Rights Group Plans Mass Bailout at NYC’s Rikers Island

More than 500 women and teenagers will be bailed out from New York City’s Rikers Island jail as part of a national campaign to dismantle a bail system that activists say discriminates against minorities and the poor. The effort is being spearheaded by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group, which plans to raise $5 million to fund the releases.

More than 500 women and teenagers will be bailed out from New York City’s Rikers Island jail as part of a national campaign to dismantle a bail system that activists say discriminates against minorities and the poor, the New York Times reports. The effort is spearheaded by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group, which plans to raise at least $5 million to fund the releases. While there have been other mass bailouts, organizers believe the effort at Rikers has the potential to be one of the largest ever. “The crux of the issue is that in New York City, we criminalize poverty,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “There are no wealthy people on Rikers Island because if you are wealthy, you go free because you make bail.”

Last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced support for a plan to close Rikers Island, which is plagued by violence and poor conditions, after an independent commission recommended that the city replace Rikers with smaller jails spread throughout the boroughs. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights will not make bail decisions based on the crimes that an individual has been charged with, Kennedy said. Anyone who is eligible for bail is a candidate for assistance. “If a judge feels this person is a danger to society, they will not make them bail eligible,” Kennedy said. Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, questioned whether Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights would “take responsibility if these people commit another crime while out on bail.” The initiative ignores the concerns of crime victims and would place the public in danger, he added.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Many Jails Increase Mental Health Screening

More than 400 counties have passed resolutions to join the Stepping Up Initiative, which promotes use of evidence-based screening tools to identify inmates with a serious mental illness.

An estimated half a million people incarcerated in the U.S. have a serious mental illness. More than 40 percent of jail inmates have been told by a mental health professional that they had a mental health disorder. While about 1 in 4 jail inmates met the threshold for having serious psychological distress, only about a third of those were receiving treatment for it, NPR reports. County jails across the nation have taken steps to try keeping inmates with mental illness from coming back. One approach involves stepping up mental health screening, coupled with efforts to get inmates plugged into community-based treatment after they are released. Such efforts require often-unprecedented collaboration between those on the front lines of mental health and criminal justice. Research shows such collaboration is key to addressing the problems many jails face when they become their areas’ largest psychiatric facilities.

All Adams County, Il., inmates are screened for mental illness, for example, and medical providers there administer medications as needed. Inmates who are suicidal may be placed alone in a cell with nothing but a mat and a garment they wouldn’t be able to use to harm themselves. Efforts to reduce the number of inmates with mental illness need to involve the jail system, says Richard Cho of the Council for State Governments Justice Center, because they are “the front end of the criminal justice system.” In 2015, the Justice Center, with the National Association of Counties and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, launched the Stepping Up Initiative to help jails reduce the number of inmates with mental illness. More than 400 counties have passed resolutions to join the program, which promotes use of evidence-based screening tools to identify inmates with a serious mental illness. Inmates who screen positive are referred to a clinician for a follow-up assessment.

from https://thecrimereport.org

NYC Pays $280K Settlement for Rikers Anti-Gay Attack

According to a press release from the victim’s attorney, Thomas Hamm, a visitor to the Rikers Island facility, was beaten by two corrections officers hurling anti-gay slurs. Earlier this year, the Jail’s Action Committee released a report maintaining that conditions for visitors to Rikers “continue to be discouraging at best and traumatizing and violent at worst.”

The City of New York was ordered on Wednesday to compensate a visitor to Rikers Island who was beaten by two corrections officers hurling anti-gay slurs, according to a press release from the victim’s attorneys.

“For decades, the corruption and abuse at Rikers Island targeting incarcerated LGBT people—most of whom are black and brown—has gone unchecked. We are hopeful this resolution will make it harder for this kind of discrimination and brutality to continue,” said David B. Rankin, Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP Partner and Lambda Legal’s Co-Counsel in the case.

Rikers

The Rikers Island jail complex in New York City . Photo by David Oppenheimer via Flickr

According to the federal lawsuit, Thomas Hamm was visiting his boyfriend at Rikers in 2014 when two corrections officers on duty ordered them to stop holding hands, while other visitors were embracing their loved ones, calling them “faggots” and saying “you’ll burn in hell” before abruptly ending the visit.

As Mr. Hamm was leaving, the two officers grabbed him, repeatedly punching and kicking him, the complaint alleges. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, where he was diagnosed with facial fractures and head trauma.

The lawsuit also contends that supervisors tried to cover up the beating by accusing Hamm of provoking the attack, and arresting him. The charges were later dismissed.

Earlier this year, the Jail’s Action Committee released a report maintaining that conditions for visitors to Rikers “continue to be discouraging at best and traumatizing and violent at worst”despite efforts from lawmakers and officials to address the longstanding history of brutality and corruption at the facility.

“Women and men have reported being forced to strip down to their underwear, show officers their genitals, suffer through inappropriate touching of their breasts and genitals, and undergo cavity searches—even though these searches are directly in violation of Department of Correction (DOC) policy,” said the study.

Rikers, the nation’s second-largest jail after the Los Angeles County facility, has been the center of heated controversy over conditions inside the complex and alleged “torture” of inmates by guards. A commission headed by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman recommended closing Rikers, and in August Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to close the facility by 2027, replacing it with a “modern community-based jail system that is smaller, safer, and fairer.”

This summary was prepared by TCR Depuity Editor-Investigations Victoria Mckenzie.

from https://thecrimereport.org

NYC Pays $280K Settlement for Rikers Anti-Gay Attack

According to a press release from the victim’s attorney, Thomas Hamm, a visitor to the Rikers Island facility, was beaten by two corrections officers hurling anti-gay slurs. Earlier this year, the Jail’s Action Committee released a report maintaining that conditions for visitors to Rikers “continue to be discouraging at best and traumatizing and violent at worst.”

The City of New York was ordered on Wednesday to compensate a visitor to Rikers Island who was beaten by two corrections officers hurling anti-gay slurs, according to a press release from the victim’s attorneys.

“For decades, the corruption and abuse at Rikers Island targeting incarcerated LGBT people—most of whom are black and brown—has gone unchecked. We are hopeful this resolution will make it harder for this kind of discrimination and brutality to continue,” said David B. Rankin, Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP Partner and Lambda Legal’s Co-Counsel in the case.

Rikers

The Rikers Island jail complex in New York City . Photo by David Oppenheimer via Flickr

According to the federal lawsuit, Thomas Hamm was visiting his boyfriend at Rikers in 2014 when two corrections officers on duty ordered them to stop holding hands, while other visitors were embracing their loved ones, calling them “faggots” and saying “you’ll burn in hell” before abruptly ending the visit.

As Mr. Hamm was leaving, the two officers grabbed him, repeatedly punching and kicking him, the complaint alleges. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, where he was diagnosed with facial fractures and head trauma.

The lawsuit also contends that supervisors tried to cover up the beating by accusing Hamm of provoking the attack, and arresting him. The charges were later dismissed.

Earlier this year, the Jail’s Action Committee released a report maintaining that conditions for visitors to Rikers “continue to be discouraging at best and traumatizing and violent at worst”despite efforts from lawmakers and officials to address the longstanding history of brutality and corruption at the facility.

“Women and men have reported being forced to strip down to their underwear, show officers their genitals, suffer through inappropriate touching of their breasts and genitals, and undergo cavity searches—even though these searches are directly in violation of Department of Correction (DOC) policy,” said the study.

Rikers, the nation’s second-largest jail after the Los Angeles County facility, has been the center of heated controversy over conditions inside the complex and alleged “torture” of inmates by guards. A commission headed by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman recommended closing Rikers, and in August Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to close the facility by 2027, replacing it with a “modern community-based jail system that is smaller, safer, and fairer.”

This summary was prepared by TCR Depuity Editor-Investigations Victoria Mckenzie.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Advocates Seek to Close ‘Hopeless’ St. Louis Jail

Everyone who has been in St. Louis’ “Workhouse,” which houses 550 inmates, “echoes the same horror stories over and over,” said Rebecca Gorley of ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit civil rights law firm.

St. Louis advocacy organizations have long called for the closure of the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, known as the City Workhouse. A grassroots campaign hopes to reform bail practices and shutter the jail once and for all. The Close the Workhouse campaign issued a report Thursday making the case to shut down the facility, which holds 550 people, the vast majority of whom are awaiting trial, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “What we’re talking about isn’t a broken toilet or some mold on one wall. Everyone we’ve talked to who has been in the workhouse echoes the same horror stories over and over,” said Rebecca Gorley of ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit civil rights law firm.

The report details more than 30 years of controversy at the workhouse, dating back to a lawsuit filed over inhumane conditions in 1974. The city was sued again over the jail in 1990. In 2009, an American Civil Liberties Union report said the jail was overcrowded and unsanitary, and that staff allowed inmates to assault each other, ignored sexual harassment, and provided negligent medical care. In 2012, guards were accused of setting up gladiator-style fights between inmates. In November, the city was sued by seven former inmates alleging mold, oppressive heat, and rat and insect infestations in the 52-year-old facility. The federal suit, filed by ArchCity Defenders, argues that St. Louis officials have ignored the problems for years and seeks a judge’s order that would close the workhouse or fine the city $10,000 per day until problems are fixed. “The workhouse is a hopeless place. When you first walk in, you can feel the hopelessness,” said Inez Bordeaux, who spent 30 days there awaiting a probation violation hearing. “You can feel the desperation.” City officials say it isn’t feasible to close an institution that houses hundreds of people facing felony charges.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Georgia Jail Staff Ignored Inmate Who Was Found Dead

A mentally-ill inmate whose death prompted community protest was ignored for more than three hours before he was found dead inside his Rockdale County, Ga., cell, even though deputies were required to check his condition every 15 minutes.

A mentally-ill inmate whose death prompted community protest was ignored for more than three hours before he was found dead inside his Rockdale County, Ga., cell, even though deputies were required to check his condition every 15 minutes, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The shift was slow and there was little to do, but rather than look inside Shali Tilson’s cell, a supervisor falsely logged that he performed the checks. Tilson, 22, tried to summon deputies shortly before his March 12 death by pressing a call button, but a supervisor said it had long been broken, according to an internal Rockdale sheriff’s investigation. Tilson’s body had begun to grow stiff by the time they found him naked and surrounded by trash, a supervisor told investigators, the report states.

Rockdale District Attorney Alisha Johnson is reviewing a recently completed Georgia Bureau of Investigation report on Tilson’s death and has sent out investigators to gather more information. Supervisors recommended one deputy be fired and four suspended without pay. The findings of the internal investigation outraged Tilson’s family, who said that the deputies involved deserve harsher punishment. His mother Tynesha Tilson, said, “They all basically got slaps on the wrist. My son got a death sentence.” More than 500 inmates and detainees have died in Georgia’s local jails in the past decade. An investigation earlier this year by the Journal-Constitution, Channel 2 Action News and the Georgia News Lab found that mental illness played a role in a large share of those deaths, that many were preventable and that deaths routinely occurred after jail staff failed to recognize or act on warning signs until it was too late.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How to Address Jail Overcrowding: Rethink Who Goes in Them

A special “population review team” in Ohio’s Lucas County explores ways of reducing jail time for new or low-level offenders. “Maybe jail isn’t the right place” for many of them, explains Gene A. Zmuda, a common pleas court judge.

On a recent afternoon at the city hall in Toledo, Ohio, Holly Matthews was teaching her colleagues some slang. “I forgot to tell everyone my new word of the day,” she says. “It’s ‘pookie.’”

A pookie, Matthews explains, is another word for a crack pipe. “I checked with Urban Dictionary,” she says, chuckling.

Matthews is executive director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, an agency that provides criminal justice information services to residents of Lucas County in Northwest Ohio.

She is also one of a dozen members of the county’s Population Review Team, an interagency group that seeks ways of reducing or eliminating jail time for new or low-level offenders, with the goal of reducing incarceration rates in Lucas County’s overburdened jails. (Matthews’ “pookie” was in a case file she was reviewing, found by police in the pocket of a man who was arrested after a domestic dispute.)

The atmosphere in the room can be lighthearted, but the Population Review Team’s work is serious business — especially in Toledo, the Lucas County seat, where reducing incarceration rates is sorely needed.

The county’s jail is designed to hold only pretrial inmates, but it is being overburdened by too many people waiting to see a judge. In 2014, a U.S. Federal judge ordered the county to cap its jail population, which had a capacity of 346 beds. Two years after the cap was set, the jail’s population has been reduced to 667 people — down from 845 in 2016 — for the first quarter this year, according to Matthews.

To try and address these issues of overcrowding, the Population Review Team meets once a week to review the county’s jail cases to find ways to reduce bail, alter criminal offenses and, in some cases, eliminate or reduce jail time completely.

Toledo isn’t alone in dealing with overcrowded jails.

Nationally, jail populations have been steadily rising, contributing to high incarceration rates throughout the country. Daily local jail populations swelled from 157,000 in 1970 to over 700,000 people in 2015. Annually, there are close to 11 million admissions into jails, according to data collected by the Vera Institute of Justice.

“It’s become a crisis because as we’ve added laws that impose mandatory sentencing,” says Gene A. Zmuda, a common pleas court judge for Lucas County. “We are incarcerating more and more of our population.”

For those on the Population Review Team — along with Matthews, the group includes local correction officers and defense attorneys — this means reviewing rap sheets to determine if there are ways to release inmates without putting the public at risk, such as increased usage of electronic monitoring.

In other cases, plea deals are brokered, according to Sean McNulty, chief public defender for the Toledo Legal Aid Society and an original member of the review team. Candidates who are deemed “good” — those with misdemeanor charges or nonviolent crimes — can have their bail modified or their case expedited or, in some cases, they are simply set free.

Zmuda invokes an example of a first-time drug user.

“Maybe jail isn’t the right place for that person,” he says. “Send them to rehabilitation and break the cycle of addiction.”

The program started in 2016, after the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded the county a $2 million grant directing local mental-health organizations to partner with law enforcement officials, with the intent to “institute changes aimed at reducing local incarceration and disparities in jail usage in accordance with its implementation plan.”

Over the course of an afternoon, the team isolates about a dozen defendants in custody whose charges will be reviewed. During a recent meeting, McNulty and John Madigan, the city’s prosecutor, were able to agree to several resolutions for a handful of people who were sitting in the county’s jail. The negotiations included a reduced charge, credit for time served and a probation term.

According to Matthews, this comprehensive collaboration and review reduced 1,800 jail days in total for 2017. And while the jail’s population isn’t as low as officials want it to be, they point to the reductions they’ve made in the past two years, by almost two hundred inmates in total.

“Jail buildup happened over 40 years and it won’t be solved in just a year or two,” says Patrick Griffin, the senior program officer for the MacArthur Foundation.

Along with the review board meetings, Lucas County officials have implemented four other strategies — such as training cops to identify alternatives to arrests or keeping people with mental health issues out of jail — to help in reducing the county’s jail population.

And as the initiative continues, Griffin hopes that solutions like the ones being implemented in Lucas County will spread to other parts of the state, and beyond.

“It will take success and then practitioners will take notice,” he says. “We have to increase demand among citizens for jail reform.”

Zmuda, McNulty and others believe that the next important step will be addressing the overrepresentation of minors in the system, along with keeping substance abusers from getting swept into the jail.

“We’re holding fewer — and holding the right — people,” says Zmuda. “We have right-sized our jail.”

Eric Jankiewicz is a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow. This story was published as part of his fellowship project. The full version is available here. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Wrongful Death Suit Filed Against Nevada Jail

Locked in the Mineral County Jail for failing to pay traffic tickets, Kelly Coltrain asked to go to the hospital. Instead, as her condition worsened, she was handed a mop and told to clean up her own vomit. She died in her cell less than an hour later.

Locked in the Mineral County, Nv., Jail last year for failing to pay traffic tickets, 27-year-old Kelly Coltrain asked to go to the hospital. Instead, as her condition worsened, she was handed a mop and told to clean up her own vomit. She died in her cell less than an hour later. Although she was in a video-monitored cell, sheriff’s deputies did not recognize that Coltrain had suffered an apparent seizure and had not moved for more than six hours. When a deputy finally entered her cell and couldn’t wake her, he did not call for medical assistance or attempt to resuscitate her. Coltrain lay dead in her cell until the next morning when state officials arrived to investigate­­, reports the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Details of Coltrain’s death 13 months ago came to light last week with the release of a 300-page report compiled by state investigators. The investigation found that Coltrain’s jailers violated many policies when they denied her medical care after she informed them she was dependent on drugs and suffered seizures when she went through withdrawals. The investigators asked for possible criminal charges, but Lyon County District Attorney Stephen Rye declined, saying there were no “willful or malicious acts by jail staff.” Coltrain’s family members have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit accusing the sheriff’s office of ignoring her life-threatening medical condition despite knowing that she was suffering withdrawals and had a history of seizures. “(Jail staff) knew Kelly Coltrain had lain for days at the jail, in bed, buried beneath blankets, vomiting multiple times, refusing meals, trembling, shaking, and rarely moving,” the suit says. “Defendants knew Kelly Coltrain was in medical distress.” Mineral County is a tiny rural county. Its population is under 4,500.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Removing Youth from Adult Jails: A ‘Jail-by-Jail’ Approach

According to a new report released by the Jail Removal Project at UCLA School of Law, a state-by-state, county-by-county, and jail-by-jail approach is needed to remove all youth from adult prisons. The number is steadily declining, but researchers contend that it should be “zero.”

Removing all youth from adult jails will take a state-by-state, county-by-county and jail-by jail-approach, says a new report from by the Jail Removal Project at UCLA School of Law.

Using data from the the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) Census of Jails, the Annual Survey of Jails and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Census of Juvenile Residential Placements, the study found that no single approach will work for every jurisdiction or every jail.

Instead, a multi-faceted approach that focuses on youth in state, county and local facilities is needed, the report says.

Significantly, the number of youth (ages 17 and younger) housed in adult jails is declining.

There were 3,700 youth held in adult jails in 2016, down more than 50 percent from a peak of 7,600 youth at midyear 2010, and down 60 percent from a peak of 9,458 in 1999, the report said.

However, researchers say that number should be “zero” due to the detrimental affects adult jails have on children.

“Incarceration has iatrogenic effects on youth, with additional research showing that adult environments increase recidivism beyond that of youth held in juvenile facilities,” the report says.

Economists have also found that youth incarceration results in substantially lower high school completion rates and higher adult incarceration rates, including for violent crimes.

One way to remove youth from adult prisons, according to the report, is to pass “raise the age” legislation in every state.

As of 2007, 14 states had excluded 16 or 17-year-olds from juvenile court jurisdiction simply because of their age.

Ten years later, only four states continue to exclude 17-year-olds from juvenile court jurisdiction based solely on their age – Georgia, Michigan, Texas, and Wisconsin.

“The question is no longer whether states should stop automatically treating all 16-or 17-year-olds as adults, but when and how to raise the age,” the report says.

The report suggested changing state laws on transferring youths between juvenile and adult courts.

“The presence of youth in adult jails appears to be driven largely by states which predominantly rely on transfer laws which have youth start in adult criminal court… with the greatest numbers in states where the jail law requires housing youth in adult jails,” the report says.

Researchers also suggested modifying state jail laws to prohibit placement of youth in adult jails and pressuring city and county officials to pass policies to remove youth from adult facilities.

A full list of their policy recommendations include the following:

  • Federal policymakers should strengthen, reauthorize, and adequately fund the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act to remove youth from adult jails, promote alternatives to youth incarceration, and support critical juvenile justice system improvements.
  • State policymakers should update their laws to limit the number of youth housed in adult jails by raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, using judicial waiver instead of automatic or prosecutorial discretion mechanisms, and modifying their state jail laws or regulations to make juvenile facilities the default placement for youth.
  • County and city policymakers should immediately designate a local juvenile facility as the default placement for all youth who would otherwise be housed in an adult jail.
  • Sheriffs and jailers should work to identify a local juvenile facility to house youth who would otherwise be housed in their adult facility.
  • Juvenile detention and corrections officials should prepare to receive youth who are prosecuted in the adult system and evaluate existing policies and programming to determine whether any modifications are needed to accommodate a population with longer lengths of stay within their facility.
  • Prosecutor and public defender offices should actively support efforts to update state laws to make juvenile facilities the default placement for youth. Further, public defenders should help educate prosecutors and judges about the dangers of housing youth in adult jails and vigorously advocate to remove their youth clients from jails to more developmentally appropriate settings.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

This summary was prepared by TCR senior staff reporter Megan Hadley.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Solving America’s Rural Jail Crisis, One Jail at a Time

In North Carolina’s Durham County, reforms have begun by simply making better pre-trial services available, according to an investigative report by the Smoky Mountain News.

When county jails are constantly at or over capacity, the easiest answer seems to be to build a bigger one.

G. Larry Mays, a New Mexico-based criminologist who has studied jails for 35 years, says communities need to start examining the bigger picture if they want to reduce the number of people sitting in jail.

jails

Illustration courtesy Smoky Mountain News

“You can’t build yourself out of a crowding crisis — the shoe tells the foot how big it will grow,” he said.

The more jails that are built, the more it will cost taxpayers to operate and maintain those facilities. At an average cost of $80,000 per jail bed, a new 150-bed facility could cost a county $12 million or more as construction costs are on the rise.

For a facility that only has an estimated 30-year life expectancy, constructing a new jail is not a decision that should be entered into lightly.

Dr. Allen Beck, who has been a criminal justice consultant since 1983 and a principal of Justice Concepts Incorporated (JCI), says local jurisdictions can take one of two approaches to addressing criminal justice system operations — passive or active.

“A passive role is the most costly. This role accepts arguments that the system does not need improvement and that the number of inmates housed in jail cannot be altered,” Beck wrote in a JCI report.

“In contrast, the active role recognizes that improvement is possible in all aspects of government, which in this instance happens to be the criminal justice system. There is always the possibility that significant improvement might be made in controlling growth of the inmate population.”

As part of a year-long investigation into the nation’s rural jail crisis, the Smoky Mountain News examined jails in western North Carolina. One of them, the Durham County Detention Facility, offers a case study in how change can be driven by improving pretrial practices.

 The Durham Facility opened in the summer of 1996 with a capacity of 576 single cells. By 2005, the jail was at or over capacity a majority of the time.

“That’s when we started our pre-trial services,”  said Gudrun Parmer, director of the Criminal Justice Resource Center in Durham County.

“Now our jail population has gone down by 20 percent. We don’t have an overcrowding problem and our average daily population is lower than it has been since the jail opened.

“We can’t reduce the cost of the jail itself — most of that cost is fixed — but we are 15 years past the point where the county started talking about building a new one so we’re saving future costs.”

The work involved to get to those results hasn’t been quick or easy, but Parmer said the payoff has been worth it for the county.The Criminal Justice Resource Center in Durham County has been in place since the late 1990s, when North Carolina’s General Assembly passed reforms that put more uniform sentencing in place for felony convictions.

The state reform also included grant funding for most counties to allow them to provide services to people being sentenced under the new grid.

With more state reform coming out of the General Assembly in 2011, the original grant funding that helped establish the Durham resource center was done away with, but efforts have continued and programming has increased to provide services to people throughout the criminal justice system.

“In Durham, our community has grown well beyond that original program. We have services for people from the pre-arrest diversion programs all the way to our local re-entry program for when people are released,” Parmer said.

The center still goes after a number of grants each year, especially if it’s looking to start a new program, but Durham County funds the programs that are deemed a success after a good trial run. A consolidated county criminal justice department also helps to save money.

“If we add a program, we don’t have to add administration — it’s more cost effective and we have a seamless system at this point for the adult population,” she said.

Pre-Arrest Diversion

The pre-arrest diversion program targets first-time offenders ages 16 to 21 for misdemeanor charges. Instead of being arrested, the person has 90 days to complete a community diversion program based on their individual assessment and needs.

If the person completes the program, the incident report is closed out and the offense doesn’t show up on the person’s record. If the person doesn’t complete the program, the arresting officer can proceed with criminal charges and prosecution.

The resource center’s pre-trial services also include being inside the jail to screen everyone being booked using a standard assessment tool — this process allows resource center staff to provide judges with the most accurate information summary about each person when they have their day in court.

Judges also utilize the resource center when it comes to setting a person’s bail. Sometimes a judge will turn the case over to the resource center for supervision in lieu of setting a money bond or sometimes it’s a combination of a money bond and supervision.

The substance abuse and the mental health court diversion programs inside the jail have also been helpful in keeping the inmate populations down while getting people the help they need.

“We have the most extensive mental health services in any jail in North Carolina — we have a whole team of people,” Parmer said.

The team works with inmates who’ve been diagnosed with severe or persistent mental illness to get them on the right medication, getting support while in jail and helping them connect with community health services once they released. The Mental Health Court allows people with mental illness to go through support services in lieu of a formal court process.

The same goes for people suffering from drug addiction: If they complete the program the district attorney will drop the charges.

Durham County even has re-entry services to help people get back on their feet after they are released from jail in hopes of cutting down on high recidivism rates. The resource center’s team of caseworkers is on hand to help people find housing, employment, get medications, food and clothing. These services are typically available for two to six months after release to ease the transition.

jail

Sheriffs across western Carolina are re-assessing the need for jail expansion. Here, Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran checks in with detention officers at his jail’s booking desk. Photo by Jessi Stone.

Parmer has found that most people being released from jail don’t know where to turn for assistance and often times they’re in a worse position than when they were arrested. They could have lost their job, their children and any other stability they had in the community.

“We also connect people that have no support system with a faith-based group that will then become their support system when they’re released,” she said. “People just need somebody to help them maneuver the system. They need to know and see what it’s like to lead a life without drugs — it’s not always glamorous.”

More recently, the resource center received a grant through the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge Initiative  to develop a notification system to remind people of their court date. This is one method local jurisdictions are testing to see if the money bond system can be replaced.

“With the IT department, we developed a web app where people can sign up for court reminders. It’s free and it was developed in a way that it could be used by any county in North Carolina,” Parmer said. “We started it a year ago and utilization is rising steadily. We have about a third of our cases on there for reminders.

“The grant is finished but we’re continuing it. It’s a customer service thing that really the state and the courts should be providing.”

If the notifications can get more people to their court date, then the system would be less bogged down with failure to appear charges and subsequent bench warrants, revoked bonds, deputy and police having to find and bring people in a second time, and higher incarceration rates. The cost associated with failure to appear charges falls on the local taxpayers.

“It’s not easily analyzed statewide, but I’d say probably 10 percent of people in criminal District Court in Durham don’t show up,” she said. “If you’re picked up on a failure to appear, it’s a county cost and a tremendous amount of paper work for the state to process.”

Jail Population Down 20%

The tangible success is that Durham County has decreased its jail population by 20 percent and isn’t looking to spend millions in the immediate future to build a new detention center. Also, the resource center’s diversion programs have had a 90 percent success rate, meaning only 10 percent of clients return on another arrest.

Parmer said there have been even more anecdotal successes that have come out of offering more services. The employment program finds temporary positions in the county government for people released from jail. The resource center’s clients can work with a department full time for six months at $15 an hour.

At the end of the six months, Parmer said, many have been hired on permanently as a county employee. She’s stopped seeing many of the same people struggling with mental health or addiction coming back into the jail time and time again. People who’ve gone through the substance abuse program are still attending NA meetings some 20 years later.

Recovering addicts are also becoming leaders in these programs, whether it’s through NA or by becoming a peer specialist at the resource center.

“Some people we have connected to the faith community are now working as a coordinator for a program,” she said. “We’ve established peer support positions because we know that someone who has gone through the system can provide much better insight and connect better to our clients.”

The biggest improvement the resource center has made is moving people more quickly and efficiently through the system by providing them with the services they need to work toward rehabilitation and stabilization.

“The real impact…is having services along the continuum to help them move forward,” Parmer said.

Her advice to other counties just getting started on trying to rein in overcrowded jails is to start by examining the jails — knowing who’s in the jail, what they’re charged with and how long they’ve been incarcerated.

“Start with a data analysis and begin looking for easy opportunities — lower-level cases — for release. Ask is it worthwhile for your community to lock someone up for a week for shoplifting because they can’t post a $500 bond. We need to ask ourselves if we can give someone a citation and still charge them without arresting and booking them,” she said.

“We need to make sure we’re locking people up for the right reasons.”

Jessi Stone

Jessi Stone

Jessi Stone is a 2018 John Jay Justice Reporting Fellow. The above is a slightly edited compilation of two of the stories in the Smoky Mountain News’ yearlong jail investigation, part of a reporting project undertaken as part of the Fellowship.  The full series and other projects completed for the fellowship can be accessed here.  Jessi welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org