Why Community Corrections Systems Fail

“If we didn’t exist, no one would invent us,” says former New York Commissioner of Probation Vincent Schiraldi. Speaking this week at the Smart on Crime conference at John Jay College, he said the punitive approach taken by probation and parole agencies made them major drivers of mass incarceration.

The punitive approach taken by community corrections agencies around the U.S. has made them major drivers of mass incarceration, a New York conference on justice reform was told this week.

Releasing more individuals under supervisory conditions of probation or parole was meant to reduce America’s high prison population. But insufficient funding, over-zealous officers, and bureaucratic red tape have produced the opposite result, according to participants in a panel at John Jay College’s “Smart on Crime” conference, which ended Wednesday.

Violation of any one of the supervisory conditions—ranging from prohibition against firearms possession to travel restrictions—can result in re-incarceration, said Vincent Schiraldi, who served as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation between 2010-2014.

“That’s why 40% of people get arrested on parole,” he told the panel. “Half of the intakes to prison are violations of parole and probation.”

Making things worse, the lack of funding has forced some agencies to assess fees for their services—which further complicates the lives of those under supervised release, the panel was told.

Cheryl Wilkins. Photo courtesy Columbia University

“The payment (request) is dangled in front of your face like a carrot,” said Cheryl Wilkins, a former parolee.

“For instance, say you want to get a driver’s license (which you need) to help you stay out of prison —you would have to pay your supervision fee regularly.”

Paying fees while under supervision by community correction agencies is “absurd,” said Wilkins, who now serves as Senior Program Manager at Columbia University’s Center for Justice).

Bruce Western (left) and Vincent Schiraldi, speaking at John Jay panel on community corrections. Photo by Megan Hadley/TCR

“These (corrections) systems hinder your progress.”

Schiraldi, who recently left a research fellowship post at Harvard to join the Columbia center, agreed that such fees and other red tape “skew incentives” for the formerly incarcerated to qualify for early release.

“If you were a black man facing three to four months of parole as opposed to a year in prison, you would take the year in prison,” he said.

Nevertheless, the number of Americans now under some form of community supervision—about four million—is twice the number of those behind bars, Schiraldi pointed out, adding that this should make reform of the system a priority.

“If we didn’t exist, no one would invent us,” said Schiraldi.

Bruce Western, departing faculty chair of the program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, agreed.

“Incarceration should never be the fault response to violations,” he said. “It should be eliminated for violation of parole.”

Community corrections agencies’ power to arrest people should be used minimally, advised Western.

“If you have power, you are at risk of the abuse of power,” he said.

John Wetzel

John Wetzel. Photo courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Correctons

John E. Wetzel, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Corrections, noted “the pretty damn low bar” society has for formerly incarcerated individuals.

Instead, community corrections agencies use spurious concerns about “public safety” as excuses to send more individuals back to prison—especially poor people and people of color, he said.

Megan Hadley is a news intern at The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Want Friendlier Cops? Hire More Blacks and Latinos, says Study

Does the race or ethnicity of police officers make a difference in how they behave on the streets of the neighborhoods they patrol—and how they see their jobs? A study released Friday suggests it does, and the authors—both from the University of Central Florida—say it supports arguments that law enforcement diversity is crucial to restoring trust and legitimacy in America’s police forces.

Does the race or ethnicity of police officers make a difference in how they behave on the streets of the neighborhoods they patrol—and how they see their jobs?

A Florida study released Friday suggests it does, although the authors admit their findings aren’t conclusive.

The study found “significant” variation among African-American, Latino and white police officers in West Palm Beach, FL, not only in their attitudes towards community policing, but in the way they regarded citizens who needed help—even in cases that did not involve serious crimes.

“Officers of color harbor much less negativity toward citizens and are more willing to see them as worthy of help, including for matters not involving serious crimes,” said the study, which also found that black and Latino officers displayed less cynicism about their jobs than their white colleagues.

The authors of the study, Jacinta M. Gau and Eugene A. Paoline III, both of the University of Central Florida, based their findings on responses to a survey administered during morning roll call over a week-long period in July 2016 to 149 beat cops—representing more than half the 228-member West Palm Beach Police Department.

Some 35% of the department’s uniformed personnel are black or Latino. While that was still not reflective of West Palm Beach’s population—the authors cited U.S. Census Bureau figures showing that over half the city’s 107,000 residents were persons of color— they argued that the racial breakdown of the city’s force reflected the nationwide trend towards increased diversity in hiring, and was substantial enough to make it the focus of their survey.

Although more than 200 officers actually participated in the study, the authors focused on beat cops whose responses they felt would more clearly reflect street knowledge and experience.

Their findings offered some statistical support for arguments by police reformers that diversity is crucial to improving police-community relations—particularly in at-risk neighborhoods where trust and confidence in law enforcement are at a low ebb.

The authors said the survey results suggested that black and Latino officers “may be uniquely important to fostering the reliable public support” that allows police to effectively protect public safety.

“A greater representation of minority officers may translate into better service provision and police–community relationships,” they said, noting that both black and Latino officers were more “favorably disposed than whites” towards partnerships with businesses and community groups in crime-prevention efforts.

While nearly all the officers shared similar opinions about the importance of the law-and-order aspects of their job (catching criminals), “Black and Latino officers seem to view citizens more favorably than white officers do (and) are significantly more likely to believe that victims deserve police assistance and that they are genuinely helping people when they answer calls for service.”

The authors made clear their study did not attempt to analyze the reasons for the disparity, and they notably avoided any suggestion that racist attitudes played any role in the differing responses.

They noted that other studies have shown that much of the cynicism ascribed to police was the result of attitudes learned from colleagues over time as they acquired more experience in their jobs—and as they dealt with commanders and supervisors.

The study did not provide more detailed data on the officers’ gender, experience or economic background, and the authors made clear that more studies of other law enforcement agencies around the country, conducted over longer periods of time, were essential before drawing any definitive conclusions about the influence of an officer’s race on his or her behavior.

But they said their findings underlined the need for police leaders and supervisors to pay more attention to keeping officers of “all races sensitized to the importance of their actions during face-to-face interactions with citizens,” which is also among the conclusions of former President Barack Obama’s 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

“Without calling white officers out,” the authors said, “(their) negative leaning seems to suggest a need for police leaders to pay attention to officers’ attitudes and the way in which they approach citizens.”

At a minimum, they said, their findings made clear that increasing the diversity of police forces should continue to be high on the agenda of police managers and policymakers.

Officers of color are increasing in number across the country.

The authors cited figures showing that the ranks of minority officers in municipal and county agencies nearly doubled between 1987 and 2013, from 15% to 27% .

A full copy of the study, which will be published in Justice Quarterly under the title “Officer Race, Role Orientations, and Cynicism toward Citizens,” is available here.

This summary was prepared by Stephen Handelman, executive editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How to Create Anti-Violence Strategies That Work

Some of the urban neighborhoods singled out as the most violent places in the country are mislabeled. In most of them homicides are confined to identifiable “hot spots” which require more focused intervention, according to experts at the New York “Smart on Crime” conference Wednesday.

Some of the urban neighborhoods singled out as the most violent places in the country are mislabeled, says a former senior Department of Justice official.

According to Thomas Abt, a former chief of staff for the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs who is now a Senior Research Fellow with the Center for International Development at Harvard University, a better description of them would be peaceful places plagued by a “few hot spots.”

Thomas Abt

Thomas Abt

Redefining them in that way can help shape more effective programs to reduce violent crime—and especially gun violence— in America, Abt told participants Wednesday, at a panel in the second and final day of the “Smart on Crime” conference at John Jay College.

“The most effective strategies are the specific ones,” said Abt, who is also a former deputy secretary for public safety for New York State. “(These) engage the highest risk places and people.”

Experts who advocate focusing on issues like poverty, guns or “cultural values,” are in effect concentrating on “everything besides the problem, which is that violence concentrates in hot spots,” he said.

Other members of the panel, entitled “Reducing Crime and Violence,” agreed.

“We can reduce crime with less law enforcement,” said David Kennedy, a professor of criminal justice at John  Jay College and director of the National Network for Safe Communities.

“Most murderers are not serial killers—locking up one does not affect the next one,” said Kennedy, who moderated the panel.

He added that there were now many examples of anti-violence programs that  work, where “ordinary people can make a difference.”

Violence in a few at-risk neighborhoods probably accounted for the startling 60% increase in Chicago’s homicide rate between 2015 and 2016, suggested Roseanna Ander, Executive Director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

Roseanna Ander

Roseanna Ander. Photo courtesy Harvard Club of NY

“When you have three million people in the city, 60% is a lot of people—it was a historical event (in which) the increase in homicide each month was higher than the homicide rate for the same month the year before.”

Policymakers’ failure to fund local community intervention programs might also have accounted for the increase, she said.

“In the state of Illinois, we had two years of not passing a budget,” Anders said. “The institutions set up in neighborhoods that work with highest risk population were decimated by the budget crisis.”

Devone Boggan, Founding Director of Advance Peace also noted the lack of programs and institutions in place to prevent gun violence in many cities.

Advance Peace works with “a targeted group of individuals at the core of gun hostilities, and bridges the gap between anti-violence programming and a hard-to-reach population at the center of violence in urban areas,” he said.

“What I found out trying to locate the right people is that we didn’t have any place to take them,” said Boggan. “What became real for us was…the options we had weren’t attractive, legitimate, or credible to the population”

Boggan and his team then decided to meet face to face with active firearm offenders and ask, “what can work?”

“What we found is these active firearm offenders are waiting for us to show up with something, they wanted to be engaged every day,” he said. “They wanted to trust social services, but found it difficult to. They needed to be taken to those social services.

“They needed to be walked through that door and stayed with until they said ‘I’m ready to do this on my own.’”

It can be difficult for those in the criminal justice system to trust social service providers, as well as the police officers in their community.

megan hadley

Megan Hadley

In communities where gun violence is prominent, most community members know who the violent offenders are, and they expect their local policemen to know as well.

“We keep officers in the same area to gain the trust of the community” said Robert Tracy, Police Chief of the Wilmington, Del. Police Department. “We are not about arresting everyone, just the most violent individuals.

“Lowering crime, reducing murders, and arresting less people. Isn’t that the goal?”

Megan Hadley is a news intern with The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘Red-Blue Divide’ Won’t Prevent Change, Vow Justice Reformers

Some of the most embattled elements of the U.S. justice system, ranging from prisons to prosecutors, are emerging as targets of a rejuvenated bipartisan reform movement in the Trump-era. The broad outlines of that movement emerged this week during a conference at John Jay College in New York.

Some of the most embattled elements of the U.S. justice system, ranging from prisons to prosecutors, are emerging as targets of a rejuvenated reform movement in the Trump era, led by partisans on both sides of the political divide.

The broad outlines of that movement emerged Wednesday during the final day of a “Smart on Crime” conference at John Jay College, where prominent conservatives joined liberals and activists in setting a shared agenda for fixing a system that one said was “impoverishing American society.”

“The issue is bigger than any red-blue divide,” said Mark Holden, General Counsel of Koch Industries, Inc., often vilified by liberals for spending millions on ultra-conservative causes.

Mark Holden

Mark Holden

“It’s about transforming lives.”

Holden said the transformation had to include preparing incarcerated individuals to re-enter civilian society from the first day they were locked behind bars.

“There needs to be a personalized plan that sets them up for success—we owe them that,” he said, suggesting that programs for counseling, employment and education should become central to correction authorities’ thinking.

Later in the conference, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark NJ, said efforts to reduce prison populations needed to include re-thinking the lengthy punishments meted out to individuals convicted of violent offenses.

Not all “violent” offenders deserved being locked up for decades—especially when they could demonstrate a change in behavior and attitudes during their time inside, he said.

“Does society stop its ideals of redemption and forgiveness when somebody raises a fist?” Booker asked.

Speakers said the urgency of making major system-change had increased under a new administration in Washington that seemed bent on reversing even the initial reforms of the past decade.

Cyrus Vance, Jr.

“At a time when the government is moving off the playing field, and the White House is asking us to solve our own problems, we have to collaborate,” said Manhattan (NY) District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., who argued prosecutors around the country need to focus more attention on preventing people from going to prison, rather than on sending them there.

Is Trump a Boon to Reformers?

Some speakers in fact said the election of Donald Trump has helped revive a reform movement which had taken for granted that the positive trend begun during the Obama era would continue.

“One of the best things that could have happened is Trump as president,” said former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who retired last year after a celebrated 14-year career in the National Football League to devote time to his foundation devoted to helping underprivileged youth, as well as engage in justice reform causes.

“When Obama was in office everybody felt protected, but with Trump a lot of people feel the need to empower themselves,” said Boldin, who recalled his cousin had been killed two years ago during an encounter with police.

Anquan Boldin

The recent controversy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem was an example of players realizing their power to promote change, he said.

“When I get pulled over by a cop, and he recognizes who I am, he starts asking me for an autograph for his son, but had I not been in the NFL that interaction would be a lot different.”

Vance said changing prosecutors’ approach was a way of eliminating the entrenched bias of the justice system.

When he began working the “lobster shift” from 1 am to 9 am as a young assistant DA in New York in the 1980s, 90 percent of the individuals waiting for their cases to be adjudicated were people of color.

“Thirty-five years later when I returned to the system, it was the same,” he said.

Calling on the 2,800 elected DA’s around the country to “step outside their roles and focus on prevention,” Vance said measures his office had already instituted to slash criminal court dockets by diverting low-level offenders to alternative courts and working with police to reduce “quality of life” arrests had not caused any uptick in crime rates.

“We’ve rethought our decisions about who comes into the justice system,” said Vance, noting that his office had also begun to finance prevention, diversion and counseling programs with over $800 million in funds provided from fines and penalties assessed against banks accused of violating U.S. sanctions.

He was echoed by Mark Gonzalez, a former defense lawyer recently elected DA of Nueces County in south Texas, who said he had persuaded prosecutors on his staff as well as the conservative politicians in his area to consider the “collateral damage” done to individuals sentenced to harsh prison terms, and develop a less-adversarial approach.

“Being tougher on crime is easy,” he said. “Being smart on crime is a challenge.”

Most of Wednesday’s speakers agreed that fundamental reform would allow authorities to focus on individuals who were genuine dangers to public safety and needed to be kept in detention for long periods.

Americans Under Stress

But Booker said the reform movement also needed to take into account both the system’s deep racist roots and the burden it placed on Americans already under economic stress.

Cory Booker

Sen. Cory Booker

“Half of American workers make $15 or less an hour,” said Booker. “With one encounter with the criminal justice system—especially if you can’t pay bail—you could lose your job or housing and spiral downwards in the richest country on earth.”

Booker said the problem was aggravated by the fact that those hardest hit by both economic stress and the inequities of the justice system were African Americans and Latinos.

“In a nation that desperately needs all its players on the field, how can you have a system that systematically oppresses people of color?” asked Booker, who last June co-sponsored with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act, intended to walk the country back from the tough-on-crime legislation of the 1990s.

Supporters of the bill—a similar one was introduced in the House last month by Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA)—claim it will reduce the number of incarcerated by 20 percent under a 10-year plan of providing some $20 billion in federal incentive grants.

“We have to educate people to the outrageousness of the system,” said Booker, who also introduced with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the REDEEM Act, which included a series of federal measures aimed at helping both adults and young people seal criminal records for nonviolent offenses in an effort to improve their chances of rejoining civil society as productive citizens.

These and similar reform measures, such as the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, are languishing in Congress because of the opposition of powerful conservatives, including former Sen. Jeff Sessions—now Attorney General.

But Holden of Koch Industries pointed out that the case for making fundamental change was shared by many who felt the justice system was just another example of a “failed big government program.”

“It spends millions of dollars each year with poor results,” observed Holden, citing as an example the War on Drugs, which he said has left illegal drug use at a higher level than it was four decades after the war was declared.

“Drugs won the war on drugs,” said Holden.

What became clear over the course of sessions dealing with the opiate crisis, community corrections technology, and violence reduction, was that many of the most vocal advocates for change shared a poignant awareness that they could have been caught in the justice system themselves.

Holden, who said he grew up in an impoverished neighborhood in Worcester, MA, said many of his former high school classmates had been locked up for drug and other offenses.

“I could easily have ended up the same way, given our circumstances,” he said, noting that how you were treated by courts and police was determined by race and class.

In a “two-tier” justice system, he said, “Rich people always get a better deal.”

Booker said he is the only U.S. senator he knows who goes home to a constituency where most families live below the poverty line median annual income of $14,000.

“When I walk around my neighborhood I can’t tell you how many young people want to talk to be about their convictions.”

Alfonso David

Alphonso David, General Counsel for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said the racial inequities of the system were hard to miss.

“When I visit any of the 54 prisons in New York State, I’m still struck by the (awareness) that I am a black man walking into a prison operated by white officers,” he said.

David acknowledged that reforms to correction systems also had to take into account that resistance to closing prisons was led by corrections unions and politicians in areas where they were the only source of good jobs.

He said legislators needed to develop new sources of economic support for those communities.

But there was broad consensus among speakers at this week’s conference that reducing prison numbers, combined with a smarter strategy, to help the incarcerated re-enter society was critical.

“Real reformation starts inside the prison, not outside,” said Daryl Harris, who runs TLC Ministries in inner-city Detroit.

Harris, noting that his neighborhood was nicknamed by local residents “1482-Die” because it registered the majority of Detroit homicides, told the conference that reform had to begin with support for restorative justice that included faith-based programs established inside the prison system itself.

Without attention to developing an inmate’s “good heart,” the problems that “brought you into prison in the first place will lead you right back inside,” he said.

Attendees at the conference included community activists, advocates and justice practitioners around the U.S.

John Jay College President Karol Mason told them that the conference left a clear message; “Do not be discouraged.”

Karol Mason

She called on them to return to their communities and continue to advocate “that the system lives up to the ideals this country was founded on.”

She appealed for their help in preserving some of the programs instituted during her years in the Justice Department, such as assistance to the children of incarcerated parents, the Second Chance Pell Grants, and help for male survivors of violence.

“It’s our job,” said Mason, who was a former senior Justice official before taking up her John Jay appointment in August. “To make sure that the tools that we need to be able to make our communities safer still exist.”

Editor’s Note: Portions of the two-day conference are available through theYouTube video on the John Jay channel. For Day One, click here. For Day Two, click here.

Stephen Handelman is executive editor of the Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Study Finds ‘Significant’ Increase in State Juvenile Justice Reforms

At least 36 states have passed legislation to keep young people out of adult prisons or jails since 2005—and more states are on track to limit youth exposure to the adult justice system over the next two years, according to a study released Wednesday by the Campaign for Youth Justice.

At least 36 states have passed legislation to keep young people out of adult prisons or jails since 2005—and more states are on track to limit youth exposure to the adult justice system over the next two years, according to a study released Wednesday.

In its third “State Trends” report, the Campaign for Youth Justice (CYJ) said reforms to the juvenile justice system aimed at treating children who ran afoul of the law “in a developmentally appropriate way” represented a “significant” increase over the past decade.

By 2014, for example, the number of young people under 18 who were automatically excluded from juvenile court had been cut in half to 90,900 from 175,000 in 2007.

Just in the past two years alone, some nine states and the District of Columbia passed laws removing young people from adult facilities or limiting their detention in such facilities, the report said.

At the same time, 19 states have raised the age at which youth are eligible to be tried or transferred in adult court or limited the types of offenses that would send them there.

“We are no longer giving up on our young people,” said Louisiana Gov. John Bell Edwards, who was quoted in the report. “Rather we are giving them a chance to get their lives back on track.”

Citing some 70 pieces of legislation to reform juvenile justice practices enacted by states since 2005, Campaign for Youth Justice CEO Marcy Mistrett said the measures represented “positive momentum.”

“These legislative victories are not just good for youth—they set an historic precedent in our country,” she said in a press release accompanying the report.

“Once New York and North Carolina fully implement their (raise-the-age) laws, it will be the first time since the creation of the juvenile court in the United States that 16-year-olds are not automatically treated as adult simply because of their age.”

Meanwhile California and Vermont restored the discretion of juvenile court judges to make “individualized determinations” on sentencing, thereby ending prosecutors’ ability to decide unilaterally whether a young person should be tried in the adult system.

The CYJ first began publishing state trends reports in 2011. The third update includes legislative achievements between January 2015 and August 2017.

But Mistrett said the newest “Raising the Bar” report still made clear that there was “still a lot of work to do”—especially under a new administration in Washington whose focus is on crime reduction and law enforcement rather than crime prevention.

She noted that five states still treat 17-year-olds as adults, and young people sent to adult facilities there suffer “physical and sexual trauma.” At the same time, racial disparities in the treatment of young people in trouble with the law have increased, she said.

“Advocates must be incredibly vigilant to ensure that legislative victories are fully implemented and preserved for ALL children,” she wrote in the introduction to the report.

At the same time, she called for “resisting legislation that does not reflect the overwhelming research in favor of serving youth in a developmentally appropriate, evidence-informed, community-based juvenile justice system rather than the adult system.”

“Further, we must embrace solutions that reduce, and don’t exacerbate penalties for youth of color.”

For additional reading, see also, “Kids Kept in Solitary at LA’s Largest Juvenile Hall” (LA Witness)

The full report can be downloaded here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Concept of Criminal Justice System a Legacy of LBJ Panel

On the 50th anniversary of “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society,” Carnegie Mellon criminologist Alfred Blumstein, a commission staff member, says that, “one thing that did come out of it was a movement toward thinking of the criminal justice system as a system.”

If you’ve ever called 911 to report an emergency, thank President Johnson’s Crime Commission. Establishing a national emergency number was just one of more than 200 recommendations the panel offered in a landmark 1967 report “for a safer and more just society,” NPR reports. The report, “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society,” called for sweeping changes in policing, the courts and corrections. Carnegie Mellon criminologist Alfred Blumstein, a commission staff member, says that, “one thing that did come out of it was a movement toward thinking of the criminal justice system as a system.”

Sheldon Krantz was also on the commission staff. Now a visiting law professor at Georgetown University, he worked on the panel’s police task force at a time when brutal police clashes with residents sometimes played out in full view during race riots across the country. “I think it’s fair to say in the ’60s, police in America were in a somewhat primitive state, there was limited training, a lack of education, a lack of diversity,” Krantz says. Laurie Robinson of George Mason University, a co-chairperson of President Obama’s task force on 21st century policing, says the Johnson crime commission report was a guidepost for her group in a number of areas. Robinson says the commission  spelled out new expectations for police, the courts, corrections and other players in the criminal justice system. “The Johnson crime commission is really the most influential study of crime justice that has ever been undertaken in the United States,” she says. Robinson and others will gather in a symposium this month at George Washington University law school to discuss the 50th anniversary of the report. There’s also a bipartisan push in Congress to establish a new commission to review the criminal justice system from top to bottom.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Anti-Violence Strategies Boost Confidence in Cops: Study

A two-year study of New York City’s  “Cure Violence” program released Monday also finds significant declines in gun injuries in two violence-plagued neighborhoods.

Gun violence declined significantly in two New York City neighborhoods where community-based “interruptors” are deployed, and the confidence of at-risk young men in police also increased, according to a study released Monday.

The study, “Denormalizing Violence,” looked at data from two troubled neighborhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn where the city had been implementing a strategy called “Cure Violence,” aimed at identifying and engaging persons believed most likely to be involved in gun violence.

Comparing results with similar troubled neighborhoods where the program had not been introduced, researchers found that gun injuries fell 50 per cent in one area (East New York) from 44 to 22, between 2014 and 2016; and dropped from 35 to 13 in the second neighborhood in the South Bronx over the same period.

In both neighborhoods, researchers also found that confidence in police increased by 22% over the same period, measured by responses to questions on whether individuals could “count on police” to help when violence broke out, and whether they would call police if they saw someone beaten or shot.

In neighborhoods where the city anti-violence programs had not been introduced, confidence went up 10% in response to the first question, and 14% in response to the second.

The study, produced by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation Center in New York, cautioned that the results did not prove a direct link between confidence in police and drops in violence, but it :underscores the strong association between the two, and points to police legitimacy as another important benefit of successful efforts to reduce community violence.”

The Cure Violence programs have been introduced in 17 New York City neighborhoods, as part of a $12.7 million program approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio and New City Council to expand gun violence prevention strategies. Other elements of the program include job programs, counseling, and legal assistance.

Described as a “place-based, public-health oriented approach to violence reduction,” the program uses outreach workers and “violence interrupters” to intervene directly with individuals considered most likely to become involved in violent disputes.

Between 180-200 respondents were surveyed in each of the neighborhoods.

The results of the study underline the fact that public safety is a “shared responsibility” between police and community residents, said Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, in a press release accompanying the studies.

“The success of the Cure Violence program shows that we can work together to co-produce public safety in New York City neighborhoods, and continue to build trust between law enforcement and the people they serve.”

The study was conducted by Sheyla A. Delgado, Laila Alsabahi, Kevin Wolff, Nicole Alexander, Patricia Cobar, and Jeffrey A. Butts.

Please click here for the research brief and study results.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill

A new book argues that mental health authorities’ failure to address the public safety challenge posed by individuals with serious mental illness unfairly shifts the burden to police and the courts. DJ Jaffe, the author, explains why in a conversation with The Crime Report.

Most experts acknowledge that the seriously mentally ill are a formidable challenge to the resources of the justice system. DJ Jaffe, executive director of MentalIllness Policy Org, a nonpartisan think tank, argues that mental health authorities’ failure to address the issue has placed the burden unfairly on police and the courts.

In Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill, Jaffe says that it’s long past time for the nation to make this a priority. In a conversation with TCR’s Isidoro Rodriguez, Jaffe explains why he wrote the book, how the mental health “industry” has helped to distort public opinion about mental illness, and why he thinks Republicans are “better” on the issue than Democrats.

The Crime Report: What was your motivation for writing this book?

DJ Jaffe: About 20-30 years ago I became guardian to my wife’s sister-in-law, who had schizophrenia. We didn’t know she had schizophrenia. She was an adorable teenage girl living in Wisconsin with her old-world mom and they were getting into fights. We thought it was just a culture clash between an American teen and an old-world mom and that we would bring her to live with us and everything would be fine.

We would listen to her saying that people were planting transmitters in her head or the buildings in New York were going to fall on her. We’d hear her screaming in her room at the voice only she could hear. Eventually we called the police [who] took her to a hospital. Back then, the hospital would take people who were seriously mentally ill; so she got in and was stabilized after maybe a month. But she would come out and it would keep happening, and we didn’t know what was wrong with her because they wouldn’t tell us. Eventually, in passing, a nurse told us she was schizophrenic. So, we looked it up. We were shocked by our ignorance. I started volunteering for a local group dealing with the issue, and started raising money for them. [The experience] made me realize how messed up the system was.

TCR: In your book, you discuss ways in which the mental health industry has skewed public opinion about the seriously mentally ill in this country. What part do the media play in this?

 DJ: The media repeat all of the myths: The mentally ill are no more violent than others, everyone recovers, prevention works. The media, for instance, will continually emphasize the success of “peer support.” One person with a mental illness talking to another person with mental illness. There’s no data showing this has led to improvement by any meaningful metric, but this story is everywhere. It’s very tough for the media, I think, because they’re relying on so-called experts.

What the media should do is talk more often with police and criminal justice about these issues. Ten times as many people with mental illness are incarcerated as are hospitalized. The police have much more experience. The police and sheriffs can’t do what the mental health system does, which is when they get a call, say that the person is too ill, or has “high needs”—we can’t do anything for them. The police and sheriffs don’t have that option: they have to go in. They are much more realistic and want to help because it puts their lives in danger as well ….when the seriously mentally ill go untreated. All the progress that’s come out has been the result of the criminal justice system speaking up after tragedies: Kendra’s Law in New York, Laura’s Law in California, the reform of the Baker Act in Florida.

TCR: What can police do to get this sense of urgency and understanding out to the public?

DJ: This is where I’m trying to focus my efforts. The criminal justice system has not gotten involved at the political level in changing things. When there’s an incident where an officer shoots someone, the answer is always, “we’re going to train police better.” But the answer really is we have to get the mental health system to not turn these people over to police. That should be the answer.

And the danger goes the other way. A large amount of line-of-duty deaths are on mental illness- related calls. So, what they really need to do is get involved politically. Sheriffs around the country are outraged because they’re running the largest mental hospitals. The largest mental hospitals are [today] the Rikers Island [jail complex] in New York, the Los Angeles County Jail, and Cook County Jail. My effort is to get police and sheriffs involved in political change. Now, whenever there is a high-profile instance of violence, the reaction is to form a joint task force of police and mental health people. The police assume the mental health people know more, so when they start proposing solutions, the criminal justice system doesn’t know enough to say those will hurt.

DJ Jaffe

For instance, if you ask any officer, any sheriff, what we have to do to solve the mental health problem, they are going to instantly say, we need more hospitals because we can’t get people in, we need them to hold people longer so they’re really stabilized, we need easier civil commitment processes, and we need to be able to keep people on medication when they’re outside the hospital. Brilliant solutions. [But] if you ask a person in the mental health industry the same thing they will say we have to reduce stigma, we have to do more public education, and we have to train police better. All these things are totally irrelevant to solving the problem.

TCR: In your book you do write that stigma is one of the hurdles to solving this problem.

DJ: I don’t believe there is stigma to being mentally ill. It’s a no-fault biologically based illness, so there’s no stigma to having it and we should stop teaching that. But the system has diverted attention away from the sickest individuals, the small minority who commit violence. In public service announcements you won’t see homeless and psychotic people eating out of dumpsters. They won’t admit that some people need hospitals or some people don’t recover. The whole stigma movement is premised on diverting attention from those [individuals] the police and sheriffs are called to intervene with.

That takes attention away from the solutions. The mental health industry’s response to high-profile acts of violence is to tell the media: “That’s stigmatizing, don’t report on that, the mentally ill are no more violent than others.” What I say, is that our response should be to propose solutions to that very real violence that did occur and hope the media reports on it.

TCR: Why is there, seemingly, so much resistance to serious and practical reform?

DJ: You’d have to ask the people who are doing it. I’m not being coy. We all want to feel that we’re helping, so we often default to easier things. There are also financial incentives to do the easier job. Taking care of people with serious mental illness is exceedingly difficult and time-consuming, and people aren’t paid enough to do it. But, why, for instance, are they saying that we should put more money into prevention when there is no way to prevent it? My mind boggles. We don’t even deal with seriously mentally ill adults.

There are worthy social services today that focus on the issues of “trauma” or “at-risk” individuals. Trauma is not a mental illness, everyone loses a loved one, or experiences [personal stress] like losing a job. That’s not mental illness. We’re wrapping all these social services in the mental health narrative and diverting funds that should go to help the seriously mentally ill.

TCR: In your book, you note the success of mental health courts. Is that a sign of progress?

 DJ: Mental health courts are, again, an example of turning this problem over to the criminal justice system. As long as the mental health system isn’t doing its job, mental health courts are needed. The fascinating thing about them is what they do. If a prosecutor or district attorney believes a person who has been charged with a low-level crime has a mental illness, they may divert him or her to a mental health court. The mental health court will say, if you accept treatment for X amount of time, we will drop your charges and the person comes back every week to see if he’s still complying. Basically, you have somebody who has committed a crime—often because the mental health system didn’t treat them—deferred to a court, which then tells the mental health system to treat them. It’s a long, unnecessary round trip. The mental health system should just treat them.

Now, there is no single solution. But something I strongly support is assisted outpatient treatment. Basically, it’s the same thing as a mental health court, except it happens before the crime is committed, after the person already has a history of multiple instances of homelessness, arrest, incarceration, or hospitalization due to being off medication. If the person has that history, then the court, with all due-process protections, can order the person to six months of mandated and monitored treatment while he or she continues to live in the community. It doesn’t involve criminal justice, it doesn’t involve locking someone up or in-patient commitment, it’s less expensive, less restrictive, more humane. We should make more use of that.

TCR: However, according to your book, one of the main groups resisting solutions like assisted outpatient treatment and mental health courts are civil rights activists, who claim that such methods encroach on people’s rights. 

DJ: I just don’t understand the opposition. It’s an anti-science, anti-common sense, anti-public and anti-patient position. Being psychotic is not a civil right to be protected; it’s an illness to be treated. They fail to understand that. People with mental illness lack the maturity of their faculties. They have an inability to exercise free will. We shouldn’t protect the civil rights of a person who thinks the devil planted a transmitter in his head and he has to shoot first or the devil will get him. We should be helping such people regain their ability to exercise free will.

TCR: In addition to being anti-patient, you point out that many today are also anti-medication. 

DJ: In general, both the civil libertarians and the anti-psychiatry movement fail to differentiate between serious mental illness and people who need their mental wellness improved or have minor issues. So, a lot of what they say is true about those with minor mental health issues, but it’s not true about the seriously mentally ill. There are people with minor mental health issues who can get by without medications, but most of the seriously mentally ill, mainly those who are bipolar or suffering from schizophrenia, need medications in order to access other support.

While [they are] psychotic, no programs will accept them. However, it is true that medications have side effects, and those side effects can be devastating. No one’s denying that, and we need more research on it, but as a kind and compassionate society we have to help those who need help the most. What these groups are focused on are those who need help the least, and they are using them as the poster children for what we should be doing. There is clear evidence, mainly from deinstitutionalization, that medications help people. They got them out of the hospitals.

TCR: Most mental health facilities exist in prisons, and most incarcerated individuals who are mentally ill wind up worse when they come back out—and end up incarcerated again. How can we stop this revolving door?

 DJ: One positive solution is community monitoring of people coming out of jails. One of the proposals that I make in the book is that there should be mandatory evaluation. We’re spending millions on outreach. We’re going to grammar schools and giving speeches and training people to identify the asymptomatic, but we know who the most seriously mentally ill are and who we should help: the ones who are most prone to homelessness, arrest, incarceration, or violence. There should be mandatory evaluation of everyone coming out of prisons or jails who used mental health services or needed [those] services while they were there, to see what they need to stay safe in the community. But we’re just releasing them and saying “time served.”

TCR: In one chapter, you advocate changing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  Why?

 DJ: HIPAA is a patient confidentiality law and, depending on the state, once your child turns a certain age he or she is entitled to confidentiality. This means the parents can’t know what’s happening. How this plays out, frequently, is parents provide housing for a mentally ill kid or have placed him in a program that’s providing housing—and the kid goes missing. If the parent calls the program, the program can’t tell them the kid is missing. If they’re missing from their own house, and the parents call the hospitals, the hospital won’t tell them if they’re there.

This just happened recently to the former president of the New York State [organization of] chiefs of police who has a mentally ill kid who went missing from the program. Even though he’s a police chief, he still could not find out if his daughter was in a hospital when he called around. When your relative gets out, you’re not allowed know the diagnoses, what medications they’re on, what outpatient program they’re supposed to go to. [That means] parents can’t arrange transportation, can’t see that prescriptions are filled, or that appointments are kept.

The typical media story is “why didn’t the parents do anything?” People don’t realize that we have all the responsibility but none of the authority. If you’re providing housing, case management, and transportation services out of love, you should be able to get the same info that those that provide those services for money get. If I were an insurance company providing medications, I would be able to get that info.

TCR: One of the most surprising details of your book is that you strongly believe that this new administration will make positive steps towards change. Why?

 DJ: On this issue, Republicans are a lot better. Democrats are willing to throw money at mental health, but aren’t willing to admit the politically incorrect things that are necessary to admit to help the seriously ill. Democrats won’t admit that some mentally ill are more violent than others, that not everyone recovers, that they are more violent than others, that some need hospitals, that involuntary commitment can be a good thing.

Republicans see this as a quality- of-life thing. They see homeless people eating out of dumpsters, they see jails fill up, and want to know why we’re not helping those people. The legislation aimed at helping the seriously mentally ill is mainly coming from republicans. I hate to admit it, I’m a Democrat, but we’ve been basically useless. We throw $100 million at children’s issues, and serious mental illness, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are mainly adult illnesses.

Suicide is a huge one. It’s exceedingly rare. We’re throwing a lot of resources at it that haven’t reduced suicide in any way, shape, or form, and we’re throwing them at kids who are the least likely to commit suicide. It’s primarily an adult illness. But kids are a sympathetic population and so they get greater resources. And that sympathetic population plays an important part in who gets served by government.

Isidoro Rodriguez is a contributing writer to The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Will Federal Alternative-to-Prison Programs Survive the New Administration?

The future of Obama-era initiatives to offer reduced time for federal offenders if they complete programs of counseling is uncertain, says the U.S. Sentencing Commission. But it called for more studies of their effectiveness.

Emerging efforts to develop alternatives to incarceration for federal offenders have an uncertain future since drug sentencing guidelines were toughened by the Department of Justice this year, says the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC).

The charging and sentencing policies outlined by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a May 10 memo “may have the effect of limiting the number of participants in the federal alternative-to-incarceration programs,” the USSC said in a report released this week.

“Without the support of the government, some of these… court programs may cease to exist, at least in their current forms.”

Alternatives-to-Incarceration (ATI) programs, in the form of drug courts, mental health courts and so-called “therapeutic” or “problem-solving” courts have been a fixture on the state judicial landscape for more than two decades.

Since the first drug court was launched in Miami in 1989, over 4,000 such alternative state courts now exist around the U.S.. Today, an estimated 55,000 adult state offenders participate annually in drug courts alone.

The state programs have been supported by national organizations such as the National Center for State Courts and the Conference of Chief Justices. However, they have also raised questions about their effectiveness in treating addiction or reducing recidivism.

At the same time, the USSC noted the “cost savings” realized from reduced prison beds and other factors is one reason they have been supported and promoted as a viable alternative to lengthy terms behind bars.

Nevertheless, such courts have been slow to emerge at the federal level, partly as a result of perceived conflicts with the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act and Supreme Court decisions. Today, federal ATI programs operate in 17 districts around the U.S.

Unlike “diversion courts,” which divert individuals to alternative channels such as treatment that will avoid a criminal record, the federal ATI courts offer convicted offenders an opportunity for reduced time if they successfully complete a program of counseling.

The USSC studied five federal ATI programs in an effort to assess their record in reducing recidivism, but concluded that there was still insufficient data to determine their overall success. It observed that the criteria used in evaluating the success of state programs did not automatically translate into evaluations that could be applied at the federal level.

“Proponents of (these) programs have pointed to limited data showing low recidivism rates of graduates of certain programs,” the study said.

“Although important, such data needs to be supplemented with data showing both the long-term recidivism rate of participants who did not successfully complete the programs, and the long-term recidivism rate of a meaningful comparison group of similarly situated offenders who received traditional dispositions of their cases.”

The five programs examined were:

  • South Carolina’s “Bridge Program” for drug abusers, launched in 2010;
  • The Conviction and Sentence Alternatives (CASA) program in the Central District of California;
  • The Pretrial Alternatives to Detention Initiative (PADI) in the Central District of Illinois;
  • The Repair, Invest, Succeed, Emerge (RISE) program of the District of Massachusetts;
  • The Sentencing Alternatives Improving Lives (SAIL) program of the Eastern District of Missouri.

Most of the programs involved only small numbers of federal offenders, relative to those charged and sentenced in traditional ways, but USSC staff interviewed judges, attorneys and other stakeholders in an effort to identify the areas that needed further study by social scientists.

The programs were “collegial” in stark contrast to the adversarial nature of federal courts, the USSC said.

“The presiding judge often does not wear a robe and sits at a table with the other team members rather than on the bench, (and the programs) involve weekly or semi-monthly meetings with multiple participating defendants,” the study reported.

Similar to state programs, the federal court teams typically address specific mental health and substance-abuse issues afflicting a defendant, and they work as well to improve defendants’ lives through counseling on family relationships, physical health, education and employment.

Nevertheless, the USSC observed that the handful of evaluations of federal “reentry” court programs so far showed results that were “mixed at best” in terms of their effectiveness and their rehabilitative potential compared to traditional supervisory programs.

The study said the programs needed more examination, for example, of the role of judges in such courts, and an analysis of whether they resulted in genuine cost-savings to taxpayers.

“Not only are the programs relatively new in the federal system and only have graduated a small number of participants to date, they have also developed in a decentralized manner and differ from each other in significant respects,” the USSC said. “Thus they cannot yet be evaluated empirically to determine whether the programs meet their articulated goals.”

The USSC acknowledged that the new Justice Department’s hardline approach to drug sentencing might make such questions academic.

The nascent federal ATI programs are an outgrowth of Obama-era reforms, encouraged by then-Attorney General Eric Holder as a way of prioritizing alternatives to lengthy drug sentences.

But the May 2017 Sessions memo effectively reversed the trend, calling on federal prosecutors to charge and pursue “the most serious, readily provable offense(s)…those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”

At the same time, the USCC also noted that any expansion of federal ATI programs could also be hampered by the long-standing opposition in Congress to changing federal sentencing guidelines to encompass alternatives to punishment.

Nevertheless, the USCC made clear that it believed further empirical studies were necessary in order to effectively evaluate whether the programs were worth pursuing on a larger scale—and in particular whether they reduced racial disparities in sentencing.

“The recent emergence of federal alternative-to-incarceration court programs has raised several legal and social-science issues that must be carefully considered and informed by meaningful data before they can be answered by courts and policymakers,” study said.

For the complete version of the USSC report, please click here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

FAA Uses ‘Honor System’ for Criminals, Terrorists

A year-long Boston Globe investigation released this week shows how the Federal Aviation Administration’s lax system of registering airplanes and pilot’s licenses is being exploited by drug runners– and even terrorists.

After a year-long investigation, two Boston Globe reporters found that a lax Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] system of registering airplanes and pilot’s licenses is being exploited by drug runners– and even terrorists.

“People can use layers of secrecy to register their aircraft,” Spotlight investigative reporter Jaimi Dowdell told CBS on Monday. All you need is a bill of sale and a $5 bill– a system far less secure than applying for a driver’s license, which requires multiple forms of ID.

“The FAA doesn’t see itself as an active policeman of the registry,” said Spotlight co-reporter Kelly Carr. “They don’t vet the information. So they’re really working on the honor system” to tell the truth about their citizenship and residency in the U.S.

“They can lie, and the FAA says that they’re not checking.”

FAA acknowledges it does not vet or track registration, and says it lacks the resources to determine accuracy.

The Spotlight investigation found that two of the planes used in the 9/11 attacks were listed by the FAA as active until 2005; another plane’s registration was active for 57 years after it was destroyed in a crash. Carr and Dowdell also found 5 people with suspected ties to terrorism– one currently serving time for attempting to aid ISIS– all holding active licenses, according to the FAA database.

“If those aren’t being caught, imagine what else is slipping through the cracks?” said Carr.

Eight years after the 9/11 terror attacks,”the FAA still operates more like a file clerk than a reliable tool for law enforcement, enabling secrecy in the skies here and abroad,” concludes the Spotlight story.

An investigation by The Crime Report published last week revealed the FAA had failed to thoroughly address a whistleblower’s report of defective airline parts manufactured in China for U.S. aircraft. The whistleblower case, reported by TCR Deputy Editor Victoria Mckenzie, underlined additional concerns by aviation specialists and former FAA inspectors about FAA oversight. They charged that the FAA has shunted the job of policing the emerging global trade in counterfeit airplane parts to the commercial airline industry.

from https://thecrimereport.org