Tag Archive for Prison

Michigan Judge, Following 2012 U.S. Supreme Court Decision, Urges State Consider Parole for Prisoners Given Life Sentences for Crimes Committed as Juveniles


Prison doors

Prison doors (Photo credit: rytc)

Under an order federal Judge John Corbett O’Meara issued in late November 2013, Michigan must consider paroling 350 prisoners serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. This complies with a June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that sentencing schemes that fail to account for a young person’s potential for character and cognitive development are a form of cruel and unusual punishment. The justices declared that juveniles handed life sentences are entitled to the possibility of parole.
Judge O’Meara said that by Jan. 31, 2014, the state must 1) create an administrative structure to determine which “juvenile lifers” deserve parole, 2) inform juvenile lifers who’ve been behind bars for at least 10 years that their eligibility for parole will be considered in a meaningful and realistic manner, 3) schedule proceedings, including public hearings, for eligible prisoners applying for parole, 4) ensure the Parole Board explains its decision in each case and that there will be no vetoes (of parole) by the sentencing judge or anyone else.

Judge O’Meara also ruled:

As of the date this process begins, no prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for a crime committed as a juvenile will be deprived of any educational or training program which is otherwise available to the general prison population.

Lansing lawmakers are considering legislation to change state sentencing guidelines for juvenile lifers. A bill approved unanimously by the Senate in October would allow some minors convicted of murder to avoid life sentences, but it wouldn’t apply to those currently behind bars. A House bill would permit parole consideration retroactively for juvenile lifers.
The Sentencing Project

recently released a report and national survey results on Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP). It noted that United States stands alone worldwide in imposing life sentences without parole on juveniles, and that today a record number of people are serving such sentences.

Many of us erroneously believe that sentences of life without parole translate to a handful of years in prison followed by inevitable release. In reality, such a sentence usually means that the individual will die in prison.

The majority of JLWOP sentences are imposed in states in which judges are obligated to sentence individuals without consideration of any factors relating to a juvenile’s age or life circumstances. Pennsylvania, which has the most juvenile lifers, requires that youth of any age charged with homicide be tried in adult court and, upon conviction, be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

This first-ever national survey of juvenile lifers deals with their life experiences prior to their conviction, as well as descriptions of their lives while incarcerated. The findings are sobering, and should motivate policy discussion about this extreme punishment.

Most people sent to prison for life as youth were failed by systems that are intended to protect children. Survey findings from 1,579 individuals around the country serving these sentences demonstrate high rates of socioeconomic disadvantage. There are also extreme racial disparities. Sentences are frequently imposed without judicial discretion and utilize counterproductive corrections policies that thwart efforts at rehabilitation.

Seventy-nine percent of juvenile lifers reported witnessing violence in their homes; 54.1 percent witnessed weekly violence in their neighborhoods; 46.9 percent experienced physical abuse, including 79.5 percent of girls; 31.5 percent of juvenile lifers were raised in public housing; 17.9 percent were not living with a close adult relative just before their incarceration and some reported being homeless, living with friends or being housed in a detention facility, treatment center or group home.

Juvenile lifers faced significant educational challenges: two in five had been enrolled in special education classes, only 46.6 percent had been attending school at the time of their offense and 84.4 percent had been suspended or expelled from school at some point.

The survey found that often corrections policies curtail efforts at rehabilitation. Most (61.9 percent) juvenile lifers are not engaged in programming in prison, but this is usually not due to lack of interest, but because of state or prison policies. Many juvenile lifers are engaged in constructive change during their imprisonment when they are permitted the opportunity to do so. Two-thirds have attained a high school diploma or GED.

Despite long distances from home and family, many juvenile lifers attempt to maintain close ties with loved ones through phone calls, letters and visits. As years in prison pass, lifers are charged with significantly fewer disciplinary actions.

Today, most states have enacted provisions for transferring some youth out of juvenile courts and trying them in adult courts. These situations expanded greatly in the past 20 years. Part of the reason for the rise in sentencing youth to life in prison was the upswing in crime in the late 1980s and early 1990s, fueled in large part by crack cocaine and easy access to illegal guns. By 1993, the rate of juvenile homicides had tripled from 1983.

However, homicide rates among juveniles dropped 74 percent from 1993 to 2008. But fueled by media reports of celebrated cases and resulting public fears, catch phrases such as “adult crime, adult time” were popularized. Policymakers responded with a frenzy of tough laws that disregarded developmental differences between youth and adults, and instead focused exclusively on the crime. State legislatures passed laws that eased the way for young people to be transferred to and tried in adult courts. By the mid-1990s, every state had passed laws that either allowed or mandated that teenagers be tried as adults under certain circumstances. So there was a steep rise in the number of teens who were sentenced to life without parole during the mid-1990s.

Based on survey results from 49 states (not Louisiana), respondents have been in prison an average of 15 years; 359 of them for least 21 years and one juvenile offender has already served 49 years in prison. Sixty percent are black and 14.3 percent are Latino.

Survey respondents reported childhoods that were marked by frequent exposure to domestic and community-level violence, problems in school, engagement with delinquent peers and familial incarceration. While an estimated one in 16 young people in the general public experiences sexual abuse, it’s one in five among the JLWOP respondents.

Survey respondents were over six times more likely to report having witnessed family violence than other youths did. Sixty-two percent perceived their neighborhood to be unsafe and more than two-thirds saw drugs sold openly where they lived. More than 54 percent of juvenile lifers witnessed acts of violence on at least a weekly basis. More than a quarter of them have had a parent in prison and 59.1 percent had a close relative in prison.

Teenagers housed with adult prisoners face a heightened risk of suicide, sexual assault and physical assault. The Sentencing Project Report suggests these solutions: Eliminate JLWOP sentences, allow and encourage these Inmates to engage in rehabilitation programming, address racial disparities and house youth in age-appropriate settings, pre-trial and post-conviction.


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Although Oklahoma Tops US in Female Incarceration, In Tulsa, the Muddy Paws Dog Grooming Program Has Had No Recidivism Among its First 84 Inmate Grads

A photograph of a cell block in the Wisconsin ...

A photograph of a cell block in the Wisconsin State Prison. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the motto of “pets helping woman inmates shed their shaggy past,” Pets Helping People’s Muddy Paws program in Tulsa  has so far trained 84 incarcerated females from the Turley Correctional Center, Drug Court and Women in Recovery to be pet groomers and kennel technicians. Since then, none of them were subsequently arrested for crime.

Oklahoma leads the country in female incarceration, with nearly double the national average. The 2012 fiscal year annual report for the state’s Department of Corrections shows Oklahoma at a rate of 121 female inmates per 100,000 women, versus the US average of 65.

Each class rotation runs 40 hours each week for four months, at a cost of $7,000 per inmate student, but training is provided at no charge to the trainees. Pets Helping People (PHP) utilizes rescue and shelter dogs to teach grooming techniques, and this increases the chances for pets to be successfully adopted into a loving home.

Katheryn Pennington, a PHP board member and volunteer, said

The state needs to deal with the reintegration of these women into society, and PHP is helping to address this crisis. Muddy Paws graduates are employed in local businesses, pay taxes and participate in society. By learning a trade, these women have the dignity of supporting themselves and their families, thereby preventing repeat behavior. Investing in these graduates is an investment in the future.

The program, which allows another chance for many Oklahoma women who are willing to work for it, is expanding. Proceeds from a recent fundraising event will go toward a new grooming and training room at Muddy Paws.

Program graduate Brandi Navarro was in and out of trouble before she sold two Lortabs to an undercover cop. She landed in jail for three months before heading to Drug Court. After Muddy Paws training as a dog groomer and kennel technician, she was one of four ex-inmates who went to work full-time at a Tulsa shop called Shaggle Waggle.

When Navarro first came to Shaggy Waggle, she was shy and didn’t talk much, according to Dexter Stroud, who owns the grooming business with Dwynne Cook. Eventually, Navarro grew more relaxed as she became more proficient in her new skills.

Navarro said

I never would have thought I would be grooming dogs, but I’m really proud, and I feel really important to myself and others. I’m happy, clean and sober and feel like I have a purpose in my life now.

Perhaps your community would like to start an inmate training program in dog grooming or some other field. Everybody benefits, the women, the community and the shelter dogs.


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South Dakota, Which Used to Lock up Youths at the Highest Rate, is Now Rolling Out Statewide a Successful Juvenile Detention Alternatives Program

Map of USA with South Dakota highlighted

Map of USA with South Dakota highlighted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A program in two South Dakota counties to help juvenile offenders stay out of detention is poised to expand statewide. South Dakota’s two-year-old Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) provides substitutes for detention. Rather than being locked up for offenders who qualify can opt for such measures as daily reporting or electronic monitoring.

Since JDAI was introduced in them, Pennington and Minehaha counties have enjoyed reductions in the average number of youngsters in their county detention centers by more than half.

Recently the state court system accepted a $100,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to fund a statewide program coordinator, and the agency intends to ask legislators to make the position permanent. Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s administration and the state court system support the shift in thinking on juvenile justice, and expansion of JDAI statewide.

Jim Seward, the governor’s attorney and an architect of the adult criminal justice reform passed by lawmakers earlier this year said:

We support the concept of detention alternatives, and we’ve cooperated with the transition, knowing this would be going statewide.

Officials say the program’s goals of trimming the number of youths in lockup and reducing incidents of juvenile crime through the use of less-restrictive alternatives is a model that can be valuable throughout the state.

South Dakota state court administrator Greg Sattizahn said:

We’re going to use this grant to take it statewide, because the successes in Minnehaha and Pennington counties have been significant.

The shift toward alternatives to juvenile incarceration is particularly significant in light of the state’s history. South Dakota has been re-evaluating its juvenile programs for years, since the death of 14-year-old Gina Score at a Department of Corrections boot camp prompted the creation of a corrections monitor for the state.

Change has not come quickly, however. In 2006, the Casey foundation said that South Dakota locked up youth at a higher rate than any other US state.

The JDAI concept turns on the evidence-based theory that detention can be reduced without increasing juvenile crime. Now that Minnehaha and Pennington counties have seen that happen, prosecutors statewide are more likely to accept the program.



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Oklahoma’s Cruel Drug Laws and Outdated Sentencing Guidelines Help Make it the U.S. Leader in Female Incarceration

Oklahoma State Capitol

Oklahoma State Capitol (Photo credit: StevenM_61)

At a recent forum, University of Oklahoma sociology professor Susan Sharp charged that her state’s drug laws are “mean,” and that its tough-on-crime sentencing guidelines are to blame for nearly all of the women serving lengthy prison terms there. Oklahoma’s backwards prison system provides little help to addicts and the mentally ill, and the state is full of “lock ‘em all up” politicians who are unconcerned with rehabilitating criminals.

In recent years, Oklahoma has been the state that imprisons women at the highest rate in the nation. Oklahoma locks up 128 women per 100,000—nearly twice the national average. At the end of the last fiscal year, roughly 2,600 women were incarcerated in Oklahoma prisons, a figure that has remained relatively flat since 2005. A disproportionate percentage of them are black, and 85% of all female prisoners in Oklahoma are mothers.

Sharp declared:

Women usually end up in prison due to three factors: coming from poverty-stricken backgrounds, being in relationships with men who engage in criminal behavior, and suffering from a long history of abuse. As girls growing up in these environments become women, they usually fall into a criminal lifestyle due to one of these three pathways. Yet we’ve ignored these families for generations.

Sharp complained that too many women are being sentenced to lengthy prison terms for having quantities of drugs that would bring little to no punishment in other states. She also spoke out against drug traffickers being forced to serve 85% of their sentences when drug rehabilitation would do more good at a considerably lower cost to the state.

The way Oklahoma defines drug trafficking is the root-cause of the problem. Someone arrested with five grams of crack cocaine can be charged with trafficking and face a sentence up to 25 years. Yousef Khanfar, an award-winning photographer who has spent years photographing and interviewing women in Oklahoma’s prison system, said at the same forum: “In Chicago and other places, if they found you had only five grams of crack cocaine, they would flush it down the toilet. Putting someone in prison for 25 years costs $2 million or $3 million, whereas a year in rehab costs about $50,000.

Sharp charged that Oklahoma doesn’t invest enough money in mental health facilities and drug-treatment programs. She also criticized the state’s participation in a new Justice Reinvestment Initiative program that sends men and women on parole back to prison for the slightest infraction—even missing an appointment or failing to pay a monthly fine. ““We have set up debtors’ prisons in Oklahoma,” Sharp laments.

Jane Nelson, chair of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, said:

We hope to see legislation enacted in the next legislative session that will find alternatives to prison for women convicted of nonviolent offenses. Too many women are going to prison, destroying their families, because of addictions.

One study reported that while 40% of Oklahoma women sent to prison were black, only 29.6% of black women were placed on probation, whereas 53% of Oklahoma white women were sentenced to prison (versus 29.4% of women nationally), and a whopping 63.7% of white gals got probation.

Another study revealed that only 9.2% of Oklahoma female prisoner were found guilty of violent offenses, versus 34.6% for drug offenses and 15% for simple drug possession. Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate for drug offenders is higher than the national average. This speaks to the need for effective drug abuse programs both inside the institutions and in the communities.


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Netflix’s 13-hour Series “Orange is the New Black” and Britain’s 106-episode “Bad Girls” Dramatically Focus on the Plight of Incarcerated Women

English: Orange and black rectangle Italiano: ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently watched and thoroughly enjoyed all 13 episodes of Netflix’s new women-in-prison drama, Orange is the New Black based on Piper Kerman’s book about her time in federal prison. I thought the many characters were richly portrayed, the well-written episodes were compelling and dramatic, and the series focused on many of the issues that plague incarcerated females.

I also greatly enjoyed the first two seasons of the excellent British incarcerated women series Bad Girls. You can see the powerful 10-episode first season on Netflix, and many scenes are free on YouTube. There have been 106 episodes broadcast in Britain from 1999 to 2006. The series features 50 disparate female characters. A stage musical version ran briefly in 2007 and is available on DVD. Bad Girls won 10 major British awards, including Most Popular Drama, Best Loved Drama, three Best Actresses and a Best Actor. In Britain, population 60 million, several episodes attracted more than 9 million viewers. It has aired in many countries, including Montenegro, Finland, New Zealand and Georgia. It has been reported that Oscar winner Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under) is adapting an American version of Bad Girls for HBO.

In the American series, Orange is the New Black, there were many minority and lesbian characters, an elderly prisoner and even a transgendered inmate. Both series dealt with mental illness, drug abuse, chronic disease, prison rape, sex for favors, abusive and manipulative guards and other pressing issues. Bad Girls dramatized prison pregnancy and childbirth. Both series have mother and daughter prisoners.

In the first harrowing season of Bad Girls, a pregnant prisoner miscarries in her cell, an inmate is viciously strip-searched by fellow prisoners for concealed drugs, and bullying drives another prisoner to suicide.

Both series dramatize that women’s prisons are terrible, often inhuman places. In 37 U.S. states, today, women can still be shackled during labor and delivery.

According to the Women’s Prison Association

The female prison population has soared by 835 percent over the last 30 years, while the male prison population rose by 416 percent. More than two-thirds of women in prison are convicted of nonviolent offences, such as drug-related crimes.
In 2008, 93 of every 100,000 white women were incarcerated, while 349 of every 100,000 black women and 147 of every 100,000 Hispanic women were. Fifty-one percent of women in prison are aged 30 to 44.

Women in prison face challenges different than those faced by men in prison, and female incarceration tends to treat the sentence inflexibly. For women, sentence is a sentence, whether or not there are children waiting for the mother outside.

According to The Sentencing Project, Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any other state, with 130 out of every 100,000 women in prison, whereas Maine locks up only 21.

Women in prison (59 percent) are more likely than are men (43 percent) to have chronic and/or communicable medical problems (including HIV, Hepatitis C and sexually transmitted diseases). Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of women in state prisons in 2004 had symptoms of a current mental health problem.

Finally, Carole Seligman, office manager of Prison Radio, a production studio aiming to challenge unjust incarceration practices, said:

This country is notorious for not granting compassionate release to prisoners with terminal illnesses who are elderly and are dying and denied to die at home.

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Denver Women’s Prison is Worst in U.S. For Sexual Assault—With More Than Four Times the National Rate

According to a new national study, an estimated 10.7% of inmates at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility claim staff members sexually assaulted them or were guilty of sexual misconduct between February 2011 and May 2012. The study, headed by Dr. Allen Beck, chief of the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, singled out 12 prisons—four female and eight male, including the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility—for a high rate of reported sexual misconduct.

The Denver Facility had an estimated 10.7% of inmates claiming sexual assault or sexual misconduct—highest in the nation and more than four times the national average of 2.4%.

Roger Werholz, interim executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, said:

I will not tolerate staff sexual misconduct. While the department has taken a number of steps to enhance security and to do everything possible to ensure safety, we will analyze these findings for opportunities to make further improvements.

Of the Denver facility’s female inmates claiming sexual abuse, 7.3% said they had been physically coerced or threatened with physical force—nine times the national rate of 0.8% of inmates. It is illegal for staff to have sex with inmates.

A sample of inmates from 225 prisons and 358 jails were asked personal questions before completing a touch-screen survey.

Werholz claims that timing may have been a factor in the results, since in 2008 an inmate sued in federal court, claiming she had been sexually assaulted by a corrections officer. She was awarded $1.3 million, and he was sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Another factor, according to Werholz, was a new anti-contraband policy requiring more intrusive body searches. Inmates filed many grievances, and the policy was changed.

Dawn Adams, age 42, who is serving a 24-year robbery sentence, said:

Many inmates are afraid to report sexual assaults, because when they have in the past, staff have accused them of making false reports, and they have been placed in administrative segregation. So none of us say nothing about nothing.

The Department of Corrections has instigated a series of measures that it credits for a decrease in sexual assault claims at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, to 19 in 2012 from 66 in 2008. For example, 200 surveillance cameras have been installed in the prison.

The report also looked at inmate-on-inmate abuse and said that 4% of state and federal inmates reported being sexually victimized in the past year, down from 4.5% in a 2007 survey. So at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, 12.2% of women in the weighted survey said they were sexually abused by either staff or other inmates.

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Nearly 10% of Incarcerated Youth Were Sexually Victimized in 2012

Português: Uma cela moderna em Brecksville Pol...

Brecksville Police Department, Brecksville, Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An estimated 9.5% of youngsters in state juvenile facilities and state-contract institutions (1,720 kids and teens nationwide) reported one or more incidents of sexual victimization in 2012, according to a recent survey. Facility staff were involved in 1,390 cases (7.7%), while another youth was involved in 450 cases (2.5%).

Georgia, Illinois, Ohio and South Carolina had the highest rate of incarcerated youth sexual victimization (more than 15%), while Massachusetts, New York, Delaware and D.C. had no reported cases. Males (8.2%) were more likely than females (2.8%) reporting sex with facilities staff, and more than 90% of all youngsters reporting sexual misconduct were victimized by female staff.

Nearly 18% of youth sexually assaulted by other young inmates reported being injured in the incident, versus 6% victimized by staff. Gay, lesbian and bisexual youth had a significantly higher rate of victimization by other youths (10.3%) than heterosexuals (1.5%). Force was threatened in 68% of youth-youth incidents, versus 37% in staff-youth cases. The survey was mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PRAE).

According to the survey, authored by Allen Beck, David Cantor and Tim Smith, the “Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2012, conducted with 8,707 youths between February and September 2012:

Based on comparable state juvenile facilities surveyed in 2008–09 and 2012, the overall rate of sexual victimization dropped from 12.6% to 9.9%. The decline was linked to a drop in staff sexual misconduct with force (from 4.5% of youth in to 3.6%) and a drop in staff sexual misconduct without force (from 6.7%to 5.1%).

Ohio was the worst state, with an estimated one-fifth of juveniles reported being sexually victimized at least once in the previous year. Three of the state’s four juvenile correctional facilities were among the 13 facilities nationwide having the highest rates of assaults. For example, the Circleville facility had the second highest rate of assaults among all the facilities studied (30%). Fully 90% of those assaults involved staff sexual misconduct. Half of that sexual activity was forced or coerced.

According to the Chicago News:

Illinois ranked among the four worst states for reported rates of sexual victimization in juvenile detention facilities. The federal report points to a system failure within the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice that must be addressed at every level, from administration to line staff. Youth must have a safe and reliable way of reporting sexual victimization and getting help.

Among other things, PREA requires states to designate an entity, which is operationally independent from the juvenile justice agency’s chain of command, to receive youths’ reports of sexual victimization to ensure that juveniles can bring complaints without fear of retaliation.

Tennessee has a higher rate (13%) of reported sexual assaults on imprisoned minors than the U.S., and there is good news and bad news regarding different facilities. The John S. Wilder Youth Development Center in Somerville had the highest rate of estimated sexual victimization in 2012, at 19.5%, up from 16.3% in 2010. On the other hand, the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center had one of the highest rates in the county, three years ago, at 26%. But between the two studies, Woodland Hills’ rate dropped to 6.7% in 2012.

The survey results come just two months before the federal government is scheduled to start enforcing new sexual-assault-prevention standards at the its detention facilities. These include providing inmates access to crisis hotlines, training medical examiners to identify abuse and doing audits every three years.

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

Women dressed in prison uniforms sitting on st...

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

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

An ACLU report states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related articles

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

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Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling are Woefully Inadequate for Most Youths in Custody


Abused (Photo credit: Andrea Marutti)

The first national survey of kids aged 10-20 in state and local juvenile custody, the Survey of Youth in Residential Placement (SYRP), released in 2010, found that most of them had experienced trauma and suffered from one or more mental health or substance abuse problems, yet a majority of them (particularly those with the severest needs) received no counseling.

The report found that:

Thirty percent of confined young people had experienced sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, 67 percent had seen someone killed or severely injured, and 70 percent reported that something bad or terrible had happened to them. Only 15 percent reported no trauma incidents in their past.

A large share of juveniles in custody reported behaviors that make it difficult to succeed in a conventional classroom, such as having a hard time paying attention in school (45 percent), having a hard time staying organized (40 percent), and being unable to stay in their seat (32 percent). Surprisingly, all three behaviors were reported at a higher rate by girls than by boys.

Anger problems were also rampant, with 68 percent reporting being easily upset, and 61 percent saying they lost their temper easily. Here, too, girls were more likely than boys to report problems.

Signs of more serious mental illness were also widespread. One in six confined youth suffered hallucinations, one fourth had elevated symptoms for depression, and substantial percentages reported: having suicidal thoughts (28 percent), feeling that life was not worth living (25 percent), or wishing they were dead (19 percent). Girls were far more likely than boys to report each of these symptoms. And, alarmingly, 44 percent of confined girls reported that they had attempted suicide, compared with 19 percent of confined boys.

Sixty-eight percent of confined children reported an alcohol or drug problem in the months preceding custody: 49 percent reported drinking many times per week or daily, and 64 percent reported taking drugs this frequently.

Despite these grave and widespread needs, only 53 percent of the 7,073 youngsters sampled in the SYRP report received any mental health counseling in their facilities, and only 51 percent got any substance abuse counseling. Youth with elevated symptoms for depression, anxiety, anger and hallucinations were less likely than kids with fewer symptoms to receive mental health counseling.

Moreover, 38 percent feared being physically abused in their facilities, 35 percent said staff used force against them when it wasn’t necessary, nearly half of them reported that staff in their facilities conducted strip searches, and one-fourth of the youth reported being held in solitary confinement.

A 2010 Justice Policy Institute research review on trauma-informed care for court-involved youth found that:

Confinement has been shown to exacerbate the symptoms of mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and the risk of abuse by staff or other youth can be traumatizing.

In particular, characteristics of correctional facilities such as seclusion, staff insensitivity or loss of privacy can exacerbate negative feelings created by previous victimization, especially among PTSD sufferers and girls. Youth in correctional facilities are frequently exposed to verbal and physical aggression, which can intensify fear or traumatic symptoms.

The survey also found that more than one-fourth of confined youth nationwide were held in facilities that did not routinely screen them for suicide risk, and more than half were in places that did not screen or assess all residents for mental health needs. In addition, suicide and mental health assessments were often completed by unqualified staff, and nearly 9 of every 10 confined youth nationwide resided in facilities that relied on unlicensed staff to deliver some or all counseling services.

Several organizations are today striving to rectify these problems.

Related articles

Building Blocks for Youth 

Findings from the First Ever National Survey of Juveniles in Custody 

Traumatic Pasts, Urgent Counseling Needs, Inadequate Services: Findings from the First Ever National Survey of Juveniles in Custody


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A Bipartisan Victory in Georgia!

English: Great Seal of the State of Georgia

English: Great Seal of the State of Georgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why are they there? They are there because there are not programs currently in the community that judges can send them to,”

-Rep. Wendell Willard, speaking about the incarceration of juveniles for misdemeanor offenses or truancy charge (as reported in the Marietta Daily Journal).

It looks like that is about to change. In a show of bipartisan collaboration that is long overdue Georgia conservatives and their liberal counterparts have joined forces to fix their state’s juvenile justice system. A system that has done nothing but get consistently worse over the past two decades.

Melissa Carter at the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange writes:

Georgia leaders were recently confronted by compelling data showing that the state is expending considerable resources confining offenders who are mostly at low-risk to re-offend, and further, that these expensive and restrictive interventions are not effective. More than half of all Georgia young people in the juvenile justice system recidivate; that is, they are re-adjudicated delinquent or convicted of a criminal offense within three years of their release. This narrative is not unique to Georgia, and states recognize the need to be more effective and more efficient with their limited resources. A broader set of goals must be satisfied, including those promoting public safety, accountability, fiscal responsibility and positive outcomes for young people. Thus, now is the ideal time to correct the public policy course of the last two decades by making smart investments in our youth.

Georgia’s governor recognized this opportunity and has made juvenile justice reform a signature issue. The state is poised to enact a comprehensive statutory reform package (the state House passed the legislation last week) that includes proposals to treat status offenders through a more service-oriented Children in Need of Services (CHINS) approach, separate felonies into two classes based on the severity of the offense to allow for differentiated sentencing, mandate use of standardized assessment tools, and require improved data collection. The bill also contains a fiscal incentive program to create community-based alternatives to detention.

Programs like these are already showing results- improving outcomes for youth and their families, increasing public safety and reducing costs in five states. Seeing them implemented in a state notorious for its juvenile justice concerns is heartening. Even more important is the continuing trend of bipartisan agreement.

It is no secret that these are insanely polarized times, politically speaking. As a result collaborations across the aisle have become almost mythical. Just look at the “fiscal cliff” and the current brouhaha about sequestration. Yet on this issue there is no choice but bipartisan agreement, the numbers are that cut and dried. There are even precedents for it, as I noted here on this blog back in February of 2012 when I wrote about bipartisan progress being made in aphid and Michegan:

The idea of justice reform is often viewed as a province of the liberal left, however the current reality is that more and more conservatives are embracing it now that they are becoming aware of the harsh financial realities. Let us hope this trend continues.

We have the proof. Numerous studies over the past few decades show quite plainly that more community based approaches and rehabilitative programs are more effective at getting people out of the system, which thrills liberals. These same studies also demonstrate a much lower outlay of funds with a greatly increased return on investment, the goal of all true fiscal conservatives.

Let us hope that the common sense prevailing in Georgia leads even more states to do so. It is, after all, far more expensive to do nothing.

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