A Prisoners’ Pen Pal Finds Making Connections is a ‘Beautiful Thing’

For four decades, a Syracuse, N.Y. woman has been writing letters to death row inmates and other prisoners, enriching their lives and hers. But things got a little more personal when she began writing to someone who was a student at an elementary school where she once worked.

Carole Horan of Syracuse, N.Y., has been handwriting letters for 40 years.

As for many people, the era of email and texting hasn’t altered that practice. It takes some extra time of course, but her correspondents have all the time in the world.

All of them are in prison, some on death row.

Horan originally got involved in writing to prisoners through a program based out of Chicago that connected letter-writers with inmates sentenced to death. She never asked them how they feel about getting her letters, but then she had a first-hand experience that provided an answer.

The first man she wrote to was Jeff Dicks of Tennessee. He was on death row for about 17 years before he died of a massive heart attack. In 1979, he had been convicted of murdering an elderly store owner.

Horan felt that Dicks, whom she described as a poor, white man from the South, had a hard time getting a fair trial. Horan added that his mother fought for his innocence, even writing six books about it.

“The first letter was so hard to write because you don’t know what to say or ask,” Horan said.

Horan said that Dicks, like many of the others, was surprised to hear from somebody—anybody.

In his written letters to her, Dicks described his time in solitary confinement, when he was allowed to come out of his cell for only one hour a day. During that hour he had a choice to exercise or take a shower, but as time passed he was allowed to do more — even teach a class.

Horan recalled that Dicks’ handwriting was small because he was depressed. He would talk to her about how long his appeals process was taking, a divorce from his wife, not seeing his daughter, and how he felt his public counsel was being ineffective.

Over a few years, a friendship developed, and Horan eventually got a chance to meet him. While she was visiting, she stayed with his mother, and got to experience what it is like to be in a maximum-security prison.

“To physically see (him) and being able to hug him,” Horan said. “It was pure joy.”

For the first 17 years she was only writing to Dicks, and after he died she stopped for a time, processing it all.

But she soon realized how important the connection could be. Currently, Horan writes to three prisoners, one of them on death row

Horan said she writes the letters by hand using a fountain pen. For most letters she writes, she is usually paired with someone by the Death Row Support Project. But then she reached out to someone whose name she saw in the news.

And that’s when it became even more personal.

His name was Habakkuk Nickens. Horan remembered him as a student when she worked as a secretary at Seymour Elementary School in Syracuse.

She had known all the Nickens children, and she was inspired to reach out to Habakkuk after reading an article in The Stand about efforts he is leading to prevent gang violence in Syracuse’s South Side community — efforts he oversees while behind bars.

Nickens is serving 20 years for gang activity at the Federal Correctional Institution in Ray Brook, New York.

Horan got in contact with him initially through his mother—via email. They have been writing back and forth for over a year now.

“It’s just a beautiful thing,” she said. “(It is a) very loving friendship, and he is doing beautiful work trying to turn his life around.”

Horan has a visit with Nickens scheduled later this month, but her trip could be canceled if the prison is on lockdown, which he tells her has been happening a lot recently.

So far, she has written to 10 incarcerated men. (She has never been paired with a woman.)

Her regular correspondents include “Jonathan,” an inmate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, who is not on death row; and “Von,” a 72-year-old who has been on death row in Ohio for 35 years.

“You are sharing your life with them,” Horan said. “It’s a lovely thing.”

She does not ask her correspondents questions about what they did that put them behind bars. She sticks instead to how they spend their time and their prison jobs.

She shares stories about her grandchildren, travel and books, and what she or they like to read.

She said “Von” likes to crochet, sharing he was having a hard time completing the feet of a penguin. “Jonathan” makes her laugh, often describing how he doesn’t like working in the fields in Louisiana, where inmates farm crops such as cotton and corn.

“I am not fearful about writing,” Horan said. “I am cautious in the sense that there are things I don’t tell them about me.”

Word has spread about Horan’s efforts. One of her prison correspondents, named “Richard,” gave her name to two other inmates, who then wrote to her. One was “Jonathan,” and the other wanted money.

Horan made clear she never gives money. What she offers instead is friendship—and the rewards are mutual.

Horan shares an image of her pen pal Habakkuk Nickens with his family he sent her. |Photo by Bianca Moorman/The Stand

When she first wrote Nickens, he remembered her from school but didn’t recall what she looked like. So she sent him a picture with her daughters, who Nickens called “Miss Americas.”

He dubbed his pen pal “Miss Universe.”

He shared that he is not a monster; but a changed man. He’s created a program while in prison called Men Educating Neighborhoods (M.E.N.). That impressed Horan.

“What he is working on now is to help men realize that violence is not the answer,” Horan said.

A lot of people who are on death row, said Horan, are rejected by members of their family, so she fills a critical void— which the prisoners themselves admit.

In a recent letter that she received from “Jonathan,” he joked, “(You’ve) got this Pope Francis, Mother Theresa thing going on, haven’t you?”

When she first wrote to Dicks, her original prison pen pal, it took her anywhere from a day to weeks to complete a letter. Now she says it takes her about an hour, or up to three days.

She keeps pictures of all the prisoners she writes — her “friends,” as she calls them — on her refrigerator. She also keeps a box under her bed of letters she has received. Just recently, she went through the box and saw the last letter that she received from “Jeff.”

She reads them for inspiration.

She feels that somehow she is keeping alive a tradition that is fading far too fast.

“A long time ago people wrote letters,” Horan said during a chat at a coffee shop. “I mean real letters—not email letters— to people because long-distance phone calls were really expensive.”

In 1987, households reported receiving 1.6 pieces of personal correspondence each week, according to a U.S. Postal Service survey. By 2015, personal correspondence declined 69 percent, to just 0.5 pieces per household per week.

“One of the beautiful things about writing and receiving [a letter] is that you can read it again and again,” Horan said. “And sometimes in writing, you can say things on paper that are a little hard to say in person.”

And also, she believes that having something handwritten makes it a little more permanent than digital notes in cyberspace.

That’s one reason she intends to keep at it as long as she can.

“To me it is not important what they did,” she said. “(What’s important is) who they are trying to become.”

EDITORS NOTE: If you’re interested in becoming a prisoner’s penpal through the Death Row Support Project, you can find out more by clicking on this link.

This is a condensed and slightly edited version of a story published in The Stand, a community newspaper produced in Syracuse, N.Y., in partnership with S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. The full version is available here. Ashley Kang, director of The Stand, is a 2018 John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Justice Reporting Fellow. Click here for an earlier story in The Stand’s “Prison-to-Family series. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How the Law Complicates Tracking Hate in Oregon

Some hate crimes are so heinous there’s no debate about whether they should be prosecuted. But the law isn’t always so clear-cut for police. Oregon is a good example.

Hassania heard the footsteps one late summer evening in downtown Portland, Ore.

She was on her way home from work. Hassania, a Muslim woman from Morocco, wore a hijab, as she does every day, and bright-colored clothing bejeweled at the wrists. The hem of her kaftan hovered just barely off the ground.

The footsteps grew closer. Then she saw him — an older white man with gray hair and glasses ran at Hassania from behind and then got in her face, blocking her way. He stood just inches from her.

“Too close to my body,” Hassania said.

The man raised his middle finger at her, then spat at her feet.

She gasped and shouted a sarcastic remark about his impoliteness. The man ran off.

As the noise of his footsteps receded, she asked herself one question over and over:

“Why? Why? Just why?” Hassania said. “Maybe because I’m a Muslim, African woman?”

Hassania came to the United States in July to share the work she’s doing teaching Moroccan girls from the countryside about leadership skills and gender equality issues. The image of America she had formed in her mind while studying U.S. history in books and classes 5,700 miles away — an America where racism is a thing of the past, where everyone, regardless of background, is welcome if they’re willing to contribute to society — began to unravel.

Once safely home, she called friends to ask for advice. One told her to take off her hijab. She couldn’t fathom that.

“’No, don’t say that to me,’” she remembered telling the friend. “’Please, this is my identity, this is me. This is not easy to take it off.’”

Another friend advised her to call the Portland Police Bureau. That friend told her to report the incident as a hate crime.

She tried.

Within hours of last month’s horrific attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue, federal prosecutors charged the shooter with multiple hate crimes: obstruction of the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and obstruction of religious beliefs resulting in injury to a police officer.

In Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for the death penalty for the man accused of targeting and shooting two African-Americans last week at a grocery store in his home state.

“If these are not hate crimes,” McConnell said, “I don’t know what a hate crime is.”

But the judicial system isn’t always so clear-cut, and people who lash out in hateful ways aren’t always criminals according to the law.

Under Oregon law, a hate crime occurs when a person or group damages property, does something threatening or subjects another person to offensive physical contact “because of the person’s perception of the other’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disability or national origin.”

It’s a very specific legal definition, one that police, sheriffs and district attorneys say often falls short of satisfying people who have experienced hateful behavior.

“It is really difficult to provide the solution a community member is looking for and is asking for,” said officer Natasha Haunsperger, who works in the Portland Police Bureau’s community engagement office. “It’s such a major disconnect in what we can do versus perception once you’re a victim of a hate crime.”

That’s because law enforcement officials must have enough probable cause to determine an alleged perpetrator intentionally threatened or assaulted someone because of a victim’s race, color, religion, national origin or sexual orientation. Unless they occur in conjunction with a crime, derogatory statements about a person’s race or religion, while hostile, aren’t unlawful.

In fact, they’re protected by the First Amendment.

“You are allowed to use hurtful, awful, disgusting words; you’re allowed to say that under our Constitution,” said Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel. “You’re not allowed to threaten somebody, put someone in fear of imminent physical violence.”

Hassania called Portland Police a day after she was accosted.

The officer she spoke with wouldn’t take a police report because, Hassania later recalled, he said what had happened to her was not a crime.

If the police arrested everyone in Portland who offended someone, the officer added, police would have to arrest everyone in Portland. Under the law, he explained, there was nothing they could do.

Hassania, who asked to be identified by just her first name to protect her from further abuse, said the officer she spoke with made her feel like an idiot.

“My dream of America became nightmare of America,” she said.

Hassania wasn’t alone when she called the police. Seemab Hussaini, who chairs Oregon’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was with her when she made the call and was appalled at what he overheard.

On Aug. 24, the day after Hassania called the police, CAIR-Oregon publicly denounced the Portland Police Bureau’s response.

“These are statements that marginalize affected communities, remove power or any hope of being recognized for victimhood,” Hussaini said.

That tension between what people — particularly people of color — expect when they call the police for help and what law enforcement officers can legally prosecute under the law plays out time and time again in communities across the Northwest and around the country.

Within many communities of color, skepticism toward law enforcement is rooted in historic precedent. And now, with a spike in reported hate crimes since the election of President Donald Trump and a spate of attacks fueled by hate, there’s more pressure for law enforcement to get it right. If they don’t, critics say, hate festers and the people police have sworn to protect end up feeling even less safe.

Documenting Hate To Address Hate

Hassania’s call to the police would have been handled differently just a few hours south in Eugene, Ore., which has the largest number of documented hate crimes in the state, and where city officials have taken a different approach to hate.

There, she would have had the option to report what happened to her to the city’s Office of Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement even if the police decided there was no crime to investigate. Information about the incident would then also be collected by the Eugene Police Department and reviewed by city officials and police, who meet quarterly to make sure each complaint about hateful behavior is correctly labeled.

Those results are put into an annual report analyzed by the city’s Human  Rights Commission.

So far, all that additional information and analysis haven’t led to specific policy changes in Eugene. But just keeping track is important, city leaders say.

Hate crimes

Lt. David Natt of the Eugene, Ore. Police Dept. says the city’s approach to documenting hate crimes and bias incidents helps. Photo by Conrad Wilson/OPB

“It allows us to give them something that’s more actionable than showing the empathy of understanding how they feel about something and explaining to them it doesn’t necessarily rise to a criminal level,” said Lt. David Natt, who heads up bias crimes and documentation for the Eugene Police Department.

“We still get the opportunity in the community to recognize that we’ve had this event.”

Eugene residents say that process gives law enforcement a clearer sense of what’s happening in their communities. That’s important because hate and bias crimes tend to be under-reported nationwide.

Eugene’s unique system of documenting hate and bias incidents has a magnifying effect:

The number of hate crimes reported in Oregon nearly doubled from 2015 to 2016 — a jump from 66 to 104. Portland — Oregon’s largest city — had 10 hate crimes reported in 2016, according to data voluntarily reported to the FBI. Eugene had 38.

The numbers in Eugene last year, which include both incidents and actual crimes, are even higher, at 139. According to the most recent data, vandalism replaced intimidation as the most common hate crime charge, and race remains the leading motivating factor. Reports of vandalism involved swastikas; racist, homophobic and transphobic slurs; and white nationalist recruitment material.

The data also shows African-Americans are significantly overrepresented as victims of hate and bias crimes. Of the 31 reported race-related hate crimes, 25 were committed against African-Americans.

“Those reporting mechanisms have helped,” said Eric Richardson, president of the Eugene chapter of the NAACP. “It’s a way for us to see what the problems are.”

By documenting hate, he said, you address hate.

Eugene’s approach casts a wider net because it documents bias incidents on top of hate crimes. Hussaini, with CAIR-Oregon, said that would be helpful in Portland, where only hate crimes — those incidents that appear to meet the legal definition of a hate crime — are tracked.

“Track the culture,” Hussaini said. “Track the culture behind what causes a hate crime to occur. They can be circumvented, stopped if they are found early.”

Portland Considers Another Approach To Hate

Recently, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) invited officers from Eugene to exchange information about how they document hate. They met with Natt, the Eugene lieutenant who heads the city’s bias unit, and a representative from Eugene’s Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement division.

Eric Richardson

Eric Richardson, president of the Eugene, Ore., chapter of the NAACP. Photo by Conrad Wilson/OPB

In August, following that meeting, PPB launched a public database of potential bias and hate crime statistics.

But the data doesn’t include incidents such as Hassania’s. Rather, the data only illustrates incidents that officers have deemed a crime, meaning they took the initial step of officially documenting what happened. In launching the new public tool, PPB said it hopes to “increase transparency and encourage the community to report instances of possible bias and hate crimes to the PPB, regardless of the nature or type of incident.”

Portland police say when it comes to documenting more bias incidents, they need help from the community. In fact, the city already has a foundation for a system like the one that exists in Eugene.

Portland Detective Jeff Sharp, who investigates bias crimes, said the bureau is hoping to work with Portland United Against Hate, a partnership of community organizations, neighborhood associations and the city. Portland City Council awarded $40,000 to PUAH in 2017 for a pilot project to collect, track and analyze hate incidents.

Findings from the program’s first year show that hate crimes go unreported in Portland because of an expectation of inaction when a victim reports: People don’t call the police because they don’t think the police will do anything. Organizers also found that the process for reporting hate crimes needs to take into account a victim’s trauma and, above all, avoid exacerbating it.

There’s also the Police Bureau’s Muslim Advisory Council, which is made up of leaders in the Muslim community. Its members meet every month with officers. Those interactions help the community feel heard, said Laila Hajoo, president of the Islamic Social Services of Oregon State, a Portland-based nonprofit.

“A lot of the refugees that come here are terrified to bring up issues with authorities because they are afraid of deportation, or because it’s going to make their life more miserable,” Hajoo said. “If they can confide in us, then we have an opportunity to discuss this at the council” — and police officers can engage.

While the bureau is making strides, it still falls short of a system for tracking incidents such as Hassania’s. And from Hassania’s perspective, the reality is that talking about hate isn’t as powerful as documenting it.

“Now, I felt like, ‘No, I have to protect myself,’” she said.

It took Hassania weeks to process what happened to her. She missed several days of work because she was afraid to go outside. She even attended the Portland Police Bureau’s “WomenStrength” self-defense workshops.

More than a month after the incident, Hassania attended a seminar titled “Islamophobia Workshop: Strategies for Survival” at a mosque in Beaverton, Ore. She was eager to hear other people’s experiences with hate and reflections on why they occurred.

Among the attendees were Destinee Mangum and Walia Mohamed, the two girls who prosecutors say were targeted aboard a MAX train in 2017, just before a white man stabbed three people, killing two. Mohamed wore a hijab at the time of the attack, just as Hassania does.

Hassania stood and faced the two girls. “I want to thank you so much for being here,” she told them.

Then, she retold the events of that late summer evening on her way home from work to those in attendance at the seminar. She turned to the dozen or so people in the room, and posed a question: “Who will protect me if the police didn’t protect me?”

What Hassania wanted, and still wants, is for someone from the city of Portland—anyone—to say that what happened to her matters in the eyes of law enforcement.

This is a slightly edited version of a broadcast report by Erica Cruz Guevarra and Conrad Wilson of Oregon Public Radio. Wilson is a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow. For the complete broadcast, please click here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

After Raise the Age, Where Will Adolescent Offenders Go?

New York has finally joined other states in barring 16- and 17-year-oldswho get in trouble with the law from being tried as adults. But now officials are scrambling to find a secure place to house them and keep them out of the justice system.

On Oct. 1, the first phase of a New York State law known as “Raise the Age” took effect, meaning 16-year-olds can no longer be arrested or tried as adults. A year from now, the law will extend to 17-year-olds as well.

Authorities are just beginning to grapple with the next challenge: Where will these young offenders be housed?

New York’s Albany County, which encompasses the state capital district, is upgrading a facility in Colonie, N.Y., not far from the county jail, to accommodate the new class of youthful offenders.

Senior Investigator Shawn Noonan, the commanding officer of Professionals Standards for the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, calls it a “two-pronged approach”—and the first prong involves upgrading security.

jail

The Capital District Detention Facility in Colonie, N.Y., is being upgraded in anticipation of taking older offenders, aged 16 and 17 years, following the implementation of the state’s Raise the Age legislation. Photo by Michael Koff/The Enterprise

He said that the new facility must take into account that some of the youths may have committed “serious crimes,” and need to be held securely to avoid dangers to others, even as it seeks to make the facility “less institutionalized” in the hope of decreasing recidivism and providing troubled young people with an alternative to jail.

The Capital District Juvenile Secure Detention Facility, which primarily serves Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, and Rensselaer counties, is one of only eight secure facilities in the state, which are the only institutions qualified to take in detained 16-year-olds and eventually 17-year-olds.

New York used to be just one of two states that prosecuted 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Only North Carolina remains. In five states—Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, and Texas—17-year-olds are automatically prosecuted as adults.

Thirteen states—Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia—have no minimum age for prosecuting a child as an adult.

Under New York’s new law, 16-year-olds must be placed in settings appropriate for their age, rather than in jail; those charged with non-violent crimes are to be diverted into community-based programs just like offenders who are 15 and younger.

Sixteen-year-olds arrested on serious charges will go to a youth part of criminal court and be placed in secure detention facilities for adolescents.

A 16-year-old in New York now has several different paths that he or she can follow, according to Noonan, who has been helping with several Raise the Age transitions, including upgrading the county’s juvenile facility to house adolescent offenders, as well as dealing with changes in policy for arresting and charging them.

Sent to Family Court

Any 16-year-old charged with a penal misdemeanor after Oct. 1 will be sent to Family Court, so that he or she will not have a permanent criminal record. If the youth is pulled over for a vehicle or traffic misdemeanor, or a violation, he will go to the local court.

But if that 16-year-old is charged with a felony, he’ll be sent to the newly created Youth Court.

In Albany County, the Youth Court will be in the same building as Family Court and will be overseen by Family Court Judge Richard Rivera, said Noonan.

The 16- and 17-year-olds whose cases remain in Youth Court will be known as adolescent offenders; their counterparts aged 13 to 15, known as juvenile offenders, will be tried in the Youth Court as well. According to the Raise the Age law, adult sentencing will apply, but the judge must take the adolescent offender’s age into account when sentencing, and he or she is eligible for youthful-offender treatment.

In the court system, public defenders will be trained to represent someone in the Youth Court, said Susan Bryant, the acting director for the New York State Defenders’ Association.

Public defenders are also participating in local conversations on county plans for implementation of Raise the Age, which include addressing social services, probation, and transportation.

There is still concern about minors being detained as juveniles, she said.

“It’s certainly a step hopefully towards continued reform,” she said. “I’m not sure if this is the best structure for it, but we will see how it goes.”

One debate is over whether all cases should begin in Family Court, said Bryant. She noted a judge may treat a 16- or 17-year-old more like an adult since they appear older.

Judicial education is needed, Bryant said, although the Youth Court judges being trained to work with adolescent offenders may also be serving in Family Court.

table

A map of New York shows eight secure juvenile detention facilities in red, which are able to hold adolescent offenders. Another two dozen non-secure facilities are marked in blue. Counties shaded in purple are in a partnership to share Albany County’s facility; those shaded in lavender have side agreements to send adolescent offenders to Albany County’s facility. Courtesy The Enterprise.

 

New York has two dozen detention centers for juveniles 16 and younger, scattered across the state. Under the new law, New York has eight secure facilities for adolescent offenders who are awaiting trial and for those convicted and sentenced to less than a year.

The goal is to avoid young people being held far from their homes and families, said David Condliffe, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Community Alternatives and a member of the state’s Raise the Age task force.

Adding ‘Trauma to Trauma’

“Imagine you’re 16 years and you find yourself hundreds of miles from home … It adds trauma to trauma,” said Condliffe.

Condliffe said incarceration has decreased in places like New York City, due to a focus on alternatives to incarceration, while incarceration has increased in rural parts of the state, an assertion backed up by data from the Vera Institute.

Sixteen- and eventually 17-year-olds who face trial in Youth Court must now be held for trial in youth facilities if a judge determines there is a need for pre-trial detention. They can no longer be held in county jails as adults, but instead must be held in separate wings of secure youth facilities, or “specialized secure juvenile detention facilities for older youth.”

Adolescent offenders will be detained in county-operated facilities located in Buffalo and Rush, a suburb of Rochester, as well as in Onondaga, Albany, Westchester, and Nassau counties, according to Monica Mahaffey, a spokeswoman for the Office of Children and Family Services.

They may be held at such facilities not only during pre-trial detention, but also if their sentence is one year or less following conviction.

“OCFS and the State Commission on Correction certify and regulate the detention centers. Counties operate them,” Mahaffey wrote in an email to The Enterprise. “Every county is not required to operate a facility, but every county must have a facility available for its use.”

She noted that these facilities are not to be located at county jails, but can be at juvenile secure detention facilities if the offenders are separate from the younger juvenile delinquents and juvenile offenders.

Alex Wilson, associate counsel for the New York State Sheriff’s Association, said that lately the association members have frequently discussed the issue of so few secure facilities in the state, especially upstate.

But beyond transportation, there are concerns about having enough beds, or places for the 16-year-olds, Wilson said.

“It certainly presents a problem,” said Bryant. Currently, she said, no 16-year-old has been sent to a secure facility.

Bryant said a number of counties are considering alternatives to using one of the eight secure facilities. For example, Tompkins County, in central New York on the edge of the Southern Tier, is considering creating a specialized secure facility to be shared among counties in the Southern Tier, she said.

On Oct. 16, the Tompkins County Legislature authorized the county to enter into an agreement to form a local development corporation to create a new specialized secure detention facility.

In April, the Tompkins County joined 10 other counties in a coalition to explore Raise the Age issues, including where to house adolescent offenders.

“The problem is the law requires them to be in these specialized facilities, but the cost of every county having one just doesn’t necessarily make any sense,” Bryant said.

“But from the defense perspective we want our clients to be as close to home as possible, as close to a lawyer as possible so that they can have regular communication and aren’t being transported across the state for a court appearance.”

Wilson noted that there has been a lot of discussion on treating 16-year-olds and eventually 17-year-olds as juveniles rather than adults upon their arrest. He said that their detention will have to take place in special rooms separate from where adult offenders are detained upon their initial arrest up until they are arraigned in court.

But Wilson said that the Raise the Age legislation is written with the presumption that most young offenders will not be detained; he believes most are or will be released on their own recognizance and that probation officers and ankle monitors will be more often used than jail time.

The goal of the legislation and the presumption is that, when someone is brought into the Youth Court, they will be released, Bryant said.

But finding secure facilities for those who require it remains a hurdle.

“You’re trying to find balance,” said McLaughlin, explaining that the county cannot have too few beds or suffer as some facilities have from having too many empty beds after overbuilding.”

Juvenile detention in New York has been reduced by over half since 2010 due to diversion and prevention programs, said Mahaffey.

“Raise the Age provides an opportunity for the same strategies to be applied to 16- and 17-year-olds,” she wrote in an email to The Enterprise.

This is a condensed and slightly edited version of an article by H. Rose Schneider, a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow, written as part of her fellowship project. The complete story, published in the Altamount Enterprise, can be viewed here. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

After Raise the Age, Where Will Adolescent Offenders Go?

New York has finally joined other states in barring 16- and 17-year-oldswho get in trouble with the law from being tried as adults. But now officials are scrambling to find a secure place to house them and keep them out of the justice system.

On Oct. 1, the first phase of a New York State law known as “Raise the Age” took effect, meaning 16-year-olds can no longer be arrested or tried as adults. A year from now, the law will extend to 17-year-olds as well.

Authorities are just beginning to grapple with the next challenge: Where will these young offenders be housed?

New York’s Albany County, which encompasses the state capital district, is upgrading a facility in Colonie, N.Y., not far from the county jail, to accommodate the new class of youthful offenders.

Senior Investigator Shawn Noonan, the commanding officer of Professionals Standards for the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, calls it a “two-pronged approach”—and the first prong involves upgrading security.

jail

The Capital District Detention Facility in Colonie, N.Y., is being upgraded in anticipation of taking older offenders, aged 16 and 17 years, following the implementation of the state’s Raise the Age legislation. Photo by Michael Koff/The Enterprise

He said that the new facility must take into account that some of the youths may have committed “serious crimes,” and need to be held securely to avoid dangers to others, even as it seeks to make the facility “less institutionalized” in the hope of decreasing recidivism and providing troubled young people with an alternative to jail.

The Capital District Juvenile Secure Detention Facility, which primarily serves Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, and Rensselaer counties, is one of only eight secure facilities in the state, which are the only institutions qualified to take in detained 16-year-olds and eventually 17-year-olds.

New York used to be just one of two states that prosecuted 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Only North Carolina remains. In five states—Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, and Texas—17-year-olds are automatically prosecuted as adults.

Thirteen states—Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia—have no minimum age for prosecuting a child as an adult.

Under New York’s new law, 16-year-olds must be placed in settings appropriate for their age, rather than in jail; those charged with non-violent crimes are to be diverted into community-based programs just like offenders who are 15 and younger.

Sixteen-year-olds arrested on serious charges will go to a youth part of criminal court and be placed in secure detention facilities for adolescents.

A 16-year-old in New York now has several different paths that he or she can follow, according to Noonan, who has been helping with several Raise the Age transitions, including upgrading the county’s juvenile facility to house adolescent offenders, as well as dealing with changes in policy for arresting and charging them.

Sent to Family Court

Any 16-year-old charged with a penal misdemeanor after Oct. 1 will be sent to Family Court, so that he or she will not have a permanent criminal record. If the youth is pulled over for a vehicle or traffic misdemeanor, or a violation, he will go to the local court.

But if that 16-year-old is charged with a felony, he’ll be sent to the newly created Youth Court.

In Albany County, the Youth Court will be in the same building as Family Court and will be overseen by Family Court Judge Richard Rivera, said Noonan.

The 16- and 17-year-olds whose cases remain in Youth Court will be known as adolescent offenders; their counterparts aged 13 to 15, known as juvenile offenders, will be tried in the Youth Court as well. According to the Raise the Age law, adult sentencing will apply, but the judge must take the adolescent offender’s age into account when sentencing, and he or she is eligible for youthful-offender treatment.

In the court system, public defenders will be trained to represent someone in the Youth Court, said Susan Bryant, the acting director for the New York State Defenders’ Association.

Public defenders are also participating in local conversations on county plans for implementation of Raise the Age, which include addressing social services, probation, and transportation.

There is still concern about minors being detained as juveniles, she said.

“It’s certainly a step hopefully towards continued reform,” she said. “I’m not sure if this is the best structure for it, but we will see how it goes.”

One debate is over whether all cases should begin in Family Court, said Bryant. She noted a judge may treat a 16- or 17-year-old more like an adult since they appear older.

Judicial education is needed, Bryant said, although the Youth Court judges being trained to work with adolescent offenders may also be serving in Family Court.

table

A map of New York shows eight secure juvenile detention facilities in red, which are able to hold adolescent offenders. Another two dozen non-secure facilities are marked in blue. Counties shaded in purple are in a partnership to share Albany County’s facility; those shaded in lavender have side agreements to send adolescent offenders to Albany County’s facility. Courtesy The Enterprise.

 

New York has two dozen detention centers for juveniles 16 and younger, scattered across the state. Under the new law, New York has eight secure facilities for adolescent offenders who are awaiting trial and for those convicted and sentenced to less than a year.

The goal is to avoid young people being held far from their homes and families, said David Condliffe, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Community Alternatives and a member of the state’s Raise the Age task force.

Adding ‘Trauma to Trauma’

“Imagine you’re 16 years and you find yourself hundreds of miles from home … It adds trauma to trauma,” said Condliffe.

Condliffe said incarceration has decreased in places like New York City, due to a focus on alternatives to incarceration, while incarceration has increased in rural parts of the state, an assertion backed up by data from the Vera Institute.

Sixteen- and eventually 17-year-olds who face trial in Youth Court must now be held for trial in youth facilities if a judge determines there is a need for pre-trial detention. They can no longer be held in county jails as adults, but instead must be held in separate wings of secure youth facilities, or “specialized secure juvenile detention facilities for older youth.”

Adolescent offenders will be detained in county-operated facilities located in Buffalo and Rush, a suburb of Rochester, as well as in Onondaga, Albany, Westchester, and Nassau counties, according to Monica Mahaffey, a spokeswoman for the Office of Children and Family Services.

They may be held at such facilities not only during pre-trial detention, but also if their sentence is one year or less following conviction.

“OCFS and the State Commission on Correction certify and regulate the detention centers. Counties operate them,” Mahaffey wrote in an email to The Enterprise. “Every county is not required to operate a facility, but every county must have a facility available for its use.”

She noted that these facilities are not to be located at county jails, but can be at juvenile secure detention facilities if the offenders are separate from the younger juvenile delinquents and juvenile offenders.

Alex Wilson, associate counsel for the New York State Sheriff’s Association, said that lately the association members have frequently discussed the issue of so few secure facilities in the state, especially upstate.

But beyond transportation, there are concerns about having enough beds, or places for the 16-year-olds, Wilson said.

“It certainly presents a problem,” said Bryant. Currently, she said, no 16-year-old has been sent to a secure facility.

Bryant said a number of counties are considering alternatives to using one of the eight secure facilities. For example, Tompkins County, in central New York on the edge of the Southern Tier, is considering creating a specialized secure facility to be shared among counties in the Southern Tier, she said.

On Oct. 16, the Tompkins County Legislature authorized the county to enter into an agreement to form a local development corporation to create a new specialized secure detention facility.

In April, the Tompkins County joined 10 other counties in a coalition to explore Raise the Age issues, including where to house adolescent offenders.

“The problem is the law requires them to be in these specialized facilities, but the cost of every county having one just doesn’t necessarily make any sense,” Bryant said.

“But from the defense perspective we want our clients to be as close to home as possible, as close to a lawyer as possible so that they can have regular communication and aren’t being transported across the state for a court appearance.”

Wilson noted that there has been a lot of discussion on treating 16-year-olds and eventually 17-year-olds as juveniles rather than adults upon their arrest. He said that their detention will have to take place in special rooms separate from where adult offenders are detained upon their initial arrest up until they are arraigned in court.

But Wilson said that the Raise the Age legislation is written with the presumption that most young offenders will not be detained; he believes most are or will be released on their own recognizance and that probation officers and ankle monitors will be more often used than jail time.

The goal of the legislation and the presumption is that, when someone is brought into the Youth Court, they will be released, Bryant said.

But finding secure facilities for those who require it remains a hurdle.

“You’re trying to find balance,” said McLaughlin, explaining that the county cannot have too few beds or suffer as some facilities have from having too many empty beds after overbuilding.”

Juvenile detention in New York has been reduced by over half since 2010 due to diversion and prevention programs, said Mahaffey.

“Raise the Age provides an opportunity for the same strategies to be applied to 16- and 17-year-olds,” she wrote in an email to The Enterprise.

This is a condensed and slightly edited version of an article by H. Rose Schneider, a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow, written as part of her fellowship project. The complete story, published in the Altamount Enterprise, can be viewed here. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘Kindness of Strangers’ a Last Resort for the Rural Mentally Ill

In rural Nebraska, police and medical providers have teamed up to divert troubled individuals from the justice system, but it’s still a struggle to get adequate resources.

Even though more services are becoming available to divert the seriously mentally ill from the justice system, rural communities are struggling to find the resources they need to bring those services to the people who need them.

Transportation, for instance, can make the difference between success or failure.

“We have no public transportation here,” said Pamela Hopkins, a Fremont, Neb., lawyer who is running for Dodge County Attorney. “Many of these people are unable to drive, for one reason or another, whether it’s because they use alcohol as a substitute for their treatment and they lost their licenses because of that, or they’re too poor to have a car.

“They’ve got to depend on the kindness of strangers.”

Without ready access to counseling or treatment often located far from their homes, defendants might otherwise find it hard to prove to judges that they are serious about addressing their problems.

Nebraska, like many states with large rural populations, is at the sharp end of the challenges of dealing with mentally troubled individuals. Most of the state is experiencing a shortage in mental health and psychiatric providers, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Rural Health.

Linda Witmuss, deputy director of the DHHS Division of Behavioral Health, acknowledged that the system needs to undertake a “richer review of data” to better determine how the state’s finite resources should be allotted to meet the need.

But she argues that mental health reforms launched by the state in 2004 have led to more services at the community level.

“There’s always room for more services—don’t get me wrong there,” she said. “ (But) all of our rehab options (and) services, including expansion of medication management, came about as a result of that reform.”

In 2004, the Nebraska legislature passed Bill LB1083, which was designed to reduce the use of inpatient psychiatric services at the state’s three Regional Centers in Lincoln, Norfolk and Hastings, and invest more in outpatient and community-based services that could help those struggling with mental health in their own communities.

The reduction of inpatient beds was consistent with nationwide efforts to move away from institutionalizing the mentally ill and instead treat them in their communities. But those interviewed by the Tribune say that the infrastructure for community care was slow to materialize, and it still isn’t adequate for those who may be in need of more intensive care.

“There’s a lot of people who aren’t even leaving their homes to get the services that they need because they’re just homebound because of their anxiety,” said Hylean McGreevy, a licensed mental health practitioner and alcohol and drug counselor at Methodist Fremont Health’s Behavioral Outpatient Services.

“They’re not functioning well and they fall through the cracks.”

According to numbers provided to the Tribune by the Nebraska Jail Standards Board, of 1,225 individuals discharged from the Regional Centers in a four-year period following mental health reform, nearly 500, or around 40 percent, ended up in the county jail system at least once.

About six percent ended up in the prison system.

Collaboration Between Police and Health Providers

The challenges often begin at the street level, where rural law enforcement encounters individuals in desperate straits.

“There is a lot of stress on the community,” said Fremont Police Lt. Kurt Bottorff. “Times are hard for certain people — the stress builds up and that’s where some mental health breakdowns can take place.

“Their behavior ends up being a law violation and they’re sometimes jailed because of it, instead of addressing the core problem.”

Under a pilot program that started in July, the Fremont Police Department became one of only two departments in the state to hire a crisis response co-responder—a licensed mental health practitioner who works directly in the police department two days per week, responding to 911 calls alongside officers when she believes mental health is an issue in the complaint.

The pilot program, funded by a two-year grant from the Behavioral Health Support Foundation and operating in collaboration with Lutheran Family Services, aims to help keep those struggling with mental health issues out of the criminal justice system or avoid involuntary hospital stays, and to connect them with community resources.

Until recently, even the nearest medical services were a 40-minute drive away, in Omaha.

Now, mental health practitioner Rachel Wesely can respond at her own discretion instantaneously, from within the department, and can follow up with callers after law enforcement leaves.

‘When people are released (from jail) into the community, and they don’t have the supports in place, it becomes a revolving door.’

But as concern mounts about a growing number of mentally ill individuals entering the criminal justice system and winding up in county jails, local stakeholders are taking a more focused approach to line those individuals up with more appropriate services.

“There’s a need for access to treatment in jails and when individuals are incarcerated, it’s not getting filled,” Wesely said. “Sometimes when people are released back out into the community (and) they don’t have the supports in place, it kind of becomes a revolving door.”

Medication and services can be expensive. Many lack insurance to help cover costs, though some programs offer sliding fee scales, which can adjust payments based on income and family size. In recent years, co-pays and deductibles have become more expensive even for those who have insurance, providers say.

Additionally, treating mental illness is more complicated than treating physical ailments, and ensuring compliance to treatment plans poses challenges, providers say. Psychiatric treatment requires significant “trial-and-error” to find the right medications, doses and strategies. That means lots of time spent taking medications that may ultimately need to be adjusted or changed, and that may carry unpleasant side effects that deter compliance.

It’s a process that requires patience and follow-up. And ensuring that patients comply with their treatment plans, remain stable or avoid self-medicating with illicit drugs and alcohol is a challenge that’s only exacerbated by barriers like access and affordability.

“Let’s just use a hypothetical,” said Dodge County Attorney Oliver Glass. “I can’t afford my medication, my medication makes me feel strange anyway, but I do know that when I self-medicate with street drugs or alcohol, that’s going to make me feel better at least.

“And that’s when, at least in my experience here, a lot of crimes are committed.”

Intensive Care Challenges

The Regional (Health) Center has some space available to the regions for more intensive care. It houses individuals who have been ordered by a court to receive a competency evaluation or restoration, as well as individuals committed by a local mental health board. The latter process only occurs if an individual in crisis refuses to be voluntarily committed and is put under an emergency protective custody.

But wait times to get into the often crowded Regional Center have gone up, officials say.

Witmuss of the DHSS said that the state is looking into the need to increase capacity, but cautioned that opening new beds alone wouldn’t solve the problem.

“We have a lot of complex cases,” she said. “When you can’t discharge folks, then you can’t admit folks, either.”

Mental health programs and services are funded through Medicaid as well as the state’s behavioral healthcare regional system. Providers contract with one of the six regions, which then funnels funding from DHHS’ Division of Behavioral Health, federal block grants and county-level matching funds.

But grants and pilot programs, like the Lutheran Family Services’ co-responder program, are only guaranteed for fixed periods of time. Agencies and organizations are always shifting their appropriations to keep up with where the demand is highest, which can lead to changes in program availability.

Meanwhile, at the local level, stakeholders are giving new focus to the issue. Providers are exploring more innovative solutions to staff shortages, such as Telehealth, which would allow for remote counseling or med management.

Last year, Behavioral Health Care Region 6, which encompasses Douglas, Dodge, Cass, Washington and Sarpy Counties, hired Vicki Maca as a full-time employee, dedicated to trying to keep mentally ill individuals out of the criminal justice system.

That hiring decision was spurred by a nationwide initiative involving the National Association of County Officials, the American Psychiatric Association and the Council of State Governments known as the Stepping Up Initiative.

The initiative is a data-driven effort to reduce the number of people with serious mental illness booked into jail, shorten their average length of stay, increase the connection to care for those individuals in jail and reduce rates of recidivism.

While other behavioral health care regions are engaging with the Stepping Up Initiative, Region 6 is the only one that’s hired a full-time employee devoted to the topic.

But officials and providers remain optimistic. Rachel Wesely, the co-responder at the Fremont Police Department, law enforcement’s enthusiasm and willingness to cooperate with the co-responder model has led to success, she said.

Lt. Bottorff agrees.

“What I’m seeing now is reduced calls for service for the same problem,” he added. “There are times when we get so bombarded with the same situation—they didn’t have the tools to fix their problem.”

James Farrell, a staff writer for The Fremont Tribune, is a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow. This is an edited version of  Part Two of a series exploring the intersection of mental health and the criminal justice system in rural Nebraska. To see the full version, click here. Part One can be accessed here. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Rural Jails and Mental Health: The Hardest Challenge

Jail officials in rural communities frequently cope with staff shortages, overcrowding and budget shortfalls—all of which make it especially difficult to meet the needs of mentally ill inmates. One official in northeast Nebraska says the problem is the worst he can remember in nearly four decades.  

“There is nothing, nothing worse than seeing someone in jail for a misdemeanor nonviolent offense who has a mental illness,” said Vicki Maca, director of criminal justice/behavioral health initiatives for a region that encompasses northeast Nebraska.

They’re not in a therapeutic, trauma-informed environment,” she added .

And staff shortages are making things worse.

As Nebraska wrestles with shortages in psychiatric providers, officials are concerned that individuals struggling with mental illness are becoming increasingly entangled in the criminal justice system, frequently winding up in county jails.

And those jails, particularly in more rural communities, face unique challenges in meeting the complex needs of mentally ill inmates, according to mental health providers, jail administrators, county officials and criminal defense attorneys.

At these jails, there is no full-time staff devoted to mental health needs, as there is in the state prison system—which, while facing its own challenges with crowding, has a mental health unit.

The restrictive jail environment isn’t conducive to individuals struggling with mental illness, officials say. Yet those individuals face greater challenges moving through their criminal proceedings—such as long waitlists at the state’s Regional Centers, which conduct court-ordered competency restorations—which lengthen their stays.

Officials worry that challenges in providing continuous care out in the community increase the likelihood that mentally ill individuals may find themselves back in jails multiple times.

At the Saunders and Washington County jails, officials believe that mental illness is playing a far larger role in inmate populations than in the past.

“I’ve been doing this for 37 years, and I don’t ever remember the number of people with mental health issues being as dramatic, or significant, as large as it is right now,” said Captain Rob Bellamy, head of corrections in Washington County.

A 2006 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 64 percent of inmates in local jails across the country had some sort of mental health problem. The Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center estimates that 16 percent of inmates in jails and prisons have a severe mental health illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

More recent, localized data on mentally ill inmates is hard to come by. But generally, rising jail populations are becoming a greater concern for area counties.

The average daily population of Dodge County inmates at the Saunders County jail, which holds inmates from Saunders, Dodge and Sarpy counties, has increased from 61 to 81 since 2012, growing to encompass more than two-thirds of the total jail population, according to Jail Administrator Brian Styskal.

Washington County, meanwhile, is constructing a new, $24.5 million justice center—complete with a 120-bed jail—to accommodate a growing population that routinely exceeds its 17-bed capacity, and requires housing inmates in other counties.

Officials attribute jail growth to a number of factors, such as changes in sentencing laws and rising drug use, which is often coupled with mental illness, especially when individuals face obstacles in receiving proper medication or treatment.

“A lot of crimes are committed are when folks that I know, because I’ve dealt with them over the years, I know they have mental health issues, and doctors and psychiatrists have told me that,” said Dodge County Attorney Oliver Glass.

“I can tell you from my experience that a lot of [mentally ill individuals’] criminal activity occurs when they are self-medicating with alcohol or illegal street drugs.”

A rising population also leads to rising costs. To house its inmates in Saunders County, Dodge County pays a baseline cost of $64.50 per inmate per day, Styskal said, and that doesn’t include additional expenses, such as medical costs, which have been rising. This past year, the county spent $346,569.58 on inmate medical costs, more than double the original budgeted amount of $140,000.

That expense has increased every year since the 2013-2014 fiscal year, when it was just below $30,000. Medical costs have increased in Washington County as well, Bellamy says.

Mental health can play a big role in driving those costs.

A 2017 suicide in the Dodge County jail accounted for $114,000 after the inmate was flown to Lincoln for emergency medical treatment.

But even more alarming than the burden on counties’ budgets is the concern that jails are not an appropriate environment for the mentally ill.

“They’re in a jail, they’re having limited contact with other people, they may or may not be on their meds, they’re not getting support from family and friends like they may need, they’re not maybe seeing the mental health people as frequently as we would all like, ”  said Maca who coordinates mental health services for Behavioral Region 6, which covers five Nebraska counties, including Dodge and Washington.

The jails also lack re-entry planning services, Maca said, which are available in the prison system or in larger jails, like in Douglas County. Those services could help line up mentally ill inmates with the resources they need out in the community to stay out of jail: counseling, substance abuse treatment, housing, vocational training and more.

Through Region 6, Washington and Saunders are currently exploring the possibility of adding those services, though there are challenges at the jail level. In prisons, release dates are based on fixed sentences that are easy to predict. For jail inmates whose cases are being processed at varying lengths, preparing such services can be more difficult, Maca said.

Both jails have access to mental health crisis intervention services, which can respond in emergency situations. But those services are provided from outside the jails by local community-based programs, such as Blue Valley Behavioral Health and Lutheran Family Services.

Managing psychotropic medications in the correctional setting is also a challenge, as the medical practitioners from Advanced Correctional work to verify that prescriptions are accurate and that medical and mental health needs are legitimate.

Area defense attorneys are often concerned about how medications are doled out, especially at the larger Saunders County jail. They grow concerned that their clients are being forced off stabilizing medication “cold turkey.”

“That kind of confinement, and that kind of treatment of them really exacerbates some of their mental illness, especially when you restrict them on their access to meds going in,” said Fremont attorney Richard Register, who also sits on the county mental health board, which determines whether mentally ill individuals should be committed to state hospitals.

Generally, getting incarcerated poses frustrations for individuals who are on medications, especially if those medications have withdrawal symptoms, said Lindsay Kroll, Crisis Response Supervisor at Lutheran Family Services in Omaha.

Even in the period of time it takes to verify prescriptions, those symptoms can begin to manifest, she said.

Jail administrators, meanwhile, have to ensure that they are meeting inmates’ medical and medicinal needs while guarding against the potential that medications may be abused. With substance abuse becoming increasingly prevalent, jails need to ensure that prescriptions are legitimate, that needs are real and that inmates struggling with addiction aren’t seeking to compensate for lack of access to street drugs, Styskal argued.

 

“It makes it a problem for our contract medical provider where, their license is on the line for whatever they prescribe, so they have to be definitely cautious and make sure there is a medical need versus a medical want,” Styskal said.

And often, at the request of attorneys, judges will intervene, signing orders compelling the jails to prescribe those medications, Styskal said, though he believes that those decisions are often made without considering the full history of the inmate and the possibility that they may seek to abuse those medications.

Additionally, inmates with mental health issues often spend longer times in jails than other inmates. Among other contributing factors here in Nebraska is the lack of available inpatient beds at the state Regional Centers—inpatient psychiatric institutions that also provide court-ordered competency evaluations and restorations, when a defendant appears incompetent to stand trial.

Meanwhile, wait times for admissions at the still fully operational Lincoln Regional Center have increased. Mentally ill defendants ordered to receive competency evaluations can be put on long waitlists, awaiting court-ordered resources that must occur before their case can proceed.

The average wait time for a bed at the Regional Center in 2018, through Sept. 30, is 85 days—more than double what it was in 2014. Dodge County inmates have waited for anywhere between 30 to 100 days, said County Attorney Glass. In Washington County this year, one inmate spent more than 10 months waiting for a competency evaluation.

“That’s frustrating from the jail and the jail administrators’ perspective because apparently, the system recognizes that he has a problem that needs to be treated, but yet he continues to be warehoused in a jail because there’s, obviously and apparently, there’s nowhere else for them to go,” Bellamy said.

The Regional Center conducts competency evaluations both inpatient and outpatient, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. The number of those evaluations are up: in 2018, through Sept. 30, there were 223 competency evaluations compared to 138 in 2016. Most of those were conducted in an outpatient setting.

But the higher number of calls means more individuals found to be incompetent to stand trial, which puts them on the waitlist for an inpatient bed for competency restoration, which can only be conducted at the Lincoln Regional Center, DHHS said.

Still, officials and attorneys say that the biggest frustration is the barriers to care outside of jail, like expensive medication or a shortage in psychiatrists. And for those who face those barriers, the criminal justice system may be their first exposure to treatment. Fremont-based attorney Leta Fornoff has seen that firsthand.

“I can say that there have been people that I have represented before that have wished to be incarcerated so that they can get the help they need,” Fornoff said.

“Now that’s few and far between, but it has happened.”

James Farrell is a John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow. This is an edited version of a story published this weekend in the Fremont Tribune, first in a two-part series exploring the intersection of mental health and the local criminal justice system. The full version is available here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Billion-Dollar Prison Budget, But Where’s the Toilet Paper?

Women in Arizona’s state prison complex at Perryville claim that chronic shortages of toilet paper force them to use wash rags instead. Authorities deny the allegations, but a state representative blames cost-cutting and a correctional culture that is largely “designed for men.”

Women confined in the Perryville prison at Goodyear, AZ., say the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) is not giving them enough toilet paper to live clean, hygienic lives.

perryville prison

Perryville State Prison complex. Photo courtesy Arizona Department of Corrections

Prison authorities have officially denied the charge, but a state representative blames cost-cutting by officials and a correctional culture that is largely “designed for men,” who she says have different hygienic needs than women do.

Letters recently sent from two inmates at the Lumley unit in Arizona State Prison Complex – Perryville to the American Friends Service Committee allege the prison has been running out of toilet paper, leaving them to use pads and wash rags.

“I ran out on Saturday 9/30, and although I continually asked for [toilet paper] was told they were out,” one woman wrote. “They did have pads that I used as [toilet paper] until Monday 10/1 when they ran out. I then had to use a wash rag until Wed morn (sic).”

Another inmate wrote “many of the officers are indifferent to the fact that we don’t have any.”

KJZZ has confirmed the identity of the authors of the letters as current inmates in the Perryville prison, but is not publishing their names as they fear retribution.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a prisoner advocacy organization based in Tucson. AFSC communications director Joe Watson said the letters reflect a common theme in the correspondence they have with men and women in Arizona prisons.

“How do we expect folks to rehabilitate themselves, if we can’t even treat them like human beings?” Watson asked.

“If you treat folks like animals, withholding their basic necessities, how do we expect them to come out of prison and feel like they are a part of their community?”

More than 4,000 women are incarcerated at the Perryville prison in Goodyear, a suburb of Phoenix, one of 13 prisons operated by the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Among its well-known inmates is Jodi Arias, who began serving a life sentence there in 2015 for the murder of her ex-boyfriend in 2008.

letter

A copy of a letter from an inmate alleging toilet paper shortages at Perryville. Photo courtesy American Friends Service Committee.

A mother of an inmate wrote to KJZZ in early September making similar claims that “normal everyday hygiene items are in short supply.”

KJZZ is not publishing her identity as she fears potential retaliation against her daughter for speaking out.

“My daughter told me that she had a cold, so I suggested she drink lots of water to help get rid of it,” the woman said. “She said she couldn’t because she would have to go to the bathroom all the time and there wasn’t any toilet paper.”

In a response to questions about the toilet paper shortage, Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder said the allegations were “patently untrue.”

“All inmates … have continuous access to toilet paper, at no cost to them,” Wilder said.

Wilder said all inmates are provided two toilet paper rolls each week, and can get more by exchanging the empty rolls after they are used.

In the same response, Wilder confirmed that the Lumley unit in Perryville had experienced a shortage, which he attributed to inmates abusing the system.

“The unfortunate reality is that some inmates misuse the toilet paper or misrepresent themselves when asking for more,” Wilder said. “And that can disrupt a unit’s ability to maintain a reasonable and reliable supply for all of the inmates.”

“On a recent Friday in September, the Lumley unit had 864 rolls of toilet paper on site for the weekend ahead (Lumley’s inmate population is 652). By Sunday, the unit had exhausted all of its paper,” Wilder said. “The unit was quickly resupplied within two hours. When prison staff conducted inspections of housing unit, they found multiple inmates possessing additional toilet paper.”

Wilder said Perryville Warden Regina Dorsey toured the Lumley unit Oct. 10 and confirmed that the toilet paper supply was “good” and that “rolls are being provided as required.”

However, Rep. Athena Salman, who has championed access to feminine hygiene products for women in prison, said she’s been hearing the complaints of a lack of toilet paper at Perryville for the past month.

Salman says the governor’s office confirmed the toilet paper shortages at Perryville in a phone conversation on Sept. 27, when she spoke with Katie Fischer, director of legislative affairs.

“They were aware of the situation,” Salman said.

An (Official) Policy on Toilet Paper

She said the governor’s office called it an “unintended consequence” of  an updated policy on feminine hygiene products issued by ADC Director Charles Ryan.

In February, Ryan announced  that, starting March 1, “all female inmates, regardless of need, will receive a minimum baseline quantity each month of 36 sanitary napkins, tampons or a combination of both, based on their preference.”

Wilder said the current toilet paper policy also went into effect March 1, and has come at an increased cost to ADC.

“Prior to February 2018, inmate toilet paper costs at ASPC-Perryville were approximately $16,000 per quarter,” Wilder said. “Since March, those costs have risen to approximately $48,000 per quarter.”

Salman said the governor’s office also cited increased expenses as a reason for the shortage, but she takes issue with the cost explanation.

“Let’s be real,” Salman said. “This is one of the most well-funded agencies in the state. The Department of Corrections has a billion-dollar budget. How is it that they can’t afford to meet the basic necessities of their inmates?”

Salman said the governor’s office told her ADC was struggling with knowing how much toilet paper to order due to increased demand.

map

Map courtesy Wikipedia

“I just think — when you have $1 billion — order more, you know? It shouldn’t be that complicated,” Salman said.

The fiscal year 2019 budget allocation from the state general fund for the Arizona Department of Corrections was $1,094,814,400.

Salman said she believes part of the problem is that the prison system is an institution “designed by men for men.”

“Women have to use toilet paper every time they go to the bathroom,” Salman said. “It’s violating female dignity. Ask any woman what it feels like when she goes into a stall and there’s no toilet paper.”

Salman noted that legislation she sponsored in the 2018 legislative session included an amendment that would have provided unlimited feminine hygiene products and toilet paper.

“The only way to ultimately protect people in prison is to codify these protections to give it the force of law,” she said.

Salman’s bill was blocked by House leadership in favor of allowing ADC to implement an internal policy change.

But Salman believes there is not enough oversight to make sure the policy is being carried out.

“It’s frustrating to see that we have women inside our prisons risking retaliation to let the outside world know that they are going days without toilet paper,” Salman said. “This is immoral and inhumane.”

Salman said all inmates should have their basic needs met immediately, and she will look for ways to codify the hygiene product policy in the future.

“Without the force of law, you’re really just leaving it up to the agency that was violating the rights of the prisoners in the first place,” Salman said.

This is a slightly edited version of a report by Jimmy Jenkins, a reporter for KJZZ Public Radio in Phoenix, and a 2018 John Jay Justice Reporting Fellow. His original report is available here.  Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘Never Give Up:’ A Returning Citizen Finds Hope After Prison

Obtaining a steady job has been a struggle for former Syracuse, N.Y. parolee Shallah “Brooklyn” Beal, who was released in 2016 after serving three years for assault. But he discovered that the first, and hardest challenge, is to break down the emotional walls he built in prison—and learn to trust in himself.

By his own account, “Brooklyn” Beal has “trust issues.”

He tells his story haltingly, slowly, incompletely— part of the process of getting over the issues that defined the pain-packed 40 years lived by the man born Shallah J. Beal. Some days he is upbeat, almost chatty. Other days, he borders on morose, and a talk with Beal feels dark.

He has his family (two daughters), a girlfriend and an apartment with his brother.

Missing from that list: a steady job.

“I didn’t go to school to work at McDonald’s,” he said, noting he’s taken civil service exams, but still hasn’t found steady work.

Not for lack of trying.

This summer he earned three certificates at the Syracuse Educational Opportunity Center, becoming OSHA-10, OSHA-30 and lead-certified, all of which are construction health and safety trainings.

“I’m told those certificates will go a long way in making me desirable for future construction jobs,” he said. “But I don’t wait for them to call me because then nothing would happen. I call every week — every Monday — to make sure they know I’m seeking work.”

Finding a job is one of the hardest things for parolees like Beal, who was released from prison in 2016 after serving three years for assault. An Urban Institute study found that only one in three parolees had found a job within two months of release.

And difficulty finding work is a key factor in whether a person released from jail is arrested again, the Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded in 2018.

The bureau tracked more than 400,000 people released from state prison in 2005, and found that 83 percent were arrested at least once by 2014, according to its 2018 report. Blacks had the highest recidivism rates, at nearly 87 percent, and male parolees were more likely to be re-arrested than females, the study also found.

Opening up helps Beal. Although talking doesn’t come with a paycheck, it does inspire self-reflection and a measure of optimism.

That’s part of the goal PEACE Inc., a local community service agency whose primary mission is to help individuals and families living in poverty, has in engaging men like Beal.

Charles Rivers

Charles Rivers returned to Syracuse in 2012 after serving 19 years, 9 months and 4 days in prison.Photo by Zachary Krahmer/The Stand

At PEACE’s Southside Family Resource Center, Beal speaks up around others at the encouragement of the center’s coordinator, Charles Rivers, who spent three decades in and out of prison. Rivers’ own journey has seen him evolve from a withdrawn ex-con to a confident advocate, comfortable leading groups of strangers through intimate discussions.

Rivers says one of the hardest things to endure for ex-offenders is coming out of jail when there’s no family or friends to greet you, and nowhere to go. PEACE makes sure Beal has that, and a friend when he might think there is no one.

Beal completed a three-year parole term at the end of 2017, and when he first arrived at PEACE, he was guarded and quiet. Many of the members knew him as someone who would come to PEACE to chat briefly with those he knew and then go about his business.

But after some time, he took to more people and started to relax. He is still private. He was not comfortable with reporters visiting where he lives, preferring to meet at PEACE. He also promised to connect reporters with his oldest daughter. He never did.

Emotional Walls

He says being jailed repeatedly, dealing with family and friends’ deaths, and being away from his own children built the emotional walls around him.

“That’s one of the things I’m most happy about,” Beal said. “I told myself I’d open my mouth more, and I am. I want to tell my story. That’s the whole reason for this. I got trust issues. … I been through some real (stuff) a lot of people wouldn’t understand. But I am getting better with who I’m talking to.”

Middle school and puberty were tough for Beal. He was sent to a juvenile facility for defending his mom from her abusive boyfriend, he said. More assault charges followed. He was last charged for assault in 2013.

Beal’s nickname comes from growing up in the projects of Brooklyn, New York, during the 1980s and 1990s. Those decades were the worst years to grow up in the city, Beal said. Crack, cocaine and PCP were all out of control.

“It was hell,” he said when describing the drugs and killings that surrounded him.

Born when his mother was 16, his grandmother assumed full custody. Beal credits her for raising him. His mom was one of 10 siblings. He has over 50 cousins. His household was always crowded — with an average of three people to a bed, he said.

Beal has suffered a lot of loss. His mother died recently, and he lost several friends last winter and spring, including one who was shot and killed at a party in Syracuse. Beal said he had thought about attending the party.

His first brush with trouble was at age 12, when he said he stabbed his mother’s boyfriend after one of the many times she was beaten. He said he doesn’t remember how many times he was sent to jail before he was given a chance in the summer of 1994 to attend Cayuga (NY) Community College. He received his associate’s degree in business administration.

But he fell in and out of trouble again, the last time in 2013 when he was convicted for assault and gun possession. The three years in state prison that followed, combined with participating in programs and playing basketball, changed his mindset. He knew he had to get out of the projects, get out from under a “black cloud,” and start fresh.

Over the last year, PEACE used a $95,000 state grant for a pilot program to help just-released offenders reunite with families in public housing, which has strict rules limiting who is allowed to move in. Experts acknowledge family support is vital to break a chain of repeat offenses.

PEACE used the funds to help people like Beal, who now lives with his brother in private housing, by preparing for a job with resume-building, setting up mock interviews or returning to school, according to the organization. PEACE also provides a place to go, to hang out, to remember good times and to reflect on positive experiences.

Funding ran out for the pilot program in February 2018. The state is still reviewing the renewal application. Rivers said PEACE will continue its role whether or not the grant is renewed.

Beal credits his strength of getting through his lows to memories of his late mother and his two daughters.

“Never give up,” he said. “That’s one thing I do.”

But that isn’t easy. When he tried to get a job before — and again now — he becomes frustrated.

“That’s when reality hit, and I had a reality check,” he said.

Surviving in Prison: “Fight or Flight”

He describes prison as a place where you activate “fight-or-flight” survival mode. He said he has had to re-learn what it meant to strive for things like a steady job.

Beal says now he just wants to reach his goal: to be “comfortable.”

One threat to that “comfort” is being around the same things that got him in trouble in the first place. While he was incarcerated, Beal said he was around a lot of fighting, drugs and homemade alcohol.

“Being around all that is something I don’t want to keep doing,” Beal said. “I’m trying to make smart choices. I ain’t on no block or on a corner. I know the consequences of what can happen.

“I’m a grown man now.”

Beal has big goals for his future, his family, and what he wants to achieve over the rest of his life. He has two daughters he talks to every day. His first-born is 22 years old and set to graduate from Buffalo State in May.

“That’s my motivation,” he explained. His second daughter lives with his aunt in Brooklyn, and is just six. He hopes that one day they can all be reunited and live happily together as a family.

“I love my family,” he said. “They’re my rock.”

He wants to be someone they can look to. He is talking his way through it, feeling better.

“I’m not far,” Beal said, “from being where I want to be.”

This is a condensed and slightly edited version of a story published in The Stand, a community newspaper produced in Syracuse, N.Y., in partnership with S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Ashley Kang, director of The Stand, is a 2018 John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Justice Reporting Fellow. Click here for an earlier story in The Stand’s “Prison-to-Family series. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

The ‘Legal Culture’ That Blocks Rural Jail Reform

A Circuit Court judge’s reluctance to adapt reforms to money bail and other court procedures stands in the way of reducing jail overcrowding in rural Kentucky, according to a study commissioned by two county governments. 

The nation’s rural jails face a systemic problem of overcrowding that is usually blamed on lags in jail construction or outdated facilities, but a recent report in Kentucky has placed the responsibility squarely on a single circuit-level judge.

A comprehensive study of the criminal justice system in Boyle and Mercer counties—located in the middle of the state—singled out the “discriminatory” bond practices and lethargic case-processing times at Kentucky’s 50th Circuit Court as the source of the problems at the Boyle County Detention Center.

The jail is stuffed with pretrial felony defendants who can’t afford their bonds and must wait months to resolve their cases, according to the blunt assessments of consultant Dr. Allen Beck in chapter two of the 106-page “Jail and Justice System Assessment.”

The report, which is still in draft form, was commissioned by Boyle and Mercer counties to help them address the jail’s constant overcrowding and ballooning budget. Consultants hired by Brandstetter Carroll have gone over tens of thousands of documents and jail records and conducted dozens of interviews with people involved in the local criminal justice system at every stage — except, notably, not with any judges.

“Unfortunately, the Circuit Court Judge (Darren Peckler) refused to participate in the study and prohibited the District Court Judge (Jeff Dotson) from participating,” the report states.

Darren Peckler

Chief Circuit Court Judge, Kentucky, Darren Peckler.Photo courtesy The Advocate Messenger

Beck’s assessment in chapter two points a finger squarely at many practices of 50th Circuit Court Judge Peckler. It blames Peckler’s practices of requiring cash bonds; setting limits on the number of pleas he will hear; revoking bonds when defendants are indicted; and not offering bonds to participants in a new “rocket docket” program, among other things.

“The analysis in this chapter disclosed that case processing issues in the circuit court has been a major contributor to jail overcrowding. Resolution of some issues may be easier than others,” the chapter’s conclusion states.

“… Of all of the recommendations in the entire project report, those in this chapter have the greatest potential to substantially reduce the jail population.”

Non-Financial Bonds

The use of financial bonds — requiring defendants to pay money to leave jail — is a major contributor to the jail’s population, the report finds. Data in the report from Kentucky’s Administrative Office of the Courts shows that defendants in Boyle and Mercer counties are able to leave jail without paying money at far lower rates than in comparison counties selected for the study.

Judges in Clark County, on the other side of Lexington, let defendants out on non-financial bonds 18 percent of the time over the last eight years, according to the data. In Woodford County to the north, it was 25 percent; in Harlan County in eastern Kentucky, it was 55 percent. In Boyle County, it was four percent; in Mercer, three percent.

The data show non-financial bonds have been all but unused in the 50th Circuit Court, even though “research shows that financial/secured bonds are no more effective than non-financial bonds,” the report states.

“It is difficult to avoid coming to the conclusion that the circuit court judge does not believe in non-financial bonds,” the report reads.

The report does note a “major decline in the jail population in the last several months,” which it attributes to the public defender’s office and defense attorneys “advocating for the pretrial release and use of non-financial bonds during circuit court arraignment.”

“It is not uncommon for changes in court-related practices to begin changing during criminal justice system studies,” the report states.

“The increased attention on case processing can act as a stimulus for members of the system to reconsider habits and expectations that have become ingrained in how they process cases and interact with the court.”

Despite the recent improvement, the report says there is still a “local legal culture in which members reinforce their belief (in financial bonds) through interaction with each other.”

“There is a glaring issue that must be addressed. That issue is the belief that the amount of money bail controls behavior. This belief is not only reflected in the actions of the circuit court judge, but in other members of the criminal justice system,” the report reads.

“… It is a strong dynamic that sometimes is only overcome by replacing the players. Rather than advocating their replacement, the consultant recommends bringing in one or more informed persons from the Pretrial Justice Institute to make a presentation or hold a workshop for criminal justice officials on this issue.”

According to the Pretrial Justice Institute, “unsecured (non-financial) bonds are as effective at achieving public safety as are secured (financial) bonds.”

Financial bonds also do not improve appearance rates in court, while non-financial bonds “free up more jail beds,” according to a study by the institute.

The Brandstetter Carroll report also notes that financial bonds can be “discriminatory” because “economically able defendants are able to post bond, while the less affluent stay in jail.”

“Many court cases and a volume of research attest to the discriminatory nature of blanket application of secured bonds,” the report states.

Requiring cash from poor people to get out of jail can cause defendants to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit in order to speed things up, the report states.

According to the Pretrial Justice Institute, “unsecured (non-financial) bonds are as effective at achieving public safety as are secured (financial) bonds.” Financial bonds also do not improve appearance rates in court, while non-financial bonds “free up more jail beds,” according to a study by the institute.

The Brandstetter Carroll report also notes that financial bonds can be “discriminatory” because “economically able defendants are able to post bond, while the less affluent stay in jail.”

“Many court cases and a volume of research attest to the discriminatory nature of blanket application of secured bonds,” the report states.

Requiring cash from poor people to get out of jail can cause defendants to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit in order to speed things up, the report states.

Rocket Docket and Indictment

A January order signed by Peckler has limited the effectiveness of a new “rocket docket” program in Boyle County, the report finds.

The grant-funded rocket docket program is designed to expedite low-level drug and drug-related offenses and reduce “unnecessary incarceration time for low-level drug and drug-related offenders,” according to the report.

But Peckler’s order requires that if any defendant opted to participate in the rocket docket program, the county “shall issue a bench warrant with no bond until said case has been reviewed by the court.”

This order “seems to be counterintuitive” since defendants could be expected to be more compliant with bond conditions if they have the chance to resolve their cases more quickly, the report states.

“On the other hand, this order is in keeping with the judge’s practice of revoking the release of all felony defendants after being indicted by the grand jury, regardless of their success in compliance with release conditions.”

As a result of Peckler’s order, the rocket docket program “has been very minimally utilized,” according to the report. “Interviews with attorneys in Boyle County found that they discourage their clients from pursuing the rocket docket option.”

rural jail study

Jail consultant Dr. Allen Beck presents draft findings from a “Jail and Justice System Assessment” to officials from Boyle and Mercer counties. Photo by Ben Kleppinger/The Advocate-Messenger.

The public defender’s office estimates that “about 80 percent of felony cases in Boyle County could potentially be rocket docket cases since they fall into the non-violent, non-sexual Class D category,” according to the report.

Peckler’s practice of setting new bonds for defendants after indictment is another target of the report.

In the 50th Circuit Court, after a grand jury issues an indictment, “the circuit court judge rejects most or all previously set bonds by the district court judge” and sets new bonds, typically of $5,000 cash for a Class D felony and $10,000 cash for a Class C felony, according to the report. “… The judge is, in essence, acting as a magistrate to set bonds anew.

In doing so, he is disregarding the evidence of success of defendants who appeared in court and remained crime-free while out on pretrial release under bond set by the district judge. As a result, more defendants cannot afford the new bond.”

The report continues, noting again the advocacy by defense attorneys in recent months for more non-financial bonds.

“The attorneys have addressed Kentucky Court Rules that emphasize pretrial release and the use of non-cash bonds,” the report reads. “As a result, the circuit court judge has altered his pattern of setting bonds.”

Case Processing

The report also documents numerous ways in which circuit court policies slow down the processing of criminal cases, in many cases causing defendants to wait in jail for a month or more before an appearance.

There is only one plea day set every month and “the judge sets a cap of 25 cases in the morning and 25 in the afternoon,” the report states.

“If the number of defendants exceeds that number, the defendant has to wait another month. In some instances, heavy caseloads have resulted in waiting for two months.”

After a defendant is charged, they must be arraigned. In Boyle and Mercer, there’s one arraignment date every month. But someone arrested shortly before that arraignment date isn’t allowed to be arraigned right away; they have to wait for the next month’s arraignment.

There were people arrested after May 31 this year who were not on the June docket and had to wait until July 3 for arraignment — “a delay of 32 days,” the report explains.

The circuit court further slows down the process by not transporting incarcerated defendants for every status hearing in their case, according to the report:

“If defendants were present for all court hearings, negotiations could occur continually in the courtroom as the docket progressed. That would result in many cases being resolved at that time.

However, under current court practice, jail inmates are not brought to court for status hearings. As a result, nothing other than continuances occur. To accommodate all individuals on the docket being present for all hearings, court sessions would need to be held more frequently and the judge would have to be willing to work past five o’clock on some occasions, which is a common practice in other jurisdictions.”

The report makes seven recommendations for changes concerning criminal case processing.

They include:

  • the Pretrial Justice Institute should be brought in to address use of non-financial bonds;
  • the no-bond requirement for the rocket docket program should be ended;
  • “The revocation of bonds set by the district court after grand jury indictment should be substantially altered, if not dropped as a practice;”
  • the circuit court should add a new court date each month to allow for faster processing;
  • the circuit court should allow defendants to enter pleas at any time, instead of only on specific court dates — or at least add additional plea dates;
  • the circuit court should no longer limit the number of pleas it will hear to a specific quota; and
  • the circuit court should transport all defendants who are in jail for all court hearings so in-court negotiations can happen more frequently.

The report notes similar problems with non-financial bonds and case-processing speeds at the district court level, but finds that misdemeanor defendants make up a smaller portion of the jail population and have their cases resolved more quickly.

“Detention of persons charged with misdemeanor offenses has a much smaller impact on the jail population.”

The Advocate-Messenger offered Judge Peckler a chance to respond to the findings in the report.

Ben Kleppinger, a staff writer for The Advocate-Messenger, is a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow. This slightly edited and condensed version of the original published article is the second in a series of reports on the Kentucky jail system prepared for his Fellowship project. The first report is available here. Readers’ comments are welcome.

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