Tag Archive for incarceration

U.N.’s “Bangkok Rules” Seek To Eliminate Mistreatment of Female Prisoners

59_MAGGOTSSWEETForty months ago, in December 2010, The United Nations General Assembly adopted 70 comprehensive guiding Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders, since known as The Bangkok Rules. These fill a long-standing lack of guiding standards for policymakers, legislators, sentencing authorities, prison staff, probation services, social welfare and health care services in the community, and non-governmental organizations, helping them all to better respond to the needs of women offenders

More than 625,000 women and girls are currently held in prisons worldwide. Of America’s 2.2 million-plus incarcerated persons, more than 200,000 are women and over one million other females are on probation and parole, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. America’s “War on Drugs” has had a devastating effect on women and men, alike: with only 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. currently has 25 percent of the world’s inmates. This means American prisons and jails hold about one third of the world’s incarcerated females.

Historically, the architecture, security, healthcare, protections, family contact and training for prisons were all designed for men. When the first prison for women was built in Indiana in 1873, it was intended just to separate the sexes, not to meet the special needs of female offenders.

Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College in New York City, says:

In America, and around the world, women suffer more in prison than men do. Most female prisoners are housed with little consideration for their needs as women. Now there is a global guide for the treatment of female offenders called the Bangkok Rules.

Certain abuses happen to female offenders just because they are women. Over a decade ago I volunteered as an advocate for inmates in the HIV unit of Alabama’s Tutwiler Prison for Women. Despite earlier lawsuits brought against Alabama’s correctional system, abuses continue there. Today, federal investigators call Tutwiler Prison a “toxic house of horrors where repeated and open sexual behavior” is the norm. A Department of Justice investigation found that for two decades prisoners at Tutwiler have been subjected to all manner of humiliation.

The list of abuses includes officers forcing women into sexual acts in exchange for basic sanitary supplies, male guards openly watching women shower and use the bathroom, a staff-organized strip show and a constant barrage of sexually offensive language, according to the New York Daily News.

Across the country and around the world, Female offenders need special protections. As with the suspected Tutwiler Prison guards, many female offenders are subject to rape by male guards and female inmates. Like male inmates, women struggle with substance abuse and mental illness. More women are victims of prior physical and sexual abuse before entering prison than men. Community re-entry programs are rarely designed for women. Prisons are located far from family support, breaking a mother’s bond with her children and weakening her community network, thereby making re-entry more difficult.

In America, racial disparities in the criminal justice system lead to longer sentences for African-American and Latino women. The population of incarcerated African-American women has increased 800 percent over the last two decades. Since nearly 70 percent of African-American children live in female-headed households, the loss of that parent to incarceration often means placement of children in foster care.

More than 80 percent of women prisoners have an identifiable mental illness, and one in ten will have attempted suicide before being imprisoned. And the UN says that women are imprisoned for crimes for which men are not. Also, women offenders face greater stigma than men.

Women visit males in prison, but males rarely visit their female partners at the same rate. Nor do mothers visit daughters as often as they do their sons. When women return home, they are often rejected, and struggle to rebuild their lives socially and economically.

The Rules cover a wide range of areas for improvement, including admission procedures, healthcare, humane treatment, search procedures, children who accompany their mothers into prison, alternatives to imprisonment, global advocacy, justice for children, pretrial justice, prison conditions, rehabilitation and reintegration, torture prevention and women in the criminal justice system.
Below I selected 15 of the 70 rules that I considered especially worthy of mention.


Rule 2: Newly arrived women prisoners shall be provided with facilities to contact their relatives; access to legal advice; information about prison rules and regulations, the prison regime and where to seek help when in need in a language that they understand; and, in the case of foreign nationals, access to consular representatives as well.

Rule 4: Women prisoners shall be allocated, to the extent possible, to prisons close to their home or place of social rehabilitation, taking account of their caretaking responsibilities, as well as the individual woman’s preference and the availability of appropriate programs and services.

Rule 6: The health screening of women prisoners shall include comprehensive screening to determine primary health care needs, and also shall determine:
(a) The presence of sexually transmitted diseases or blood-borne diseases; and, depending on risk factors, women prisoners may also be offered testing for HIV, with pre- and post-test counseling; (b) Mental health care needs, including post-traumatic stress disorder and risk of suicide and self-harm; (c) The reproductive health history of the woman prisoner, including current or recent pregnancies, childbirth and any related reproductive health issues; (d) The existence of drug dependency; (e) Sexual abuse and other forms of violence that may have been suffered prior to admission.

Rule 12: Individualized, gender-sensitive, trauma-informed and comprehensive mental health care and rehabilitation programs shall be made available for women prisoners with mental health care needs in prison or in non-custodial settings.

Rule 15: Prison health services shall provide or facilitate specialized treatment programs designed for women substance abusers, taking into account prior victimization, and the special needs of pregnant women and women with children, as well as their diverse cultural backgrounds.

Rule 16: Developing and implementing strategies, in consultation with mental health care and social welfare services, to prevent suicide and self-harm among women prisoners and providing appropriate, gender-specific and specialized support to those at risk shall be part of a comprehensive policy of mental health care in women’s prisons.

Rule 19: Effective measures shall be taken to ensure that women prisoners’ dignity and respect are protected during personal searches, which shall only be carried out by women staff who have been properly trained in appropriate searching methods and in accordance with established procedures.

Rule 20: Alternative screening methods, such as scans, shall be developed to replace strip searches and invasive body searches, in order to avoid the harmful psychological and possible physical impact of invasive body searches.

Rule 22: Punishment by close confinement or disciplinary segregation shall not be applied to pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers in prison.

Rule 25: a) Women prisoners who report abuse shall be provided immediate protection, support and counseling, and their claims shall be investigated by competent and independent authorities, with full respect for the principle of confidentiality. Protection measures shall take into account specifically the risks of retaliation. b) Women prisoners who have been subjected to sexual abuse, and especially those who have become pregnant as a result, shall receive appropriate medical advice and counseling and shall be provided with the requisite physical and mental health care, support and legal aid. c). In order to monitor the conditions of detention and treatment of women prisoners, inspectorates, visiting or monitoring boards or supervisory bodies shall include women members.

Rule 28: Visits involving children shall take place in an environment that is conducive to a positive visiting experience, including with regard to staff attitudes, and shall allow open contact between mother and child. Visits involving extended contact with children should be encouraged, where possible.

Rule 31: Clear policies and regulations on the conduct of prison staff aimed at providing maximum protection for women prisoners from any gender-based physical or verbal violence, abuse and sexual harassment shall be developed and implemented.

Rule 45: Prison authorities shall utilize options such as home leave, open prisons, halfway houses and community-based programs and services to the maximum possible extent for women prisoners, to ease their transition from prison to liberty, to reduce stigma and to re-establish their contact with their families at the earliest possible stage.

Rule 47: Additional support following release shall be provided to women prisoners who need psychological, medical, legal and practical help to ensure their successful social reintegration, in cooperation with services in the community.

Rule 61: When sentencing women offenders, courts shall have the power to consider mitigating factors such as lack of criminal history and relative non-severity and nature of the criminal conduct, in the light of a women’s caretaking responsibilities and typical backgrounds.

OK Senate-passed Bill Lowers Highest Female Prison Rate

67_MAGGOTSSWEETThe Oklahoma Senate Appropriations Committee last week gave unanimous approval to a measure seeking to lower the nation’s highest female incarceration rate. Senate Bill 1278 would authorize the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to enter into a Pay-for-Success (PFS) contract pilot program for those criminal justice programs that have had proven outcomes of reducing public sector costs associated with female incarceration.

With a female incarceration rate nearly twice the national average, Oklahoma’s rate has topped the nation every year since 1994, except in 2003. Pathways to incarceration for Oklahoma women often begin early, with physical and sexual abuse, chaotic home environments and poverty. These childhood challenges often result in decreased educational attainment and can lead to substance abuse and addiction and mental illness. Domestic violence and adult victimization are other pathways to incarceration for women. Children with incarcerated parents have a significantly higher risk of being incarcerated in the future, continuing the cycle of incarceration.

Author of the Oklahoma legislation, David, R-Porter said:

Oklahoma’s history of imprisoning nonviolent women, rather than treating them, is expensive, ineffective and damaging to families. It’s important that we offer alternatives to incarceration to get these women rehabilitated and back to the workforce and their families. Incarceration and poverty are a vicious cycle in our state that we can stop by giving these women the counseling and education they need to get clean, find a job and be able to support themselves without returning to a life of drugs and crime.

With a PFS contract, the state negotiates with a program to deliver a specific outcome, such as reduced incarceration. Private philanthropy provides upfront funding. Once OMES verifies that the diversion or reentry program was successfully completed by a participant, the state would then re-pay a portion of the savings realized. Another benefit of using these contracts is that state payment will never exceed its savings created through the contracted programs.

Under SB 1278, only service providers which have provided programs that successfully diverted women from prison and which have the capacity (size, scale, budget) to serve at least 100 high-risk women would qualify for this initial PFS pilot.

The first PFS contract will be delivered in Tulsa County, which is the largest contributor to the female offender population in Oklahoma. Since fiscal year 2012, Tulsa County has outpaced Oklahoma County and the rest of the state in its female offender receptions.

David adds:

This is a win-win opportunity for Oklahoma. OMES can find nonprofits that have successfully helped currently and formerly incarcerated women gain the skills they need to become self-sufficient, productive members of society again.

This will help decrease the length of sentences and lower recidivism rates, which will in turn help address the state’s prison overcrowding problem and save the state millions in incarceration costs. Once released, these women will also become taxpayers, creating new revenue for the state, and they’ll hopefully be able to support their families and get off state assistance, saving the state even more money.

David said the bill was written for the Women in Recovery program in Tulsa, but others can apply. Any provider program must have at least $2 million in capital, according to the bill.

Family & Children’s Services’ Women in Recovery program began in 2009 as an alternative to incarceration for women who have drug and alcohol addictions and face prison sentences. The program has admitted about 300 women and has had 131 graduates. Currently, 102 are now participants.

Ken Levit is executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), which helped create Women in Recovery. He said the state saves money that would have been spent on incarceration when women successfully complete the program.

The Women in Recovery program offers an alternative to incarceration for Tulsa County judges, district attorneys and public defenders, by combining strict supervision within a comprehensive day treatment format for women with substance abuse problems. Participant requirements and programs include:

  1. Gender-responsive, trauma-informed substance abuse treatment and cognitive behavioral therapies;
  2. Employment and vocational training;
  3. Comprehensive individual and group treatment;
  4. Family reunification/parent-skill training;
  5. Transitional safe and sober housing;
  6. Intensive case management and basic needs;
  7. Employment and vocational training;
  8. Primary health and dental care;
  9. Linkage to community recovery support groups;
  10. Life skills, education, transportation, volunteerism;
  11. Wellness and stress reduction;
  12. Community integration
  13. Aftercare services post graduation.

A woman is potentially eligible to enter WIR if she is 18 years of age or older, is involved in the criminal justice system, is ineligible for other diversion services or courts, has a history or is at-risk of substance abuse and is at imminent risk of incarceration. Women with children are a high priority for program admission. With more than 300 women sent to prison from Tulsa County in fiscal year 2010, the need for alternatives is crucial.

Convict Moms May Benefit From Pending Congressional Sentencing Reform and Declining Female Prison Populations

70_MAGGOTSSWEETToday Congress is moving on sentencing reform, which could further ease the pressure on female prisoners with children. In addition, they may benefit from less emphasis on harsh sentences for nonviolent offenses. 

Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, says:

The decline in women’s incarceration appears to be related to fewer drug offenders in prison. As harsh sentencing policies have begun to be scaled back, and diversion programs expanded, fewer women are now being sentenced to lengthy prison terms for lower-level drug offenses.

Since the early 1970s, the “war on drugs” led to a surge in the US prison population of both men and women. But percentagewise, women saw a greater increase. According to the Sentencing Project, between 1980 and 2010, the number of women in federal and state prison rose by 646 percent; from 15,118 to 112,797. If you count women in local jails, that brings the US total of female prisoners in 2010 to more than 205,000.

Now the trends are reversing. After peaking in 2009, the US prison population has declined annually–something that has been attributed to factors including the recession, and changes in public attitudes and in the courts. In 2011, the US Supreme Court upheld a ruling that ordered California to ease overcrowding in its state prisons.

Congress is now getting into the act. On January 30, 2014, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted for legislation aimed at reducing prison overcrowding further. In a bipartisan 13-to-5 vote, the panel approved the Smarter Sentencing Act,
which would substantially reduce mandatory minimums for some drug offenses and allow federal judges more discretion in determining sentences for nonviolent drug offenses?

The Act amends the federal criminal code to direct criminal courts to impose a sentence for specified controlled substance offenses without regard to any statutory minimum sentence if the court finds that the defendant does not have more than one criminal conviction. It also authorizes a court that imposed a sentence for a crack cocaine possession or trafficking offense committed before August 3, 2010, on motion of the defendant, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, the attorney for the government or the court, to impose a reduced sentence as if provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 were in effect at the time such offense was committed.

Courts must also reduce mandatory minimum sentences for manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, possessing, importing or exporting specified controlled substances. And it orders courts to formulate guidelines to minimize the likelihood that the federal prison population will exceed federal prison capacity, while it emphasizes the need to reduce and prevent racial disparities in sentencing.

Since women are more likely to be incarcerated for a nonviolent offense than men, they may benefit from the law disproportionately. Already, between 2009 and 2012, the female prison population dropped by 4.1 percent.

This trend has particular meaning for prisoners with children. In 2008, 52 percent of women in state prison and 63 percent in federal prison had at least one child under the age of 18, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Six out of 10 women prisoners with children lived with their kids before incarceration.

Most kids don’t have physical contact with their mother while she is incarcerated, because women are often placed in facilities more than 100 miles from home, where visiting is both expensive and difficult. Collect phone calls from prison are expensive, and some mothers do not want to expose children to the prison environment and security procedures, which can be intimidating.

Bahiyyah Muhammad, a sociology professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C., who studied the children of incarcerated parents, suggests:

One solution would be to have offenders serve shorter sentences that are focused on drug treatment and education and that take place closer to their families. That way you keep the family together and allow them to have a role in this rehabilitation process.

A parental classification be implemented for convicted mothers) who have custody of their children, so they can serve their time at an institution designed for parents–that is, “friendlier” for kids.

I think we could save a lot of money if we used alternatives to punish nonviolent drug offenders, especially if they are parents. Parental incarceration has long-lasting effects on children.

Since the 1970s, the dramatic rise in the US prison population has put significant strain on the limited resources available to treat prisoners and to help ex-convicts reintegrate into the outside world.

Restorative Justice is a Growing Progressive Alternative to Youth Incarceration, and it is Significantly Reducing Recidivism

potentialRestorative justice is a growing way of dealing with crime that replaces the centuries-old “crimes against the state” notion with an approach that puts the offender in direct contact with the victim, requiring him or her to take responsibility and make amends for the crime. The needs of the person who was harmed are taken into account as much as possible, and they are involved in dealing with the outcome.

Across the country, restorative justice, especially for juvenile offenders, is gaining support among a growing number of correctional policymakers and practitioners, victim advocates, court officials and law enforcement officials. Already 20 states have introduced and/or passed legislation promoting a restorative juvenile justice system, and 30 other states have restorative justice principles in their mission statements or policy plans. There are individual restorative justice programs in virtually every state, and a growing number of states and local jurisdictions are dramatically changing their criminal and juvenile justice systems to adopt the principles and practices of restorative justice. Restorative justice is now practiced in more than 300 US communities and at more than 1000 locations in Europe.

In restorative justice there is usually dialogue, where all affected people explore one another’s feelings and needs in a safe and respectful environment. A trained neutral third party can help them as they try to reach consensus on how to deal with the aftermath of offending behavior. Family members, friends or others living in the community can have a voice as well.

Holding offenders directly accountable to the people they have violated,
restores the emotional and material losses of victims and provides a range of opportunities for dialogue, negotiation and problem-solving. This can lead to a greater sense of community safety, conflict resolution and closure for all involved.

While denouncing criminal behavior, restorative justice emphasizes the need to treat offenders with respect and to reintegrate them into the larger community in ways that can lead to lawful behavior. Restorative justice encourages the entire community to be involved in holding the offender accountable and promoting a healing response to the needs of both victims and offenders.
Restorative justice can be expressed through a wide range of policies and practices directed toward offenders and crime victims, including: victim support and advocacy, restitution, community service, victim impact panels, victim-offender mediation, circle sentencing, family group conferencing, community boards that meet with offenders to determine appropriate sanctions, victim empathy classes for offenders and community policing.

Victim-offender mediations are conducted by trained mediators who are sensitive to the needs of victims and their families. In some cases the community provides work for offenders so they will be able to pay restitution to victims.

While some Americans continue to advocate greater retribution and harsher penalties for youthful offenders, others believe in the importance of rehabilitating criminals and preventing further crime. Today, victims of crime feel increasingly frustrated and alienated by the current justice system, while increasingly harsh punishments have failed to change criminal behavior.
The initial conceptualization of restorative justice was first clearly articulated by Howard Zehr in the late 1970s. By 1990, an international conference funded by NATO was convened in Italy to examine the growing interest in restorative justice throughout the world. Academicians and practitioners from a wide range of countries presented papers related to its development and impact. The Council of Europe endorsed restorative justice through victim-offender mediation in 1999, and a subcommittee of the UN has also been examining the concept.

In the summer of 1994, after many years of little interest, if not skepticism, the American Bar Association fully endorsed the practice of victim-offender mediation and recommended its development in courts throughout the country. Also, a growing number of victim-support organizations are actively participating in the restorative justice movement.

A cross-national study of victim-offender mediation in four states, four Canadian provinces and two cities of England found high levels of victim and offender satisfaction with the mediation process and outcome. Victims who met the juvenile offender were significantly more likely to have been satisfied with how the justice system handled their case than similar victims who did not participate in mediation. They also were significantly less fearful of being re-victimized after the mediation session. Offenders in mediation were significantly more likely to successfully complete restitution than were similar offenders who did not meet their victim.

A large study of nearly 1300 juvenile offenders found a 32 percent reduction in recidivism among those who participated in a mediation session with their victim. Many recent studies are also finding significant and meaningful reductions in recidivism rates.
The U.S. Education Department’s newly released guidelines for school discipline call for an end to punitive punishment, and this should continue to fuel the movement.

Mariame Kaba, founding director of Project NIA, a Chicago-based nonprofit that supports youth involved in the criminal justice system, with a mission to eradicate the incarceration of minors, says:

We began our work of interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline in our community by setting up a ‘peace room’ at a local school. We brought in volunteers who were trained in restorative justice and encouraged school administrators and teachers to send young people to the peace room, as opposed to suspending them from school or arresting them.

I want Chicago schools to train teachers in how to work with young people in non-punitive ways. I would also love for there not to be any police officers in the schools any more. Chicago Public Schools has done a great job of taking zero tolerance out of the discipline code, but they haven’t funded the necessary initiatives. We also need to try to end the criminalization of youth of color.

 

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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Youth Incarceration Down in U.S., Colorado

Map of USA with Colorado highlighted

Map of USA with Colorado highlighted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

U.S. juvenile detention has fallen to the lowest level in 35 years, due largely to the increase and growth of remediation programs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement, 44 states have reduced their confinement of juveniles rates between 1997 and 2010, with declines of 66% in Tennessee, 57% in Arizona, 48% in California and 44% in Texas. On the other hand, incarceration rates rose over the period In Nebraska, Idaho, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and South Dakota. Over the same period, youth violence dropped significantly.

Bart Lubow, director of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, whose recent study is titled “Youth Incarceration in the U.S” states:

The decline is very significant because America for a long time did nothing but build up its incarcerated young population. But in recent years, there has been a radical sea change. It is a highly important social development that has largely gone on under the radar.

The findings reflect a trend toward less harsh treatment of youthful infractions. Scientific research shows that youths can more easily control destructive impulses as their brains mature.

Most juveniles are confined for minor offenses—such as violating curfew or running away from home—offenses that would not be considered illegal if committed by those 18 and older.

Juvenile justice systems still treat children of color much more punitively than Anglo kids—confining five times more African-American youngsters and two-to-three times more Latinos and Native Americans than Whites.

The Casey Foundation finds wholesale incarceration counterproductive and provides technical assistance to 200 jurisdictions attempting to reduce it.

According to Bartholomew Sullivan, writing in the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

 The Casey Report recommends five steps to accelerate the drop in youth detention, including restricting incarceration only to those “who pose a demonstrable risk to public safety” and upending the financial incentives for correctional placement.

The recent de-incarceration trend provides a unique opportunity to implement responses to delinquency that are more cost-effective and humane and that provide better outcomes for youth, their families and communities.

The number of juveniles committed to the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections has dropped by 44 percent in the past seven years, the result of programs that have put more focus on rehabilitation than detention. Declining populations at the facilities are a result of successfully combining front-end programs—designed to help adolescents before they enter the justice system—and efforts to stop released juveniles from returning.

Colorado Director of Youth Corrections John Gomez states:

Declining populations at our facilities are a result of successfully combining front-end programs—designed to help ad<olescents before they enter the justice system—and efforts to stop released juveniles from returning. We’ve continued to work at ensuring that we are providing the right services at the right time.

With fewer juveniles in detention, the Colorado Department of Human Services, which manages youth corrections, has asked lawmakers to move nearly $8 million from youth corrections to child-welfare services, including early-intervention programs for children and teens before they enter the juvenile justice system.

In the past year, Colorado has enjoyed a 13% drop in youth recidivism. And more juveniles being released from youth corrections are equipped with skill sets that will help them when they return home. While serving their commitments, juveniles can earn their GEDs or high school diplomas and work with their families before being released.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wisconsin: Yet Another Study Showing Incarceration is the Wrong Approach

A-Block at Alcatraz (2206096229)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A recently released study from California-based Human Impact Partners is stirring things up in Wisconsin. As with so many that have come before it, the findings point toward a need to reduce reliance on incarceration, instead shifting the focus to treatment programs and community corrections. The study states that millions of dollars can be saved and recidivism rates reduced this way.

JS Online brings us the pertinent numbers. First is the number that is giving politicians sticker shock:

Investing in addiction and mental health treatment, instead of prison, for nonviolent offenders would likely lower crime, strengthen communities and save the state millions of dollars annually, according to a study released this week by a coalition pushing to expand Wisconsin’s drug courts and other alternatives-to-prison programs.

The health-impact assessment, by the California-based Human Impact Partners, recommends the state increase funding for its existing treatment alternative programs from about $1 million to $75 million annually, expand eligibility, and add $20 million for mental health treatment, jobs programs and other, related services.

Seventy-five times what is currently being spent, that is a number that can make one reel. Of course, like everything, context makes a difference. That investment can help prevent even scarier numbers, like the amount being spent on prisons for instance:

Wisconsin incarcerates more than 22,000 people a year, up from about 7,000 in 1990 and more than double the number imprisoned in Minnesota, according to the Department of Corrections. And it has another 67,000 ex-offenders on probation and parole. The corrections budget has ballooned since 1990 from under $200 million a year to $1.3 billion in 2011, now surpassing the money spent on the University of Wisconsin system.

Another thing to consider is that this issue does not exist in a vacuum. Adopting a rehabilitative path over incarceration also impacts numerous other aspects of the problem, driving down state expenditures for each. Scott Wales is a criminal defense attorney in Wisconsin who writes one heck of an informative blog. He recently weighed in with the following:

The Human Impact Partners study says that an investment of $75 million into treatment and alternative courts could cut annual prison admissions by about 40% and jail admissions by 21,000. It could also cut recidivism rates by 12-16% and cut crime by an estimated 20%.

It would make mental health treatment and drug and alcohol treatment available to thousands who need it, helping them to live a crime-free life. Perhaps most importantly, it would keep nonviolent offenders within the community, helping them to be productive members of society, working, and contributing. This, they say, would even reduce the number of children placed in foster care every year.

This has been the core of our message since the start. Our documentary is entitled It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing for a reason. As more and more data come in, especially from multi-year studies, it has become the unmistakeable conclusion.

The problem we face is that it involves up-front costs to get the ball truly rolling. No politician wants to be seen throwing funds at something new when budget cuts are so deep and vicious. The looming price of enacting these programs often occludes the fact that those costs are dwarfed by the saving reaped once they are in place.

Wales also notes that another antagonistic refrain heard when this approach comes up the it is “soft on crime.” His comment on this fallacy is accurate and succinct:

 And the ‘soft on crime’ argument is played out. There is no evidence that being ‘tough’ (when it includes lengthy prison sentences) is any more effective than treatment. Actually, there is evidence to the contrary.

Come on folks, it really is vastly more expensive to do nothing.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Juvenile Health System Not Geared for Girls

Hypodermic syringe 3

Hypodermic syringe 3 (Photo credit: hitthatswitch)

There is a distinct intersection between two topics we focus on: incarcerated women and incarcerated juveniles. Each group has it’s own distinct issues, but young women in prison suffer the burden of both.

One troubling issue recently spotlighted by NPR is the state of health care for girls within the juvenile justice system. You see, the system is geared towards boys. Due to the simple differences in biology alone, this leaves vital needs unaddressed.

As the NPR piece states:

Girls in detention are “one of the most vulnerable and unfortunately invisible populations in the country,” says Catherine Pierce, a senior adviser at the federal government’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Up to 90 percent of these girls have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse, Pierce says.

Their health statistics are particularly grim: 41 percent have signs of vaginal injury consistent with sexual assault; up to a third have been or are currently pregnant; 8 percent have had positive skin tests for tuberculosis; and 30 percent need glasses but don’t have them, according to research from the National Girls Health and Justice Institute.

Do we really need to discuss why it is important to get proper treatment for health issues related to sexual assault? Or pregnancy? How about this additional finding that puts another vital piece of information on the table (also from the NPR report):

[Psychologist Leslie] Acoca argues it’s worth it to make the time. Her research has yielded a surprising finding: Poor physical health seems to increase girls’ risk of recidivism. In other words, girls who have health problems are more likely to reoffend and end up back in the criminal justice system.

This is not only a matter of health; it is a matter of reducing repeat offenses. I would say that should be enough to prioritize it for anyone.

The NPR piece does offer one potential solution: a new screening questionaire. By taking detailed info about health problems specific to women, care can be improved drastically. In addition, incoming inmates who might not be forthcoming in a not-so-public verbal interview have a higher chance of reporting health issues on a printed questionaire.

Those working in the system call it untenable due to the lack of staffing. In response I would question how many of those few staff hours are dedicated to dealing with the fallout from unreported problems.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Playground to Prison – The Shocking Numbers

Playground to Prison

 

Enhanced by Zemanta