Tag Archive for incarceration

Correctional System: Responding to Juveniles with Substance Abuse and Mental Health Needs

In their own words:

In order to provide effective treatment and programming to youth with behavioral health needs, juvenile justice authorities and their partners must be equipped to quickly identify individuals who may have these needs, make referrals for full assessments and appropriate services, and provide services both while the youths are in custody and during the reentry process. Presenters focus on the use of assessment tools and other treatment needs, and matching youths to appropriate and effective programs and supports.


  • Randy Muck, Senior Clinical Consultant, Advocates for Youth and Family Behavioral Health Treatment, LLC
  • Valerie Williams, Research Instructor and Co-Director, National Youth Screening and Assessment Project, Center for Mental Health Services Research, Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School
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Hurricane Isaac: Suddenly Homeless

Today I would like to offer something a little more personal than my usual blog posts. After the “Hurricane Isaac Experience” I would really like to share my personal perspective.

Last week we had a spot of unpleasant weather down here on the Gulf Coast that took out almost 700,000 people’s power across Louisiana. Most of them, like myself, for five or six days. Some still remain in the dark as I write this.

Hurricane Isaac not only knocked out the lights, but also sat over the area more than three times as long as the average hurricane. That means a lot of water, and a lot of people in outlying areas seeing it in their homes. The truly eerie aspect of it for those of us down here was that the storm arrived on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

How does this tie in with our usual topics? Easily. As the land washed away under the feet of Plaquemines and St. John the Baptist Parish residents the specter of homelessness and financial ruin became very real for much of our rural population. Thousands of residents from St. John the Baptist Parish alone became refugees, the status of their home and employment lost to view.

Make no mistake about it, homelessness looms. It is still to early to have any accurate data as the hard hit rural regions are only starting to be assessed, but the sheer volume of water has ensured that many lost everything. Just to the Southeast of New Orleans the town of Braithewaite is only now emerging from the muck.

So many of us teeter on the edge. As the recession drags on more and more families find themselves living paycheck to paycheck. The advent of a natural disaster – be it hurricane, earthquake, wildfire or something else – can suddenly leave a person both homeless and jobless.

According to the Katrina Pain Index , by Loyola professors Bill Quigley and Davida Finger, “Seventy percent more people are homeless in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina .”

In the wake of Isaac I fear we will see a similar spike in those numbers.

Discussion Series on Juvenile Detention And Incarceration in Chicago

Coming to Chicago in September and October Roosevelt University, in conjunction with the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation, will be kicking off a fascinating and educational series of discussions centered around the topic of youth detention and incarceration.

It all starts on the 26th of September with a volley of personal narratives. Those of you who follow our work already know the importance we attach to these personal stories. They are the most effective way to re-humanize those on the borders of society. It is a lot harder to ignore a statistic once you’ve met the person represented by the numbers.

While none of our team will be able to make it to the Windy City, we do encourage any of you within range to do so. It looks like quite an array of programming!

So, without further ado, here is their writeup on what you can expect. If any of you, our readers, make it to the series, we would love to hear about the experience!

Youth stories on their experiences in confinement

Learn from youth about what life in confinement is like and how this experience, and other levels of connection with the juvenile justice system, has impacted their lives.
Wednesday, September 26, 5:30 p.m.

Chain reaction: Alternatives to policing

Listen to youth tell stories of their encounters with the police, and then join the dialogues about alternatives to policing as a way to reduce violence and crime.
Thursday, October 4, 5:30 p.m.

Alternatives to juvenile detention and incarceration: Can we succeed? What will it take?

What community-based alternatives exist now? How are youth referred to these programs? Are they designed to educate, rehabilitate and address the needs of youth who have drug dependencies, disabilities, mental health or trauma issues? Are there enough housing facilities and programs available to youths with criminal records?
Tuesday, October 23, 5:30 p.m.

Youth with disabilities need education, not incarceration

Youth with disabilities comprise 30 to 80 percent of youth caught up in the juvenile justice system. How can we ensure youth are getting the services they need to succeed in school and beyond?
Thursday, November 8, 5:30 p.m.

Reentry and life after juvenile confinement: Existing services, or lack thereof, to ensure a successful transition and no recidivism

What services are available to youth when they are released? Is there adequate support for them to complete their education, receive expungement guidance, housing, counseling and other necessary services to ensure they are successful and don’t recidivate? Tuesday, December 4, 5:30 p.m.

RSVP: Nancy Michaels, nmichaels@roosevelt.edu
Cosponsored with Project NIA

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Infographic: The Cold Hard Facts about Incarceration

The Cold Hard Facts about Incarceration

Browse more data visualization.

Women’s Experiences of Abuse as a Risk Factor for Incarceration

Women’s Experience of Abuse as a Risk Factor for Incarceration

Catholic Conference States Support of Alternatives to Incarceration

The New York State Catholic Conference has just made a formal online statement coming out in support of rehabilitation programs over mere incarceration.

Their announcement references the two things we feel to be most significant about this approach – lowering the cost to the public and achieving greater results when reintegrating the convicted back into society.

Here are the summary and statement of position from their announcement:


Many of those incarcerated in New York State prisons are afflicted with mental health or addiction problems. These individuals, and the greater society, would be best served by offering lower-cost alternatives to incarceration to address the problems that are at the root of their criminal activity.

Conference Position

The Catholic Conference supports efforts to reduce crime and recidivism, and to help former offenders recover and live productively in the community through expansion and improved coordination of alternatives to incarceration for mentally ill and addicted offenders throughout New York State.

While religion is not something we discuss, it is heartening to see religious organizations becoming aware of the data on which we’ve based our own findings. It’s all part of a positive trend we are seeing in many states towards programs that are both effective and cost-effective, either of which is a step forward.

Unfortunately, these approaches are frequently passed over in favor of short-term savings. Despite the fact that we are all feeling the financial crunch, we must spend slightly more now to save much larger amounts of money over the next few years.

As politicians on both sides of the aisle are hunting for places to slash spending, many of these programs are being endangered. For example, here in my native New Orleans, we are waiting for word on whether the five programs that really do some good are about to shut down due to funding cuts.

The more organizations get on the same page, the better hope we have of fixing our broken system.

Born, Not Raised – The Trailer

It is finally here! Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to present the Born, Not Raised video trailer!

So, what did you think?

Suicide in Jail: A Special Report

It is always gratifying to see solid, in-depth reporting. Today I’d like to share an excellent example of such an instance – a special report on the Emmy-Award winning interactive news talk show Richard French Live.

French, who has interviewed personalities ranging from Presidents Obama and Clinton to Sen. Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner, takes on the troubling topic of prison suicide.

The conditions in our penal system are often in the news because of brutal or substandard conditions. Inadequate supervision, use of unusual force, inmate violence, drugs and other reprehensible conditions are no longer surprising when they turn up in the news.

In two of our books we have looked at the plight of women in prison and the shameful state of juvenile justice. Here is another look at the system that examines the conditions faced in a New York facility that primarily houses male inmates.

(Since this is a full length report I’ve embedded a playlist with all the parts in the proper order for ease of watching.)

Supreme Court to Revisit Life In Prison for Juveniles

Prison cell with bed inside Alcatraz main building san francisco californiaIncarcerating juveniles for life is a uniquely American failing. The U.S. is the only nation that makes this blunder.

Most of the problem stems from the 1990’s when the histrionic term “super-predator” came into vogue among a certain vocal and excitable group. Randy Hertz of The Nation sums up that background nicely:

In the 1990s, a small group of academics capitalized on and galvanized a growing hysteria about violent crime by youths, speculating that an anticipated rise in the youth population, coupled with spurious theories about the exceptional deviance of children of color growing up poor, would lead to a new generation of ‘severely morally impoverished juvenile super-predators…capable of committing the most heinous acts of physical violence for the most trivial reasons.’ Fearing that the rehabilitation-focused juvenile justice system would be inadequate to protect society from this impending menace, lawmakers passed laws that circumvented juvenile court and sent kids to criminal court for prosecution as adults.

Our position on prosecuting kids as adults is abundantly clear. It is detrimental to the kids, to society, and to the financial bottom line. It exposes children to hardened criminals while still at a malleable stage of the development. The list of issues with that approach is long and varied.

Hertz continues with a vital note on the matter. You see, the expert recanted.

The same expert who coined the term ‘super-predator’ now acknowledges that it was nothing but a ghost story, a terrifying myth with disastrous consequences. In an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of Miller and Jackson, this expert—and others—note that the juvenile crime rates actually dropped from 1994 to 2000. But a relative handful of children accused of serious crimes—a grossly disproportionate number of them children of color—found themselves caught permanently in the web spun by academics and politicians, sentenced to die in prison with no hope of release no matter how they might transform and reform themselves. Once we give up on these children, many prisons compound the hopelessness by failing to provide access to educational programs.

This coming week the Supreme Court will revisit the subject. The hearing will involve two different cases, both young boys who at the age of 14 committed murder. Both cases shared another characteristic – a sentence of life in prison with no potential for parole.

The outrage was immediate among advocates, who called the sentence “brutal” for failing to recognize the difference between the actions of the immature youths and the actions of an adult.

Judge Gail Garinger, State Child Advocate for Massachusetts and former juvenile court justice, weighs in on the matter (via The New York Times):

Homicide is the worst crime, but in striking down the juvenile death penalty in 2005, the Supreme Court recognized that even in the most serious murder cases, ‘juvenile offenders cannot with reliability be classified among the worst offenders’: they are less mature, more vulnerable to peer pressure, cannot escape from dangerous environments, and their characters are still in formation. And because they remain unformed, it is impossible to assume that they will always present an unacceptable risk to public safety.

The most disturbing part of the superpredator myth is that it presupposed that certain children were hopelessly defective, perhaps genetically so. Today, few believe that criminal genes are inherited, except in the sense that parental abuse and negative home lives can leave children with little hope and limited choices.

As a former juvenile court judge, I have seen firsthand the enormous capacity of children to change and turn themselves around. The same malleability that makes them vulnerable to peer pressure also makes them promising candidates for rehabilitation.

Let us hope the good sense behind the murder decision in 2005 has a resurgence while they contemplate the current situation. The Alabama Equal Justice Initiative is arguing on behalf of the defendants, and their assertion that life in prison for juveniles constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is one that we support.

It is not that we in any way condone the actions, the loss of human life is horrible no matter the circumstances. The simple fact is that young people and adults have a number of purely biological differences. Brain imaging studies have shown that the parts of the adolescent brain responsible for controlling thoughts, actions and emotions are not fully developed. For this reason alone it is imperative that we use appropriate standards for punishment as opposed to dealing with them like adults.

For more on this subject please check out our latest book- Born, Not Raised: Voices from juvenile Hall. It’s hot of the presses having only been released this last week!

Advance Praise for Born, Not Raised: Voices from Juvenile Hall

born-book-coverWe are very pleased to see the reception our newest book is getting, even with the release ten days away!

There have been a few reviews and articles posted recently that can give you a good perspective on the work.

Library Journal (review only available in the print edition, this link goes to the BArnes and Noble website where it is reporduced):

More policy-oriented than academic in tone, this book is recommended for specialized juvenile justice collections and libraries holding the other two volumes in the series. Though government austerity is in vogue, this book is a powerful reminder of the social costs of neglecting the specific needs of at-risk youth.—Antoinette Brinkman, Evansville, IN

EFEAmerica, an online publication with a Hispanic focus, takes a look at the book.

‘We want to make the public more aware of how desperate these young people are for a little love and affection, and the fact that they don’t want to be involved in drugs – but more and more U.S. youngsters lack education and suffer the effects of being brought up by single fathers or mothers with no time for them because they’re working two jobs,’ Lankford said.

For the author, the factors most likely to land these young people in the juvenile detention system are their broken family relations, not their ethnicity or immigration problems.

San Diego City Beat’s Dave Maass talks about the book in the context of Susan and Polly Lankford’s recent visit to the McAllister Institute, a drug treatment center in El Cajon. One of the main points that he focuses on is the opacity of the justice system in California:

That may be the most important part of the text; the San Diego County Probation Department doesn’t allow media or public access to its facilities except for once-a-year, highly controlled open houses. The department cites confidentiality issues, but Susan believes opacity only worsens the problem.

‘I think [confidentiality] is the biggest joke around, because all of these kids know each other, they learn everything bad that they possibly can from one another before they’re released and they come back in with even more criminal behavior,’ Susan says. ‘That’s one of the things I am upset with, because I don’t think accountability happens with confidentiality.’

In the blogging world we are happy to note that Matthew T. Mangino– former district attorney of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania and current member of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole – decided to share some thoughts about the book. You might be familiar with his work in the  Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Harrisburg Patriot News, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews, Court TV and National Public Radio.)

Lankford concludes that, ‘[I]nstitutions like juvenile hall are not a good substitute for a family.’  Psychiatrist Diane Campbell said, ‘The youth in the hall don’t need miracle workers; they simply need some who is ‘just good enough.’

Lankford makes it clear that ‘good enough’ consists of a reliable, loving and nurturing figure that will help mold a child.  She uses her skills as a writer and photographer to make sure her readers understand the plight of troubled young people and how to turn ‘at-risk’ youths into ‘at-promise’ youths.

As we approach publication it is heartwarming to see the interest in this vital topic. As with our prior works we hope that Born, Not Raised will not only make people think, but will also spur them to action. The statistics support a more rehabilitative approach, but zero tolerance laws and for profit prisons weild considerable finanacial might. We hope that after reading our book you will find yourself motivated to act against that might and for substantive positive change in the way we deal with criminal justice.