canada (CSC) prepares Indigenous offenders for release. Although Indigenous people make up just three per cent of the country’s adult population, they account for 26 per cent of those in federal institutions.

Ferguson acknowledges there are rehabilitation programs aimed at Indigenous offenders behind bars, but they are not offered “in a timely manner.” He added that corrections staff aren’t prepared to take the “social history factors” of Indigenous offenders into consideration when it comes to case management.

“The result is that fewer Indigenous offenders are prepared for parole than non-Indigenous offenders,” said Ferguson.

Ferguson also said that when Indigenous offenders are released directly from maximum and medium security prisons, it is often “without gradual and structured transition back into society.”

His report notes that 69 per cent of Indigenous offenders are released at their statutory release dates.

“It’s a serious analysis of what the problems are around preparing Indigenous people for release,” said Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society, who adds that she was surprised at the number of Indigenous offenders being released directly from prisons. ”It’s better that they cascade down to minimum security and participate in the graduated release mechanism.”

If offenders are released through that graduated process — with support and supervision — they’re less likely to re-offend and end up back in prison, Latimer said.

The report also raises the alarm about the rising number of Indigenous inmates, particular women.

“In the prairie region, almost half of offenders in custody are Indigenous,” the report said, noting the overall Indigenous population grew by 25% in the past decade — compared to the non-Indigenous prison population, which has actually declined slightly. The report also said Indigenous women are the fastest-growing population in federal institutions — making up 36% of female offenders in custody.

The report includes eight recommendations for fixing the problems, including:

* Increasing ways to consider an offender’s Indigenous social history.
* Offering more culturally specific rehab programs.
* Transitioning Indigenous offenders to lower-security institutions before they are released.

The CSC has agreed to address all of the recommendations, the report said.

“Those of us who are interested in this issue will need to be vigilant just to make sure that progress is being made,” said Latimer.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Foster Care Kids Sex-Trafficked in Texas

The Texas Committee on Juvenile

Phoro by Susan Madden Lankford

Phoro by Susan Madden Lankford

Justice and Family Issues and Human Services held a joint hearing revealing that there is a connection between sex and human trafficking and the state’s foster care system. Several representatives from state agencies took the stand revealing shocking statistics to prove that children in Texas foster care are the most vulnerable to be recruited as a sex slave.

State Rep. James White, R-Woodville said:

The people in East Texas want to see something done now. If you know where these places are, just go today. Shut them down today. We don’t have to wait for the legislature to gavel in and do more.

Angela Goodwin, Director of Investigation with Child Protective Services says in the fiscal year 2016, there were 973 children in Texas foster care who were reported “missing”.

She says only 633 of those kids have been found, and several dozen of them reported that they had been sex trafficked.

Goodwin said:

We stress with our staff the urgency. That they have to report right away to local law enforcement. They have to assign it to one of our special investigators who are former law enforcement immediately. This is in our protocol and our policy that we train our staff, that these cases are urgent and have a sense of urgency.

Lawmakers pressed the testimony on why nothing is being done immediately and why state agencies aren’t knocking on doors trying to locate these children right now. Some pointed out the timing of this hearing—on a week where families should be together giving thanks, nearly 300 children are still missing.

Dixie Hairston, the Anti-Trafficking Coordinator at Children at Risk said:

We are just thinking about in financial year 16 for DFPS, 32 kids were recovered that self proclaimed that they had been victims of sex trafficking. We don’t even have enough beds for those kids.

Hairston says the problem goes beyond just finding these kids. She says there are only 26 beds across the entire state of Texas for any child that needs to go to a foster care placement who has been trafficked. There are 350 beds across the U.S.

Hairston said. “What we need to do right now is figure out a way that we can get these kids services as soon as they are recovered.” Hairston says the lack of resources means that these kids end up placed in other state programs that are not appropriate for the trauma they have experienced:

This is happening to the most vulnerable children in our community. If law enforcement goes out, they do a sting operation and they do recover a child, where are they going to take them after they recover them. There are just not those places out there.

Child safety groups such as Children at Risk are asking lawmakers to further fund Child Protection Services to it can hire specialized caseworkers who deal with only foster kids who have been sex trafficked.

Denver, Honolulu, Dallas, Pullyap & 183 Other Cities Illegally Criminalize the Homeless

Cities across the country are enacting more bans on living in vehicles, camping in public and panhandling, despite federal efforts to discourage such laws amid a shortage of affordable housing, a new report said.

Denver, which ordered about 150 homeless people living on sidewalks to clear out their belongings recently, was among four cities criticized for policies criminalizing homelessness in a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, an advocacy group aiming to prevent people from losing their homes.

The other cities listed in its “hall of shame” are in Hawaii, Texas and Washington state.

Photo by  Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by
Susan Madden Lankford

People in Denver chanted, “No handcuffs. Give us homes,” as they packed up their belongings when police arrived. As they piled shopping carts high, a jumble of items cluttered the area: a banana, a paperback copy of Shakespeare and a pair of construction boots.

Many cities with increasing home prices have been struggling with homelessness, including Denver and Honolulu, which were reprimanded for an anti-camping law and ban on sitting or lying on sidewalks, respectfully.

Maria Foscarinis, the center’s executive director, said:

These laws are unconstitutional and bad public policy. Homelessness remains a national crisis across the country. It’s fueled by the growing lack of affordable housing and the shrinking safety net.

The report, which was based on a review of policies enacted by 187 cities over a decade, said bans on living in vehicles increased by 143 percent. Those laws can be particularly devastating because they often lead to vehicle impoundment, and people can lose all of their belongings, disrupting their ability to work or attend school.

In Denver, authorities had given notice that homeless people had to move their things. While some packed up and left, others resisted, so the city gave them more time, said Julie Smith, a spokeswoman for the human services department. She said the city wants to help them go to shelters and get other services.

Bennie Henley, an Army veteran who moved to Denver two weeks ago from Kansas to get treatment at the Veterans Administration hospital, said he prefers sleeping on an advertising banner rolled out on the sidewalk rather than in a shelter. He showed a rash on his arm that he thinks came from bedbugs in a shelter.

“I don’t like being crowded up like that,” said Henley, sitting on a swivel office chair on the sidewalk and leaning on a cane.

Denver forces thousands of people to dismantle camps despite a waiting list for subsidized housing.

Honolulu was criticized for what the report called aggressive enforcement of its sit-lie ban. The group said the city has issued more than 16,000 warnings to people violating the ban since it was enacted in Waikiki in 2014.

Since the sit-lie law took effect in September of 2014, officers have issued 21,630 warnings and made only 27 arrests after a public education and warning period. Over the last two years Honolulu has helped house more than 1,000 people who were experiencing homelessness, including over 860 veterans.

The report also targeted Dallas and Puyallup, Washington. Dallas was criticized for issuing thousands of citations for sleeping in public, and Puyallup, for making it illegal to camp, panhandle or sit and lie down in parts of the city, despite lacking adequate space in an emergency shelter. Officials from those two cities didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The report called several such policies unconstitutional. The group said panhandling is protected by free-speech rights and preventing sleeping in public could be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Drugs Swell Female Inmate Population in Three Kentucky Counties; Treatment Programs Needed

The Safety and Justice Challenge is an initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. The initiative—an initial five-year, $75 million investment by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation—features a competition to help jurisdictions across the country create fairer, more effective local justice systems.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

The number of female inmates in jails, locally and nationally, have been on the rise over the last several decades.

“The numbers have really increased from 14 years ago when I started,” Boyle County, Kentucky Jailer Barry Harmon said. “We ran about 25 women a day then, now we range from 65 to 80.”

According to The Safety and Justice Challenge, over the last four decades there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people in jail in the United States:

Between 1970 and 2014, the number of women in jails increased under 8,000 to nearly 110,000. In small counties, the number increases from approximately 1,700 to 51,600. Today, nearly half of all jailed women are in small counties.

Over the last 13 years, Kentucky’s Lincoln County and Casey County jails have seen an increase in female inmates.

The female population at the Lincoln County Regional Jail in 2003 was 4,556 out of a total of 34,883 inmates, according to its records. In 2016, the jail have had a total of 11,199 females out of a total of 44,117 inmates.

Over the last 13 years, Lincoln County has seen an increase of 6,643 female inmates.

Casey County Jailer Tommy Miller has also seen an increase in the number of females at the Casey County Detention Center. He said the jail has always held a large number of females in their center.

In 2003, their female inmate total was 10,943 out of 51,444 inmates, according to their records. In 2016, there has been an increase of nearly 80,000 female inmates, according to their records.

Miller said their numbers have been pretty steady over the last couple of months, and right now, their daily count is around 200 women.

Why is there such a drastic increase in the number of female inmates?

According to the latest national date collected by The Safety and Justice Challenge:

32 percent of female inmates are there for property offenses, 21 percent for public order offenses and 29 percent are drug-related.

By the early 2000s, 50 percent of women in jails were in custody on public order or drug charge. Today, arrest rates for women remain highest for ‘other-except-traffic’ offenses … substance use, such as drug possession and driving while under the influence.

Harmon said the use of drugs is the cause of the rising numbers of female inmates in Boyle County.

“I think a lot of it is where the drug problem is getting worse across the country,” said Miller. “A lot of them are drug-related.”

Miller said they see a lot of repeat offenders come in and out of the jail, and House Bill 463 has also caused the increase, bringing back the repeat offenders. The bill was signed into law March 2011 by Gov. Steve Beshear, reducing penalties for some drug crimes and offering offenders treatment for addiction.

Among a sample of nearly 500 female inmates across several regions of the United States, The Safety and Justice Challenge said 82 percent of them had experienced drug/alcohol abuse or dependence. Other research has shown that, at the time of the offense, females were more likely to have been using drugs than men.

“If the trend keeps going, it’s going to keep rising,” Harmon said.

According to Harmon and Miller, the only way to help decrease the rising numbers is to have drug treatment and rehab available for the inmates.

“The jails need to look at more programs for rehab,” Miller said.

Miller said Casey County has a substance abuse program in their detention center for women only, which started in September of this year.

Harmon said if Boyle County is able to officially gain the ownership of the Red Cross building, that the treatment program that will be placed there will help, as the women will be involved in the program. He said he also has the hopes of starting an in-house treatment program at the Boyle County Detention Center.

“We try to do our best,” Miller said. “As of right now, I don’t see any indication that they will go down.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Study:Psychotropic Medication after Prison Release Linked to Less Violent Reoffending

Among released prisoners in Sweden, rates of violent reoffending were lower during periods when individuals were dispensed antipsychotics, psychostimulants, and drugs for addictive disorders, compared with periods in which they were not dispensed these medications, according to a study appearing in the November 1 issue of JAMA.

There were more than 10 million prisoners worldwide in 2015, with

cell

approximately 2.2 million in the United States alone. Despite reported decreases in violence in many countries, reoffending rates remain high. From 2005 through 2010, more than one-third of released prisoners in the United States and the United Kingdom were reconvicted of a new crime within 2 years. Most programs to reduce reoffending focus on psychosocial interventions, but their effect sizes are weak to moderate.

As psychiatric and substance use disorders, which increase reoffending rates, are overrepresented among jail and prison populations, treatment with appropriate psychotropic medications offers an alternative strategy to reduce reoffending, although there is uncertainty about whether pharmacological treatments reduce reoffending risk.

Seena Fazel, M.D., of the University of Oxford, England, and colleagues examined the associations between major classes of psychotropic medications and violent reoffending. The study included all released prisoners in Sweden from July 2005 to December 2010, through linkage of population-based registers. Rates of violent reoffending during medicated periods (dispensed prescription of psychotropic medications [antipsychotics, antidepressants, psychostimulants, drugs used in addictive disorders, and antiepileptic drugs]) were compared with rates during nonmedicated periods. Prison-based psychological treatments were also included in the analysis.

The study included 22,275 released prisoners (average age, 38 years; 92 percent male). During follow-up (median, 4.6 years), 4,031 individuals (18 percent) had 5,653 violent reoffenses. The researchers found that three classes of psychotropic medications were associated with substantial reductions in violent reoffending: antipsychotics, a 42 percent reduction; psychostimulants, 38 percent; and drugs used in addictive disorders, a 52 percent reduction. In contrast, antidepressants and antiepileptics were not significantly associated with violent reoffending rates.

Analyses also demonstrated that completion of psychological treatmentstargeting general criminal attitudes and substance abuse was associated with reductions in violent reoffending. The associations with these psychological programs were not stronger than those for medications.

The study added:

These findings may have implications for risk management, because prison psychological programs need appropriate facilities, require sufficiently trained and supervised therapists, and are likely to be relatively expensive. Provision of medication after prison release needs evaluation as a possibly cost-effective crime reduction alternative. Because prisoners with psychiatric disorders benefit from both pharmacological and psychological treatments, research should investigate whether combining therapies improves outcomes.

“The absolute numbers of prisoners with psychiatric disorders are large worldwide, and most individuals who could benefit from psychotropic treatment do not receive it after prison release. The magnitudes of the associations reported in this study may warrant correctional services to review policies for released prisoners. Evidence-based provision of psychotropic medications to released prisoners may have the potential to make substantial improvements to public health and safety, particularly in countries that are undergoing decarceration [reducing the number of persons imprisoned or the rate of imprisonment].

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Some States Now Realize Youth Prisons Don’t Work

About 50,000 youth are caught in a system that disproportionately imprisons African Americans and Latinos. Some teens, including Dequan Jackson, are kept behind bars not because they are a danger to society but because they cannot afford court fees. Others experience appalling treatment: just last month in Kentucky, staff allegedly stood idly by as a 16-year-old had a seizure and died in custody. Far too often, juvenile offenders are housed in facilities—like Wisconsin’s Lincoln Hills, which is under federal investigation for abuse—that could leave them worse off.

These stories are heartbreaking, but they need not be disheartening. Coupled with awareness of the problems should be awareness of the tremendous progress being made to change the way our juvenile justice system operates. Advocates across the country are hard at work to create more effective, humane alternatives that will help young offenders stay out of the criminal justice system as adults.

In response to calls for change, legislators and governors in states including Virginia, Kansas and Connecticut have committed to closing some of the worst youth prison facilities in their states, while reinvesting in community-based solutions that actually rehabilitate youth.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

In Virginia, RISE for Youth advocacy group has earned bipartisan support in the state legislature to close massive, outdated youth prisons and reinvest the money saved into more effective community-based programs. Advocates are working to ensure the closure of other youth prison complexes and instead offer young Virginians a real shot at rehabilitation and a brighter future.

A similar effort is underway in Kansas, where Kansans United for Youth Justice helped ensure the passage of comprehensive reform legislation to reduce the use of incarceration and redirect funds to evidence- and community-based approaches. The Kansas Department of Corrections has also announced plans to close the Larned youth facility, one of the state’s two youth prisons.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy has similarly pledged to close the state’s youth prison, and the advocacy group Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance is working to ensure that a plan is in place to offer community-based care and rehabilitation to young people moving forward. And following recent reports of sexual assault at the Lincoln Hills facility in Irma, Wisc., Youth Justice Milwaukee is working with allies to provide recommendations for bringing local youth home.

Mishi Faruqee, National Field Director of the Youth First Initiative says:

Youth prisons are an outdated approach to rehabilitation that too often includes physical and sexual abuse, neglect and isolation. These facilities tear young people away from the schools, families and faith communities where they can find the support and services they need for success. Instead of nurturing responsible citizens, youth prisons risk systemically traumatizing youth and leaving them less able to find employment, have healthy relationships, get an education and lead productive lives.

This system is not just failing our young people and their families; it’s also incredibly expensive for taxpayers. In Virginia, it costs $142,000 per year to incarcerate just one young person. And 75% of incarcerated young people end up back in the system within a few years, which exacerbates the human and economic costs. Meanwhile, Youth Advocate Programs which offer services in homes and community settings cost significantly less—about $27,000 a year—and allow youth to stay arrest-free throughout their participation.

States from coast to coast could see a major reduction in costs associated with the juvenile justice system if youth prisons—which eat up billions of dollars each year—were shuttered in favor of alternatives that rehabilitate youth while promoting public safety. Fortunately, some elected officials are beginning to understand this reality, and increased public pressure can help swell their ranks.

We have a real opportunity to build on the progress being made in these states in every jurisdiction across the country. We owe it to young people and their families to invest in community-based interventions that actually work. The models are there. It’s time to replicate and build on them to give young people access to services and supports that will keep us all safer. We can’t afford not to.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford