Tag Archive for legislation

Congress To Slash Juvenile Justice Funds

MoneyThe Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has just taken a blow, one which could possibly put it’s connection with state governments at risk.

Appropriations leaders in both the House and the Senate have finalized a bill which cuts the office’s funding from $275 million in fiscal 2011 to $262.5 million for fiscal 2012.

John Kelly, a writer for YouthToday, has a wonderfully detailed explanation of how these funds are allocated and the series of bills leading to this point. As to the outcome, it seems funding will be cut from a number of programs and tactics that we at HE support:

Prospects on what will happen with the formula funds are complicated. The funds are allocated to the states in exchange for their compliance with four core standards of juvenile justice operations: not detaining or incarcerating status offenders; keeping all juveniles out of adult jails, and separating them by sight and sound from adult detainees in the rare exceptions when jail is allowable; and addressing disproportionate minority contact in the system.

Compliance with these practices is something we desperately need more of, not less. This stance will hobble rehabilitative and community based programs across the U.S. while putting more youth at risk. In the long run the money “saved,” here will probably be spent on incarceration. (In which case it really is not a “saving,” is it?)

SparkAction’s online petition sums it up well:

[...] deep cuts to federal funds that now support state and local juvenile justice and delinquency prevention efforts will hurt kids and families and jeopardize public safety. Cuts of this magnitude will result in more children in dangerous, costly lock-ups, greatly increasing risks of suicide, sexual and physical abuse, and disconnection from family, positive support, education and the workforce.

The timing on this is horrible. Studies consistently show that a rehabilitative approach is not only far more effective but also far less costly than incarceration, which has become a booming business here in the sates. Many states have been becoming pro-active about embracing more theraputic and community driven programs, the exact kind of programs facing the budgetary knife.

 The Wasington Post just ran an editorial spelling out exactly why this is bad legislation:

Delinquency prevention or diversion programs are significantly cheaper than incarceration. According to the American Correctional Association, states spent between $66,000 and $88,000 in 2008 to incarcerate each juvenile offender. The costs associated with imprisoning youths are substantially higher than for adults because of the additional services, including education, that incarcerated youths require. Incarceration may be appropriate for juveniles who commit violent offenses, but it is too often chosen for those who commit nonviolent infractions. The incidence of such counterproductive punishment will almost certainly rise if these federal funds are cut further.

This will not reduce juvenile crime, and it will probably end up costing much more than the alternatives. And when I say cost I mean cost to the youths and their communities as well as the budgetary numbers.

 Image Source: Images_of_Money on Flickr, used under it’s Creative Commons license

The Economics of Incarceration in Arizona

MoneyThe economic side of the penal system is something we look at a lot. In so many cases, the return of preventative programs vastly outstrips the return we see from imprisoning people. Our documentary is titled It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing because that is, quite simply, the case.

Of course, there are also darker sides of the economic angle that bear scrutiny. When we speak of the economic factors, we are talking about ways in which to spend less and achieve better results. For some others, it is a matter of how much can be made from the business of incarceration.

Laura Sullivan has a very illuminating piece on NPR (you can read it or listen to the audio) focusing on this very subject. She takes a look at the spiderweb of business interests that stand to reap serious financial gains from Arizona’s new immigration law. [Note: this is not a debate about the law itself, but an examination of the way in which the prison industry has influenced the letter of the law for its financial gain. Comments debating immigration law will be considered off topic and not published.]

While there has been both forceful opposition and support for the law, it would behoove both sides to look closer at the way the law came about. NPR did some digging:

NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry. The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.

What follows is a hard look at the influence of lobbyists. It starts with the Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, who claims the bill was his idea. His stated stance is that Americans need to look at the cost of not enforcing our laws and securing the border. The interesting part is that instead of bringing his idea up on the Senate floor, he instead brought it to a meeting of a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that took place last December at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C.

If you look at the composition of the group, an interesting picture develops:

It’s a membership organization of state legislators and powerful corporations and associations, such as the tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association. Another member is the billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America — the largest private prison company in the country.

Both members of the Corrections Corporation of America and Pearce are not only members but also sit on several of ALEC’s boards. Model legislation was developed at the Hyatt, legislation that was adopted almost verbatim four months later. Pearce claims that even though lobbyists were in attendance, he did not go to meet with them, but rather to meet with other legislators:

Pearce may go there to meet with other legislators, but 200 private companies pay tens of thousands of dollars to meet with legislators like him.

As soon as Pearce’s bill hit the Arizona statehouse floor in January, there were signs of ALEC’s influence. Thirty-six co-sponsors jumped on, a number almost unheard of in the capitol. According to records obtained by NPR, two-thirds of them either went to that December meeting or are ALEC members.

That same week, the Corrections Corporation of America hired a powerful new lobbyist to work the capitol.

This is an economic angle that we need to watch. There is no way to fight the bloating of our prison system without realizing that this is big business. There are so many jobs and so much money wrapped up in the penal system that it’s truly frightening. The approach to imprisonment being taken in Arizona and many other places seems to view an increase in the number of people incarcerated as a good thing, since, after all, it creates jobs and salaries. The fact that it costs taxpayers far more than the alternatives does not enter into that kind of logic.

This is not merely a problem in the areas near the border when immigration is such a massive issue. On the first of last month, I wrote about the astounding and disturbing state of affairs in Canon City, CO, the town with 13 prisons. Just to put it into perspective, Canon City has 36,000 residents, which makes it roughly one prison per 2,700 people. Sounds like big business to me, especially since one of those 13 is the Supermac, the new “Alcatraz of America.”

It does not matter whether this happens in Arizona, Colorado, or some other state. The fact remains that we have 5% of the global population and roughly a quarter of the world’s incarcerated here in the U.S.A. If the trend of embracing the corrections system as a revenue-generating business continues, those numbers will become even more out of balance.

So, as the prison system in Arizona hits a major growth spurt, I’d like to leave you with two short quotes to keep in mind:

‘When we provide treatment, we can cut recidivism rates down 25, 35, sometimes 40 percent.’
– Douglas B. Marlowe, J.D., Ph.D., Chief of Science, Policy and Law, National Association of Drug Court Professionals

and

‘It makes long term economic sense to try and take care of these people in a humane way, and help them heal.’
– Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Child Trauma Academy

Source: “Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law,” NPR, 10/28/10
Image by AMagill, used under its Creative Commons license.
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Age Limit for Foster Care in California Goes Up to 21

SchwarzeneggerThe campus of Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services last Wednesday was the epicenter of an enormous change for California. Governor Schwarzenegger performed a ceremonial signing of Assembly Bill 12, a bill that  will keep foster care kids from aging out of the system when they turn 18. Schwarzenegger called the idea of taking care of oneself at 18 “ludicrous.”

Brian Watt, a reporter for 89.3 KPCC, reports that the Governor refers to this extension of benefits as a partnership:

‘The kids have to take care of things, and also we have to take care of things,’ [Gov. Schwarzenegger] said. ‘We for instance continue giving them financial and social support, which is important for them, but they in return have to go to school, or go to work and meet regularly with their case workers. But let me tell you something: this is the greatest investment that we can make in our state.’

Now, the refrain that “children are our future,” while true, is often invoked but seldom truly heeded. What makes this a practical plan? The governor cited some promising data in his address:

He referred to study results that say for every dollar the state invests in foster care, it saves 2 and a half dollars in the future. Former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass co-wrote the legislation. The Los Angeles Democrat and Congressional candidate said the economic recession has given rise to a common expression: Boomerang Kids.

‘Young people forced by the economy to return to their parents’ home and support,’ said Bass. ‘But what happens to a boomerang that doesn’t have a place to go back to? It just gets thrown away.’

We’d say that a return of two and a half for an investment of one is a no brainer. Not only does it make sound financial sense at a time when it is vital for the state to save money, but it also shields those in foster homes from the trials and tribulations of possibly ending up on the streets.

Karen De Sa, writer for The Mercury News, brings us some supporting data:

Research by the Urban Institute and the University of Chicago has documented these outcomes. Within two years of leaving foster care, one in four teens lands in jail. And with high school graduation rates of less than 50 percent, more than half are unemployed. Close to one in four ends up homeless within 18 months.

Frightening numbers, and ones that stand to increase if the American economy continues to be so erratic. This is why AB 12 is essential, as this real-world comparison demonstrates quite well (also via The Mercury News article):

[...A] study released last year by child welfare researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Chicago estimated that extending foster care can change those outcomes — and result in cost savings for California. The multiyear report tracking young people exiting the foster care system compared Illinois — a rare state allowing foster care through age 21 — with states lacking such support. Illinois youths were three times more likely to enroll in college and 65 percent less likely to be arrested; the young women were 38 percent less likely to get pregnant.

Alanna Connaway, a writer for The Boot, reports a telling statement by a San Jose Assemblyman:

‘For generations, foster care youth faced being kicked out of their foster homes simply because they had turned 18 or graduated from high school,’ says Assemblymember Jim Beall (D-San Jose), who introduced AB 12. ‘Without any means of support, they were left to wander the streets for shelter and food. Many had no choice but to return to the parents who had neglected or abused them. AB 12 ensures they’ll have a safe place to live and stability until they are 21. It will help clear the way for eligible foster care youths go to college and begin careers that will contribute to our society.’

As states across the nation feel the economic noose tightening around their necks, it is essential that we find ways to save money and do so in a way that supports a restoration of the social fabric of the community. This is a hand up, not a handout.

Source: “New law makes 21 age limit for Calif’s foster care system,” 89.3 KPCV, 10/06/10
Source: “California enacts landmark foster care legislation extending the system to age 21,” The Mercury News, 10/02/10
Source: “Jimmy Wayne Reacts to Signing of California Foster Bill AB 12,” The Boot, 10/05/10
Image by Nate Mandos, used under its Creative Commons license.

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U.S. Senate Examines Hate Crimes Against the Homeless

MurderThe homeless are particularly vulnerable to violence and crime. Exposed on the street without shelter, they make appealing targets for the distorted personalities that prey on others. Recently, attacks on the homeless have been on the rise, and it’s finally drawing the attention of those in power.

David Hunt, a writer for Jacksonville.com, reports that, as of last Friday, attacks on the homeless in Florida are now considered a hate crime:

A law passed by this year by the Florida Legislature adds ‘homelessness’ to a list of protected classes in the state’s hate-crimes enhancement statutes, which already include traits such as race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Under the law, those who would be facing a year of jail time for battery could face as much as five years if the target of the attack is a homeless person.

Thankfully, this issue is attracting government’s attention not only in Florida. The U.S. Senate held a hearing last Wednesday, examining violent attacks against the homeless. The statistics are truly disturbing, and the trend of violence is increasing at an alarming rate. Just take a look at this testimony reported by Alex Ogle for AFP:

In many cases of the 117 ‘hate attacks’ against those living on the streets or in shelters in 2009, including the 43 murders, violent acts against the homeless ‘was almost a sport’ for attackers who see their victims as ‘unhuman,’ Florida police officer Richard Wierzbicki testified at the hearing.

Simone Manning-Moon, whose older brother Norris Gaynor was beaten to death by three teenagers with baseball bats and a rake handle, told the hearing that he was targeted ‘because he was homeless.’

The Norris Gaynor beating was caught on tape by the surveillance cameras and has led to the conviction of the boys involved. Here is a new report that includes the footage, below:

Now think about the 43 murders cited by Officer Wierzbicki. It makes for a grim picture indeed.

Ogle also reports another unsettling piece of testimony from Capitol Hill:

Homeless people have become a ‘socially acceptable target of aggression,’ noted Brian Levin, advisor to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and director of the California-based Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

Whether classifying these attacks as hate crimes will make an effective change remains to be seen, but something needs to be done to stem the tide of violence. These are people’s daughters, brothers, mothers, and children that are living on the street, human beings already undergoing harsh trials that do not need to be exacerbated by the threat of injury or death.

Source: “US Senate urged to act on rising attacks on homeless,” AFP via Google News, 09/20/10
Source: “Hate crimes will include attacks on homeless,” Jacksonville.com, 09/29/10
Image by izarbeltza, used under its Creative Commons license.

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