Tag Archive for United States

In 37 States, 180,000 Female Ex-drug Offenders, Particularly Minority Women, are Subjected to a Cruel Lifetime Embargo on Welfare Benefits

English: Logo of the .

English: Logo of the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 12 states, felony drug offenders face lifelong exclusion from most public benefits, even after serving prison time.   In 25 other states, women incarcerated for drug offenses are subjected to a partial embargo of benefits.

This is because of a hastily added provision to the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), also known as the Welfare Reform Act, which aimed to reduce welfare dependence. Not only are women with drug convictions unlikely to get the help they need before or during their incarceration, but thanks to this provision many of them, after serving their time, will also face being barred for life from receiving most forms of public benefits—including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

The purpose of the prohibition, supposedly, is to deter drug use and the criminal behavior that sometimes arises from it by making it harder for addicts to trade food stamps or use cash benefits for drugs. However, a new report by the nonprofit Sentencing Project, titled “A Lifetime of Punishment,” examined the impact of the PRWORA provision and found no evidence that this goal was being achieved. On the contrary, by denying benefits to those most in need, the ill-conceived embargo may be having a particularly devastating impact on women and children of color and is more likely to perpetuate the cycle of poverty and addiction that leads people to abuse or sell drugs in the first place.

Minority women are feeling the brunt of the prohibition. Today nearly one-third of women in state prisons are incarcerated for drug offenses, and approximately two-thirds of them are black or Hispanic, even though data collected by the Department of Health and Human Services have shown that white women use drugs at roughly the same rate.

Over the past 30 years, the female prison population has increased at nearly twice the rate of the male prison population, an unprecedented development primarily attributable to the war on drugs.

A policy that denies those with drug convictions access to food and cash benefits for life starts to look especially cruel when you examine the lives of women who end up in prison. As of 2003, 74 percent of women in state prisons had substance-abuse issues, 57 percent reported having been sexually or physically abused prior to their incarceration, about 73 percent had some kind of mental-health problem and almost a quarter suffered from a psychiatric disorder. Sixty-four percent of women in state prisons did not graduate from high school, almost half were unemployed a month prior to their arrest and nearly two-thirds were mothers of minors.

Marc Mauer, a co-author of the Sentencing Project’s report and an expert on criminal-justice policy reform, comments:

It’s really irrational for Congress to have passed something as significant as this ban is for re-entry and life prospects of prisoners and not to have allocated any funding to evaluate its impact or to see if the legislation is meeting its goal.

The provision allows states to opt out of the prohibition if they wish, but so far, only 13 have done so. Twenty-five states have modified embargoes that either impose time limits or allow benefits contingent on completion of drug-treatment programs. Twelve states—including ones with high poverty levels and large prison populations like Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas—still have outright lifetime embargoes in place.

Bills have been introduced in Congress to repeal the prohibition, but none have gained enough support to change the policy. Meanwhile, a recent Farm Bill amendment introduced by Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter that sought to expand the scope of the embargo to retroactively include other felony convictions was approved by the Senate. Congress has yet to realize that in helping prisoners reintegrate into society, especially the most vulnerable among them, the carrot approach is much more beneficial than the stick.

When Martha Stewart left prison in 2004 after serving a five-month sentence for conspiracy and obstruction of justice, she issued an emotional plea on behalf of the women she did her time with, many of whom were locked up for nonviolent drug offenses:

I beseech you all to think about these women. They would be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in prison, where there is no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate, no programs to educate and no way to be prepared for life out there.

Stewart realized that many women with drug convictions were victims of lives crippled by poverty and hardship and that a little assistance from the state would be much more beneficial to them than a heavy dose of punishment.

PRWORA was a cornerstone of the Republican Contract with America and was introduced by Republican Rep. E. Clay Shaw, Jr. Bill Clinton signed it into law on August 22, 1996, fulfilling his 1992 campaign promise to “end welfare as we have come to know it.” Immediately, three assistant secretaries at the Department of Health and Human Services resigned to protest the law.
They believed that the 1996 welfare reform law destroyed the safety net, increased poverty, lowered income for single mothers, put people from welfare into homeless shelters and left states free to eliminate welfare entirely. It forced mothers with children from welfare to work, but many of them did not earn enough to survive. Many were just pushed off welfare rolls because they didn’t show up for an appointment, could not get to an appointment for lack of child care or were not notified of the appointment.

Feminist critic Barbara Ehrenreich charged:

PRWORA was motivated by racism and misogyny, using stereotypes of lazy, overweight, slovenly, sexually indulgent and ‘endlessly fecund’ African-American welfare recipients. PRWORA dismissed the value of the unpaid work of raising a family and insisted that mothers get paid work, no matter how dangerous, abusive, or poorly paid.

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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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Illinois Badly Needs Further Juvenile Justice Reform

Seal of Illinois. Center image extracted from ...

Seal of Illinois.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Illinois has some of the harshest youth-sentencing laws in the United States, under which a child as young as 13 can be automatically sentenced to life in prison, with no discretion for a judge to consider age or individual circumstances.

Abner J. Mikva, a former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Peter Bensinger, a former administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, urge Illinois lawmakers to pass HB1348/SB1858, which would allow judges to consider a “youth’s unique circumstances, such as age, maturity and role in the crime.” The legislation follows the Supreme Court ruling last year in Miller v. Alabama banning mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles.

On May 14, 2013, the Illinois Senate voted  to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18, so that 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies would be tried and sentenced in juvenile court rather than adult court. The bill, which was approved by the Illinois House last April, heads next to Gov. Pat Quinn for signature. Thirty-eight states have already set 18 as the age for prosecution in adult court.

Moreover, Illinois received compelling evidence last week that incarcerating young people doesn’t rehabilitate them. Independent experts told a federal court that Illinois’ juvenile prison system has many inadequacies, including that it operates an education program far below minimally accepted standards, does not meet the basic mental health needs of incarcerated youth and uses solitary confinement too often and for too long, with potentially damaging effects on youngsters who return to their communities.

In the past three years the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) has brought significant improvements in some conditions and delivery of rehabilitative services to kids held in state prisons. IDJJ has established a new aftercare program to transition youth back to their homes after leaving prison. Over the past seven years, new state programs and policies have reduced the number of youth in state prisons from more than 1,400 to around 900, which is good news for those youth who can be held accountable for their actions at the local level, don’t have to leave home to receive treatment for mental illnesses or addictions and don’t need to have their educations interrupted.

But the experts’ reports, which are part of a class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Illinois, describe shocking conditions that still exist in the state: little schooling, inadequate mental health care even for youth in severe crisis, squalid conditions in the “confinement” units and youth languishing in prison far beyond their release date due to a lack of community-based placements. To its credit, IDJJ allowed the three experts inside and is attempting to resolve the suit without costly litigation. Gov.Quinn and all Illinois legislators and policymakers need to read these reports and pay careful attention to their findings.

A close examination of what’s going on in Illinois could be instructive to other states with youth prisons, because there is considerable evidence that mass incarceration of youngsters in large prison facilities is a fatally flawed concept.

Retired Judge Georgr W. Timberlake says:

The ACLU lawsuit could produce great change, especially if the federal court can demolish whatever bureaucratic barriers have prevented IDJJ from delivering a quality education and from diagnosing and treating mental illnesses that brought so many into prison. However, the best way to ’fix’ the terrible conditions the reports describe is a dramatic reduction in the number of youth incarcerated. We must keep more youth in their homes, receiving the kind of supervision and services proven to reduce reoffending much more effectively and at a fraction of the cost of sending a youth to prison.

The three experts have these recommendations for Illinois, which would benefit other states too.

1) Cook County fills many state prison beds with 18-21-year-old men awaiting trial on a new adult charge. They are held for months at state expense due to a violation of parole connected to an earlier action as a juvenile. But if they’re going to trial on a more serious adult charge in Cook County, they should be held there, where they have better access to attorneys and where local taxpayers can pay the bill. IDJJ should refuse to accept them and should put the dollars saved into better rehabilitative services. Illinois has helped lower youth prison numbers in 28 counties which agreed to send 25 percent fewer young people to state prison in exchange for financial assistance.

2) The Redeploy Illinois prison-diversion program, which began in 2006, has been a huge success. This year, Gov. Quinn signed legislation tailor-made to ease Cook County into the program, but officials have dragged their feet. Cook County and others that commit large numbers of juveniles should be given a choice of participating in Redeploy Illinois or paying the state the nearly $100,000 annual cost of incarcerating each juvenile.

3) Today, 10 percent of the kids in Illinois prisons have been approved for release, but they remain behind bars because they aren’t welcome home: either because the state places restrictions on where they can live or because they need substance abuse or mental health treatment and none is readily available. Illinois needs to step up the search for approved living arrangements and help create them when none are available.

4) About one half of the youngsters entering Illinois prisons last year were re-incarcerated for violating the terms of their parole. Often, these were “technical violations,” like failing to attend school or obey a curfew. Illinois needs to shorten the length of parole, which can last up to five years for some, and require technical parole violations to be addressed with more effective interventions than re-incarceration.

Judge Timberlake concludes:

The ‘important strides’ Illinois has made in juvenile justice reform should be the first steps in a marathon of wide-reaching reforms. We cannot afford to run in place.

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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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If Congress Passes these Four Bills It Could Lower LGBT Homelessness

Although lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth comprise 5 percent to 7 percent

English: Rainbow flag flapping in the wind wit...

English: Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue skies and the sun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

of overall young people, an overwhelming 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT. Family rejection is the leading cause of homelessness among them, but an additional 26 percent leave home because they feel they have nowhere else to turn, because their schools and peers are hostile to LGBT students. Moreover, discrimination and harassment in schools exacerbate family conflicts over a youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity and increase the chance of homelessness.

Senators Tom Harkin and Al Franken are now pushing an education bill that includes a number of reforms to the Student Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA), which are designed to reduce incidents of bullying in schools. Modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, SNDA would establish the right to an education free of harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in primary and secondary schools. If signed into law, the bill would allow students who have been bullied to seek legal recourse, and it would authorize the federal government to withhold federal funds from schools that condone the bullying of LGBT students. It would be an important first step to ending LGBT youth homelessness.

Earlier this year, Senators Casey and Kirk introduced a bill in the Senate (which Rep. Linda Sanchez introduced in the House), the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), which would require schools receiving federal funding to implement policies to ban bullying, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It would also require states to report bullying and harassment data to the U.S. Department of Education.

Importantly, SSIA also explicitly states that schools cannot allow the threat of bullying and harassment to deter students from participating in school programs and extracurricular activities. In-school and afterschool programs have the potential to prevent homelessness for LGBT youth by providing a positive environment and deterring them from turning to substance abuse and engaging in other risky behaviors to cope with peer rejection. Discouraging youth from engaging in these behaviors alone reduces the risk that these youth will become homeless at some point in their lives.

Research from the Family Acceptance Project found that:

Abstaining from risky behaviors and performing well at school can reduce family conflict at home, which is the primary reason that LGBT youth experience homelessness. Among LGBT students, 30 percent report missing at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns, and students who are bullied frequently report lower grade-point averages..

“Researchers have also found that LGBT youth are more likely than other youth to use tobacco products than their heterosexual peers, largely to cope with rejection from their families and peers. By adopting and enforcing antibullying policies, schools can help alleviate behaviors associated with family conflict and rejection such as substance abuse and poor academic performance, thereby decreasing the odds of a child becoming homeless.

Another way Congress could help LGBT homeless youth is by directing existing homeless-youth programs to specifically target them. The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) awards grants to public and private organizations assisting homeless youth. It is reauthorized every five years, yet makes no mention of LGBT youth, despite their disproportionate representation among the homeless-youth population. This year, Congress should include them in RHYA.

Congress should adopt a general statement of nondiscrimination for the bill that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. This would prohibit grant recipients using RHYA funds from discriminating against gay and transgender youth, who are frequently mistreated or turned away when they seek help from these organizations, simply because they identify as LGBT.

The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act is up for reauthorization this year, and the House and Senate are expected to introduce their respective funding bills for fiscal year 2014 in the coming weeks.

In addition to battling bullying in schools and improving existing programs for homeless youth, Congress should also seek new solutions to end LGBT youth homelessness. The bulk of the Reconnecting Youth to Prevent Homelessness Act aims to improve training, educational opportunities and permanency planning for older foster-care youth and reduce homelessness of all young people, LGBT or not. One part of the bill in particular calls on the secretary of health and human services to establish a demonstration project that develops programs that improve family relationships and reduce homelessness specifically for LGBT youth. A growing body of research from the Family Acceptance Project suggests that this family-centered approach is one of the best ways to support LGBT homeless youth, so targeted support for these programs has the potential to significantly decrease rates of homelessness.

The Reconnecting Youth to Prevent Homelessness Act was introduced in an earlier session of Congress by then-Sen. John Kerry, but has not yet been reintroduced into the 113th Congress.

For the first time, researchers have established a clear link between accepting family attitudes and behaviors towards their LGBT children and significantly decreased risk and better overall health in adulthood. The study shows that specific parental and caregiver behaviors—such as advocating for their children when they are mistreated because of their LGBT identity or supporting their gender expression—protect against depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in early adulthood. In addition, LGBT youth with highly accepting families have significantly higher levels of self-esteem and social support in young adulthood. No prior research had examined the relationship between family acceptance of LGBT adolescents and health and mental health concerns in emerging adulthood.

Caitlin Ryan, PhD, Director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. states:

At a time when the media and families are becoming acutely aware of the risk that many LGBT youth experience, our findings that family acceptance protects against suicidal thoughts and behaviors, depression and substance abuse offer a gateway to hope for LGBT youth and families that struggle with how to balance deeply held religious and personal values with love for their LGBT children.

The study, published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, also learned that LGBT young adults who reported low levels of family acceptance during adolescence were over three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and to report suicide attempts, compared to those with high levels of family acceptance. It also found that high religious involvement in families was strongly associated with low acceptance of LGBT children.

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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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Decline in Number of Youths in Secure Detention and Residential Placement in 44 States is Reducing Cost and Recidivism

Black Down Arrow

Black Down Arrow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

National data show that 44 states have reduced the number of youth in residential placement and secure detention and are increasing community-based programs because they cost less, decrease reoffending and improve youth and family well-being.

A study authored by Kristen Staley and Michelle Weemhof, staffers at the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD), titled There’s No Place Like Home: Making the Case for Wise Investment in Juvenile Justice, declares:

Within the past decade, the state has transformed its juvenile justice system away from harsh, punitive treatment into one celebrated for innovation and effectiveness. Large, overcrowded public institutions have closed, and the responsibility of treating and placing delinquent youth was shifted away from the Michigan Department of Human Services and put onto the counties—a change most states are striving to achieve.

Michigan is among the states experiencing a decline in out-of-home placement, the report said. The state’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention estimates that, at its peak in 1997, Michigan sent 3,711 youth in residential placement, but as of 2011, the federal estimate hovered near 2,000 youth in placement

Michigan counties are focusing more on community-based options, like electronic monitoring and family therapies that treat youth while they stay at home.

Although the signs of progress are encouraging, the reconstruction of Michigan’s juvenile justice system is far from complete. Little statewide infrastructure exists to support counties as they implement and sustain their community-based models.

This systemic gap, coupled with Michigan’s recent economic downturn and drastic budget cuts, has begun to dismantle recent successes. Years of progressive reform are threatened, costs are driving up, and youth, their families and communities face increased risks if the system fails, the researchers say.

Youth treated with punitive, non-therapeutic programs are 70 to 80% more likely to be rearrested, and 60% of youth served out-of-home return to custody within three years of release.

In Michigan, community-based program costs range from $10 to $65 per day per youth, whereas out-of-home placement costs from $150 to $500 per day per youth.

Over the past three years, increased use of community-based programs, such as in Oakland County—has saved Michigan $33 million. Prioritizing community-based services can save an estimated $1.7 million to $2.3 million per child.

The study learned that 86% of families with youth in the juvenile justice system want to be more involved with their child’s treatment, but most experience barriers to participating when their children are placed out-of-home.

The Oakland County Youth Assistance group, which runs 26 county programs, conducted a study that found that 92% of its kids didn’t recidivate.

The OCYA’s chief, Mary Schusterbauer, found that despite county and local budget cuts:

The earlier you intervene, the better. Sometimes a shoplifter is not just a shoplifter, for example. Our whole mission is keeping kids out of the court system and into their own homes.

In neighboring Wayne County, which adopted the more localized system of juvenile justice and care in 2000, the MCCD study showed recidivism rates dropped from 56% in 1998 to 17.5% in 2012. The successes were also shown in other counties too, according to the study. The delinquency rate decreased 77% from 1998 to 2012 in Midland County and 38.5% in reoffense rates in Berrien County.

There are similar results in New York City, which has a population of more than 8 million, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year signed into law a program called Close to Home, aimed at keeping kids closer to their families instead of sending them to upstate detention facilities.

Related articles

The Michigan Youth Reentry Model

 

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Police Kidnappings and Highest Risk of Death to Detroit Homeless Drive Plan to Reduce the Problem

dtusaOver half of Detroit’s homeless are at risk of dying on the streets from freezing cold or violence—a far greater percentage than in any other US city. Interviews conducted via Common Ground’s 100,000Homeless Campaign revealed that:

Almost half of the Detroit homeless struggle with mental illness and substance abuse; 13% were veterans and 15% had grown up in the foster care system. Out of the 211 people interviewed, there have been 358 hospitalizations in the last year and 456 emergency room visits in three months. One hundred and three of these people (49%) do not have insurance, 74 people (345%) have been in prison and 149 (70.1%) have been in jail.

A recent year-long investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan found that Detroit police officers have been forcibly relocating homeless people (particularly from the popular Greektown tourist district) to locations miles away and dumping them there.

ACLU attorney Sarah Mehta said:

DPD’s practice of essentially kidnapping homeless people and abandoning them miles away from the neighborhoods they know–with no means for a safe return–is inhumane, callous and illegal.

The city’s desire to hide painful reminders of our economic struggles cannot justify discriminating against the poor, banishing them from their city, and endangering their lives. A person who has lost his home has not lost his right to be treated with dignity.

In some cases, officers confiscated any money their victims had, forcing them to walk miles to get back to downtown Detroit, where most shelters are located. The ACLU’s complaint alleges violations of constitutional rights including the right to due process and the right to not suffer unreasonable search and seizure.

Currently, Detroit is on the verge of bankruptcy. At any point in time, Greater Detroit has 13,000 to 14,000 homeless citizens—60% of them with children.

Many organizations are working to reduce Detroit homelessness and eliminate its related dangers and problems. A coalition of these public and private groups, including Homeless Action Network of Detroit, Wayne County Department of Human Services and Detroit/Wayne County Community Mental Health Agency, conducted a two-year study which resulted in the report “Moving Forward Together: A 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park.”

In the past year there have been some successes: an increase in the availability of permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless, a strengthened Homeless Management Information System and improved capacity of the Continuum of Care. Moreover, considerable work has been done to improve relationships and collaboration between anti-homelessness groups.

The 10-Year plan has seven key goals:
1) Provide safe, affordable, supportive and long-term housing solutions for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless—reducing the time they must spend in emergency shelters.
2) Prevent homelessness by strengthening and expanding resources and services that allow people to remain in their own homes or to quickly access housing when faced with a housing crisis.
3) Strengthen the infrastructure of supportive services and community resources for people who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless to assist them with accessing housing and maintaining residential stability.
4) Build a political agenda and public will to end homelessness.
5) Provide better access to badly needed support services, such as healthcare, mental health, substance-abuse remediation, transportation, job training and placement, child care, education and food.
6) Increasing collaboration.
7) Finding new ways to better serve the chronically homeless—the 10% of all those without homes who currently consume the greatest percentage of services.

The report states:

We face many challenges—including our difficult economic times—that must be overcome if we are to be successful. These challenges are felt acutely by the nonprofit organizations that valiantly strive each day to meet the needs of the thousands of men, women, and children seeking their help.

“It will only be by all sectors—nonprofits, businesses, government, and individuals—working together that we will be successful in ending homelessness in our community.

Hopefully, the organizations will also put pressure on Detroit Police to stop kidnapping and forcibly relocating homes people.

Related articles
Housing data and statistics: libguides.lib.msu.edu/content.php?pid=81596&sid=605565

More Detroit Homeless likely to be imprisoned once homelessness funding is cut: http://www.examiner.com/article/detroit-s-homeless-likely-to-end-up-prison

Report from the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness:
www.icphusa.org/PDF/reports/ICPH_Michigan_Brief.pdf

Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness: www.mihomeless.org

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Signal Amplification: The National Juvenile Justice Network’s Leadership Institute seeking reformers.

The National Juvenile Justice Network’s Leadership Institute is looking for ten great reformers.

Picture somebody in your mind — someone you know — who wants to set the juvenile justice world on fire.  Someone who’s fed up with seeing kids get kicked out of school for minor misbehavior, locked up without due process, or any of a hundred other unjust, unfair things that can blight young people’s lives.

You can see this person in your mind’s eye, right?  You’re picturing someone who stands up, speaks out, and can work with others to reform what’s not working.   A person, in other words, who is ready to take the next step to grow as a leader.

Chances are this army-of-one you’re picturing in your mind is ready to apply to the Youth Justice Leadership Institute, a robust, year-long fellowship program run by the National Juvenile Justice Network that focuses on cultivating and supporting professionals of color. Our goal is to create the foundation for a more effective juvenile justice reform movement by developing a strong base of advocates and organizers who reflect the communities most affected by juvenile justice system practices and policies.

By the way, your force-of-nature will not need to quit his or her job. It does mean that he or she will join a hand-picked group of 10 fellows assembled from all over the country to learn about leadership, juvenile justice system policies and practices, theories of change, and how to develop their skills as advocates.  Plus, it’s free (or close to it). Travel and lodging are paid for; tuition is minimal when compared to other programs of this length and intensity.

Applications are due May 6, 2013.

Anyone who wants to apply for the Institute can:

 

This year, Diana will host two informational webinars for prospective applicants:

•           April 4, 2013, 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm EST (click to register)

•           April 10, 2013, 1 pm – 2 pm EST (click to register)

 

Please share this announcement with your networks!

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