The IACP has launched a re-designed One Mind Campaign webpage to better assist pledged departments in implementing the four strategies of the campaign and to encourage other agencies to take the pledge. Since its inception in March 2016, the One … Continue reading →
The IACP has launched a re-designed One Mind Campaign webpage to better assist pledged departments in implementing the four strategies of the campaign and to encourage other agencies to take the pledge.
Since its inception in March 2016, the One Mind Campaign has focused on four promising strategies to guide departments as they seek to improve their interactions with persons affected by mental illness:
Establish a clearly defined and sustainable relationship with at least one community mental health organization
Develop and implement a written policy addressing law enforcement response to persons affected by mental illness
Demonstrate that 100 percent of sworn officers (and selected non-sworn staff, such as dispatchers) are trained and certified in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)
Demonstrate that 20 percent of sworn officers (and selected non-sworn staff, such as dispatchers) are trained and certified on the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training.
To date, 274 agencies have taken the pledge, and five associations have partnered with IACP to bring awareness to this important issue, including Crisis Intervention Team International, the National Marshall and Constables Association, the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. To learn more about the One Mind Campaign, visit the One Mind Campaign webpage, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pennsylvania corrections chief John Wetzel launched the two-day Washington meeting with an appeal to legislators, corrections administrators, police chiefs and health officials to work together on evidence-based solutions. Another speaker said the White House would back unspecified reforms.
To many Americans, “criminal justice reform” means addressing two prominent challenges: reining in abusive police officers or cutting prison populations.
John E. Wetzel. Photo courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
In opening remarks Monday to the two-day “50-State Summit on Public Safety,” Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel called on fellow justice officials to abandon the “stovepipe approach” of handling issues in isolated silos of the justice system and seek cooperation with experts in other areas.
Wetzel’s remarks set the tone for the meeting, which was aimed at presenting officials in each state with a detailed analysis of their crime issues, including trends in arrests, recidivism and “behavioral health,” and help them come up with evidence-based solutions.
Summit attendees include all state prison directors, 41 state legislators, 35 state behavioral health directors, 15 police chiefs, and 12 sheriffs.
A major theme that surfaced early in the session is that issues often labelled as “criminal justice” problems, such as mental illness and addiction, can be handled just as well by public health authorities.
“Mental health needs are overwhelming the criminal justice system,” warned Fred Osher of the state government group, who presided over a panel on “Growing Crises.”
“Crime in the U.S. often is described only in terms of national trends, while in reality, the problem differs greatly among states and localities. For example, the violent crime rate nationally is much lower than it was in the 1990s, but 18 states have reported rising violence totals in recent years.”
A panel of three police chiefs, Renee Hall of Dallas, J. Thomas Manger of Montgomery County, Md., and Anthony Campbell of New Haven, Ct., discussed a range of approaches being tried in their areas, including more police involvement with schools, and programs to help chronic criminals get jobs.
Hall said police “are not social workers,” but they still believe in forging partnerships with businesses and outside the justice system to help reduce repeat criminality.
In fact, recidivism is another major topic of discussion at the summit, particularly trying to reduce repeated crime among people on probation, a topic not often discussed at such conferences.
Critics often point to the U.S. prison and jail population that tops 2 million, but it’s often overlooked that more than twice as many are on probation or parole.
Repeat crime among those released from prison is 40 percent or more in many states, depending on how it’s measured. The fact that more than 4.6 million people were on probation or parole as of 2015 means that even the lower repeat-crime rate among those convicts mean many more total “recidivism events” by probationers every year, said the Council of State Governments’ Andy Barbee.
Criminologist Edward Latessa of the University of Cincinnati told the conference that too many probation and parole officers act like “referees” whose main job is to determine whether probationers and parolees have violated rules and should be sent back to custody.
Instead, he argued, they should be trained more as “coaches” to take active steps that would prevent those on their caseloads from reoffending.
Bryan Collier, criminal justice director in Texas, and Kathy Waters, probation director for the Arizona Supreme Court, described how their states have used variations on that approach to reduce the totals of people whose probation and parole has been revoked in recent years. Such offenders have accounted for a large percentage of new prison admittees in many states.
The conference heard about a new “Face to Face” program sponsored by the Council of State Governments Justice Center in which public officials are encouraged to meet directly with convicts to hear about their challenges in getting job training or education behind bars.
Attendees were shown a video of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds visiting prisons. The effort is a bipartisan one. Participants so far include Reynolds, a Republican, along with Republican governors of Georgia, Missouri, and Nevada, and Democratic governors in Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Montana, and North Carolina.
One governor who has criminal justice reform high on the agenda is Republican Matt Bevin of Kentucky, a businessman who made a featured appearance at the summit on Monday.
Bevin has backed reforms including easier expungement of some criminal records by former inmates and “banning the box” to bar state officials from asking applicants about their criminal pasts.
He also has started pilot programs in seven adult and juvenile corrections facilities to improve job training for inmates, and is working to remove prohibitions on former convicts’ obtaining state licenses for many occupations.
Bevin took part in a recent White House meeting with Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, to discuss potential justice reforms on the federal level.
The governor said he came away “very confident” that the White House will back reform measures, although he didn’t specify which ones.
Bevin said he was not confident that Congress would agree, although he praised several Republicans, including his state’s Sen. Rand Paul, for joining the reform movement.
After the summit, the U.S. Justice Department will offer “technical assistance” to as many as 25 states to pursue reform measures.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center will issue a report in January with its detailed state crime and justice findings.
The summit is being funded by DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Tow Foundation.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.
Clinicians and cops in three cities team up to divert troubled individuals towards medical treatment instead of jail. A podcast by a North Texas police officer reports on a model program he says could work anywhere in the county.
An extraordinary effort is underway in three Texas cities to proactively police the mentally ill.
The Behavioral Intervention Unit (BIU) in the cities of Hurst, Euless and Bedford, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region, is based on a modified Crisis Intervention Team program developed about a decade ago by local mental health coordinator Ken Bennett and the Hurst Police Department, which sought better integration of mental health clinicians and police.
The Behavior Intervention Unit builds on that by deploying teams of clinicians and cops who patrol each weekday, seeking out those with mental illness to intervene before there is a crisis.
The BIU addresses a problem faced by law enforcement throughout the United States: As mental health funding has been cut and cut, not only have police become the first responders to mental illness in America, but jails have become our asylums.
As communities seek to divert people from jail to the mental health system, they increasingly find that there are simply no beds available in the mental hospitals. So, in a nation without mental health resources and a strong desire to divert the mentally ill from jail, the question becomes, “Divert to where?”
Our Quality Policing podcasts cover issues of good policing, spurred by news developments around the U.S.
Officer Casey Sanders interacts with Floyd, a 64-year-old homeless man, at a Euless park. Photo by Nick Selby.
In this episode, we meet Floyd, a suicidal and homeless 64-year old man with broken ribs, as he is being helped by the BIU. We hear how Floyd is transported to the county hospital for mental health observation, patched up physically, and we follow his journey towards homeless outreach and help.
Soon after, we meet Colt Remington—yes, that’s his real name—an officer who, after talking down a suicidal man holding a gun to his own head, and convincing the man to put the gun down and get some help, was disciplined by his supervisor for not shooting the suicidal man.
This continuum—from the absolute wrong way to the absolute right way—is representative of how “mental health policing” is done in America. Sadly, there are many more police agencies on the left side of that continuum (the reactive, “we’re-cops-not-social-workers” side).
The episode spells out why.
It explains how this is a bipartisan mess. Neither Democrat nor Republican administrations have done “better” at coping with the problem of mental illness. Every president since Lyndon Baines Johnson has cut funding to mental health care in America.
The results should concern all of us: There are ten times more seriously ill patients in America’s prisons and jails than in state and community hospitals.
But in Texas, we can point to examples that can be models for policing nationwide.
The story of this story began about six months ago, when I began speaking with Ken Bennett, the mental health coordinator for the three Northeast Tarrant County suburban police departments.
I had been looking to highlight the wide variation in police department responses to mental illness. Most agencies are still reactive. While many have embraced CIT training, very few have displayed the boldness of the Hurst/Euless/Bedford plan.
Particularly impressive was the proactive determination shown by the three cities and their leaders in establishing the program.
As I say in the podcast, there was no political cost to not implementing the Behavior Intervention Unit’s program.
There were several inspirations for the program. First, I recognized that the Sandra Bland Act, signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in June, could have a profound impact on how the U.S. handles mental illness.
The law requires jailers who learn of a patient’s mental illness to transport that patient to a mental health facility. But in writing about it—in the National Review and, along with Texas Mental Health Peace Officer Colt Remington in USA Today—I realized we needed to hear the people, to humanize the story.
Ken Bennett arranged for permission for me to ride out with and record the BIU teams in October, 2017.
One of the first people we encountered was Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn.
“Our jail population this morning was 4,100; and 25 percent of those people are mental health patients,” he said. “They’re on mental health meds.”
Additional research added weight to our program. The National Alliance on Mental Illness should be everyone’s first step when researching mental illness in America. I spoke with current and former hospital staff at John Peter Smith Hospital near Fort Worth, as well as police, EMTs, and mental health attorneys.
But it was on the street that the challenges to police officers became clear.
“The first thing is to be very non-threatening, to establish that you’re there to help them,” Euless Officer Casey Sanders told us.
“You want to establish some rapport, where you can change their behavior, and that all begins with empathy.”
Unlike most clinicians, Ken Bennett has negotiated, face-to-face, with armed suicidal people. When he spotted Floyd in J.A. Carr Park, they had a long conversation before Floyd admitted being suicidal.
Floyd didn’t ask for help. Actually, his most pressing problem was broken ribs: Floyd could barely breathe and was wheezing. Bennett noticed a hospital band on Floyd’s wrist, and suggested the BIU transport Floyd back to John Peter Smith Hospital for treatment before going to homeless outreach.
Then Sanders recognized Floyd—Floyd’s appearance has changed over the past decade. Sanders’ face lit up. He was genuinely happy to see Floyd.
And I saw Sanders exude the empathy he had described. Even when he patted down Floyd for weapons, the officer continued a light-hearted chit-chat that Floyd responded to with openness and trust.
I thought about the will-power it took for Bennett to envision and create a job and a strategy no one asked him to create; to convince the chiefs of police, the city council, the mayors and the lawyers of three cities to try something so new you can’t even agree on how to measure success.
And I also thought about the risks that all those officials took in moving forward at all.
There was no political penalty for sticking with traditional policing. They built the mental health group anyway.
“This can be a very emotional job,” said Bennett. “Every call you deal with is someone who’s mentally unstable.
“We can’t save everyone. But if we do our jobs and we’re proactive, we’ll probably save more than if we just took a reactive approach.”
If you’d like to hear more, I invite you to listen to Sheriff Waybourn, Ken Bennett and the officers on the teams. Our podcast is available for download here, and also available on iTunes, Stitcher and other podcast outlets.
The drive to diversify police forces and the renewed interest in community policing are transforming law enforcement across the country. But a provocative new book by a Brooklyn College sociology professor argues that these efforts don’t address the underlying problems. He explains why in a conversation with TCR.
Policing in the United States is in the midst of transformative changes, partly spurred by the well-publicized officer-involved shootings around the country—but also as a consequence of generational change, as police ranks open up to a more diversified group of recruits and as departments modernize their training. But Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, argues that little will happen unless police agencies rethink their roles in public safety.
In The End of Policing, Vitale offers a different framework for thinking about how law enforcement relates to the communities it serves. In a chat with TCR’s Isidoro Rodriguez, he explains why the current policing model perpetuates racial bias, why he believes community policing is misconceived, and what he means by the provocative title he chose for his book,
Alex S. Vitale
The Crime Report: The title of your book will attract a lot of attention. But do you really think that policing needs to end?
Alex Vitale: The title has a kind of double meaning. On the one hand, it means should we look at a complete rethinking of policing. But, also, within that, what is the purpose of policing? What is it that we have asked police to do functionally?
The book is really about trying to lay out a process of interrogating our over-reliance on policing, and using evidence-informed alternatives to try and reduce that reliance. And behind that is the understanding that policing is inherently a problematic tool for cities to use to solve problems because it comes with a legacy of reproducing inequality, especially along the lines of race. Also, it relies on the tools of coercion, force, and punitiveness to solve problems; and that brings with it a lot of potential collateral consequences that we should be looking to avoid whenever possible.
TCR: The punitive aspect of policing is a key issue today. Departments across the country continue to face controversy as a result of their officers’ often aggressive methods. As a result, many have implemented programs such as Crisis Intervention Training and placed new emphasis on de-escalation and conflict resolution. Are these the right ways to go?
AV: First of all, a lot of departments aren’t making meaningful changes. They’re not actively embracing significant new training regimes. My view is that, ultimately, training police to better do things that they shouldn’t be doing in the first place is not the ultimate solution. If we could really dial back the things we ask police to do, then we could talk about what kind of training and protocols would be best for doing what’s left. Police is the unit of government that we rely on to be able to use force.
It’s a mistake to think that, somehow, we can just train police to be nice and friendly all the time. Rather than creating this idea that we can make the police nicer, we should really just reduce the number of things we ask them to do.
TCR: One of the main areas where police are taking on more responsibilities than many feel they should is policing the mentally ill. Should we take the responsibility for this population off the shoulders of police who often aren’t even trained to deal with them?
AV: Absolutely. Instead of trying to fine-tune the police response, we need to just end the police response to most of these calls. And we can just look at the United Kingdom as an example of how to move in that direction. There, when someone in a family is having a mental health crisis and a family member calls for help, they call a phone number that’s tied to the national health service. It has nothing to do with the police. A trained mental health nurse practitioner, or other trained mental health worker, responds to that call.
Now, if there is a concern, or an articulation of violence, than it may be necessary for some police backup. But that call is handled as a health crisis call. The UK police don’t want to take those calls, are happy to have mental health professionals doing that work, and are angry that mental health services in the UK are being dialed back and more of the burden is falling on them. And, frankly, there are a lot of cops in the United States who think it’s a mistake to send police on those calls. They don’t want to do them;, they don’t believe that what they’re doing helps; and it’s incredibly fraught.
TCR: Why is there such reticence on the part of American police forces to adopt international examples of successful alternative policing methods like those practiced in the UK?
AV: Because it has nothing to do with the police. This is not their decision to make. This is a decision that’s been made by political leaders not to fund adequate community based mental health services due to a bipartisan consensus around the politics of austerity.
TCR: In the debate on how best to deal with the mentally ill, there’s a strong push for diversion methods such as mental health courts. Do you see that as a successful step of reform?
AV: The courts are not always that successful in diverting people. Whether it’s mental health courts, trafficking courts, or drug courts, they rarely provide the services that are often most needed in these situations: stable supportive housing and access to a stable income, whether it’s through employment or government transfers.
They engage in a lot of therapeutic regimes, which may provide some aid in helping people stabilize, but don’t totally do so in a way that avoids future interactions with these systems.
Instead, we see a lot of churning of people through these courts, through therapeutic regimes and, also, through emergency rooms, police lockups, and jails—often at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year per person. I think what we should be looking at is not pre-incarceration diversion, but pre-arrest diversion. Instead of limiting access to drug treatment to people that get arrested, why not have drug treatment on demand for anyone who needs it? Why not have actual adequate community based mental health services?
Then, if we have those services in place, and there are people who are still producing problems in the community, let’s talk about how to address those individuals from a comprehensive standpoint. Instead, we make no services available, and then we criminalize people for engaging in antisocial behavior.
TCR: Another issue your book addresses is the militarization of the police, both in tactics and the supply of military-grade hardware, a reality memorialized by the protests in Ferguson. Please explain your perspective.
AV: Political violence is a political problem, and it needs to be solved in the political arena. But, too often, rather than addressing those political concerns, our political leaders hand it off to the police to deal with. That leaves, again, police in a no-win situation where they feel the need to use force to resolve what are ultimately political problems. The other thing is that militarization of policing is about a lot more than humvees and tactical vests. It’s about a whole ethos that has become widespread in policing in the United States. About politicians telling police to wage a war on crime, a war on drugs, a war on terror, and a war on disorder and then giving them budgets to buy military equipment and create paramilitary units with training regimes that treat the public as enemies to be neutralized.
We have seen that ethos at work in some of the most horrible abuses of policing. So what is to be done? Quit telling the police they’re at war with the public, scale down the kinds of thing that they’re being asked to deal with, and then think about what kinds of tools, training, and technologies are best for accomplishing that. In my mind, that would result in a vast reduction in the use of militarized equipment and training.
TCR: In your book, you point out that poor and minority populations almost exclusively shoulder the burden of overpolicing. Why?
AV: We persist in a fantasy of color blindness that says the police response is merely a professional technocratic response to where the crime is, but ignore the ways in which our society has been structured along racialized lines and the ways in which poverty in the United States is growing and becoming more entrenched. This includes a lot of white rural communities that are suffering from opioids and other kinds of crime problems.
Our political leaders have chosen to define those communities as criminal rather than as communities that are in deep distress because of entrenched joblessness, discrimination, geographic isolation, etc. If they were to admit that the problems in those communities were the result of market failures, rather than individual moral failures, then they would have to intervene in markets in ways that those who put them in office don’t want them to. To address the problems of inequality in any way other than policing is politically unacceptable in our current political environment.
TCR: As you write in your book, today’s policing issues have deep historical roots—in some cases as far back as the 17th century. Does this history hold any lessons for policing today?
AV: Our popular culture, which is the main source of information that people have on policing, is suffused with the myth of police as neutral, professional crime fighters. In the book, I discuss things like Adam 12, which was created in the wake of the Watts riots, as a tool that the Los Angeles Police Department was actively using to restore public confidence in police along really invented lines. That has become the way police are portrayed primarily in our popular culture. What we don’t see, are the concrete ways in which the police reproduce enforced ghetto segregation, Jim Crow, and carry out the war on drugs and terror along racial lines.
TCR: In your book you describe the “hero narrative” that dominates police thinking about their role. Does that need to be addressed at the start of police training?
AV: Most young people that I know, who have wanted to go into law enforcement, are motivated by a very real and genuine desire to help their communities. They believe that policing is the way to do this. What they don’t understand is the profound legacy of the structural impediments to using policing to truly solve community problems. So, police officers are often very frustrated in their jobs, because what they thought was going to be both exciting and helpful is bureaucratic and pointless. If you read memoirs from police officers, you often get “we spent years arresting people for drugs, and yet everyone in the community could get drugs any time they wanted them.” It’s the utter pointlessness of the enforcement.
TCR: The motivation to help the community is behind many police departments’ renewed drive for adapting community policing methods as a means of creating safer and more effective policing practices. Is this a step in the right direction?
AV: No. I think that community policing merely expands our reliance on police to deal with social problems that would be better handled in other ways. As long as the police are asked to wage simultaneous wars on drugs, terror, disorder, and crime, they cannot do this in a friendly and respectful way. And what the police consider to be the community excludes large portions of these neighborhoods and consigns them to being the enemy.
TCR: So much of your book emphasizes taking money out of criminal justice and putting it into viable progressive social programs. In your opinion, on a party level, is there any push for this kind of monetary change on either side of the fence?
AV: No. My hope is that the theatrical excesses of the Trump administration will create more political space to talk about the kinds of reforms and shifts in social spending that will actually make a difference. But I don’t see too much of that in the works among existing big city politicians. New York City Council members have written me letters, some elected officials came to my book launch in New York, but we have yet to see a true political tendency.
Of course, there are community- based organizations all across the country making these same points. What we need to do is bring together those groups, critical academic researchers, and progressive political leaders, and turn this into a real political movement.
Isidoro Rodriguez is a staff writer for The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.
The mental stability of prominent terrorists in Las Vegas, Charlottesville, Arizona, and South Carolina was widely questioned in the media, but that doesn’t usually happen in the case of Muslim suspects.
Since Tuesday’s New York City terror attack, the news media has focused on various characteristics of suspect Sayfullo Saipov. The media’s gaze has landed on his country of origin, Uzbekistan; the fact he came to the U.S. on a “diversity visa”; a note in his car referencing allegiance to ISIS; and his interest in public displays of religious devotion, which were said not to be matched by his own religious training or curiosity. What isn’t being asked by most commenters, The Intercept reports, is the question that pops up after so many other mass shootings and killings: what about his mental health?
The question of a shooter’s mental health is itself a sensitive matter, and loose speculation about it is unhelpful. It’s notable that if a shooter is Muslim, the question seems less likely to be asked at all — even if the attacker, as in this case, emerges from a truck waving both a BB gun and paintball gun, an act that displays a dubious tethering to reality. For Stephen Paddock, who shot dead 58 people and injured hundreds of others in Las Vegas, the focus quickly moved to his mental health. James Alex Fields, Jr., who slammed his car into anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, also had his mental health examined, as did Jared Lee Loughner, who shot former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and South Carolina church killer Dylann Roof. Fields, Paddock, Loughner and Roof share a quality that Saipov doesn’t — they’re not Muslim, and they’re white. If Muslim terrorists were routinely subjected to this sort of examination in popular media, it might help increase public understanding of the dynamics that fuel terrorism, the Intercept says.
A Vanderbilt Law School professor says evidence of mental impairment could be a useful tool in a reformed justice system that focused on rehabilitation rather than blame. But, he argues in a recent study, under the current system, neuroscience can be used by both prosecutors and defense, and has only limited value in assessing guilt.
Is neurological impairment sufficient evidence to relieve an accused person of criminal liability for his or her acts?
In many cases—especially those involving the death penalty—evidence showing that neurological damage influenced criminal behavior, can be a “double-edged sword,” used by prosecutors as well as defense attorneys, according to a Vanderbilt Law School study.
The study, recently published in the Journal of Law & the Biosciences, argues that neuroscientific evidence has at best limited value when it is used in trials to determine whether or not an individual is guilty—but instead could be more useful as a tool for the prevention of rehabilitation and re-offending.
“Even on the assumption that the data presented are accurate, much commonly proferred neuroscientific evidence is immaterial or only weakly material, not only at trial, but also at sentencing,” wrote the study author, Christopher Slobogin, the Milton Underwood Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University Law School.
Slobogin identified five types of neuroscience evidence that have been used to define “criminal liability and criminal punishment.”
evidence of abnormality—evidence of neurological impairment;
evidence that neurological impairment is common in criminals and those who behave in antisocial manner (Cause-and-effect research);
evidence showing that neurological impairment predisposed the defendant’s criminal behavior;
psycho-neurological testing results that show the defendant’s behavioral impairments are legally relevant; and
evidence showing that the defendant’s impairments are similar to impairments that the law has recognized as exculpatory or mitigating.
Slobogin cites, as an example, the trial of Andrea Yates, a Texas woman convicted of capital murder after she drowned her five children in 2001. In such cases, The question of “intent” to kill could be mitigated by a “mens rea” defense that showed extreme mental or emotional disturbance or a psychosis. On appeal, Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a mental hospital.
Nevertheless, aside from situations where there is “already strong evidence of automatic behavior, lack of intent, or severe cognitive or volitional impairment,” not many states allow these defenses to be introduced in criminal courts, the study pointed out.
“It should be apparent that in most cases neuroscience is not likely to be useful in proving these defenses, even if the court allows it to be introduced,” the study said. “In the typical criminal case…the defendant acts voluntarily, with intent, and with an understanding of the distinctions society makes between right and wrong.”
The “only viable defense” in a typical neuroscience case is either a claim of emotional or mental disturbance or an insanity claim based on “volitional impairment” —a defense recognized by few states.
Capital sentencing cases are the exception. Since the Supreme Court recommends admitting any evidence related to the offender’s character, neuroscience is often used in death penalty cases, the study said.
Slobogin notes, however, that bringing in neuroscience as a defense even in capitol punishment cases can be a “double-edged sword,” since prosecutors can use it to argue that a person’s “dangerousness” is an argument in favor of the death penalty.
The study said this issue could be removed if prosecution references to a person’s dangerousness were banned, or if a requirement were introduced to instruct the jury “that the only alternative to the death penalty is life without parole, alerting them to the fact no one outside of prison will be endangered by the defendant if the jury rejects the death penalty.”
The death penalty could also be formally removed from the sentencing choices open to the jury if evidence of neurological damage is presented during the sentencing phase of the trial.
However, Slobogin, also says he is sympathetic to arguments for a “more radical” legal reform that would transform the justice system into a “vehicle for addressing the causes of criminal behavior” rather than simply establishing blame or guilt.
“Prevention of reoffending would be a significant goal of such a (reformed) system, but so would rehabilitation,” he wrote.
Under such a change, the role of neuroscience would be critical, he argued.
“Neuroscience experts would focus not on blameworthiness or desert, but on risk and treatment.”
This summary was prepared by TCR intern Julia Pagnamenta. The full study can be downloaded here. Readers’ comments are welcome.
Often missing in the gun control debate is the perspective of those who worry that a loved one might catalyze the next American tragedy. In the aftermath of Las Vegas, one of our regular columnists provides a poignant example.
The attack in Las Vegas earlier this month was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, with 58 dead and hundreds of people injured. While the families of the victims and Americans around the country grieve the catastrophic loss of life, legislators and lobbyists are already strategizing how to use this shooting as a catalyst for pushing their gun policies.
But what’s often missing in the debate is the perspective of those who worry that a loved one might catalyze the next American gun tragedy. Their anxieties make clear how helpless they feel in the absence of any framework to regulate who obtains deadly weapons in our society.
For example, a few years ago, I met a woman I’ll call “Jane Doe” during a visit to the psychiatric unit of INOVA Fairfax Hospital in Northern Virginia. I was visiting a human trafficking survivor whom I had recently rescued, and “Jane” was visiting her 27-year-old son, who was also a patient in the same psychiatric unit.
As we waited for the private security-controlled elevator to descend, I couldn’t help noticing that she was upset. Her son, she confided as we began to talk, was mad at her because she “took his gun away.”
She told me more as we walked together to the parking garage. During a conversation that lasted nearly an hour, I learned that her son suffered from bipolar disorder and paranoia.
“He thinks ‘they’ are after him and helicopters are following him,” she said.
“Jane” was trained as a clinical social worker and clearly loved her son, but she expressed a real fear that he was capable of hurting someone—potentially lots of people.
Just as disturbing to her was the fact that her son was able to buy a firearm at all while he was under psychiatric treatment.
With barely disguised incredulity, she recounted how he had bought his gun in a transaction that took less than 20 minutes. Like many Americans, she was under the misconception that the background check to purchase a firearm took three days and that persons who suffered from serious mental illness were precluded from buying one.
Unfortunately, screening for mental health history at federally licensed firearm dealers is cursory at best, and background checks can be circumvented in most states through private sales.
For example, in Virginia, where “Jane Doe” and her son reside, purchasing a firearm is as simple as presenting the licensed distributer with two proofs of identification, paying a small fee, and waiting a few minutes while the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) checks for any criminal history.
The gun distributor was not required to ask her son any questions about mental illness, so the fact that he had been voluntarily committed to mental institutions on countless occasions, across three different states, was inconsequential to his weapon procurement.
“Jane Doe’s” frustration was palpable.
In addition to finding the weapon, she recovered a concealed-weapons permit from her son’s apartment. She immediately called the local police and courts and warned the agents to deny his application if he were to reapply for a weapon.
“They didn’t know how to answer my questions,” she recalled. “It was like I was the first parent to call with a concern about a gun in the hands of a loved one with mental illness. They told me the records were sealed.”
I never saw “Jane Doe” again. As far as I know, her son remains in psychiatric treatment, and I am not aware of any gun-related incident involving him.
But how many tragedies-in-waiting are going unremarked around our country?
Why do we—and the thousands of “Jane Does”—have to keep waiting for measures that can eliminate such threats before they materialize?
Helplessness should not be our fallback emotion.
Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco holds a PhD in Criminology, Law and Society from George Mason University. She is the author of “Hidden in Plain Sight: America’s Slaves of the New Millennium,” which will be published by Praeger/ABC-Clio this month. She welcomes readers’ comments.
State corrections authorities spend more than $8 billion a year on health care programs for prisoners, but are they cost-effective? A study by Pew Charitable Trusts says the aging of America’s prison population adds renewed urgency to monitoring—and improving—efforts to treat prisoners’ special health needs both during and after incarceration.
The aging population of America’s prisons adds renewed urgency to efforts to provide continuing health care services to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who are released from state incarceration each year, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.
A nationwide Pew study released Wednesday found dramatic variation in the amount states spend per inmate on correctional health care—ranging from $2,173 in Louisiana to $19,796 in California in 2015—and concluded that a “seamless” approach to assist justice-involved individuals with their health needs during and after prison should be a critical goal for state policymakers and corrections administrators.
Effective post-prison health care programs can “slow down the revolving door from jail, to the streets, and back to jail,” the study said.
“At least 95 percent of those in state prisons eventually leave (and) more than half a million individuals do so in a typical year,” said the study. “So prisons and communities are constantly reintegrating returning residents, a disproportionate share of whom have a chronic disease, including a behavioral health condition or an infectious disease.
“Therefore, their prospects for a successful re-entry are affected by the seamlessness of their health care transition.”
The study noted that formerly incarcerated individuals as a group generally have more serious health care needs than the regular population, and added that statistics show that the share of older individuals in prison rose between 2010-2015 in all 44 states who participated in earlier studies by Pew and the Vera Institute of Justice.
Their needs on leaving prison were therefore often more critical, such as continuing treatment for addiction disorders and dementia.
“The time immediately following release is especially dangerous, even deadly,” Maria Schiff. Senior Officer on States Fiscal Health at Pew Charitable Trusts, and one of the authors of the study, said in a Webinar introducing Wednesday’s report.
She added that former incarcerees are especially vulnerable to drug overdoses, heart attacks , and complications of mental health that can lead some to suicide without continued post-prison treatment and counseling.
Some of the variations in state spending reflect the differences between the 30-plus states who accepted the expansion of Medicaid eligibility for justice-involved individuals provided under the Affordable Care Act of 2014 and those who didn’t.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, for example registered a 9 percent decline in inflation-adjusted per-inmate spending fall by 9 percent from fiscal year 2013 to 2015, largely as a result of activating Medicaid coverage for prisoners.
The drop in hospital spending alone by more than half accounted for most of the decline.
But an assessment of prison and post-prison health care is complicated by the sharp differences between states in monitoring their systems, according to the study, which added the lack of federal requirements for collecting data on their correctional health care programs was a major stumbling block .
The study’s recommendations included establishing a legislative requirement at the state level to collect such data, and create effective, transparent and predictable reporting systems to ensure that effective correctional health care wasn’t subject to the yearly shifts in state budget allocations.
“Well-run, forward-thinking prison health care systems are vital to state aims of providing care to incarcerated individuals, protecting communities, strengthening public health, and spending money wisely,” said the study, the latest in a series of Pew reports analyzing trends in state correctional health care.
“Likewise, poorly performing systems threaten to make states less safe, less healthy, and less fiscally prudent.”
The study, based on data collected from two surveys in 2015 and 2016 administered by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Vera Institute of Justice, along with interviews with more than 75 state officials, found that state departments of correction collectively spent $8.1 billion on prison health care services for incarcerated individuals during fiscal year 2015—which represented about a fifth of overall state prison expenditures.
The 2015 survey was completed by every state except New Hampshire, and the 2016 survey also lacked data from New Hampshire, as well as Kansas and Alabama.
The authors of the Pew study said monitoring and improving the cost-effectiveness—and quality— of the health services provided to prisoners and the formerly incarcerated should be high on the agenda of state legislatures.
“With nearly all incarcerated individuals eventually returning to society, treatment and discharge planning—especially for those with a substance use disorder, mental illness, or infectious disease—play an important role in statewide anti-recidivism and public health efforts,” the study said.
“Yet (state legislators and correctional administrators) often lack the information they require to build and maintain high-performing prison health care systems that proactively make the most of diagnostic and treatment opportunities and avert the harmful and expensive consequences of inattention or missteps.
“They need to know how much money is being spent on what services and why; what benefits are achieved for those dollars; and whether these benefits are preserved post-prison through well-coordinated prison-to-community transitions.”
Schiff said that helping states get their correctional health care systems “right,” was equally important to former prisoners and their families.”
“The stakes are high and failure is expensive to all of us,” she said.
The other authors of the report were Kil Huh (senior director), Alex Boucher, Frances McGaffey, and Matt McKillop.
The full study, entitled “Prison Health Care: Costs and Quality: How and Why States Strive for High-Performing Systems,” can be downloaded here.
This summary was prepared by Stephen Handelman, editor of The Crime Report, with the assistance of TCR news intern Megan Hadley. Readers’ comments are welcome.
Observations I’m suggesting that we focus almost exclusively on mental health and the co-occurring issue of substance abuse. With budget limitations, we can’t be all things to all people. Are we at the point where we need to completely rethink our approach to programs for offenders? Little will happen until we stabilize people in need. […]
Observations I’m suggesting that we focus almost exclusively on mental health and the co-occurring issue of substance abuse. With budget limitations, we can’t be all things to all people. Are we at the point where we need to completely rethink our approach to programs for offenders? Little will happen until we stabilize people in need. […]
Efforts to close facilities like the Rikers Island jail complex in New York won’t work unless authorities find alternative ways to deal with seriously mentally ill individuals who run afoul of the justice system, New York’s former chief judge told conference-goers last week.
Efforts to close down Rikers Island, America’s largest jail complex, need to begin with finding effective alternative treatment for mentally ill individuals who are confined behind bars because there are no other places for them to go, according to New York’s former chief judge.
“These people are not in Rikers because they’re hardened criminals,” said Jonathan Lippman. “They’re there because they have a problem, (and) they don’t need to be brutalized by a penal colony that is a relic of the past.
“Instead of tough or soft on crime, let’s be smart.”
Lippman, who served as Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals between 2009 and 2015, spoke at an October 4 forum on the future of the Rikers Island facility, which authorities have promised to close within 10 years.
He was chair of the Independent Commission that produced the April 2017 report recommending the closure of Rikers.
The Hon. Jonathan F. Lippman. Photo by Models for Change via Flickr
The forum, entitled “Closing in on Closing Rikers,” was held at Baruch College of the City University of New York, and examined viable alternatives to prison for the mentally ill that have enjoyed success in other states.
At Rikers, 19% of the inmates have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness.
“We’re not getting at that population yet, but if we’re going to close Rikers we have to do so,” said Cheryl Roberts, Executive Director of The Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice, a nonprofit organization advocating for justice reform that co-sponsored this event.
Working with the New York Daily News and the Metro Area Industrial Foundation, The Greenburger Center invited behavioral health care expert Leon Evans, President and CEO of the Center for Health Care Services in San Antonio, Texas; and Miami-Dade County Mental Health Court Judge Steven Leifman—both of whom have pioneered strategies aimed at finding alternatives to incarceration (ATI) for the seriously mentally ill.
Leifman told the group he is still horrified by the memory of his visit years ago to a mental health hospital in Miami-Dade County while he was an intern for a prominent Miami legislator.
“I walked into a hellhole,” he said, recalling the sight of one teenager strapped to a bed and given thorazine which made him overweight. The teenager, it turned out, was not there for psychiatric treatment; he was autistic.
In another part of the hospital, he witnessed six naked men being hosed off by a guard as if they were animals.
But today, he pointed out, the mental health system’s failure to provide adequate care for troubled individuals has only shifted the burden to jails and prisons.
“(Some) 40% of all people with mental illnesses in this country at some point in their life will come into contact with the criminal justice system,” said Leifman, who has been one of the country’s most influential advocates of ATI.
Other participants in the forum included New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, an outspoken advocate for local and national criminal justice reform.
“Looking at the way we look at incarceration, and having the punishment fit the crime, is critically important,” said Speaker Mark-Viverito.
In support of this idea, to date, Speaker Viverito and the New York City Council have contributed over $6 million to ATI initiatives, and recently passed the Criminal Justice Reform Act which decriminalized non-violent, low-level offences and replaced them with a summons.
“When you think about incarcerating someone for public urination, it’s unpleasant, but does that really make sense?” asked Speaker Viverito, who believes that authorities have to re-envision their approach to non-violent offenders who are apprehended for minor crimes—if they are ever to reach their goal of permanently closing Rikers.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than two million people are arrested and booked into jails each year. A 2010 survey by the Treatment Advocacy Center found that people with mental illness are nine times more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized, and 18 times more likely to find a bed in the criminal justice system than at any state and civil hospital.
These statistics are reflected in Rikers where, according to a 2015 New York Times article, a total of 4,000 men and women with diagnosed mental illnesses are incarcerated at any given time.
This number represents more than all the adult patients in New York State psychiatric hospitals combined.
But the problem is nationwide, according to Judge Liefman.
“On any given day, there are approximately 360,000 people with serious mental illnesses in jails and prisons and another 760,000 under correctional supervision,” he said.
“This is a shameful American tragedy and it must and can be reversed.”
To demonstrate what can be done to achieve this goal, Leifman discussed the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Criminal Mental Health Project, which he implemented in Florida in 2000. The project seeks to steer people with mental illness that have committed low-level offences away from incarceration and towards community-based care.
“Anybody that gets arrested on a misdemeanor in dade county, within three days they are evaluated and transferred from jail to one of our public or private crisis stabilization units,” said Leifman.
“Because they are on a criminal hold, we can reset the case to a few weeks, give them an opportunity to stabilize, have a team go see them, and offer them an opportunity to come into the program.”
If the person is accepted into the program, they can be in from three months to a year, depending on their illness and charges. While there, they are helped to find housing, clothes, benefits, and are assigned a peer counselor and case management assistance to lower their chances of reoffending.
Leifman said that, as a result of this program, recidivism rates in arrests of the mentally ill have, to date, fallen from 70% to 20%.
This focus on treatment and diversion over arrest and incarceration is believed by the criminal justice community to be the best option for improving what is considered a broken and costly system.
Miami-Dade County Judge Steven Liefman. Photo by Isidoro Rodriguez
According to a 2014 report from The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, the U.S. spends $80 billion on incarceration costs every year. By relying on the criminal justice system to provide services, taxpayers are losing money by putting away people who come out worse than when they went in, Liefman observed.
“It’s gotten so bad that our communities are now having to choose between building a new jail and a new school or hospital,” he said.
“There’s something wrong with a society that is more willing to incarcerate its (population) than it is to treat it.”
For Judge Lippman, Rikers Island is a symbol of the misguided idea that mass incarceration has any rehabilitative function.
“Whether you’re there for three days, three weeks, or three years, you wind up in a much worse place than when you came in,” said Lippman, who agrees that diversion and treatment are the best course of action.
“It’s not just about punishing people, but it’s what the outcomes are for people coming into the criminal justice system and the impact on society.”
In addition, through research for his report recommending the closure of Rikers, Lippman found that by closing the prison, and focusing on smaller, more up-to-date facilities, New York would save over $1 billion annually.
The first step, in his mind, is lowering the prison population from 10,000 to 5,000, and the mentally ill are a key population.
“We need programs to focus on mental health in particular,” he said. “Programs that identify people with mental health problems before they get into the system.”
He cited programs such as Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), which police departments around the country, including New York, Texas, and Florida, have begun implementing with some success.
Focusing on de escalation, conflict resolution, and training to identify the symptoms of mental illness, CIT enables officers to decide if diversion is a necessary response to any situation.
“From 2008, when we started CIT, we had 117,000 arrests in Dade County,” noted Leifman. “This year , it was 56,000. Our jail audit went in half,”
According to Evans of San Antonio’s Center for Health Care Services, CIT-trained officers working with his program’s “one-stop shop” for treating the mentally ill and others in crisis were able to decrease the county jail population by 22%.
“Treatment does work,” said Evans, whose center offers psychiatric care, substance use services, and general healthcare. However, he stresses that the success of these kinds of programs depends on collaboration.
While first serving as the Director of Community Services for the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, Evans became aware of all the people in the prison system of Texas who shouldn’t be there.
He immediately began working on an idea for a diversion program that would break the pattern of criminalizing the mentally ill in his county. However, in trying to get various departments and elected officials together, Evans experienced a lot of push back.
“Almost everybody said, ‘that’s a great plan, but not with my money,’” said Evans. “So, I went to the county judge.”
Working alongside the then newly appointed County Judge Nelson Wolff, Evans utilized this political muscle to help convene a health summit. Gathering together hospital executives, lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and business representatives, he built support for a more pragmatic and beneficial mental health system; one that meant less money spent on criminal justice, less-crowded hospitals, and homeless-free streets.
As a result, since the program’s implementation in 2002, Evans reported that recidivism rates for the mentally ill in his county currently stand at 6.6%, versus the national average for felons after release of 43% as reported by the Pew Research Center, and that taxpayers in San Antonio and Bexar County have saved more than $50 million over the last five years.
It is an example of cooperation and cohesion that he insists is necessary to emptying out jails and prisons like Rikers around the country.
“Be brave enough to talk about what doesn’t work, collect the data,” said Evans. “It’s not about who’s doing good or who’s doing better, it’s about improvement.”
According to Leifman, thanks to benefits like the passing of Kendra’s Law and access to extended Medicaid, New York is, in some ways, ahead of the game.
“We just got the law changed to be able to expand our AOT, which is an amazing pool for (the mentally ill) population,” said Leifman. “That’s one of the things you already have with Kendra’s Law.”
Effective since November of 1999, Kendra’s law grants judges the authority to issue orders that require people who meet certain criteria to regularly undergo psychiatric treatment. Coupled with mental health courts, which offer early screening in the court system, the law is a powerful tool in identifying and diverting the mentally ill out of the criminal justice system and into developing ATI programs such as the Greenberger Center’s own Hope House.
Scheduled to open in the Bronx in 2018, Hope House will be an assisted outpatient treatment center offering care and services comparable to the programs developed by Leifman and Evans.
The access to extended Medicaid allows prisoners to apply for insurance coverage while incarcerated and access said coverage upon release, the often impoverished mentally ill will have access to the funds needed to maintain medications and care.
Participants in the forum agreed that though many steps have been taken in the right direction, there is no one solution to the problem of Rikers, and no quick fixes in a system that still suffers from a “tough on crime” policy that stubbornly fails to acknowledge the data and science fueling the effort for change.
Joking that his program is an “overnight 17-year success,” Evans pointed out that achieving change and cooperation required the aid of a County Judge willing to bring together the community and make everyone work towards a solution.
He warned that what worked in one county in one state may not succeed elsewhere.
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
“Change is hard,” said Evans. “There’s so much politics involved, there’s so much money involved, and nobody wants the spotlight on them.”
Speaker Viverito agreed.
“Yes, we’re starting to see some sort of conversation and change of view and perspective on a national level,” she said. “But it’s still very challenging to get people to think that incarceration is not the only solution to the problem.”
Though the Criminal Justice Reform Act passed, and seemed a simple solution to ebbing the tide of New York’s incarcerated, it, nonetheless, met with controversy and resistance.
“People thought that we were having the city run amuck,” said Viverito.
“Bringing the mental health challenges to the forefront and making sure it’s not a conversation that is held behind closed doors will take us a long way to dealing with the issue,” said Viverito.
Isidoro Rodriguez is a New York-based contributor to The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.