Tag Archive for Humane Exposures

Rethinking Juvenile Justice: The Supreme Court Decision

US Supreme CourtLast week United States Supreme Court declared it cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a juvenile offender to life without parole. As with all of their decisions, it was met by some with complete outrage and by some as a move long-needed.

This one is based on a growing body of research, one that has influenced court decisions since around 2005. Neurophysical examination of children and youths has shown that there are very direct and physical reasons that the prior approach to juvenile justice does not work.

Ethan Bronner of The New York Times provides a bit of historical background on these prior court cases:

“What we are seeing is a very stark and important rethinking of how we treat juvenile criminal offenders,” said Marsha Levick, who co-founded the nonprofit Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia in 1975. “For years we were trying to convince the courts that kids have constitutional rights just like adults. Now we realize that to ensure that kids are protected, we have to recognize that they are actually different from adults.”

That sense of difference has fueled the Supreme Court decisions of the past seven years — first a ruling that barred the death penalty for juveniles in 2005; one that banned life in prison for juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicide in 2010; and now Monday’s ruling that rendered invalid state laws requiring youths convicted of homicide as well to die in prison. That decision will lead to resentencing hearings for about 2,000 convicts — some of them now well into middle age — in more than two dozen states.

All of the recent rulings placed emphasis on research showing that the less-formed brains of the young make them less morally culpable and more capable of change later. So condemning them to die in prison, advocates assert, ignores key advances in scientific understanding.

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In addition to the evidence provided by the physical sciences there is also the problem of cookie-cutter justice, a “one size fits all” approach that removes judicial discretion from the picture.

Conservative writer Elizabeth Hovd on Oregon Live casts things in terms of the rights that we as a nation choose to bestow and which to deny. It’s a very interesting exercise when you consider the ages involved.

Justice is better served by weighing individual considerations than by following mandatory sentencing laws that offer no opportunity to rehabilitate people or allow them to become contributing members of society some day. If we are comfortable claiming people aren’t old enough to fully consider who to vote for before age 18 or be responsible with a beer until 21, banning mandatory life-without-parole sentencing for juveniles makes sense. Parole can and should still be denied if a criminal seems unchanged or is considered a continued threat to society.

Hovd also invokes Christian charity along with a reminder that if you do actually read the decision you’ll discover that this is not an automatic out for everyone, merely the rectification of a poor approach – one that dispenses with actual justice far too often.

It is far more important that we do what is right by victims and offenders than that we copy other countries. I would remind fellow conservatives who are also Christians that ours is a god of second chances — a god of the mulligan. Isn’t it our job to show mercy to penitent men, just as God has shown mercy? Besides, punishment and revenge have never brought back a loved one.

This ruling doesn’t offer a get-out-of-jail-free card. It does stop the legal system from treating children like adults. Children aren’t typically ready to drive at 12 or vote at 14. And children don’t magically turn into adults when they commit a horrible act.

That last point is the one that most people miss: these are children. This is one of the reasons that we produced Born, Not Raised. People need to be exposed to the narratives of the kids lost in our system. It is these narratives that humanize them.

A problem becomes much harder to ignore once you put a human face on it.

Inappropriate talk on daytime TV for teens, children and young adults.

HUMANE EXPOSURES explores the quality of daytime TV for young mothers with children at home, or for children and teens coming home from school and turning on TV as they have a break between school and homework. Or are all kids in afternoon sports?

The Doctors, CBS daytime one-hour show, had topics about “mental orgasm,” “vaginal discharge,” “swamp butt,” “anal sex,” “going gray down there,” and other embarrassing, personal, female issues that children and teenagers coming home from school, grabbing a snack and turning on the tube, do not need to see, hear about, become aware of, or add to other inappropriate viewing on daytime TV.  Is this valued information for young mothers to view? Is this what we want young mothers and their mothers to talk about as critical issues of today? This show airs in San Diego from 4:00-5:00 p.m. opposite Oprah.

HUMANE EXPOSURES is interested in your thoughts.

“It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing” Wins Second Place at Bayou City Inspirational Film Fest

It's More Expensive to Do Nothing - A documentary form Humane Exposures Films

Click on the image for larger size

HUMANE EXPOSURES films is proud to announce that It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing, our documentary about the flaws in our penal system and their possible solutions, has taken second place at the Bayou City Inspirational Film Festival (BCIFF) in Houston, TX.

We would like to thank everyone who has attended the festival, and everyone who has shown us support so far! Each one of you is an important part of the process as we work towards change, so thank you all!

The BCIFF is presented by the PROGRESS Arts Group, a nonprofit arts and education organization. Here is a little bit about the festival:

The Bayou City Inspirational Film Festival (BCIFF) was founded by its executive director, Shanda Davis, to showcase diverse film and video projects that:

* Educate and enlighten us on political, social, psychological, economic, health, religious, and a variety of other issues,
* Offer hope and encouragement as well as inspire us to contribute towards the betterment of society and
* Display positive relationships, morals, individual, and family values.

The Bayou City Inspirational Film Festival’s mission is:

* To provide a viable platform for independent filmmakers and artists from around the world to showcase their works,
* To provide awareness to the world about the variety of educational, inspirational and positive works available and the need to integrate more of these types of works into society,
* To provide a networking platform for filmmakers and industry professionals and
* To showcase the artistic excellence of children & youth in Houston and surrounding areas and provide scholarships to assist them in furthering their arts education.

For those of you who have yet to see the film, here is the trailer:

If our film hit home, or even if you just have an interest in this issue, please take a moment and share it with a few of your friends. The wider audience we can reach the better chance we have of not only alleviating the trials of those stuck in the vicious cycle, but also doing it in a way that reduces the cost to society and government. It truly is much more expensive to do nothing!

Source: “The Bayou City Inspirational Film Festival,” BCIFF Website
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the HUMANE EXPOSURES films documentary “It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing.” Used with permission.
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Humane Exposures: The Beginning

Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time

Someone looking at our books and our film for the first time might as well ask how we got started down this particular path.

The roots of Humane Exposures go back 15 years and begin with Susan Madden Lankford’s interactions with the homeless. Having managed a successful portrait studio for years, she has decided that she wanted to do more. Renting the Seaport Village Jail, she then began photographing the homeless and collecting their narratives. Since many of those had involved incarceration, it was only natural that Lankford’s next step be touring the seven main jails in the area.

That tour brought her to Las Colinas, the county’s only all-women jail. It was then that Lankford has realized that prison reform is urgently needed, and decided to share the inmate’s situation with a the public in hopes of spurring that reform.

Mark Arner, a reporter for The San Diego Union Tribune, reported on the resulting book, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes (also on Facebook) back when it was released in 2008:

Thirteen years ago, an inmate at the county’s only all-female jail said something startling to San Diego photographer Susan Madden Lankford.

‘Hey Susan, I have something to tell you: I found maggots in my sweet potatoes last week,’ Lankford said the inmate told her.

While her subsequent tour of the jail’s kitchen facilities revealed only clean surfaces and safe food, that one comment stuck with Lankford and became the title of the book. Here is Arner’s brief description of the book from the same article:

The 284-page book describes how Lankford obtained Kolender’s permission for the project in the mid-1990s. Primarily in 1995 and 1996, she conducted interviews and took black-and-white photographs of inmates, guards and jail overseers.

The book features 326 of those images, as well as journal entries and letters from several inmates from 1997 to 1999, research on domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse, and a section on white-collar crime.

Since then, we have released a book of Lankford’s homeless photography, downTownUSA: A Personal Journey with The Homeless, and have even branched out into the realm of video with our documentary, It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing. All of these projects relate to an interelated set of issues:

  • Incarceration is often a factor in homelessness.
  • Education and early home life have a huge influence on children and are negative early environments, often contributing to the future criminal activity.
  • Patterns of abuse and neglect cycle through generations.
  • If we shift our societal focus to actual rehabilitation into society, we can not only impact homelessness but also greatly reduce the state expenditures incurred. For example, if homeless people had access to health care, it would cut millions in emergency services costs accrued over the course of a year.

Later this year we will be releasing Born, Not Raised: Kids at Risk, in which we will explore the troubled psyches of youngsters serving time in juvenile hall. Without education and other humane assistance, many of these youth will be caught in the revolving door of institutionalization.

All of these projects relate to each other and, taken together, try to present, one aspect at a time, the complex and interrelated nature of the societal breakdowns they address.

So, tell us, how did you discover Humane Exposures, and when? We’d love to know!

Source: “A Portrait of Jail Life,” The San Diego Union Tribune, 09/23/08
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “Maggots in my Sweet Potates: Women Doing Time.” Used with permission.
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Homelessness: Facebook Resources

HUMANE EXPOSURESHere at HUMANE EXPOSURES, we believe in the power of the Internet to inform and mobilize people. This is one of the reasons that this blog exists.

Since we have just launched our new Facebook pages, we thought this would be a good time to share some of the groups and organizations on Facebook that also champion the cause of those discarded by society.

So, here, in no particular order, is a list of Facebook pages that you may find informative. Please visit them. (And, if you like our work, we would really appreciate it if you “Like” our new pages and help them start off on the right foot.)

We’re going to list our own new pages first and move on from there:

  • Humane Exposures Publishing — The main Facebook Page for our company. Updates on new films and books as well as a variety of new  items and resources. The books of HUMANE EXPOSURES PUBLISHING take a penetrating look at society’s disenfranchised, questioning how long we can ignore the broken segments of our population, and at what cost. If you stop by, please tell us what kind of content you would like to see more of!
  • downTownUSA: A Personal Journey With the Homeless (book) — Author and photographer Susan Madden Lankford kept a journal during her daily encounters with the San Diego’s street people, observing how even the defeated, or seemingly so, share many of our hopes and dreams.
  • Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time (book) – Through thought-provoking photographs and interviews, the author explores the kaleidoscope of alienation, personal despair, and fragile hopes of women caught up in the state’s zeal for incarceration.
  • It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing (film) – Important documentary film questions how long society can ignore the broken segments of our population and advocates for public awareness, correcting the underlying social issues, and improving the essential parenting skills.

The following is a list of other resources. All descriptions are quoted directly:

  • Feeding Pets of the Homeless — Feeding Pets of the Homeless is a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides pet food and veterinarian care to the homeless and less fortunate in local communities across the United States and Canada. How? Our volunteers collection sites receive donated pet food and deliver it to food banks and/or soups kitchens which have agreed to distribute the food to the homeless and impoverished.
  • PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) — In 2004, PATH reached its 20th year of existence. From a small program operating out of a church basement, PATH has now become a large regional agency serving over 1,800 people each month. The agency has developed a model of integrated services that communities from all over the state, the nation, and even internationally have looked to for replication.
  • InvisiblePeople.tv — Dedicated to capturing real stories by real people bringing visibility to the issues of homelessness. Our goal: for homeless people to no longer remain invisible. The stories are told by real people in their own very real words. They’re raw, uncensored and unedited. CAUTION: Some content may be offensive. Our hope is that you’ll get mad enough to do something. (Note: We’ve covered the InvisiblePeople.tv in an earlier post.)
  • Let’s get 1,500,000 people to support the 1,500,000 homeless kids in the US — This page was started by a small group of people committed to raising awareness and providing solutions around a problem we feel is not being properly addressed. It began with a question: “How is it that the wealthiest country in the world has well over a million of its children living on the street, not knowing where they will sleep tonight?”
  • The National Coalition for The Homeless — A national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission. That mission, our common bond, is to end homelessness. We are committed to creating the systemic and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent and end homelessness. At the same time, we work to meet the immediate needs of people who are currently experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of doing so. We take as our first principle of practice that people who are currently experiencing homelessness or have formerly experienced homelessness must be actively involved in all of our work. Toward this end, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) engages in public education, policy advocacy, and grassroots organizing. We focus our work in the following four areas: housing justice, economic justice, health care justice, and civil rights.
  • Real Change Homelessness Empowerment Project — Real Change exists to create opportunity and a voice for low-income people while taking action to end homelessness and poverty.
  • National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) – A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization governed by a 17-member board of directors… is the resource and technical assistance center for a national network of community-based service providers and local, state and federal agencies that provide emergency and supportive housing, food, health services, job training and placement assistance, legal aid and case management support for hundreds of thousands of homeless veterans each year.
  • Breaking Night: My Journey From Homeless to Harvard (book) – In the vein of The Glass Castle, Breaking Night by Liz Murray is the stunning memoir of a young woman who at age 15 was living on the streets, and who eventually made it into Harvard.
  • Healthcare for The Homeless, Inc. — For 25 years, HCH has provided comprehensive health care, mental health services, case management, addiction treatment, and housing assistance for tens of thousands of Marylanders experiencing homelessness.
  • Horizons for Homeless Children — Horizons for Homeless Children strives to improve the lives of homeless children and their families by providing the nurturing, stimulation and opportunities for early education and play that all children need to learn and grow in a healthy way.

So there you have it, please let us know if you would like to see more roundups of this nature. If so, we could make it a regular feature.

Source: Facebook.
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “downTown USA: A Personal Journey with the Homeless.” Used with permission.

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Recidivism May Be Worse Than We Think

Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing TimeRecidivism: returning to a behavior pattern despite negative reinforcement. It’s a term most often used in cases of criminal activity or substance abuse. It is a chronic problem in the penal systems around the world, not just in the United States.

A few years ago, the BBC examined recidivism rates in the U.S. and the U.K., with some interesting results (via the Wikipedia entry for “recidivism”):

As reported on BBC Radio 4 on 2 September 2005, the recidivism rates for released prisoners in the United States of America is 60% compared with 50% in the United Kingdom but cross-country statistical comparisons are often questionable. The report attributed the lower recidivism rate in the UK to a focus on rehabilitation and education of prisoners compared with the US focus on punishment, deterrence and keeping potentially dangerous individuals away from society.

While the actual statistics may be a bit out of date, the idea on what fuels the disparity is worthy of note. The U.K. approach is geared towards reintegrating inmates into society by giving them tools with which to operate within its strictures. The programs taking this approach are popping up across the U.S. as well.

Still, the sheer number of people returning to jail after their initial term is staggering. What’s worse, according to a new study conducted in Memphis, Tennessee, those numbers may be higher than we have previously thought. Michael Lollar, a reporter for The Commercial Appeal, gives us the details:

[...U]p to 94 percent of former inmates will be rearrested and up to 81 percent will wind up behind bars again.

The numbers are part of a 20-year study that shows recidivism is far worse than statistics usually indicate. It is the only study done over such a long period of time, tracking inmates who were first jailed at the correction center between 1987 and 1991, says psychologist Dr. Greg Little…

Drs. Greg Little and Kenneth Robinson, founders of Correctional Counseling Inc., began the study in order to track the effectiveness of their treatment program as opposed to “traditional” incarceration. One reason that their numbers show a greater increase is, they say, grounded in methodology. Lollar’s article explains:

Tennessee Department of Correction studies show recidivism rates of about 51 percent over a three-year period, and national studies show recidivism averages of roughly 65 percent over three years. But Little and Robinson say the numbers keep going up over time, and the numbers are higher because most studies don’t count re-incarcerations that took place in other states or in courts other than the original case. For instance, an inmate released on state probation or parole is seldom counted as a recidivist if later jailed for a federal crime.

Even if their numbers prove incorrect, the ones they purport to replace are bad enough. Once jailed, more than half of all inmates will face a return to prison in their fairly near future. I think we can all agree that a system that is less than 50% effective is far from being in good working order.

The questions remain: How do we reduce the rates of recidivism? Does rehabilitation have a greater overall effect than simple punishment? Are there other techniques that can aid in rectifying this unfortunate situation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments – HUMANE EXPOSURES wants to know!

Source: “Recidivism,” Wikipedia
Source: “Recidivism rate worse than statistics indicate, Memphis-area study finds,” The Commercial Appeal, 03/07/10
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time.” Used with permission.

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Dr. Perry and The ChildTrauma Academy

CTA LogoQuestions of abuse and neglect are the tricky ones. Just like so many issues in life, they are vastly more complex than they seem at first. In the case of the children, whose bodies and brains are constantly developing, these complexities can span a broad array or disciplines.

Enter The ChildTrauma Academy and its Senior Fellow Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. The Houston, TX-based CTA describes itself as a not-for-profit organization that is “working to improve the lives of high-risk children through direct service, research and education.” Dr. Perry is an internationally recognized authority on children in crisis.

As a native New Orleanian, I must admit to being quite partial to the work Dr. Perry has done in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The plight of our city’s children and the elderly was one quite evident to me from the start, and I think his work was important. This excerpt from Dr. Perry’s article, “The Real Crisis of Katrina,” applies not only to the child survivors of the Gulf Coast disasters, but also to children in general:

We know that traumatic experiences can result in a host of chronic, sometimes, life-long, problems. More than 35% of the children exposed to a single traumatic event will develop serious mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That is just the start, however. Children exposed to adverse experiences are at much greater risk for physical health problems throughout life; this includes heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. Traumatized children are at much greater risk for other emotional, social and mental health problems; and as these children grow into adults the risk follows them. Adults with childhood trauma have increased divorce rates, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, drug abuse and dependence, school failure, and unemployment among many other problems. These children have a much higher probability of requiring the services of our expensive public systems throughout life; special education, child protection, mental health, health and criminal justice.

That makes perfect sense to me. I am in my 40′s, and I have certainly experienced a deterioration in several aspects of my physical health in the five years since Katrina. I’ve also seen the widespread symptoms of PTSD firsthand after the flooding. One can only imagine the effects of these stresses on a developing child, especially when the adults around that child are experiencing similar privations.

Dr. Perry’s article continues with an important message of hope:

And we also know that when traumatized children receive appropriate services, they can heal. We know that if traumatized children can live in safe, consistent, relationally-rich, and nurturing homes and communities they heal. Indeed, traumatic experience can provide a wisdom and strength that is impossible to get any other way. Yet this healing takes place and wisdom grows only when the child is safe, secure and her emotional needs have been met.

Dr. Perry suggests we prioritize funding for children at the same level we do for other crucial infrastructure. After all, our children are the infrastructure of our future.

Dr. Perry can also be seen in our debut feature-length documentary, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing by HUMANE EXPOSURES films. You can also follow The ChildTrauma Academy on Twitter.

Source: “The Real Crisis of Katrina,” The Zero, The Official Website of Andrew Vachss, 2006
Image: ChildTrauma Academy Logo, copyright retained; fair use: reporting

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