Justice Reformers, ‘Fueled by Sense of Urgency,’ Vow to End Status Quo

Jeremy Travis and Bruce Western, leaders of the so-called Square One Project, say their project will sponsor a series of roundtables across the nation aimed at transforming the justice system. According to Travis, the status quo in criminal justice is “profoundly unacceptable.”

A new push to “reimagine” the criminal justice system is “fueled by a sense of urgency” that the status quo in criminal justice is “profoundly unacceptable,” says Jeremy Travis of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

Jeremy Travis. Courtesy John Jay College

Travis, former president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Bruce Western, now of Columbia University’s Justice Lab, led a study by a National Academy of Sciences panel four years ago that traced the sharp growth in incarceration in the United States since the 1970s.

Now, Travis and Western are leaders of a new effort funded by the Arnold Foundation along with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations that was formally launched on Thursday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The so-called Square One Project, promoting the idea that the justice system should be redesigned from “square one,” consists of two primary segments—an “executive session on the future of justice policy” that will help generate “a new narrative of justice in America,” and a series of roundtables across the nation to hold open discussions of key criminal justice issues.

Travis and Western made clear that the new project was conceived as a follow-up to their study on the nation’s prison growth. (It was the same issue—the fact that more than two million people are locked up in prisons and jails—that prompted former U.S. Sen. James Webb to promote the so-far-unsuccessful idea of a new national crime commission.)

Western noted on Thursday that since the National Academy of Sciences study was issued, the U.S. incarceration rate has declined a bit but remains far above the level of the mid-1970s.

In a paper on criminal justice reform issued as the new project began, Western cited “a large racial disparity: black men are five to six times more likely to be imprisoned than white men.”

Despite a series of criminal justice reforms in recent years, the fact remains that “prison populations are extraordinarily large and criminal justice agencies are focused in myriad ways on the task of punishment,” Western said.

Bruce Western

Bruce Western

One focus of the “reimagining” justice project will be on the intersection of three problems: racial inequalities, poverty and violence, Western explained.

He wrote that poor neighborhoods must “contend with violence” and that “violence can flourish where poverty has depleted a neighborhood of steady employment community organizations, and a stable population that can monitor street life.”

The first roundtable sponsored by the project, to be held in October at North Carolina Central University in Durham, will concern issues involving race and criminal justice.

Arthur Rizer

Arthur Rizer

Another strand of the project discussed on Thursday was a “call for a revised set of values in criminal justice” from Arthur Rizer of the R Street Institute, a research organization that describes its aim as helping “to promote free markets and limited, effective government.”

Rizer published a paper for the project advocating application of the limited government concept to criminal justice. He contends that “the overcriminalization and overincarceration of justice-involved individuals has resulted in the depletion of state coffers across the nation.”

“Local, state, and federal policymakers should be continuously seeking … to increase an individual’s likelihood of rehabilitation and, therefore, to reduce crime while wisely stewarding taxpayer dollars,” Rizer argues.

Travis stressed that a goal of the project, which is scheduled to last for three years, will be to “build a network” of people nationwide who will press for more effective criminal justice practices.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcomed.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Do White Men Still Have a Singular Claim to Power in Politics?

In a new podcast, titled “The Dream Was Not Mine,” on The United States of Anxiety, produced by WNYC studios, Amanda Aronczyk and Nancy Solomon explore how midterm elections could be affected by the rise of women pushing back against sexual and domestic abuse in politics and in the White House.

In a new podcast, titled “The Dream Was Not Mine,” on The United States of Anxiety, produced by WNYC studios, Amanda Aronczyk and Nancy Solomon explore how midterm elections could be affected by the rise of women pushing back against sexual and domestic abuse in politics and in the White House.

“This election cannot be separated from the #MeToo movement that has erupted over the past year,” said host Kai Wright.

“We have to consider the private, personal way male power has operated in lives of thousands of women and what it means for women not challenge that power.”

Jennifer Willoughby

Jennifer Willoughby. Photo by Howard Kurtz from Fox New’s Media Buzz.

Jennifer Willoughby, Rob Porter’s ex wife (who was the former White House Staff Secretary) challenged that power when she spoke out against her husband’s physical, mental and emotional abuse.

“I wanted the white, middle-class life… until I didn’t. The marriage was a mess,” Willoughby described in the podcast.  According to Willoughby, the only way to survive, and not commit suicide, was to leave the abusive marriage. And in 2013, she did.

When the FBI was combing through Porter’s file during a background check, they reached out to Willoughby and she told them, in detail, about the domestic violence in her marriage. Shortly afterwards, the media got hold of the story, and Porter’s abuse became public.

However, not many in the White House believed the allegations, and actively rejected Willoughby’s claim.

The White House demonstrated they didn’t care,  said Wright. They called Rob Porter a man of dignity and honor.

But Willoughby stood her ground and rejected a man’s assertion of power in her life, Wright continued.

“She began to question the very nature of power and privilege. She realized truly challenging power means re imagining it all together,” the podcast said.

Now, women have developed a different idea about what they want from our democracy and how they can get it, according to the podcast.

A  record number of women running for office, including Stacey Abrams, an African-American woman running for governor in Georgia, and  Christine Hallquist, a transgender woman running for governor in Vermont, the podcast noted.

“Many of them are women who looked up after 2016 election and said something has got to change.”

A full copy of the show can be found here.

Amanda Aronczyk of WNYC public radio in New York is a 2018 John Jay Justice Reporting Fellow. This podcast was produced for her domestic violence reporting fellowship project.

from https://thecrimereport.org

U.S. Prison Agency Wasted $1.7M in Construction, IG Says

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons spent more than $1.7 million to construct an entry building at the Danbury federal prison in Connecticut that was no longer necessary, the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General says. The watchdog unit said the spending was part of a $28 million contract to Sealaska Constructors LLC for construction at Danbury.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP), spent more than $1.7 million to construct an entry building at the Danbury federal prison in Connecticut that was no longer necessary, the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General reports. The Justice Department watchdog said the spending was part of a $28 million contract to Sealaska Constructors LLC for construction at Danbury.

The inspector general said the misspending resulted from “weaknesses in… project planning.” It said the prison agency “had not anticipated significant problems with its plan to convert … Danbury’s existing federal prison camp to a facility with a higher security level.”

By the time BOP identified the problems and implemented an alternative plan, the money had been wasted, the inspector general said. “In our judgment, the unnecessary construction of the entry building, as well as the delay in adding the Programs Building could have been avoided or minimized with better BOP planning, coordination, and communication,” the report said.

The watchdog made eight recommendations for BOP to improve its contract administration.

This summary was prepared by Ted Gest, TCR Washington Bureau Chief


from https://thecrimereport.org

Murder Rates Dropping in 2018: A Preliminary Analysis

The NYU’s Brennan Center calculates that murder rates in America’s 29 largest cities will drop by 7.6 percent over the previous year; falling off to levels approximately equal to 2015 rates. Notably, the report projects a 35 percent decline in homicides in San Francisco, 23.2 percent in Chicago, and 20.9 percent in Baltimore.

A new report issued by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University projects an overall decline in crime in big cities in 2018, with a larger drop-off in homicides, particularly in cities where violent crime has spiked in recent years.

Authors of the report calculate that murder rates in America’s 29 largest cities will drop by 7.6 percent over the previous year; falling off to levels approximately equal to 2015 rates.

Notably, the report projects a 35 percent decline in homicides in San Francisco, 23.2 percent in Chicago, and 20.9 percent in Baltimore. If projections hold, this would mean a hard reverse in Baltimore’s murder trend, dropping to levels not seen since 2014.

“These findings directly undercut claims that American cities are experiencing a crime wave. Instead, they suggest that increases in the murder rate in 2015 and 2016 were temporary, rather than signaling a reversal in the long-term downward trend,” wrote the authors.

Despite an overall downward trend, the news isn’t good for a few other cities: in particular, researchers calculate a 34.9 percent increase in Washington, D.C.’s murder rates over last year, and a 29.9 percent increase in Austin.

To estimate year-end crime and murder rates, researchers used raw data from individual police departments, interpreting incident-level data to be consistent with each city’s Uniform Crime Report data to the FBI for previous years. Nineteen cities provided complete data on crimes that occurred this year, and 29 cities contributed murder data.

To estimate year-end crime data, researchers used raw data from 19 cities on crimes that have occurred this year, interpreting incident-level data to be consistent with each cities’ UCR reports for previous years. The remaining 11 cities could not provide raw data for 2018. For rate calculations, the authors projected city population assuming the average rate of population growth for the past three years remained constant through 2018.

Overall, authors project a 2.9 percent decrease in crime rates, “essentially holding stable,” they wrote. “If this estimate holds, this group of cities will experience the lowest crime rate this year since at least 1990.”

Year-end data for 2017 issued by the FBI Uniform Crime Report is forthcoming.

Crime and Murder 2018: A Preliminary Analysis was published by the Brennan Center of Justice at the NYU School of Law. The report, authored by Ames C. Grawert, Adureh Onyekwere, and Cameron Kimble, can be found online here. This summary was prepared by TCR’s Deputy Editor-Investigations Victoria Mckenzie

from https://thecrimereport.org

North Dakota Changes the Rules on Solitary

In a response to the growing consensus that the practice of solitary confinement  is cruel and ineffective, North Dakota has reduced the number of infractions that sends prisoners into isolation—and has changed how inmates are treated if they are sent into “administrative segregation.” The reforms came after a visit by Leann Bertsch, the state’s prison chief, to Norway.

Among the slightly more than two million people incarcerated in the United States, thousands serve time in solitary confinement, isolated in small often windowless cells for 22 to 24 hours a day. Some remain isolated for weeks, months or even years.

In recent years, there has been a growing consensus that the practice of solitary confinement, sometimes known as “administrative consensus,” is cruel and ineffective.

North Dakota is one state that is addressing the drive for change..

Thanks to efforts by  Leann Bertsch, North Dakota’s director of corrections and rehabilitation, and president of the Association of State Correctional Administrators, the state has begun to change solitary from an exclusively punitive  approach to one aimed at changing behavior and helping inmates develop new skills that they can use when they are released from administrative segregation—and from prison.

Her inspiration came after a trip to Norway organized by U.S. prison reform groups.

Bertsch called it a defining moment and decided to speed up reforms already in the works for the state’s prison system.

“There’s such an overemphasis on punishment and punitiveness,” Bertsch says. “You know Norway talks about punishment that works and when they mean it to work, it’s to actually make society safer by getting people to be law-abiding individuals and desist from future reoffending.”

North Dakota prison officials met to figure out how to do that in the United States.

Bertsch says they worked to define what could land people in segregated housing in the first place.

“There were a lot of different behaviors that could get you in before so we really narrowed it down,” she says.

The Old Prison Philosophy

Solitary confinement goes by many names: the hole, isolation, protective custody, the SHU (special housing unit). Whatever the name, its designed purpose is to punish disruptive inmates who break rules and to keep the prison safe by removing them from the general population.

But for many inmates,  it left psychological scars.

“You’re shut off from the world and you wait,” says Olay Silva, a 41-year-old inmate serving time in Bismarck, N.D.’s maximum-security prison. Silva spent six months in solitary after he was involved in a stabbing.

“You just sit there and wait.”

During a tour of the state penitentiary in Bismarck, Chief of Security Joe Charvat walks over to the West Wing and gestures toward the solid doors that close off the entrance of each cell.

“This area used to house our administrative segregation unit which has since been moved to another area,” he explains.

“Administrative segregation” used to be the prison system’s name for solitary confinement. In those days, there was little contact between corrections officers and those behind the doors. Warden Colby Braun says for years,

North Dakota’s isolation unit operated just like many others.

“It was 23 hours a day lockdown. So you had one hour of recreation a day including showers. That was for five days a week,” he says. “So on the weekends you were generally locked down for 24 hours… you were in your cell, you do not come out for any reason.”

The European Influence

Now things are different. There’s much more recreation time for inmates in solitary. Prisoners spend several hours learning new skills. And they also focus on changing their behavior.

They dropped minor infractions like talking back to a corrections officer, and created a top 10 list of dangerous behaviors, such as serious assault, using a weapon and murder. The new name for the prison’s segregated housing became Behavior Intervention Unit (BIU).

Clinical Director Lisa Peterson says the goal is to help people succeed after they leave, as it was clear the old way wasn’t working.

“The idea that somebody is just going to sit there and think about what they did and magically know how to handle a situation differently in the future is not accurate. So we have to be pro-active in helping people know how to change,” Peterson says.

The state penitentiary in Bismarck can house about 800 inmates. They are mostly white. Native Americans make up the largest minority population. In late 2015 when North Dakota started changing its solitary confinement practice, there were 80 to 90 people in isolation. In late June of this year, there were only about 20.

The people in the unit go through a mental health screening to determine in part if they have any suicidal thoughts. They participate in group therapeutic sessions, and learn skills, such as how to cope with anger.

As correctional officers make their rounds, they talk with inmates about how they’re doing. Instead of just writing up an inmate for any negative behavior, officers also write “positive behavior reports” for any positive activity they notice. Skill building and rapport building are big at the prison now.

Solitary’s Impact

In the BIU, Cell 102 is empty. The door has a long vertical window plus a slot for food. Warden Braun walks in and sits on the slim mattress on top of the metal bed. In the room, there’s also a metal toilet and sink, a small metal desk and seat.

What’s surprisingly different is that there also are several electrical outlets in the room. Some prisoners who own a TV or a tablet can have it in the cell. Another narrow, vertical window lets in light from outside.


Chief of Security Joe Charvat walks the halls of the state penitentiary’s Behavior Intervention Unit (BIU) — the prison’s name for solitary confinement. Typically there are about 20 inmates in the cells, far fewer than in previous years. by Cheryl Corley/NPR

“So when you get closer to the end of the wing, the person can actually see cars going by,” Braun says.

Medical groups have issued strong warnings about how prolonged isolation causes human damage — depression, anxiety, a loss of contact with reality and suicide, especially among the mentally ill. The United Nations and other groups call it torture and say in most cases, solitary confinement should be banned. In North Dakota, the average stay for inmates, with some exceptions, is 30 to 45 days.

Inmates Respond 

Michael Taylor says the first time he landed in the old segregation unit it was for using the law library without permission.

Taylor says he was angry and acted out whenever he was placed in solitary.

“I would go back there and trash the tiers,” the 21-year-old says. “I’d argue with staff, I just didn’t care.”

Taylor says working with the therapists in the new solitary unit has made a difference. So much so that Taylor says he’d like to become a counselor after he gets out.

lay Silva agrees the switch has helped change an often tense situation between inmates, whom Silva says would curse the prison staff, and corrections officers who would often ignore the people in solitary or didn’t get them things they needed.

“That’s not really the case a lot now,” Silva says. Now officers “reward you for being involved. They don’t let you just sit back there and just basically dwell.”

Staff Buy-In Wasn’t Easy

Corrections Director Bertsch says getting buy-in from the staff wasn’t easy. The staff had to overcome the damaging perception that violence would increase and that the changes would put them at risk.

“We still have some resistance,” Bertsch says, “but when we started doing this, there was a lot of resistance and some people just needed to leave.”

Even Warden Braun had misgivings.

“I was scared to death,” he says. “I was scared for staff. I was scared for the facility. I was scared when we talked about specific guys leaving, and I was wrong.”

One of the staffers who stayed on the job is Case Manager David Roggenbuck, who oversees officers and activities in the BIU. He worked previously as an officer in the old solitary unit and was skeptical about the change at first.

“Kind of the mindset is if you don’t like being in prison, don’t come. Don’t commit a crime, don’t come. You’re here — well, tough cookies,” he says. “I’ve really looked at that and what does that accomplish? If I have that type of mentality, all that’s going to do is keep a person the same as when they came in, if not make them worse.”

Roggenbuck admits it took him awhile to change his attitude. Now, he says, everyone deserves a second chance.

For Sgt. Frantz Jean-Pierre, the switch to a unit that focuses on behavior has meant that he and other corrections officers get to know the people in the unit on a more personal level — not just as some inmate locked up in a cell. Jean-Pierre says he believes the changes have made a difference.

“In 2016 we probably had an incident down here on our shift at least maybe three or four times a week. By incident,” Jean-Pierre explains,” I mean someone trying to commit suicide, or someone trying to flood their cell, or being completely disorderly. We haven’t hardly had any of that this year. I think we’ve had one or two on our shift.”

North Dakota Advantages

North Dakota corrections officials admit that changing the prison’s solitary confinement policy may be less difficult in a state with a mostly homogenous prison population and few prison gangs.

Cheryl Corley

Cheryl Corley. Photo by Steve Barrett/NPR

Even with the reform efforts though, North Dakota officials say there are some prisoners too dangerous to eliminate segregated housing completely.

Corrections Director Bertsch says even so, prison has to be about providing an opportunity for change so that North Dakota’s effort to use solitary confinement as little as possible,  and in a different way makes sense.

Cheryl Corley, a correspondent for NPR’s national desk in Chicago, is a 2-18 John Jay Justice Reporting Fellow.  An earlier version of this story was broadcast on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Square One Project to ‘Reimagine’ Criminal Justice

Two major foundations, the Laura and John Arnold and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations, along with Columbia University’s Justice Lab, are starting a new project to examine “if we start over from ‘square one,” how would justice policy be different?”

Two major foundations are funding a project they hope will “reimagine” the criminal justice system by discussing ways to “start over from ‘square one.’ ”

The Laura and John Arnold and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations, along with Columbia University’s Justice Lab, will formally launch the Square One Justice project on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

As outlined on the project’s website, it “is taking on the fundamental issues: poverty and racial inequality, violence and safety, criminalization and punishment.

“We’re challenging traditional responses to crime, and looking in new places for more effective responses, by asking a new question: if we start over from ‘square one,’ how would justice policy be different?

The project’s sponsors contend that justice should be “created” in “neighborhoods that suffer from injustice and that deserve public safety that works.”

They contend that “the left, the right, and everyone in between agrees we need this to happen–and now is the time.”

Project leaders do not declare that they have the solutions to problems in the justice system, but they want to “incubate new thinking on our response to crime, promote more effective strategies, and contribute to a new narrative of justice in America.”

The Square One Justice project will include two new programs to help achieve its goals.

An “Executive Session on the Future of Justice Policy,” backed by from the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, will assemble about two dozen researchers, practitioners, policy makers, advocates, and community representatives to “generate and cultivate new ideas.”

This group will meet in an “off-the-record setting” twice annually to examine research, consider new concepts, and discuss proposals from group members.

The session will publish papers to “catalyze thinking and policy reform that can reduce incarceration and develop new responses to violence and other social problems that can emerge under conditions of poverty and racial inequality.”

The project identified members of the executive session, who include Harvard Prof. Bruce Western and Vincent Schiraldi of Columbia’s Justice Lab, Jeremy Travis of the Arnold Foundation, former president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Vikrant Reddy of the Charles Koch Institute, retired federal judge Nancy Gertner of Boston, and former Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele, among others.

A separate program, called the “Roundtable on the Future of Justice Policy,” funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, is a series of public, live-streamed forums involving leaders, community members, academics, and other experts to talk about discussion papers by leading researchers.

Sponsors say the papers will be “designed to spark transformational thinking about what we can expect for our communities and our justice system … creating a public record for learning and sharing information about what a new “square one” might look like.”

The first roundtable will take place Oct. 11-13 at the North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, N.C., with the title, “Examining the History of Racial and Economic Inequality: Implications for Justice Policy and Practice.”

The Square One Justice project will be directed by Katharine Huffman of the Washington, D.C.-based Raben Group. She is a former state affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance and a former Soros Justice Fellow at the Southern Center for Human Rights.

The new project is one of a number of efforts in the last few years to examine broad aspects of the justice system.

These include three described last year in The Crime Report: the publication of more than 50 papers on criminal justice in a project called the “Academy of Justice” sponsored by the Koch Institute, an American Society of Criminology review of the LBJ-era commission on crime and justice, assessing what a modern-day commission could accomplish, and a parallel review of the LBJ commission on its 50th anniversary, led by the George Washington University law school.

from https://thecrimereport.org

BOP Failing to Address Needs of Female Inmates, Says DOJ Watchdog

A report released by the Justice Department cites the Bureau of Prisons for not adequately addressing the needs of female inmates when it comes to trauma treatment, pregnancy programming, and hygiene; noting that oversight of policies, including those regarding strip searches, are conducted remotely– with no on-site visits to ensure compliance.

A report released by the Justice Department cites the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for not adequately addressing the needs of female inmates when it comes to trauma treatment, pregnancy programming, and hygiene. It says oversight of policies, including those regarding strip searches, are conducted remotely– with no onsite visits to ensure compliance.

The DOJ Office of Inspector General review, sparked by concerns from members of Congress and special interest groups, examined the BOP’s management of female inmates between 2012 and 2016–  and criticized the agency for only recently beginning to take steps to formalize oversight and compliance of a Female Offender Manual published in 2016. As of June, these efforts were still not fully implemented, according to the report; currently, any program reviews the agency does conduct are held entirely offsite.

The new manual served an update to the policy first created in 1997 on management of female inmates, and incorporated specific “gender-responsive language on how BOP should classify and designate female inmates; discipline female inmates; provide gender-responsive programming; and address birth control, pregnancy, child placement, and abortion. ”

Much of the 2016 manual focused on mandatory training for all staff in trauma-informed correctional care; however, the BOP did not require the same training for executives responsible for policy and decision-making, according to the report.

Research shows at least 90 percent of women and girls behind bars have experienced trauma prior to incarceration; the most prevalent kind being repeated sexual violence, followed by domestic violence, according to the report.

The Resolve program, offered at 14 of BOP’s 15 female institutions, provides targeted care for those with trauma-induced mental illness. The IG interviewed several participates who said it had been helpful in dealing with past events, and preparing for release.

But the program is understaffed to the extent that it only serves 3 percent of the female inmate population, according to the report; six institutions have intake waiting lists of over 150 women. Additionally, the program is only available in English. According to a warden and a chief psychologist at two institutions, the need for Spanish-language programming is dire. “There’s horrific history, but we just can’t get to them,” said the psychologist.

As of 2016, women made up 7 percent of incarcerated adults; the majority are held in either low or minimum security facilities. Management of these inmates falls under the Women and Special Populations Branch, which oversees numerous special populations.

The report also found the pregnancy program to be underutilized, in part due to social worker vacancies, and because staff weren’t aware of the eligibility criteria for the program. BOP institution staff were also unaware of Washington State’s Residential Parenting Program; and as a result, only 6 inmates participated between 2012 and 2016.

As a result of its findings, the IG made a list of ten recommendations to ensure that BOP practices are in line with policies adopted two years ago:

  1. Fully implement ongoing plans to create a permanent program review for the Female Offender Manual that includes in-person visits and an institution-specific rating.
  2. Determine the appropriate level of staffing that should be allocated to the Women and Special Populations Branch based on an analysis of its broad mission and responsibilities.
  3. Ensure that all officials who enter into National Executive Staff positions have taken appropriate, current training specific to the unique needs of female inmates and trauma-informed correctional care.
  4. Identify ways to expand the staffing of the Resolve program.
  5. Improve the communication of its pregnancy program availability and eligibility criteria to relevant staff and pregnant inmates to ensure consistent understanding across BOP institutions.
  6. Improve data tracking to allow it to more easily identify inmates who are aware of, interested in, eligible for, or participating in pregnancy programs, as well as to assess barriers to participation.
  7. Clarify guidance on the distribution of feminine hygiene products to ensure sufficient access to the amount of products inmates need free of charge.
  8. Improve the availability of female staff at locations in female institutions where inmate searches are common, through the establishment of genderspecific posts or other methods.
  9. Establish policy that determines how long sentenced inmates can be confined in a detention center, or ensures that the conditions of confinement and inmate programming at a detention center more closely approximate those of a non-detention center when sentenced inmates are housed there.
  10. Explore options to procure female Special Housing Unit space closer to Federal Correctional Institution Danbury.

The full report, Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Management of Its Female Inmate Population, can be viewed here.


from https://thecrimereport.org

Why Do We Keep Jailing Runaway Kids?

In the U.S., youth are routinely sent to detention centers and then incarcerated because they’ve been picked up for status offenses such as truancy or running away from home—and a large number of those affected are young girls. Two researchers say there are safer and more effective ways to help them.

Earlier this month, a young female was arrested and ushered into our criminal justice system. The cause? According to local reporting, she was charged with being “[b]eyond [p]arental [c]ontrol.”

The young girl had run away from home the previous day and, rather than escorting her home, law enforcement arrested her and took her to Idaho’s Kootenai County Juvenile Detention Center.

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. In the United States, youth are routinely sent to detention centers and then incarcerated due to status offenses such as truancy, running away or “being beyond parental control.” While most of the incarcerated youth spend time behind bars because of the harm they caused to person or property, status offenders are only penalized because of the age at which they commit these otherwise mundane “offenses.”

In fact, if they were just a few years older, there would be no legal consequences at all.

While the circumstances or final consequences of this particular girl’s decision to run away are unknown, if her case resembles that of the median youth held for a status offense, she will be detained for 21 days. And if she is adjudicated and committed, she will be incarcerated for an additional 63 to 106 days.

The decision to incarcerate youth who commit status offenses has contributed to a significant proportion of the youth population behind state bars today. According to data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), in 2015, approximately one in five youth detained in Nebraska were incarcerated due to a status offense.

Emily Mooney

Emily Mooney

According to the same data, a staggering 45 percent of youth detained in West Virginia were held for status offenses—less than 26 percent of that total were incarcerated for actually harming anyone. Even in New York, a state known for its liberal leadership, 17 percent of detained youth were held for status offenses that same year.

What’s worse, girls are disproportionately harmed by the policy. In 2015, one in four female youth held in private facilities were incarcerated for such offenses and approximately one in nine female youth were mandated residential placement for the same cause. Comparatively, only one in twenty-five boys were held.

Empirical evidence suggests runaway youth are an especially troubled group who need our compassion and help, rather than to be confined to the walls of a jail cell. Research using national survey data provides evidence that females, youth of lower socioeconomic status and young adolescents who have experienced neighborhood victimization (such as witnessing someone being shot or having their house broken into) or personal victimization are more likely to run away.

While arresting these children is not the answer, leaving youth on the streets is also not ideal. A 2017 review of the current research summarized that runaway youth are at an increased risk of sexual victimization, substance abuse, mental health issues and physical abuse: “[t]hese youths often flee their homes to escape abuse in their home environment, only to emerge on the streets, and be exposed to consistently high levels of sexual and physical victimization, in addition to constant exposure to violence.”

Indeed, a 2012 study including 350 runaway youth found that 39 percent reported experiencing physical abuse, 14 percent reported sexual abuse and over a third reported neglect. Poor family communication and worries about family relationships had the largest reported impact on runaway youth depression, anxiety and disassociation.

The good news, however, is that states have options besides incarceration or leaving at-risk young people on the street and instead can choose more compassionate and effective alternatives when young people run away from home.

Nia Bala

Nia Bala

Community-based diversion and prevention programs present a safer, more effective way to get to the heart of family problems, trauma or simply a poorly thought-out decision. Rather than compounding underlying issues, research shows that these intervention and diversion programs are far better at preventing future delinquent behavior.

Moreover, these programs provide more flexibility than detention and correctional centers and can engage entire families in the growth process at an appropriate level for the individual’s risk.

Most importantly, they rebuild the systems that support youth rather than isolating them from the very people and institutions that know them best.

And that’s an alternative that is cheaper and better for us all.

Emily Mooney is a criminal justice research associate with R Street Institute. Nila Bala is the associate director of criminal justice policy for R Street and a former Baltimore, Maryland public defender. They welcome comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Solitary Used More Often for Inmates with Mental Illness: Study

The odds that mentally troubled prisoners will be sent to solitary confinement for misconduct are 36 percent higher than for those without mental illness, according to a University of Massachusetts study of data from a 2004 national survey.

Inmates with mental illness are more likely to be placed in solitary confinement than other inmates, and are more likely to be punished with administrative segregation compared with other less disciplinary actions, according to a study published in the Criminal Justice and Behavior.

Kyleigh Clark, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts, analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2004 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Facilities, which questioned inmates on a wide range of topics including their behavior, criminal histories, personal backgrounds, and experiences within and outside of prison.

The survey also specifically asked inmates whether they have been diagnosed by a medical professional prior to incarceration with various mental disorders: depressive, psychotic, personality, manic/bipolar, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or any other disorders.

The researcher compared the experiences of those with mental illness to those without them and found that even though both groups most often lose privileges for misconduct, the odds of those with a mental illness being put in solitary confinement for misconduct are 36 percent higher than those without mental illness.

Furthermore, those with mental illnesses are 40 percent less likely to be given other, less severe disciplinary action, 27 percent less likely to lose privileges or be confined to their own cell, 23 percent less likely to be given extra work, and 19 percent less likely to be given bad time.

It is not clear why inmates with mental illnesses are disproportionately placed in solitary confinement, but one possible explanation the author suggests is that prison management may be paying more attention to those with mental illnesses, or more attention to the actions of those with mental illnesses, and this in turn results in more infractions and harsher punishments.

Relatedly, people with mental illness are viewed as dangerous to themselves and to others, the author explained.

“[And] because many institutions suffer from a lack of resources, space, and staffing, isolation of mentally ill prisoners can be seen as the only viable option in dealing with these inmates,” Clark added.

About 37 percent of inmates have mental illness, according to U.S. Department of Justice.

The researcher excluded inmates in federal facilities due to possible unmeasured factors in those prisons that may affect their use of segregation, such as intuitional structures. The sample was further restricted to those who committed at least on misconduct during their incarceration and were not missing data for mental illness and disciplinary action

The author argued that despite news stories outlining the problematic use of isolation for mentally ill inmates, the issues had not been extensively researched until now.

He said future research should investigate whether imposing solitary confinement on mentally ill inmates, even ostensibly for their own protection, is ultimately “counterproductive.”

“Multiple studies have shown that those with mental health problems may be more susceptible to the negative effects of solitary confinement, thereby creating a cycle in which mentally ill offenders are put in solitary confinement due to their mental illness, which is made worse by isolation, leading to further or worsening symptomatic behavior,” he wrote.

“Although solitary confinement may be considered a more economical or practical choice for containing these inmates, better mental health care can be more cost effective in treating their behavior.”

A copy of the study can be downloaded here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR News Intern. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Are ‘Orders’ from the Tweeter-in-Chief Legally Enforceable?

Based on recent precedent, it seems safe to assume that the FBI and Department of Justice will ignore President Trump’s tweets calling for investigations into cases like the recent unsigned op ed in The New York Times. But how long can we rely upon this assumption? 

While many commentators have written about President Trump’s predilection for interpreting law via Twitter (whether the actions of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in allegedly arranging “hush money” payoffs, were a crime, for example), a different presidential tweet poses even more difficult questions.

After Attorney General Jeff Sessions committed to not allowing the Department of Justice to be improperly influenced by political considerations, the President tweeted the following:

Jeff, this is GREAT, what everyone wants, so look into all of the corruption on the “other side” including deleted Emails, Comey lies & leaks, Mueller conflicts, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr…FISA abuse, Christopher Steele & his phony and corrupt Dossier, the Clinton Foundation, illegal surveillance of Trump Campaign, Russian collusion by Dems – and so much more. Open up the papers & documents without redaction? Come on Jeff, you can do it, the country is waiting!

While the tweet about Michael Cohen’s actions not being a crime raised questions about whether the tweet constitutes a legal determination that is binding on the executive branch, the tweet about Sessions amounts, in my view, to what appears to be a presidential directive to investigate political opponents.

To what extent may federal authorities, particularly the DOJ and the FBI, respond in ways that are consistent with their interpretation of law and policy?

The question has become even thornier with the president’s recent comment that Sessions should investigate an anonymous Op Ed published by the New York Times. The author of the Op Ed claimed that members of the administration have worked to thwart some of the president’s agenda and inclinations, though he did not suggest any crimes were committed.

On the face of it, there is no reason why such an unclassified Op Ed would not be protected by the First Amendment.

The jabs at Sessions thus raise questions about a president’s constitutional duty—as Chief Executive—to “take care that the laws [be] faithfully executed” (Article II). Let me try to unpack some of those questions from the vantage point of the civil servants actually conducting investigations.

In other words, when President Trump calls for Sessions to investigate Op Eds or look into the “other side,” what does that mean for investigators?

Most FBI agents don’t carry around a copy of the Constitution in their pocket (well, some probably do), but they all have easy access to the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG), which “applies to all investigative activities and intelligence collection activities conducted by the FBI within the United States” (DIOG, § 1.1).

More generally, as both an intelligence agency and a law enforcement agency within the Department of Justice, the FBI’s power is dependent upon the authority vested in the office of the Attorney General, who may delegate authority to the FBI’s officials. This has been done in part through the DIOG, as well as through documents such as the Attorney General’s.

These documents standardize the FBI’s investigation policy in national security and criminal law cases. Specifically, the DIOG permits four basic ways for the FBI to “look into” crime:

  • Assessments
  • Preliminary Investigations
  • Full Investigations, and
  • Enterprise Investigations

An Assessment is the most basic type of formal FBI investigation. Notably, the DIOG states that “[a]lthough ‘no particular factual predication’ is required, the basis of an Assessment cannot be arbitrary or groundless speculation, nor can an Assessment be based solely on the exercise of First Amendment protected activities…FBI employees who conduct Assessments are responsible for ensuring that Assessments are not pursued for frivolous or improper purposes….” (DIOG, § 5.1).

The DIOG goes into great detail about the various types of Assessments that may be opened and the standards for conducting them. As one would expect, moving to Preliminary (DIOG, § 6), Full (DIOG, § 7), and Enterprise Investigations (DIOG, § 8) requires even more exacting rules with respect to investigative scope, predication, techniques, and so on.

Preliminary Investigations are predicated based upon “’allegation or information’ indicative of possible criminal activity or threats to the national security” (DIOG, § 6.1), while Full Investigations are predicated upon an “’articulable factual basis’ of possible criminal or national threat activity” (DIOG, § 7.1).

Finally, Enterprise Investigations are opened as Full Investigations, but with respect to “a group or organization that may be involved in the most serious criminal or national security threats to the public” (DIOG, § 8.1).

Does the unsigned Op Ed, or for that matter, the suggestion to look at corruption “on the other side” fulfill any of these four guidelines for launching an investigation?

Working outside of this stringent framework would indeed be uncharted territory—at least since President Richard Nixon (and presidents before him) ordered investigations that resulted in solely political and personal information unrelated to national security.

So it hasn’t been terribly long since presidents successfully used the FBI as their personal spy agency.

The US Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (or the “Church Committee”) helped expose a variety of widespread information-gathering tactics—including illegal searches and surveillance under the FBI’s COINTELPRO program from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s.

Based on recent precedent, it seems safe to assume that the FBI and Department of Justice will ignore requests for investigations without a firm, non-arbitrary investigative basis that is consistent with policy.

But how long can we rely upon this assumption?

And there is a deeper question that has higher stakes: If there is disagreement about whether the Executive is taking care that the law be executed faithfully, what are the long-term implications for the rule of law in the United States given a dysfunctional executive branch?

Our history illuminates how executive authority and discretionary power have grown to such a degree that it is trending toward illiberal practices and policies. This is not a Republican or a Democratic problem. It is a broader problem regarding the limits imposed by the legal, political, and philosophical norms of a constitutional democracy in the liberal tradition.

Luke Hunt

Luke William Hunt

Although it may sound alarmist, the evidence suggests that we are returning to an older model of executive power that entertains political whims. There is no doubt that presidential executive power includes a great deal of discretion, but all of us should take care that we remain a state governed by the rule of law—not executive discretion.

Luke William Hunt is Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Radford University. After law school and a federal judicial clerkship, he worked for seven years as an FBI Special Agent and Supervisory Special Agent in Charlottesville, VA, and Washington, D.C. After leaving government service, he completed his doctoral work in philosophy at the University of Virginia. He is the author of “The Retrieval of Liberalism in Policing,” forthcoming with Oxford University Press.

from https://thecrimereport.org