More Post-Secondary Education for Inmates Would ‘Cut Recidivism, Reduce Poverty’

Restoring access to Pell Grants for post-secondary education in prison would also increase employment rates among formerly incarcerated people across the United States by nearly 10 percent, says a new study.

Restoring access to Pell Grants for post-secondary education in prison would also increase employment rates among formerly incarcerated people across the United States by nearly 10 percent, says a new study.

Providing opportunities for post-secondary education for prisoners is also likely to reduce recidivism rates and save an estimated $365.5 million a year in incarceration costs for states, concluded a study released jointly Wednesday by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality.

The so-called Pell grants to post-secondary education programs in prison were sharply scaled back by Congress in 1994 in a reflection of  “tough-on-crime” attitudes that perceived such grants as coddling of criminals.

But the study says that research shows that giving inmates access to post-secondary education is critical to reducing mass incarceration, lowering recidivism rates and ensuring public safety.

“This relic of the ‘tough-on-crime’ era has resulted in long-term negative consequences for all of us…as well as lost economic potential for individuals, families, and communities,” said Vera Institute president Nick Turner,, and Georgetown Center director Peter Edelman in their introduction to the study.

“It’s time we repeal the ban and create a more restorative justice system that increases safety and produces better and more cost-effective outcomes for everyone d break the cycle of poverty that comes with it. “

The study found that 64 percent of incarcerees in federal and state prisons had achieved a GED or high school diploma, making them academically eligible to enroll in a postsecondary education program.

Some limited post-secondary education is available through the the federal Second Chance Pell program, but  only 9 percent of incarcerated people completed a postsecondary program while beind bars in 2014, the latest year for which data is available.

The study estimated that if the congressional ban were lifted, about 463,000 incarcerated people would be eligible for Pell Grants.

The study was prepared by Patrick Oakford, Cara Brumfield, Casey Goldvale, and Laura Tatum of the  Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality; and Margaret diZerega and Fred Patrick of the Vera Institute of Justice.

The full study is available here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ban the Box for Colleges, Too

Finding a job — especially one that pays well —is key to keeping those with a criminal history from being rearrested. Removing criminal history questions on college applications will lead to better outcomes not only for people with records, but for society as a whole, argues an R Street researcher.

A growing number of Americans are required to physically check a box on all sorts of applications — including those for education, jobs and even housing — if they have a criminal history.

Sadly, this means that even a single lapse in judgment can become a major obstacle for individuals, even after they have paid their debt to society.

Michigan recently took a step toward “banning the box” for career-related applications, meaning people seeking jobs and certain occupational licenses will no longer be required to check a box indicating that they have been convicted of a felony.

The state also happens to be a leader in correctional education practices, partnering with Jackson College to provide college courses in prisons and working to support those incarcerated with Vocational Village programs.

Given this positive momentum, it makes sense for the Wolverine State (and other states as well) to move “beyond the box” in the educational context by removing the felony check-boxes on college applications.

Colleges and universities are in a unique position to help remove barriers that prevent the estimated 70 million American citizens with criminal records from pursuing higher education — specifically early in the application process when prospective students are asked about an arrest record.

At the federal level, Sen. Brian Schatz( D-HI), has introduced legislation to provide resources for colleges that are considering how to end the criminal history reporting requirement. Senate Bill 3435, the Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act of 2018, would direct the secretary of education to issue guidance and recommendations for institutions of higher education on removing criminal and juvenile record questions from their admissions applications.

A recent survey of post-secondary institutions found that about two-thirds collect criminal history information from all applicants. Even more troubling, a Center for Community Alternatives study found that 25 percent of the schools that ask for criminal histories have some criminal history-related automatic bar to admission.

For individuals with felony records — and particularly for those who would be re-entering society after a prison sentence — education can be the key to finding successful employment.

In fact, the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University found that by 2020, “employers will seek cognitive skills such as communication and analytics from job applicants rather than physical skills traditionally associated with manufacturing.”

For those seeking employment, this means that the likelihood of attaining work will increase with greater access to higher education.

By removing criminal history questions from applications, colleges and universities can contribute to long-term, positive economic returns for these individuals — and help keep them from returning to prison.

Studies have shown that workers with post-secondary education earn 74 percent more than workers with a high school diploma or less.

Similarly, research conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that wages tripled for people who have earned doctoral and professional degree compared to those individuals with less than a high school diploma.

Given that finding a job — especially one that pays well — is key to keeping those with a criminal history from being rearrested, removing criminal history questions on college applications will likely lead to better outcomes not only for people with records, but for society as a whole.

Benefits for Children

Furthermore, when a parent has a post-secondary education, his or her child is more likely to attend college as well, thereby passing additional, positive educational impacts on to the next generation. Theoretically, then, if we help ensure more parents have access to higher education, this can create a community with less unemployment and more stability for generations.

Opponents of eliminating criminal history-reporting on college applications point to the potential for increased crime on campus. Yet research has found no substantial evidence that screening applicants for prior convictions improves safety on campus.

Furthermore, some of the most serious crimes committed on campus have been committed by people with no criminal record.

Education is critical to ensuring lifelong success, and for those re-entering society, access to education can provide long-term, positive outcomes.

Jesse Kelley

Jesse Kelley

States like Michigan, which have already taken steps to ban the box and implement correctional education programs, have a unique opportunity to be on the precipice of moving beyond the box to ensure that the lasting benefits higher education are accessible to all.

Jesse Kelley (@JessDKelley) is a policy analyst and government affairs specialist for criminal justice with the R Street Institute.

from https://thecrimereport.org

A Rural Corrections Officer’s Life: Quiet Job—‘Until All Hell Breaks Loose’

The population in the tiny rural jail in New York’s Cortland County has spiked since 2013. That has complicated life for the officers who work there.

There was a loud metallic clank and the door to cell block A opens.

Inmates, dressed head to toe in orange, except for their white socks, exited their cells and turned their attention to the open door.

A young inmate entered, holding a stack of trays, emitting an aroma of cooked ham and vegetables, with a Cortland County, N.Y., correction officer close behind.

The cell was quiet. Inmates on the top floor stood still either by their cell or at the nearby community table while the young inmate handed a tray of food to each of them.

When the young inmate and officer went to the cell’s bottom floor, all correction officers in the area watched with anticipation. There were no issues, though. The young inmate finished handing out the trays and exited the cell block to move on to the next.

One correction officer walking by asked, “did he throw it?”

“Not today, or at least not yet,” another answered.

“We have one guy in A block who if he doesn’t like his food will throw his tray,” said Sgt. Rob Ganoung, a supervisor in the jail.

The national debate on how to solve overcrowding in rural jails has usually focused on bail reform and more pretrial services. But a key factor is also the added pressure placed on jail employees.

In many communities, staffing has barely kept up with the demand.

Jail numbers in Cortland County began to spike in 2013. There was a 50 percent increase in the length of time people stayed in the jail and a 37 percent increase in the jail census.

Since 2013, 19 percent of total bookings were people who stayed one to seven days in jail. That was the same total booking percentage for those who stayed 31 days or more.

Officers are constantly tasked dealing with inmate personalities and needs, trying to accommodate space for them –– especially when those personalities don’t mesh –– which can be hectic as the jail was built to hold 57, but averages about 90 inmates a day. Most of an officer’s time can be spent on the road boarding inmates out, or taking them to court.

They must deal with inmates with mental-health problems and addiction. The courts have made a concerted effort to release without bail people accused of lesser crimes, so those who remain face serious charges, sometimes of violent crimes.

Many are convicts accused of parole violations awaiting disposition.

“It’s a day-to-day job,” Correction Officer Sean Ward said. “It could be quiet, then all hell breaks loose.”

It’s a profession Ward and Ganoung said they entered because they wanted a job in law enforcement.

Life in the jail is usually quiet, Ward said. But something different is always going on for correction officers.

Inmates are on a daily routine. Breakfast. Recreation time. Down time. Lunch. Dinner. Programs and court hearings mixed within.

While the duties of correction officers follow that routine, an officer’s individual tasks can vary from day to day.

They could be stationed to monitor a cell block, or monitor the cameras, which cover about every angle of the jail, in the sally port. The officer who monitors the cameras also controls the panel to unlock any door in the facility.

They could also have to transport inmates to a court hearing, another jail or rehabilitation center.

In a matter of a couple of hours last Wednesday, two groups of inmates were brought to and from court.

When inmates return from court, officers need keep each inmate’s paper work in order, looking at their charges, sentencing and bail to see if anything changed from the court hearing. Then put all that information into the jail’s system.

It can get hectic, Ganoung said. Especially when the jail’s population rises and inmates have to be boarded out, too.

It’s the supervisor’s job to keep track of which inmates have to go and make sure officers are available to do so.

“The work load triples,” he said.

In June, there were 108 inmates in the jail, Ward, said. Every morning, officers were going to different counties to pick up inmates. He said he’s spent a whole day just driving inmates back and forth from jail.

The Sheriff’s Office is still looking for seven corrections officers, jail Capt. Nick Lynch said.

“It makes it a little more hectic being down officers,” Ganoung said.

An officer scheduled for one shift could have to pick up another one and end up working a 16-hour day.

Driving inmates around takes up most of at least two officers’ time, as they travel in pairs.

Opioid Epidemic

Part of the problem is the rise in opioid use.

When Ward started working as a correction officer 3 1/2 years ago, he said it was mind-blowing to see the amount of drug activity in Cortland.

Some inmates will try to sneak drugs into the jail in parts of their body where officers wouldn’t be able to find them, Ganoung said.

“There’s always something to look out for,” he said.

When inmates come into the jail, they’re forced to get sober, and then mental-health issues arise because the drugs no longer mask them, Ganoung said. He and Ward stated one of the most challenging aspects of the job is dealing with inmates who have a mental-health issue.

Those inmates are some of the hardest to deal with because there’s no knowing what’s going on or what the issue is, Ward said.

Almost every inmate that comes into the county jail has some kind of underlying mental health issue, said Chris Cushing, the forensic mental health counselor in the jail.

All the staff in the jail is trained in lower-level mental health issues, Undersheriff Budd Rigg said.

“One day you’re a correction officer, then the next day you’re trying to mentor them (inmates), giving them life goals,” Ward said.

Some inmates promise they’ll never get in trouble again, and don’t return, Ward said. But there are some inmates officers know will be back.

One inmate currently in the jail has been booked 45 to 48 times in the past 10 years, he said.

For the most part, the inmates are respectful to the correction officers once they get to know them, Ward said, but may give new officers a hard time.

Inmates rarely fight, he said, only one he’s seen in his 3 1/2 years with the sheriff’s office. Most fights are over what channel to watch on the television, he said.

Some inmates have stuffed their clothes in their toilet and flooded their cell, Ward said. The dangerous part about that is an officer must go into the cell to turn the water off.

Ward said he’s never been concerned about coming to work. “You know what you’re getting yourself into,” he said.

Officers’ main goal is to help inmates so they don’t return to jail.

There are several programs in the jail for inmates to go to, such as peer services and health services.

But not all go, Ward said. Even when they should, but they can’t be required to.

The exception is inmates who lack a high school diploma; they must take general equivalency diploma classes in the jail. Several have left the jail with a GED. It’s one thing inmates do like going to, Ganoung said.

More organizations would like to provide services at the jail, but the facility lacks space. As the jail population increased over time, rooms that use to be used for programs turned into housing.

For now, Ganoung said they make do with what they have.

While days in the jail can be quiet, officers are always busy.

“There’s always stuff to do,” Ward said. “You’re always wondering what’s going to happen next.”

It could be a fight in the dorm, or an inmate throwing their tray and food. “You know it’s not always a repetitive day,” he said.

Nicholas Graziano, a staff writer for The Cortland Standard, is a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow. This is the final story in a five-part series looking at jail overcrowding. The full series is available here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

NYC Rikers Shutdown Plan Called National ‘Model’ for Ending Mass Incarceration

Plans to create a system of smaller detention facilities around New York City to replace the controversial Rikers Island jail complex could make the city a model for ending the nation’s  “tragic reliance on mass incarceration,” says former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

Plans to create a system of smaller detention facilities around New York City to replace the controversial Rikers Island jail complex could make the city a model for ending the nation’s  “tragic reliance on mass incarceration,” says former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

The Hon. Jonathan F. Lippman

But Lippman, now chair of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, warned the city’s 10-year timeline for closing the jail did not remove the immediate need to end the “inhumane” conditions and practices at Rikers, one of the largest jail complexes in the country.

The judge. made his comments in the introduction to a “Progress Report” released this week on the plans to close down the facility.

The report noted that although the jail population had dropped by 1,500 in the past two years—a 15 percent decline—since Mayor Bill De Blasio accepted the commission’s recommendation to phase out the facility, there still remained “massive racial disparities.”

African-Americans and Latinos represent more than 90 percent of the inmates, most of whom are  awaiting trial and had not been convicted of any offenses.

“New York City continues to incarcerate too many people,” the report said. “For example, almost a third of the people admitted to jail are released within four days, suggesting that many should not have been jailed at all.”

Under the plan announced by the city, the Rikers population would gradually be shifted to smaller detention facilities around the city’s five boroughs, allowing inmates to be housed near their homes and local courts. But those plans have run into sharp opposition from community leaders who say their objections and suggestions have not been taken into account.

The study called on city authorities to pay closer attention to community concerns, while making clear the ultimate goal “is not simply to move jails around the city, but to reimagine the justice system for future generations.”

Critical to the goal was reforming some of the outdated bail and sentencing practices that sent too many people into pretrial detention in the first place, said the study authors.

To move reforms along, New York State legislators should begin enacting a set of reforms such as ending cash bail, new laws to speed up the trial and discovery practice, revising the parole system, and decriminalizing selected low-level offenses, said the study.

If the reforms were enacted in next year’s legislative session, they could reduce the number of people in New York City jails “by 3,000 or more” on any given day, and speed up the timeline for closing down Rikers.

But the report also said that in the interim,  meaningful reform at Rikers could not wait for the new, smaller facilities to be built.

Noting that incidents of violence continued to plague the facility, the report called on the city to follow the recommendations of a federal monitor and build a training facility for correction officers “as soon as possible.”

“Out of sight and too often out of mind, the human toll of the status quo at Rikers is unacceptable, for the people who work in the jails, the people who are detained there, and communities across our city,” the report said.

In his introduction to the report, Lippman said the city should not lose sight of the  ultimate goal of creating “a safer criminal justice system that lives up to our city’s values of decency, dignity, and equal treatment, and which can provide a model for ending our nation’s tragic reliance on mass incarceration.”

The full report can be accessed here

from https://thecrimereport.org

Harsh and Frequent Prison Discipline Fuels Recidivism: Study

If correctional authorities want to reduce the odds that former incarcerees will return to prison, they should avoid “frivolous or harsh” punishments while they are behind bars, according to a study by two Cincinnati researchers.

If correctional authorities want to reduce the odds that former incarcerees will return to prison, they should avoid “frivolous or harsh” punishments while they are behind bars, according to a study published in Criminology & Public Policy, a journal of the American Society of Criminology.

The study found that high rates of recidivism are associated with the frequent use of severe disciplinary sanctions, such as solitary confinement, that “ensnare” inmates in an anti-social environment that in turn makes it difficult for them to benefit from post-release counseling once they are out of prison.

Prison chiefs use a wide variety of sanctions to control or deter unruly behavior inside correctional facilities, ranging from administrative segregation (solitary) to the removal of privileges.

But the often reflexive use of such measures can be counterproductive, wrote study authors Ian A. Silver and Joseph L. Nedelec of the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati.

“These punishments could have a detrimental effect on post-imprisonment recidivism because the sanctions generally result in the removal of prosocial opportunities for the inmates,” they observed.

“For instance, by removing inmates from treatment opportunities, correctional agencies could be diminishing the ability of inmates to develop meaningful behavioral change or generate interpersonal relationships with prosocial actors upon release.”

The authors based their findings on data collected during an evaluation of Ohio’s prison programs conducted by the University of Cincinnati Corrections Institute (UCCI), and incorporated earlier research suggesting a close link between prison punishment and recidivism.

By focusing on the frequency of punishments experienced by Ohio inmates, regardless of psychological or other factors that might have an influence on the kinds of sanctions or their severity, the authors found that the cumulative amount of disciplinary measures—a situation they described as “ensnarement during imprisonment”— was a critical factor in re-offending within one to three years of release.

The study, in effect, called for a dramatic change in the “punishment culture” that prison reformers and former inmates say characterizes most correctional facilities in the U.S.

“Considering that both the frequency and severity of negative life events could result in ensnarement within the antisocial lifestyle, correctional departments could limit ensnarement, and potentially recidivism, by avoiding the use of frivolous or harsh sanctions,” they wrote.

The authors cautioned that they were not advocating that correctional authorities avoid disciplinary measures altogether.

“At no point do we recommend endangering staff and (other) inmates to avoid the recidivistic effects of within-prison ensnarement,” they wrote.

But they recommended that sanctions be used in a “judicious and targeted manner to reduce potential system effects on future offending.”

That would include, for example, providing inmates with “evidence-based rehabilitation programming” even when they were being punished.

“Given that ensnarement results from reduced access to prosocial opportunities, correctional departments can redesign their sanctioning policies to maintain or increase pro-social opportunities while disciplining inmates,” they wrote.

They pointed out that repeated exposure to sanctions means inmates will have less consistent access to in-prison rehabilitation programs as well as reduced visitation rights—which in turn make it less likely that formerly incarcerated individuals will develop the social skills or behavioral control that are critical to becoming law-abiding citizens.

“Although the severity of sanctioning is important, the ensnarement hypothesis would argue that the frequency of within-prison sanctioning could influence subsequent antisocial tendencies to a higher degree than the severity of a single sanction,” the authors wrote.

The complete study can be downloaded here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How High-Priced Drugs Cripple Prison Health Care—and Reform

Expensive medications for inmates not only strain state and county corrections budgets. They can lead to delays in treatment and substandard care that can have lasting—even deadly—consequences for incarcerated individuals, writes a prison health care advocate.

In a deeply divided political electorate, prison reform is one of the few issues that attracts bipartisan support. Yet there’s something missing from the current conversation about criminal justice reform: the high cost of prescription drugs.

In 1976, a landmark Supreme Court case, Estelle v. Gamble, established an individual’s fundamental right to access medical treatment while behind bars. Specifically, the court found that “deliberate indifference by prison personnel to a prisoner’s serious illness or injury constitutes cruel and unusual punishment contravening the Eighth Amendment.”

Prisons and jails, in other words, are constitutionally required to provide health care to people in their care.

When the drugs needed to treat inmates are expensive, it puts enormous strain on state and county corrections budgets. That, in turn, leads to delays in treatment and substandard care that can have lasting, even deadly, consequences for people who are incarcerated.

It also impacts the state’s ability to improve prison conditions or implement rehabilitative programming that helps keep people from re-offending, things that the current First Step bill currently before the Senate seeks to do.

Unless high drug prices are addressed, prisons and, to a lesser extent, jails will face a difficult trade-off between providing healthcare and enacting the reforms needed to keep people out of the system for good.

Nothing illustrates this problem as powerfully as the ongoing Hepatitis C crisis in state prisons. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of inmates in prisons and jails—around 400,000 people—are infected with the virus, which is transmitted through blood contact and can lead to liver failure if left untreated.

People who are incarcerated represent less than 1 percent of the population, but they account for about a quarter of all diagnosed Hep C cases in the U.S.

The most common way for an inmate to get the disease is by sharing needles used for injecting drugs, tattooing, or piercing with people who are already infected. And since prisons and jails hold a large number of people with histories of substance abuse— a situation that has gotten worse with the opioid and heroin epidemics—the disease is widespread.

There are highly effective cures for Hep C. Prisons pay anywhere from $25,000 to list prices of $90,000 for a two- or three-month course of one-pill-a-day Sovaldi-based treatment combination, manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Gilead.

Using the low end of that range, it would cost $1 billion to treat 40,000 people—just 10 percent of the number of incarcerated people infected.

Sovaldi is so expensive in part because the drug is protected in the U.S. by a fortress of 29 granted patent and patent applications, amounting to more than 30 years of monopoly power that prevents generic competition. Other countries, including Egypt, Ukraine, Argentina, Brazil, Russia, and 38 countries in Europe, have rejected or restricted Gilead’s patents on Sovaldi for failing to meet the requirements warranting a patent.

Last year, my organization, the Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge, successfully challenged Gilead’s patents on Sovaldi in China, opening the door for generic competition and billions of dollars in savings in that country. The U.S. Patent Office, in contrast, would not allow our challenges to Gilead’s patents on Sovaldi to go to trial.

Gilead’s monopoly pricing in the U.S., unsurprisingly, puts the drug out of reach of millions of Americans, not least those in our prisons and jails. According to a recent survey, 97 percent of people in state prisons with Hep C aren’t being treated.

That has led to a string of lawsuits. Prisoners in Massachusetts, Colorado, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Florida have sued and either won or reached a settlement securing their right to effective and timely treatment for Hep C. Similar lawsuits are pending in California and Tennessee.

Across the board, state administrators have cited the prohibitive price of Hep C treatment, and in virtually every case the courts concluded that cost couldn’t be used as justification for failing to screen for Hep C, not treating, or treating with older, less effective drugs.

And that’s just one drug for one disease.

People in prison or jail with diabetes, asthma, opioid addiction, and other conditions also need treatment and many of these are also expensive. Drugmaker monopolies lie at the heart of the problem, and we need our policymakers to take bold action to correct this abuse.

Where else could those billions of state and corrections dollars be spent on if America didn’t pay more per capita for prescription drugs than any other nation in the world? Some of that money could go to reforms like treating mental illness and substance abuse, reuniting families, implementing job and educational programs, and expanding transitional housing facilities.

Priti Krishtell

Priti Krishtell. Photo by Bethanie Hines

These and other reforms, including the First Step bill currently before the Senate, will be far harder to achieve if nothing is done about abusive drug-maker monopolies that are causing over-the-top prescription drug prices.

Priti Krishtel is the Co-Executive Director of I-MAK.org, a global non-profit organization comprised of senior attorneys, scientists and health experts who have worked to lower drug prices through the patent system for 15 years. She can be reached at @pritikrishtel.Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How High-Priced Drugs Cripple Prison Health Care—and Reform

Expensive medications for inmates can lead to delays in treatment and substandard care that may have lasting—even deadly—consequences for incarcerated individuals, writes a prison health care advocate.

In a deeply divided political electorate, prison reform is one of the few issues that attracts bipartisan support. Yet there’s something missing from the current conversation about criminal justice reform: the high cost of prescription drugs.

In 1976, a landmark Supreme Court case, Estelle v. Gamble, established an individual’s fundamental right to access medical treatment while behind bars. Specifically, the court found that “deliberate indifference by prison personnel to a prisoner’s serious illness or injury constitutes cruel and unusual punishment contravening the Eighth Amendment.”

Prisons and jails, in other words, are constitutionally required to provide health care to people in their care.

When the drugs needed to treat inmates are expensive, it puts enormous strain on state and county corrections budgets. That, in turn, leads to delays in treatment and substandard care that can have lasting, even deadly, consequences for people who are incarcerated.

It also impacts the state’s ability to improve prison conditions or implement rehabilitative programming that helps keep people from re-offending, things that the current First Step bill currently before the Senate seeks to do.

Unless high drug prices are addressed, prisons and, to a lesser extent, jails will face a difficult trade-off between providing healthcare and enacting the reforms needed to keep people out of the system for good.

Nothing illustrates this problem as powerfully as the ongoing Hepatitis C crisis in state prisons. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of inmates in prisons and jails—around 400,000 people—are infected with the virus, which is transmitted through blood contact and can lead to liver failure if left untreated.

People who are incarcerated represent less than 1 percent of the population, but they account for about a quarter of all diagnosed Hep C cases in the U.S.

The most common way for an inmate to get the disease is by sharing needles used for injecting drugs, tattooing, or piercing with people who are already infected. And since prisons and jails hold a large number of people with histories of substance abuse— a situation that has gotten worse with the opioid and heroin epidemics—the disease is widespread.

There are highly effective cures for Hep C. Prisons pay anywhere from $25,000 to list prices of $90,000 for a two- or three-month course of one-pill-a-day Sovaldi-based treatment combination, manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Gilead.

Using the low end of that range, it would cost $1 billion to treat 40,000 people—just 10 percent of the number of incarcerated people infected.

Sovaldi is so expensive in part because the drug is protected in the U.S. by a fortress of 29 granted patent and patent applications, amounting to more than 30 years of monopoly power that prevents generic competition. Other countries, including Egypt, Ukraine, Argentina, Brazil, Russia, and 38 countries in Europe, have rejected or restricted Gilead’s patents on Sovaldi for failing to meet the requirements warranting a patent.

Last year, my organization, the Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge, successfully challenged Gilead’s patents on Sovaldi in China, opening the door for generic competition and billions of dollars in savings in that country. The U.S. Patent Office, in contrast, would not allow our challenges to Gilead’s patents on Sovaldi to go to trial.

Gilead’s monopoly pricing in the U.S., unsurprisingly, puts the drug out of reach of millions of Americans, not least those in our prisons and jails. According to a recent survey, 97 percent of people in state prisons with Hep C aren’t being treated.

That has led to a string of lawsuits. Prisoners in Massachusetts, Colorado, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Florida have sued and either won or reached a settlement securing their right to effective and timely treatment for Hep C. Similar lawsuits are pending in California and Tennessee.

Across the board, state administrators have cited the prohibitive price of Hep C treatment, and in virtually every case the courts concluded that cost couldn’t be used as justification for failing to screen for Hep C, not treating, or treating with older, less effective drugs.

And that’s just one drug for one disease.

People in prison or jail with diabetes, asthma, opioid addiction, and other conditions also need treatment and many of these are also expensive. Drugmaker monopolies lie at the heart of the problem, and we need our policymakers to take bold action to correct this abuse.

Where else could those billions of state and corrections dollars be spent on if America didn’t pay more per capita for prescription drugs than any other nation in the world? Some of that money could go to reforms like treating mental illness and substance abuse, reuniting families, implementing job and educational programs, and expanding transitional housing facilities.

Priti Krishtell

Priti Krishtell. Photo by Bethanie Hines

These and other reforms, including the First Step bill currently before the Senate, will be far harder to achieve if nothing is done about abusive drug-maker monopolies that are causing over-the-top prescription drug prices.

Priti Krishtel is the Co-Executive Director of I-MAK.org, a global non-profit organization comprised of senior attorneys, scientists and health experts who have worked to lower drug prices through the patent system for 15 years. She can be reached at @pritikrishtel.Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ohio, Idaho Lead Nation in ‘Correctional Control’: Study

Oklahoma has the nation’s highest incarceration rate, but Ohio and Idaho jump into the lead when probation and parole is included, says a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative.

When it comes to ranking U.S. states on the harshness of their criminal justice systems, incarceration rates only tell half of the story.

More than two million people are in prisons and jails, but 4.5 million people nationwide are on probation and parole, and several of the seemingly “less punitive” states put vast numbers of their residents under these forms of supervision, says the Prison Policy Initiative in an updated report.

The advocacy group calculated each state’s rate of correctional control, which includes incarceration as well as community supervision (probation and parole). The report includes over 100 charts breaking down each state’s correctional population.

The report also includes an interactive chart that ranks states on their use of correctional control.

Among the findings:

–Ohio and Idaho surpass Oklahoma – the global leader in incarceration – in correctional control overall.

–Pennsylvania, which revoked Meek Mill’s probation last year, has the second-highest rate of correctional control in the nation.

–Rhode Island and Minnesota have some of the lowest incarceration rates in the country, but are among the most punitive when community supervision is accounted for.

Many of the highest rates of correctional control are in states with high rates of probation. “All too often, probation serves not as a true alternative to incarceration but as the last stop before prison,” says report author Alexi Jones. Jones proposes  reforms and highlights flaws in current probation systems:

Probation imposes time-consuming conditions and fees that people struggle to meet, and which the report says can paradoxically hold them back from turning their lives around.

Violating even the most minor requirement (such as missing a meeting) can result in incarceration.

Probation terms can go on for years after the original offense, meaning even model probationers can serve decades under state scrutiny.

Jones says, “States are putting people on probation when a fine, warning, or community treatment program would suffice,” putting more people at risk of incarceration.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington  Bureau Chief of the Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How a Minnesota County Found Alternatives to Jail

Almost all the jail growth in the U.S. since 2000 has been in pretrial incarceration, but in St. Louis County, a program that allows more pretrial defendants to be released under supervision has bucked the trend. It’s been a life-changer for Renita Syas.

It’s been five years since Renita Syas was booked into the St. Louis County Jail in Duluth, Minn.

She spent three weeks and a day in custody — a stay that doesn’t exactly stand out in the daily churn of the county lock-up — but it was enough for the Duluth woman to decide she was never coming back.

“I just got really sick of it,” said Syas. “I didn’t want to go spend another 22 days in jail. That was scary enough for me. I knew I didn’t want to live my life like that any more.”

Today, Syas is a success story for local officials who are seeking to find alternatives that offer rehabilitation rather than incarceration for many offenders.

As St. Louis County continues to grapple with a jail-crowding crisis that is among the worst in the state, attention has shifted toward programming that addresses the needs of those who land in the criminal justice system.

Inside the St. Louis County Jail. Inmates’ faces have been blurred as requested by the jail. Bob King / Duluth News Tribune

 

Syas’ journey to jail is one that police, attorneys, judges and probation officers say they see in criminal defendants on a daily basis.

Born in the Twin Cities and mostly raised in Chicago, she was a teenager when she first moved to Duluth with her mother in the late 1990s. Syas, 36, said she had been abused by a family member from a young age, but for years refused to talk about it, and the trauma went unaddressed well into adulthood.

 In 2013, Syas found herself in what she now describes as a “tornado.”

Her partner at the time went to jail, and Syas said she found herself feeling alone and helpless. Mental illness coupled with chemical dependency overwhelmed her; she was soon arrested and faced multiple felony charges, including assault and robbery.

The jail stay, Syas said, was reality telling her to wake up. She nearly lost her apartment while in custody. After pleading guilty to the assault charge, her saving grace was the opportunity she was offered on pretrial release.

 “I pleaded out and I was just kind of waiting for that sentencing date,” she said. “I got pretrial release kind of at the last minute, so that’s how I was able to come home.”

The release from jail allowed Syas to begin putting the pieces back together in her life.

She ultimately had an 81-month prison sentence stayed for five years of supervised probation.

Probation was not a cakewalk, however. Syas went to treatment and was subject to electronic monitoring and random drug and alcohol testing.

She had to make frequent appearances in the South St. Louis County Mental Health Court program. She was required to complete the Duluth Bethel Female Offender Program.

“I was really going through some mental health issues and trying to deal with my housing situation,” she said. “I remember just being afraid of coming out of jail, and asking, ‘Can I really do this? This is so much.’

“It was a real struggle, but first I had to get my health in line and then work on completing all the things I had to complete. The mental health court really helped me change my life. The Bethel program, too.”

Expansion in Probation Services

In recent years, an expansion in probation services has allowed more defendants to get out of jail on supervised release while their cases are pending. And a reassessment of post-conviction probation violations is seeking to allow offenders an alternative to a repeat trip to jail.

See Also: St. Louis County seeks to buck trend as jail growth surges nationwide

“The real measure is probably not the current jail population, but how many lives can find a successful pathway because we had contact with them,” said Dan Lew, the region’s chief public defender.

“That’s how we’ve got to measure our outcomes. Not our jail population, and certainly not how long we can incarcerate folks. How many folks are living better?”

On any given day, about 80 percent of the inmates at the St. Louis County Jail are in pretrial custody.

Yet to be convicted of a crime, how long they remain in jail is largely dependent on the progress of their case through a court system that is seeing increasingly crowded dockets as case filings continue to climb.

“Cases used to move much quicker,” said St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin, who has 40 years of experience in the local criminal justice system. “Now we’ve got people who are on pretrial sitting in jail for far too long.”

The St. Louis County Jail has trended at or above national percentages for pretrial incarceration.

A February report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 65 percent of inmates in county and city jails across the country were in the pretrial phase in 2016.

“Almost all of the jail growth in the U.S. since 2000 has been in pretrial incarceration,” said Cherise Fanno Burdeen, CEO of the Maryland-based Pretrial Justice Institute.

Rubin said some judges are better than others at moving cases along, but he added the concept of a speedy trial now seems like a relic of a different era.

Advances in technology are leading to far more evidence that must be processed and reviewed by both law enforcement and attorneys. Gone are the days when a criminal case largely relied on a handful of typewritten police reports.

Today, there is DNA and advanced drug tests — and a shortage of the chemists at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crime lab who are qualified to analyze them. There are body cameras videos that must be reviewed by the prosecution and defense attorneys. A forensic examination of cellphone or computer data can add hundreds of pages to a case file.

An inmate looks through available reading materials at the St. Louis County Jail. Photo by Bob King/Duluth News Tribune

Those are all great tools for the justice system but a significant burden in keeping cases moving forward, according to Lew.

“A typical case now, it’s thousands of pages of discovery,” he said. “We’re talking terabytes of discovery, which can only be accessed when you plug in a huge external hard drive and play 80 body cams.

“Just think of that, 80 body cams. This is just to open the file and read it for the first time. Leaving aside the time it takes to talk about DNA and forensic science, which is terribly time consuming — and our clients need that time.”

State law prescribes that 90 percent of criminal cases should be completed within three months, 97 percent should be done in six months, and 99 percent should be over within one year.

Minor criminal cases that typically wouldn’t result in any significant jail time — a first-time drunken driving offense or a fifth-degree assault, for instance — are generally meeting those marks. But the more serious cases that could result in a lengthy jail stay are more problematic.

In 2017, nearly 10 percent of “major criminal” cases — generally felonies and gross misdemeanors — went beyond a year in St. Louis County. That number has averaged about 8.5 percent since 2013, roughly equal with the statewide average over that time.

“The state has a hard time with the major criminal cases,” said Marieta Johnson, the 6th District court administrator. “That would be one case type where we’re all the same.”

With most inmates awaiting their next court date, a study from former Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Ken Schoen found that about 300 people who were locked up in the St. Louis County Jail in 2012 could have been safely released into the community with certain conditions.

“These were predominantly offenders who were there on higher-risk offenses or had prior offenses,” said Wally Kostich, chief probation officer for the five-county Arrowhead Regional Corrections (ARC). “Maybe some of them had been on probation before and violated the terms.”

Schoen’s analysis provided the spark for a new initiative: intensive pretrial release.

Ross Litman

St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman. Photo by Bob King/Duluth News Tribune

St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman in 2013 offered to reallocate some money from his jail budget to the probation agency, allowing ARC to add two probation officers in Duluth and two on the Iron Range strictly assigned to defendants who could be released into the community with a higher level of supervision.

Kostich said the program offers a level of attention that is similar to what an offender would receive after leaving prison on supervised release, or parole.

“You see very little of these IPT agents in the office,” he said. “They’re more on the streets seeing people in the community, verifying work status, making sure they’re going to their treatment programs.

“There’s drug testing involved. … These are people that normally would be sitting in custody had it not been for the ability to add these positions and see people out in the community.”

The program has a capacity of 50-60 clients each in Duluth and on the Range. With each day of incarceration for a single inmate costing St. Louis County taxpayers about $131, that adds up.

An Arrowhead Regional Corrections analysis found potential savings of $10.6 million through 2016, after 2 ½ years of operation for the program.

“As a judge, it’s a great alternative, frankly, because typically the person has failed on regular pretrial release,” said 6th Judicial District Chief Judge Sally Tarnowski. “I tend to think that many, if not most, of the people at the jail have either a chemical dependency or alcohol issue.

“If we just let them out of jail without addressing that, we’re just going to create this revolving door where they’re going to get back out in community and go back to old behaviors, and not get treated for the very thing that’s brought them to the jail.”

 The success of the intensive pretrial release program prompted Kostich and partnering agencies to take a look at a similar initiative on the back end of criminal cases.

It was apparent that most post-conviction inmates were in custody for probation violations — often technical infractions, such as missing an appointment, failing to check in with their probation officer or failing a drug test.

Rather than filing a formal violation report with the court and asking the judge to issue a warrant, ARC developed an alternative sanctions program that can be utilized in many instances.

A Contract With Conditions

The program offers the client an opportunity to sign a contract with some new conditions, such as additional days of community service, an alcohol assessment, counseling or cognitive skills programming, depending on the offense. If they agree, as most do, the contract goes to the sentencing judge for approval.

“It’s a way to address violations in lieu of a defendant having to appear in front of the court,” Kostich said.

“By lessening those appearances, we can hopefully give the court a chance to dispose of more high-priority cases in a quicker fashion.”

Like intensive pretrial release, the program was initially started with funds from the Sheriff’s Office. It now operates under ARC’s regular budget, with two full-time agents handling the program.

In any phase of supervision, Kostich said it’s important to tailor conditions to hone in on the needs of the individual. He said most clients will get a standard, comprehensive assessment to determine the appropriate level of supervision and programming.

“Sometimes the more conditions imposed upon an individual the more difficult it is for that individual to be able to maintain a crime-free lifestyle,” he said. “It’s just not a helter skelter that we’re just throwing up a bunch of conditions because I’m a true believer in the more we throw out there, the more difficult it is to succeed.”

180-Degree Turn

In just five years, Syas has made a 180-degree turn in her life. Soon after graduating from mental health court and completing the Bethel program, she stopped by the CHUM emergency shelter in downtown Duluth to pick up an application.

She said it took near-daily calls, but she finally convinced the organization to give her a job. Not long after, she was offered another employment opportunity at Life House, the youth homeless outreach agency, where she now works full time as the activities coordinator.

Syas knows her line of work well. She said she benefitted from the services of both CHUM and Life House earlier in life.

“My life is not perfect by a long shot but I’ve bought a house, I’ve had a kid, I now have a vehicle — all these things that I’ve wanted,” she said.

“I can’t complain.”

Syas recalled initially having a dismissive attitude toward the court and the people trying to help her. But the trip to jail, and the resulting opportunities to get treatment and resources, changed that.

Today, Syas makes visits to the mental health court and crisis-intervention training sessions hosted by the Duluth Police Department, volunteering to share her first-person account of going to jail and navigating the criminal justice system.

“I’ve lived it, I’ve experienced it, and it was not too long ago,” Syas said.
“I share that testimonial every day of my life now in the job I work in.”

Tom Olsen, a staff writer for the Duluth News Tribune, is a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a condensed and slightly edited version of the second and final installment of a series on jail incarceration written as part of his Fellowship Project. The complete version and other articles in the series can be accessed here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Obama-Era Reentry Program Curtailed Recidivism: Report

Project New Opportunity (PNO), created under President Obama’s Clemency Initiative and the United States Sentencing Commission’s (USSC) 2014 reduction in drug sentencing guidelines, has proven successful in reducing recidivism among ex-incarcerees, a new study has found.

An initiative created under the Obama administration to provide reentry support for the formerly incarcerated has sharply curtailed recidivism among the formerly incarcerated, according to a study of the program.

Under the Project New Opportunity (PNO), created under President Obama’s Clemency Initiative and the United States Sentencing Commission’s (USSC) 2014 reduction in drug sentencing guidelines, , there were no known incidents or reports of rearrests, violations of the terms of probation supervision, or incarceration, said the study released by the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA).

Many of the formerly incarcerated individuals in the program spent decades in prison before being released.

The key elements of PNO’s model are a staffing plan that relies on formerly incarcerated people as Reentry Consultants, and an “inside/outside” connection that introduces incarcerated people to their Reentry Consultant six months prior to their release and continues after release.

PNO is based on research both about the challenges that accompany the transition from prison to community and the role that formerly incarcerated people can play in helping newly released people make this transition.

“Imprisonment leaves scars including post-traumatic stress responses, a lack of familiarity with the routines of daily life, and forms of culture shock as one confronts technological and other changes that have occurred during one’s time in prison,” wrote study author Marsha Weissman, the Senior Policy Fellow of the CCA.

“These adjustment issues contribute to recidivism, which is highest within the first six months of release,” she continued.

The PNO was initiated under the Obama administration and through the retroactive application of the guideline reforms, about 6,000 individuals were eligible to be released on November 1, 2016.

Another 1,928 were released though the Clemency Initiative.

Yet, except for probation supervision and Bureau of Prison (BOP) halfway houses, there were no reentry supports available to these individuals, many of whom had served decades in prison, Weissman said.

Thus, there was a need for a new model that could provide reentry support for people released under these criminal justice reform efforts.

PNO was able to follow up with participants of the program through the Reentry Consultants and/or participants themselves.

“This suggests that PNO was able to help people stabilize and avoid new encounters with the criminal justice system in the immediate aftermath of release,” Weissman concluded.

This summary was prepared by TCR senior staff writer Megan Hadley. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org