Tag Archive for American Civil Liberties Union

Women Are Fastest-growing Group of Incarcerated Persons in U.S.

Women dressed in prison uniforms sitting on st...

Women dressed in prison uniforms. (Photo credit: Kheel Center, Cornell University)

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), females are the fastest growing group of incarcerated persons in the United States. The annual growth rate for incarcerated women is now up to 7.5%, compared to 5.7% for men The majority of these women come from minority racial and ethnic backgrounds, are undereducated and come from below the federal poverty line. Most of them are serving time for nonviolent crimes.

An ACLU report states:

In the past 25 years the number of women and girls caught in the criminal justice system has skyrocketed. There are now more than 200,000 women behind bars and more than one million on probation and parole. Many have been swept up in the “war on drugs” and subject to increasingly punitive sentencing policies for non-violent offenders. Many of these women struggle with substance abuse, mental illness, and histories of physical and sexual abuse. Few get the services they need. The toll on women, girls, and their families is devastating.
“Of these women, a reported 85-90% have a history of domestic and sexual abuse. Their involvement in the justice system leaves many incarcerated women vulnerable to re-victimization.

Back at the end of 2001, 93,031 American women were incarcerated in federal and state prisons, making up 6.6% of the total incarcerated population. In 2010, more than 200,000 women were behind bars, most of them women of color. Hispanic women are incarcerated nearly twice the rate of white women, and black women are locked up at four times the rate of white women.

Many women come to prison addicted to drugs. Nearly two-thirds of females were primary guardians for their children prior to being incarcerated. Imprisoned women experienced a higher rate of childhood trauma than men. Women typically suffer more from mood and anxiety disorders.

Studies show that the way in which men and women cope while imprisoned differs in that women tend to form family structures, while male prisoners tend to isolate themselves and be more aggressive towards the other inmates. Women are more likely than men to seek psychiatric help, but only one-quarter follow through and get treatment.

The majority of imprisoned women have suffered abuse and experience post-traumatic stress disorder while behind bars. Seventy percent of guards in federal women’s correctional facilities are male, and rape, assault and groping during pat frisks are not uncommon—reinforcing inmates’ feeling of powerlessness. Women who retaliate face prolonged segregation, loss of “good time” and detrimental write-ups, which discourage future acts of resistance.

Women in prison suffer disproportionately from AIDS/HIV, infectious diseases, reproductive issues and diseases that are common to minorities and poor people, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and malnutrition. The U.S. prison system does not well accommodate to women’s healthcare needs.

One major effect of prison is the assault on relationships between parents and their children. Fully 2.4 million American children have a parent behind bars today and 7 million, or 1 in 10 children, have a parent under criminal justice supervision—in jail, prison, on probation or on parole.

Silja J.A. Talvi, author of Women Behind Bars, says:

During my visit to the segregated housing unit of the world’s largest women’s prison, in Chowchilla, CA, I was soon surrounded by the screams of these prisoners—moans and wails echoing off the concrete walls. It was disturbing to see women in what is a barbaric insane asylum, a place so invisible to the public and tax money.

“Nearly every one of the 100 women I interviewed had a serious history of trauma, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or domestic violence. Many had been raped. More than a third of the women entering the prison system were homeless, while 70% had moderate or severe mental illness.

“Since ex-convicts have to check that criminal record box on employment forms, and since they are not given public housing, these people will fall into an even lower class and will commit more crimes, sometimes more serious crimes. We are guaranteeing a more unstable society.

Related articles

Wikipedia entry on Incarceration of Women
Solinger, Rickie (2010). Interrupted Life:Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States. Berkely, CA.: University of California.

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Police Kidnappings and Highest Risk of Death to Detroit Homeless Drive Plan to Reduce the Problem

dtusaOver half of Detroit’s homeless are at risk of dying on the streets from freezing cold or violence—a far greater percentage than in any other US city. Interviews conducted via Common Ground’s 100,000Homeless Campaign revealed that:

Almost half of the Detroit homeless struggle with mental illness and substance abuse; 13% were veterans and 15% had grown up in the foster care system. Out of the 211 people interviewed, there have been 358 hospitalizations in the last year and 456 emergency room visits in three months. One hundred and three of these people (49%) do not have insurance, 74 people (345%) have been in prison and 149 (70.1%) have been in jail.

A recent year-long investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan found that Detroit police officers have been forcibly relocating homeless people (particularly from the popular Greektown tourist district) to locations miles away and dumping them there.

ACLU attorney Sarah Mehta said:

DPD’s practice of essentially kidnapping homeless people and abandoning them miles away from the neighborhoods they know–with no means for a safe return–is inhumane, callous and illegal.

The city’s desire to hide painful reminders of our economic struggles cannot justify discriminating against the poor, banishing them from their city, and endangering their lives. A person who has lost his home has not lost his right to be treated with dignity.

In some cases, officers confiscated any money their victims had, forcing them to walk miles to get back to downtown Detroit, where most shelters are located. The ACLU’s complaint alleges violations of constitutional rights including the right to due process and the right to not suffer unreasonable search and seizure.

Currently, Detroit is on the verge of bankruptcy. At any point in time, Greater Detroit has 13,000 to 14,000 homeless citizens—60% of them with children.

Many organizations are working to reduce Detroit homelessness and eliminate its related dangers and problems. A coalition of these public and private groups, including Homeless Action Network of Detroit, Wayne County Department of Human Services and Detroit/Wayne County Community Mental Health Agency, conducted a two-year study which resulted in the report “Moving Forward Together: A 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park.”

In the past year there have been some successes: an increase in the availability of permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless, a strengthened Homeless Management Information System and improved capacity of the Continuum of Care. Moreover, considerable work has been done to improve relationships and collaboration between anti-homelessness groups.

The 10-Year plan has seven key goals:
1) Provide safe, affordable, supportive and long-term housing solutions for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless—reducing the time they must spend in emergency shelters.
2) Prevent homelessness by strengthening and expanding resources and services that allow people to remain in their own homes or to quickly access housing when faced with a housing crisis.
3) Strengthen the infrastructure of supportive services and community resources for people who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless to assist them with accessing housing and maintaining residential stability.
4) Build a political agenda and public will to end homelessness.
5) Provide better access to badly needed support services, such as healthcare, mental health, substance-abuse remediation, transportation, job training and placement, child care, education and food.
6) Increasing collaboration.
7) Finding new ways to better serve the chronically homeless—the 10% of all those without homes who currently consume the greatest percentage of services.

The report states:

We face many challenges—including our difficult economic times—that must be overcome if we are to be successful. These challenges are felt acutely by the nonprofit organizations that valiantly strive each day to meet the needs of the thousands of men, women, and children seeking their help.

“It will only be by all sectors—nonprofits, businesses, government, and individuals—working together that we will be successful in ending homelessness in our community.

Hopefully, the organizations will also put pressure on Detroit Police to stop kidnapping and forcibly relocating homes people.

Related articles
Housing data and statistics: libguides.lib.msu.edu/content.php?pid=81596&sid=605565

More Detroit Homeless likely to be imprisoned once homelessness funding is cut: http://www.examiner.com/article/detroit-s-homeless-likely-to-end-up-prison

Report from the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness:
www.icphusa.org/PDF/reports/ICPH_Michigan_Brief.pdf

Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness: www.mihomeless.org

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Zero Tolerance: Prioritizing Incarceration Over Education

prison

prison (Photo credit: :D ar.)

Zero-tolerance policies have been incarcerating children for minor offenses since the 1980′s. Intended to reduce crime, they have instead undermined the effectiveness of our schools, while costing taxpayers dearly in terms of economic development.

These are the findings of a new report on one of the nation’s worst-case states: Mississippi. “Handcuffs on Success: The Extreme School Discipline Crisis in Mississippi Public Schools (pdf),” was issued jointly by the ACLU of Mississippi, the Mississippi State Conference NAACP and the Mississippi Coalition for the Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Advancement Project.

In the report we get a solid look at the infamous school-to-prison pipeline that Mississippi has become infamous for over the years. Students, particularly students of color, are remanded to the police for infractions such as violating dress code or “defiance”.

The zero-tolerance policies simply make it easy to put a kid into the system. Once that has occurred, it is incredibly easy to incarcerate them over the smallest things, things generally accepted as normal for teens of any race.

The Jackson Free Press enumerates the fiscal costs of this misguided approach:

Harsh, unwarranted discipline of children results in huge costs for Mississippi taxpayers. Funding for prisons has increased 166 percent from 1990 to 2007, while funding for public schools continues to decline year after year. ‘Thus, in fiscal terms, the State is prioritizing incarceration over education,’ the report states. Costs of guards, security equipment, court costs and the cost of running alternative schools is just the tip of the financial iceberg to Mississippi. The long-term cost of kids dropping out of school–often the result of harsh disciplinary practices–is far greater.

From lost tax revenue to higher public-health, public-assistance and criminal-justice costs, the cost ‘is likely tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars every year,’ the report states. ‘Economists have estimated that each student who graduates from high school, on average, generates economic benefits to the public sector of $209,100 over her or his lifetime. Thus, the more than 16,000 members of every Mississippi 9th-grade class who fail to graduate on time cost the state (more than) $3 billion.’

It has always been a recurring theme in our work that it is more expensive to do nothing. It is a truism supported by more research every day. As demonstrated above, it is far more expensive to the American taxpayers who pick up the tab, as well as being expensive in lives and lost potential. No matter how you look at it, the state of juvenile justice in Mississippi is an albatross around the neck of everyone in the state.

Let’s close with an infographic. Visual illustrations can often communicate a situation when mere words fail to do so adequately. With that thought in mind, I’d like to leave you with this comparison of our national spending on education vs incarceration.

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