The Killing of Roshad McIntosh: Anatomy of a Police Shooting

Two months before Chicago cops shot and killed Laquan McDonald in a controversial incident for which three officers were later indicted, another teenager was slain by a police bullet. A CNN reporter who investigated the less-publicized event has raised similar questions about whether the earlier shooting was justified.

On August 14, 2014, 19-year-old Roshad McIntosh was shot and killed by Chicago cops who were investigating reports of gang activity. A subsequent official inquiry concluded the shooting was justified under the Chicago police “use of force” policy because McIntosh refused to drop a gun he was holding, despite persistent calls by the officers.

But a year-long investigation by CNN reporter Rosa Flores raised serious questions about the case.

In Flores’ documentary, “Beneath the Skin,” aired last week, Flores found witnesses who cast doubt on many elements of the police account, including whether he was carrying a gun at all.

The shooting occurred several months before the more publicized killing of a 17-year-old African-American named Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by officers who said he was wielding a knife. A video of the shooting conflicted with the police account, and a subsequent investigation resulted in the indictment of three Chicago police officers last June.

Roshad McIntosh

Chicago police said Roshad McIntosh was holding this gun before he was shot. Photo courtesy CNN

Flores’ story has added more questions about the activities of the Chicago Police Department. Earlier this year, in January, the Department of Justice found that the city’s police used excessive use of force as part of a pattern of systematic abuse that was aggravated by poor oversight and inadequate training.

Was the earlier shooting of Roshad McIntosh another example of this pattern?

Flores said she began working on the story after McIntosh’s mother Cynthia Lane called CNN in 2016. Lane had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Cghicago and some of the officers involved a year earlier.

To see the full three-episode digital documentary, please click here.

Rosa Flores is a CNN reporter now based in Miami.  She is a 2017 John Jay/Guggenheim Criminal Justice Reporting Fellow. She welcomes readers’ comments.


‘There’s No Such Thing as a Child Prostitute’

California’s efforts to implement two major new laws to help sex-trafficked kids are hampered by cultural stereotypes held by law enforcement and some legislators that criminalize the youngsters, a Los Angeles journalist discovers.

Despite California’s efforts to switch to a victim-centered approach for its sexually trafficked youngsters, change has not come easily or quickly.

In the last two years, two important and well-intentioned new laws affecting youth who have been sexually exploited have been passed, but the culture surrounding the issue of trafficked young people is still hard to change, according to Leslie Heimov, executive director of the Children’s Law Center of California, and chair of the California CSEC Action Team Committee.

She points for example to California’s State Bill SB 855, passed in 2014, which allocating $14 million in funding to provide state-mandated local training for foster care workers plus implementation of support programs for victims of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).

It marked the beginning of getting people to look at the entire problem differently, but  it still did not clearly identify CSEC kids as victims of abuse, Heimov said.

“Even within the child welfare community these victims weren’t victims — they were criminals — young people who were making conscious choices to sell themselves for sex.”

The initial goals for those who work with trafficked youngsters are in many ways heartbreakingly basic, said Diane Iglesias, senior deputy director of the state Department of Children and Family Services.

After identifying the affected young people and getting them into a support network, she said, workers hope to persuade their traumatized charges not to run away from their safe housing and back to their pimps who, while abusive, are at least familiar.

Only once the cycle of running away is broken, she said, can the trafficked young people embrace treatment.

“The challenging thing to understand is where on a continuum, from group home, to remote location, to locked up, does this child need to be,” she said.

Yet, even more basic than those concerns is the fact that, until very recently, trafficked kids were still being arrested.

Senate Bill 1322 passed in 2016, banned law enforcement from arresting minors involved in the sex trade, except when their safety may be at risk. This bill was an enormous and essential step in treating sex trafficked kids as the victims they are and directing them toward social services, rather than cells, child advocates say.

Sponsored by Democratic Sen. Holly Mitchell and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, SB 1322 became active on Jan. 1, 2017, formalizing a statewide commitment to recognize these young people as crime victims with unique vulnerabilities — not as criminals.

But passing a law is one thing, changing a culture’s perception is another.

On Dec. 31, 2016, the day before the law was to kick into gear, Republican state Assemblyman Travis Allen published an op-ed in the Washington Examiner stating falsely that California had just “legalized child prostitution.”

The Glacial Pace of Cultural Change

Now, even with SB 1322 in place, for certain segments of the culture, such as law enforcement, the shift in perspective has been complicated.

“Los Angeles is doing a better job of getting law enforcement to the table, but statewide it has been very difficult,” Heimov explained. “The challenge is, we have some [officers] saying, ‘Well, now that there’s no crime, there’s nothing we can do’ and that is a part of the attitude and culture change.”

Leslie Heimov. Photo courtesy Children’s Law Center.

Police have two main functions in serving their communities, she said. One is to prevent, stop or react to crime; the other is the peace officer or safety role.

So, “when they see a member of the community in distress, they’re supposed to do something about it,” Heimov said. “If a cop sees a 4-year-old alone on the street corner they don’t just walk away because the child isn’t committing a crime.

“They’re supposed to investigate why the child is alone and bring them to safety.”

Similarly, if a police officer sees a person on the street in the early hours of the morning and she appears to be a trafficked minor, the police officer’s proper role is to bring her to safety.

“But there’s a lot of law enforcement that is not there yet because they haven’t completely made that emotional shift to seeing the child who looks like a prostitute as a victim,” Heimov said.

Maheen Kaleem, attorney at Rights4Girls, explained why this cultural shift in the system is an essential part of the two-step process of seeing and then addressing the problem.

“[Before this legislation] the child welfare system wasn’t recognizing these kids as being trafficked because of the fact that, when kids went missing from placement, there weren’t protocols in place to look for them or to flag that they needed to be sought out,” she said.

In other words, when a kid disappeared, often running away from their foster care group home and into the clutches of a trafficker, many times no one bothered to look for them, unlike what would occur if a loved and cared-for child vanished from their family.

Identifying Commercially Sexually Exploited Children

As Heimov said, SB 855 and 1322 now provide counties with funds for CSEC prevention and intervention, and a list of services that are specifically designed with the victimized children in mind. However, the first challenge across the state, say advocates, is still identifying these children.

In San Francisco, calls to the San Francisco Human Services Agencyhotline come from multiple sources: teachers, shelters, group homes, police officers or anyone who identifies a child, said agency program analyst Johanna Gendelman.

“These calls aren’t coming in in the middle of the night. You’d think, ‘Some kid is being pulled out of a hotel at 3 in the morning,’ but our statistics don’t really show that,” she said. “Kids are mostly being identified through the day from their foster care provider, from their school, they are running away from health clinics.

“And the calls are mostly coming in during the day.”

Although there have been two or three instances “where the police have pulled kids out of hotels,” she added.

Once trafficked youth are discovered, the next step is bringing them to a safe space, something that isn’t always easy to find.

“It’s a challenge in stabilizing the youth, and it’s a challenge of child welfare in general,” Gendelman said. “We don’t have enough foster parents in San Francisco. We often have to send our children sometimes as far as Stockton [California].”

The lack of appropriate foster parents means, it’s “difficult to place that child in a loving community,” she said. “We struggle with this in child welfare generally,”

With research pointing to a large portion of the CSEC population having been recruited from group homes, and foster care in general, child welfare advocates say there is a distinct line linking the issue of child sex trafficking, in part at least, to a problem that many have long been pushing to address.

Changing the Before and After of Child Sex Trafficking

According to the California Child Welfare Council, a high percentage of youth who fall prey to sexual exploitation had prior involvement with the child welfare system, very often in group homes.

Nearly half (46.7 percent) of minors statewide who are suspected or confirmed as victims of domestic sex trafficking ran away from a foster care group home, according to the Center for Public Policy Studies.

Assembly Bill 403 took effect on Jan. 1, 2017, with the purpose of ending the group home model in order to better address the needs of the harder-to-place youth who enter the child dependency system.

Older kids, highly traumatized youth and children, and kids who have been affected by sexual trafficking are typically put into group homes, and most often a series of group homes, where in too many cases their emotional needs are not met nor are they kept safe.

With these problems in mind, AB 403 mandates that all the group homes in the state’s 58 counties are required to relicense themselves as Short Term Residential Therapeutic Programs (STRTPs), centers that are designed to provide individualized treatment services for each youth for a short period of time. Then, ideally, the youth move on to a healthy, long-term placement with an appropriate family — either with relatives or a foster family.

However, two years after AB 403’s passage, this mandate still seems to be more wish than accomplishment.

“I don’t think there’s been a lot of on-the-ground change,” Leslie Heimov said. “There’s promise of change and there’s hopefulness regarding change, but we aren’t there yet. The most difficult-to-place kids still go to group homes.

“Kids with the most challenges and the highest needs still go to group homes.”

While everyone agrees that the new system required by AB 403 will be an essential improvement for the state’s most at-risk foster kids, victims of child sex trafficking included, 10 months after the legislation and its Continuum of Care Reform (CCR) was to begin, there appears not to have been all that much progress.

“This isn’t going to be something where we flip the switch and see all the children out of group homes,” said Greg Rose, deputy director of child and family services for the California Department of Social Services.

According to Rose, the CCR implementation has three main goals:

  • The provider community makes the shift from group homes to STRTPs.
  • The Resource Family Approvalprocess for foster care families starts, so the families can provide specialized services for victimized foster youth.
  • Continuing efforts to increase the number of foster care families continue.

Goal 1: Making the Shift to STRTPs

“The multisystemic treatment foster care homes, which we think hold great promise, they’re funded,” said Heimov, “but as far as we know, only a handful exist. There are very few spots for these high-end, single-child foster homes.”

In other words, while the state statute has been passed with the intention is to create nurturing environments for CSEC and other high-needs youth, with rare exceptions, the execution still needs to happen.

“The county has made funding arrangements and authorized them, but they don’t have the actual real people trained and ready to receive children,” Heimov said.

Until Goal 1 can be met, namely the opening of fully operational STRTPs, Rose explains that reliance on what is known as “congregate care” will be used, but only for a very limited time. And while kids are in these group homes, they are to receive “therapeutic interventions” — services such as counseling, health screenings, mental health services and other assistance aimed at improving the wellbeing of youth waiting for a more permanent placement, ideally with a family.

(To augment the reform that AB 403 requires, in 2016, California passed Assembly Bill 1997, which reduces the number of days kids can stay in individual counties’ problem-plagued emergency foster care shelters—used to house children facing emergency transitions between homes—from 30 to 10-day stays.)

There are deadlines for the transition from group homes to STRTPs. Former group home providers who serve foster youth must make the change no later than the last day of 2017. Providers that serve exclusively probation-involved youth, however, may request extensions through the end of 2018.

“The purpose of the STRTPs is to create a protocol whereby kids who are new to the system or who have experienced some sort of placement disruption are properly assessed to really identify their needs,” Rose said.

And, since these are short-term programs, he said, administrators will be planning for a youth’s discharge into placement with a family from day one.

According to Rose, the new short-term therapeutic facilities will be able to create specialized programs and treatments by placing children who suffer from similar experiences in the same treatment homes, so that they can get the services they really need rather than be subjected to one-size-fits all programming.

Advocates also hope that limiting the time that trafficked youth spend in facilities, away from a family or home environment, shrinks the window of opportunity during which they can be lured into trafficking, either by older kids or pimps who have previously made good use of a flawed foster care system.

Still, living in a group care environment for even up to a month is not in children’s best interest, Rose said. “We are asking the county to focus on finding families for those youth immediately, rather than sometime in a 30-day period,” he said.

But, as Heimov made clear, the kind of short-term treatment facilities Rose described are still more model than reality.

Which brings us to the second and third goals.

Goals 2 & 3: Resources and Families

Another fundamental principle of CCR is that when children get their permanent homes, they should not have to change placements to get the services they require. Research shows that being placed in foster care is traumatic enough. For placements to be successful, behavioral and mental health services should be available in an in-home setting.

Rose stressed the importance of thoughtfulness when placing a child with a family, so that he or she can experience consistency in relationships as well as permanency and stability. In other words, there’s no point in placing an already traumatized kid with a family if the placement doesn’t stick.

His hope, as for others who are driving this change, is to create a paradigm shift from what used to be finding children to fit the available families, to now identifying families that fit the needs of the children.

But finding families isn’t easy. And, at the moment, there aren’t enough families for all the kids who need them, which prominently includes the CSEC kids.

“I think it is a recruitment issue,” said Heimov. “Then the recruitment challenge is compounded by the county having a reputation for not providing the support that’s promised to caregivers — and people talk.”

La County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. Photo by Celeste Fremon/WitnessLA

As a consequence, she said, potential foster parents are often reluctant to move forward with an especially complicated child if they’re not confident they’re going to get support from the county.

According to Heimov, Los Angeles County and state officials have acknowledged this urgent dilemma and are working to make changes to improve the situation.

The recruitment teams are trying new strategies with the help of organizations like Foster More, a coalition of not-for-profit organizations and foundations.

But the concept of matching the family to the youth’s needs “is new,” said Heimov, “and people have to develop confidence in it before they’re going to jump into a very challenging situation with a child.”

Rose acknowledged that having enough foster families available continues to be a challenge.

Another monkey wrench thrown into the mix, according to Heimov, is the state’s recently instituted foster care family approval process, which potential foster families and relative caregivers must now go through. “Resource Family Approval,” or RFA, as it is called, requires more training for the families and relatives, which DCFS and most juvenile advocates agree is important.

But the new procedure has also lengthened the time necessary to get approved.

Right now, said Heimov, out of 4,000 foster families and relative caregivers waiting to be approved, “as of two or three weeks ago,” only 331 had actually received approval, she said.

Scaling the Model

The county has two pilot sites where they’re doing aggressive family finding for foster care. These two cases are going well, but this is a very small portion of the entire county and it has yet to reach cross-county, Heimov said.

“LA has a long and sad history of instituting really excellent pilot programs, but when they try to roll them out countywide they aren’t fully implemented.” Thus, she said, the programs don’t work as well as they did in the pilot. “And everyone throws their hands up and wonders why. And the why is because they lose fidelity to the original model when they try to go to scale,” Heimov said.

In short, the county is using a variety of methods to address the foster family deficit, many of which show real promise according to several DCFS sources. But finding new and innovative ways to successfully recruit more foster families, as with the changeover of the group homes, takes time.

The Legal Side

Matters are further complicated by the fact that, in addition to the need for better care and stability for these children, there are also often legal hurdles for CSEC victims to deal with, which mean further challenges for those who hope to help them heal and to thrive.

“When we get the girls, we’re not only getting a victim,” said Iglesias of Children and Family Services, “we’re getting someone who’s got involvement with the criminal system. They may be testifying against their pimp,” or they may have outstanding cases themselves. This means not only legal complexities, she said, but also the possibility of additional trauma to an already traumatized young person.

“CSEC is a sexy issue right now and people want to learn about it and address it, but I think we need to slow the roll and learn how to do this intentionally and carefully in a way that benefits and helps the girls,” Iglesias said.

Yet, despite all the challenges, Iglesias and Heimov also see progress.

“It is a hard population, we’re learning as we go,” Iglesias said. “I think we’ve come a long way though.”

At least, she said, “We truly mean it when we say there’s no such thing as a child prostitute.”

SEE ALSO: “How Los Angeles County Faced its Tragic Problem with Sex-Trafficked Kids” (TCR June 1, 2017)

This story was a project of the 2016 John Jay/Tow Journalism Reporting Fellowship for The Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College. An earlier version was published this week by the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and WitnessLA. Readers’ comments are welcome.


The Charging Trap: Is Throwing the Book at a Suspect Necessary?

A Pennsylvania DA says authorities should avoid the temptation to apply the maximum charges possible to ensure a conviction. He’s backed up by a reporter who found disparities in overcharging in six of the state’s counties, using a database created by Measures for Justice.

Felony or misdemeanor?

Simple assault or aggravated assault?

The difference in charges may not seem that great, but it can have large and lasting ramifications.

In Pennsylvania, what charges get filed and who gets to make that initial decision varies from county to county.

All criminal charges in Cumberland County, for instance, must be approved by the district attorney’s office before being filed.


Cumberland County (PA) District Attorney David Freed. Photo by Michael Bupp/The Sentinel

“We’re 20-plus years into that here in Cumberland County, so there are a lot of people who have worked in the system who don’t know any different,” Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed said.

But in neighboring Franklin, Adams, Perry, Dauphin and York counties, the initial decision of what to charge is largely driven by police.

Dauphin County requires prosecutor’s approval of some charges but not all, according to the Pennsylvania District Attorneys’ Association.

“You want to have the appropriate charge charged,” Freed said. “You don’t want to be in a situation where I’m going to charge a million things so that I end up with one thing. You want to charge a case appropriately.”

Bringing a prosecutor into the initial charging decision may provide a buffer to overcharging, according an analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel.

The Sentinel reviewed all criminal cases filed in Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Adams, York and Perry counties in 2016 and separated out all simple assaults and aggravated assaults.

One of the main differences between defining simple assault and aggravated assault is the severity of the injury to the victim.

For simple assault, the defining standard is causing or attempting to cause bodily injury. Aggravated assault requires causing or attempting to cause serious bodily injury. However, what accounts for “serious” injury can be subjective.

Cumberland County featured the lowest ratio of charged aggravated assault to simple assault than any of the surrounding counties, according to The Sentinel’s analysis.

More than 88 percent of all charged assaults in the county in 2016 were deemed simple assault, the analysis found. That is roughly nine to 18 percentage points higher than all other counties.

“We have to make sure we are charging appropriately and not just charging agg so we can get the simple,” Freed said.

Raising Costs

If defendants are being charged with felony aggravated assault in one county or misdemeanor simple assault in another for the same behavior, it can raise a host of costs for both the defendant and the county.

“(A case) can result in increased bail if it’s charged inappropriately high,” Freed said.

In 2016, the median bail for a person charged with simple assault, but not aggravated assault, in Cumberland County was $10,000, according to court records.

Less than seven percent of those defendants had bail set at more than $50,000. Nearly 40 percent were released without having to pay any bail, according to The Sentinel’s analysis.

Less than one quarter of all defendants charged with simple assault last year in Cumberland County were unable to post bail, court records show.

At the same time, the median bail for a person charged with aggravated assault in the county was $50,000, five times higher than the misdemeanor counterpart, according to The Sentinel analysis.

Nearly half of all these defendants were unable to post bail, The Sentinel found.

Any defendant who is unable to post bail is taken to their county jail or prison where they remain until they come up with the money, have their bail reduced or complete their case.

Sitting at only 54 percent of total capacity, Cumberland County Prison had the lowest utilization of the six counties examined, according to Measures for Justice, a nonprofit organization that provides county-level data on criminal justice systems.

Dauphin and Adams counties jails were both above 100 percent capacity. None of the other counties had jail capacity utilization below 80 percent, according to Measures for Justice.

Cumberland County also had the highest percentage of defendants released pretrial between 2009 and 2013, with roughly 85 percent of all defendants being released, according to Measures for Justice.

“At charging, we are making a probable cause determination,” Freed said. “It’s not beyond a reasonable doubt. … Do I have reasonable cause to show that someone tried to cause serious bodily injury?”

The Link Between Charge and Conviction

Freed said the determination and oversight at charging is not a guarantee the defendant will be convicted and does not necessarily mean charges will not be reduced as the case moves forward.

“I have probable cause to charge,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I have sufficient evidence to convict.”

However, Cumberland County also has the highest conviction rate of the six counties reviewed, according to Measures for Justice.

Nearly 87 percent of cases between 2009 and 2013 resulted in a conviction in Cumberland County. In Franklin County, that number was less than 73 percent, according to Measures for Justice.

“Reasonable minds can differ about what charges should be filed and what amount of charges should be filed,” Freed said. “Should you charge everything that can possibly be charged?

“I don’t have my head in the sand. I’m not going to sit here and say that doesn’t happen around the country,” he said. “That’s the policing every assistant district attorney has to do. That’s the policing every elected or appointed district attorney has to do. …

“You have to have that probable cause.”

Joshua Vaughn is a staff reporter for The Sentinel in Cumberland County, Pa. This is a slightly edited version of a story produced as a project for the 2017 John Jay/Measures for Justice fellowship. The original version can be read here. Readers’ comments are welcome.


When Inmates Sue, Are They on a Level Playing Field?

A Louisiana newspaper investigation finds a significant number of prisoner lawsuits alleging inhumane conditions in a facility that says it is committed to rehabilitation. Finding the truth is complicated by the fact that U.S. inmates get little professional legal help to press their case, say advocates.

The neatly landscaped grounds of the David Wade Corrections Center near Homer, La., contain ornamental gardens and even a koi pond.

In a state which has been notorious for its high rate of incarceration, and for allegations of systematic prisoner abuse, the warden and staff at David Wade, a  facility that holds over 1,200 inmates, say they are committed to rehabilitation.

Although many prisoners are serving sentences of decades to life, they can participate in vocational education classes and faith-based workshops.

David Wade Correctional Center. Photo by Henrietta Wildsmith/Shreveport Times

A mental health department with five qualified professionals provides comprehensive evaluation, individual counseling, psychiatric consultation, and group therapy.

But a Shreveport Times  investigation, prodded by the escape of an inmate last summer, found the prison’s placid outward appearance hides a rate of prisoner lawsuits “significantly higher” than for other similarly sized institutions in the state.

More than 200 lawsuits have been filed by inmates at the sprawling prison since it opened in 1980—with more than half filed in the past five years, including 53 alleging “civil rights violations.”

Multiple suits cited specific problems about conditions in the facility’s extended disciplinary lockdown units, including a lack of mental health services, unnecessary use of chemical agents, overcrowding by double-bunking inmates and roach infestations.

One lawsuit alleged that inmates with disabilities were forced to bark like dogs for food.

However, most of the suits were dismissed.

Ken Pastorick, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Corrections, said the number of lawsuits at David Wade is not unusual, “based on the type of individuals housed there.”

“In general, it’s not unusual for any correctional facility in the United States to be sued by an inmate,” Pastorick said in an emailed statement to the newspaper.

Corrections officials argue that most such suits are “frivolous,” but advocates aren’t so sure.

Patricia Gilley, a lawyer with the Shreveport, La.-based firm Gilley & Gilley, agreed that “frivolous” lawsuits are often the result of inmates who “have nothing else to do.”

But Gilley, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of an inmate alleging brutality at the David Wade Correctional Center 15 years ago that was ultimately dismissed, also said the criminal justice system is difficult for inmates to navigate.

“The system is totally stacked against them, particularly against a person who is disenfranchised or a minority,” Gilley said. “It ends when they are sentenced. Then all they have is the jailhouse lawyer and their own wits.”

“A Tightly Run Ship”

Staff and inmates offer starkly different accounts of what goes on behind the imposing gray walls and barbed-wire fencing of the 1,500-acre facility.

Louisiana prison officials say it’s a “tightly run ship.”

Founded in 1980, the David Wade Correctional Center has grown from an original capacity of 650 minimum- to medium-custody offenders to a current operational capacity of 1,244 offenders — almost half of whom are considered “maximum custody offenders,” according to the Louisiana Department of Corrections.

Warden Jerry Goodwin, a tall man with steel-gray hair and a penchant for plaid suits, gave the Times a tour of the facility earlier this year — past courtyards in bloom, a pond filled with orange and white koi, a chapel with stained-glass windows, and a low-security dorm where several inmates played cards.

The prison received accreditation from the American Correctional Association’s Commission on Accreditation in 1992, the first state-operated facility to do so. Its accreditation has been renewed every three years since, according to the Louisiana Department of Corrections.

In his statement to The Times, Pastorick wrote that new correctional officers at the prison undergo orientation training and existing staff receive annual in-service training that includes “mental health programs, recognizing suicide risk and suicide precautions.”

Pastorick said the escape of an inmate, which resulted in the death of an assistant warden’s teenage step-daughter, was an anomaly—the first escape from the facility since 2003.

The issues raised in (the) lawsuits, Pastorick said, are unfounded. The prison has specific policies to minimize situations requiring use of force and maximize safety of inmates, facility staff and the general public, he said.

But the Times’ litigation search found at least two settlements involving the facility in the past five years.

Nevertheless, the correctional center also is trailed by litigation alleging abuse of prisoners and multiple other civil rights violations.

According to Pastorick, the number of lawsuits filed for David Wade is comparable, per capita, to the number involving the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, which is another facility he said that houses the “same type of inmates, with a large number serving life sentences.”

The Louisiana State Penitentiary had 1,772 lawsuits since 1980.

“We would estimate the majority of lawsuits are frivolous,” Pastorick said, using an adjective used in the court system to generally mean a lawsuit that has no legal merit.

“We estimate a very small percentage result in an award of damages against the Department.”

Inside David Wade Correctional Center. Photo by Patricia Highsmith/Shreveport Times

On July 20, the Advocacy Center, a New Orleans-based non-profit that advocates for people with disabilities, filed a federal lawsuit against state prison officials concerning David Wade Correctional Center, one week before the prison escape that resulted in the death of an assistant warden’s step-daughter and the escapee.

The center’s lawsuit alleged David Wade staff had slapped, punched, kicked and sprayed disabled inmates with bleach, and forced prisoners to bark like dogs to be fed.

It also alleged that prison staff had interfered with Advocacy Center investigators who had sought access to the prison and its inmates.

Advocacy Center investigators and an attorney for the MacArthur Justice Center, acting as an authorized agent for the Advocacy Center, said they had received “alarming reports of serious abuse of people with disabilities” from inmates in the prison’s lockdown units, prompting concern that disabled inmates were “being subjected to abuse and neglect.”

Among their concerns were allegations that prison staff:

  • Failed to screen inmates for mental illness and provide adequate mental health treatment.
  • Placed inmates with mental illness in extended solitary and segregated confinement.
  • Forced inmates to kneel or bend on all fours and bark like dogs to receive food.
  • Forced at least one inmate with a developmental disability to unclog toilets by hand.
  • Treated mental health complaints as disciplinary infractions.
  • Sprayed prisoners with mace and bleach.
  • Confined inmates for extended periods using physical restraints, including a restraint chair.
  • Slapped, punched and kicked prisoners with both developmental disabilities and mental illnesses.
  • Verbally abused inmates, including name-calling and cursing them.

Louisiana state prisons must, as a condition of receiving federal funding, “designate a protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities,” the Advocacy Center says. Its investigators also had the right under federal law to inspect the facility and talk with inmates, the suit says.

But when the investigators arrived, Warden Goodwin informed them that “the tour of the unit would be very brief because they would not be allowed to speak to any prisoners on the tiers,” according to the lawsuit.

Investigators set dates for two separate site investigations. David Wade staff “unlawfully and intentionally interfered” with both investigations, according to court documents.

Prison staff were instructed not to answer questions and refused to allow investigators to look at a cell equipped with a surveillance camera, an empty cell in the lockdown unit and the inmate recreation yard, the Advocacy Center alleged. Investigators also noticed inmates being moved off a cell tier when they entered, including an individual they specifically wanted to interview.

Staff also impeded one-on-one follow-up interviews with inmates, “confiscated prisoner’s (sic) legal documents, blocked prisoners from bringing notes to interviews and intimidated participants in those interviews,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleged that prison staff also “took positions close enough to eavesdrop on the confidential conversations between the prisoners and counsel.”

On the second day of interviewing prisoners, Advocacy Center investigators were informed that a prisoner who had shared information with them “was disciplined for doing so,” according to the lawsuit.

The Advocacy Center and the Department of Corrections reached a settlement on August 10.

The settlement agreement, filed in U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, did not involve cash payments, but clarified how Advocacy Center investigators could access the facility and its inmates.

Under the 23-page settlement, the Advocacy Center will have access to the prison, inmates, prisoner and prison records and staff.

The settlement also notes that investigators who wish to speak with inmates through their cell doors must do so when DWCC staff are present and that investigators’ time on cell tiers will be limited to 10 minutes “unless a longer period of time is approved.”

‘Barbaric and Inhumane Conditions’

Many of the more than 200 lawsuits since 1982 were hand-written. They usually reflected their inmate-authors’ lack of legal training. Many reflected rudimentary language skills.

But one especially coherent 44-page, handwritten lawsuit, filed in 2013, painted a different picture. The lawsuit named 21 inmates as plaintiffs, including Robert Baltimore, and 20 David Wade Correctional Center employees, often identified by position rather than by name, as defendants.

“Quite often, inmates at David Wade Correctional Center in extended lockdown are victims of unchecked or unrestrained physical abuse and sometimes sexual abuse at the hands of unprofessional and sadistic male guards,” the lawsuit alleges.

“(They are) subjected to some of the most barbaric and inhumane living conditions today in the modernized prison system.”

The lawsuit also alleged that inmates in lockdown were double bunked with “enemies”; some lockdown units lacked ventilation, fans and water fountains; drinking water was brown or orange; prison staff sprayed chemically agents excessively; mentally ill inmates were slapped and punched; and food serving areas in the units had roach infestations.

Besides the Baltimore settlement, a remaining 52 civil rights violations lawsuits filed in the last five years involving David Wade Correctional Center were dismissed by courts for a number of reasons — including that judges deemed them “frivolous.”

Examples include lawsuits filed by inmates who alleged:

  • An inmate developed a rash after allegedly being forced to shower without slippers.
  • An inmate slipped in the shower and was told by a nurse to take Tylenol and then waited “two months” to see a doctor.
  • An inmate was jumped by another inmate, allegedly planned by a  correctional officer
  • An inmate was left in his cell after asking to be put in a restraining chair while considering suicide due to “demons” in his mind

According to Patricia Gilley, lawsuits logged in the federal system often start as cases involving state convictions that inmates want overturned.

“The majority of them will involve state charges with defendants looking to say they had a crappy lawyer or no adequate council,” Gilley said.

“You have to go back to the inception of this, where they get assigned a public defender — some of whom are useless, some of whom are excellent — but who are so overworked they might have five minutes with a client.”

Katie Schwartzmann, a MacArthur Justice Center attorney involved with the Advocacy Center investigation, said “very few” lawyers will handle prison cases. She said courts must take seriously the lawsuits that inmates file themselves.

“They can be hard to read or understand, but it is very important that someone at the courthouse take the time to thoughtfully review and try to understand the claim being asserted,” Schwartzmann said. “Usually the court is a prisoner’s only avenue for protection.”

Schwartzmann said inmate cases often are dismissed for reasons that have nothing to do with the merits of the inmate’s claim.

“Meaning,” she said, “someone’s rights may well have been violated, but they are unable to win in the court system because of a procedural hurdle.”

According to the Times’ review of the lawsuits, judges dismissed inmate cases for four other main reasons: inmates asked for their cases to be dropped, sometimes because they’re frustrated at the lack of movement in their cases; inmates failed to “state a claim for which relief may be granted”; inmates failed to submit a lawsuit on an approved form; or inmates failed to pay the $350 filing fee.

This is an edited and condensed version of a story published earlier this month in the Shreveport Times. Staff writer Lex Talamo is a 2017 John Jay/Measures for Justice Reporting Fellow. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Justice Storytelling Project Told Milwaukee Prison is ‘Beyond Reform’

A nationwide justice storytelling project hears grim tales from former inmates of the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility, who say it should be on the list of substandard U.S. corrections institutions that need to be shuttered.

A nationwide justice “storytelling” project has set up shop in Milwaukee this month, where it heard individuals formerly incarcerated at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), describe conditions ranging from poor ventilation and overcrowding to inadequate medical care, according to a report this week from Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.

“Incarcerating people at MSDF defies our notions of freedom and justice,” said Mark Rice, who spent six months at the facility after being arrested for disorderly conduct and is now assistant state director of Ex-Prisoners Organizing (EXPO), a group lobbying for closure of the downtown Milwaukee high-rise detention center.

“MSDF is beyond reform.”

The storytelling event was facilitated by Mass Story Lab — a Pennsylvania group working in cities around the country to present first-hand stories of justice-involved individuals and their families to dispel what it calls “misinformation about the experience of incarceration.”

Milwaukee is the ninth city to host the program, which makes clear that one of its central aims is to spotlight jails and detention facilities plagued by substandard conditions. The MSDF is among a list of targets that includes Rikers Island in New York, the country’s largest jail.

The lab says it aims to put on similar events in at least 20 cities by the end of 2018.

The Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), located in downtown Milwaukee, allows few amenities for those incarcerated there—even books are frowned on—said former inmate Rob Schreiber.

“(When) I came out…nobody knew who I was because I had lost 60 pounds in six weeks,” he said, charging “there is no rehabilitation in the Department of Corrections in the State of Wisconsin—everything is based on fear.”

Tom Moore, head of the Close MSDF Research Committee, which is exploring alternatives to detention, said treatment programs don’t have to confine people, but can be based in the community.

Other participants suggested that resources used to operate the facility be reinvested to provide better mental health and substance abuse treatment, access to high-quality education and to help secure living-wage employment.

The MSDF, described on its website as a medium-security facility built to house 1,000 inmates, has reportedly experienced several inmate deaths since it opened in 2001.

William Harrell, a minister who was detained there in the early 2000s, claimed there were at least 17 deaths—most of them due to heat exhaustion at the facility, where temperatures have soared as high as 100 degrees.

This is an edited and abridged version of a report by Jabril Faraj of the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, a project of the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University. The full version is available here. The Crime Report is pleased to post this as part of its partnership with the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN).


Arizona Prisons Grapple with Upsurge in Inmate ‘Self-Harm’

More than 80 inmates tried to hang themselves so far this year, and 138 attempted drug overdoses, at a time when the Arizona Department of Corrections is under fire over allegedly inadequate health care. The state still has no mental health director, according to a report by the Phoenix public radio station.

Hundreds of people in Arizona prisons are hurting themselves and trying to take their own lives.

New data from the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) show inmates are harming themselves at an alarmingly increasing rate.

Numbers collected by ADC show a dramatic uptick in self-harm among inmates in the past year. Total incidents increased by almost 70 percent.

In fiscal year 2017, more than 80 inmates tried to hang themselves, and 138 tried to overdose on illegal drugs.

Table courtesy Arizona Department of Corrections

The number of inmates using blunt-force trauma — which can include inserting objects in the body and banging the head against a wall — has almost tripled in a single year.

The surge in self-harm reports comes as ADC is attempting to settle a lawsuit over poor health-care conditions in state prisons.

But reports generated for that settlement show ADC and its private contractor Corizon are still understaffing critical health-care positions.

The latest numbers from August show the state prison in Douglas, AZ has no medical director and just one psych associate.

The state prison in Phoenix is designated for seriously mentally ill people. The facility has no psychiatric director, no mental health director and less than half of the psych technicians specified by the contract with Corizon.

There is also no state director of mental health.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to specify that the numbers reported by ADC are incidents of self-harm, not necessarily individual inmates.

MORE: Arizona Prison Health Care Contract Leads To ‘Severe Understaffing’

David Fathi, an attorney for the inmates in the settlement, said there may be other factors at play but the staffing shortages cannot be helping.

“This is behavior that we often see with mentally ill people in particular whose mental illness is not being effectively treated,” Fathi said.

Incidents of cutting increased by nearly 50 percent. Fathi said that while not all cutting incidents are life-threatening, they should be taken seriously.

“This is potentially lethal behavior. Some incidents of self-harm result in serious injury or even death,” Fathi said. “And that can happen even if the person doesn’t intend to cause death. Any kind of self-harm behavior has to be treated extremely seriously.”

Fathi called the numbers extraordinary and said the increase in self-harm events “cries out for some sort of investigation.”

In a written response to questions about the increase, ADC spokesman Andrew Wilder said “personnel work very hard to identify, intervene and prevent inmates from committing acts of self-harm.”

He said ADC will begin a mental-health training program for correctional officers this month.

But Wilder’s statement downplayed the seriousness of the self-harm numbers, saying they should not “be construed as all being suicide attempts, as they certainly are not.”

“More commonly, these self-harm behaviors involve scratching, biting, ingesting/inserting objects, banging one’s head or hitting one’s self, etc., where there is no intention to commit suicide,” Wilder said

Wilder said the state “has put into place a mental-health transitional watch program aimed at assisting inmates as they come off of a watch and transition back into a general population environment. The goal is to reduce incidents of self-harm behaviors. The department is already in the process of expanding the program.”

According to ADC, there have already been 142 incidents of self-harm in Arizona prisons in fiscal year 2018, putting it on track to be the worst year on record.

ADC August Health Care Staffing Report

Jimmy Jenkins is a 2017 John Jay/Measures for Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a slightly abridged version of a story broadcast earlier this week by KJZZ in Phoenix as part of his fellowship project. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Starting Over: ‘So Many People Want You to Succeed’

A program launched this year by the Illinois Department of Corrections transfers inmates with less than four years remaining on their sentence to a facility that provides life-skills training and job counseling. The sense of hope among participants is hard to miss, says a reporter who attended a recent “Day with Dad” weekend at the Kewanee Re-Entry Center.

When Roberto Tejeda leaves the Illinois Department of Corrections early next year, he’s determined to beat dismal odds: half of those released from prison will be behind bars again within three years.

Tejeda’s chances of being an exception to those recidivism statistics improved in February, when he was transferred to the newly opened Life Skills Re-Entry Center in Kewanee, IL, about an hour’s drive from Chicago.

The 42-year-old Chicago man, currently serving a four-year sentence for residential burglary, was among the first 60 inmates admitted to the program, which offers vocational and educational counseling for men with less than four years remaining on their sentences.

On a recent visit to the Center’s first “Day with Dad” event, The Pantagraph found them in a buoyant mood.

“This number,” said Tejeda, pointing to his IDOC prisoner identification badge as he took a break from playing with his children, “is due to be recycled.”
Tejeda, who is using the resources of the center to sharpen his computer, interpersonal and job interview skills, is optimistic that he will be able to rejoin his family, and go back to work at a granite supplier.

Anthony Williams, Kewanee’s warden, shares his optimism.

It’s time for thinking outside the box about how to help former inmates reenter society as productive civilians, says Williams, who served as assistant warden at Menard Correctional Center, the state’s maximum security facility in southern Illinois, before coming to Kewanee.

“What’s been done nationally and in Illinois doesn’t work,” he said, noting that as state and local governments reduce expenses incurred when the same offenders cycle through the criminal justice system, the state’s investment in re-entry services will pay off.

Andrew Mattingley is another determinedly optimistic Kewanee resident.

Currently serving a four-year sentence for residential burglary, Mattingley intends to return to Decatur, IL with a plan to support himself and his family as a commercial truck driver.

For his daughter Peytin Mattingley, who will enter sixth grade next year, that day couldn’t come soon enough.

“It might be on my birthday” in April, said the girl, her broad smile a mirror image of her father’s grin.

A Former Juvenile Prison

The sprawling facility on the outskirts of Kewanee formerly housed up to 300 juvenile offenders.

The youth prison closed in 2016 as part of the state’s move to reduce the number of children in state custody. With plans to double-bunk inmates, the population of the re-entry center — currently 89 inmates — will gradually increase to about 600 as new staff is hired.

To be accepted at Kewanee, inmates must complete an application with an essay that explains their reasons for wanting to come. Those who qualify are entered into a blind draw to choose who enters the program.

“It’s nice to know we’re helping these guys put together plans to be successful in the future,” said Allison Trigg, a teacher hired to teach Kewanee inmates the practical skills they will need after their release, including how to secure a job and housing and to handle their finances.

They even learn how to tie a tie.

Roberto Tejeda plays basketball with his daughter, Giselle, 12, and his son junior, 6 during Kewanee’s Day With Dad event. Photo by David Proeber/The Pantagraph

For some inmates, success hinges on getting help for their complex needs that often were left unmet in the community. Mental health staff at Kewanee provide cognitive behavior therapy and other services.

“We tailor everything to what the population needs,” said Williams, noting that three inmates have been unsuccessful at Kewanee and were returned to their previous facility.

Kewanee is open to any inmate with four years or less left to serve, regardless of the crime that brought them to prison, said Williams.

“For me, everything else is trivial because they’re going home,” he said.

Inmates cited for a major rule violation within the previous six months of their application are ineligible.

Kewanee has the support of area churches and civic groups that have donated clothing, food for special events and hundreds of volunteer hours to mentor inmates.

“Henry (County) and the surrounding counties have really embraced us and the mission of this facility,” said Williams.

As the program evolves, the state plans to invite inmates with life sentences to apply for admission. Inmates ineligible for release could serve as mentors for others when they leave the program, said Williams.

Former participants are likely to be equally effective mentors.

One of them could be Rafael Ortiz, who spent more than half of his 38 years behind bars for a murder he committed when he was 18 while living in Chicago.

When he leaves Kewanee in about four months, Ortiz is looking forward to a fresh start in a new city where he plans to complete training to be a substance abuse counselor.

Ortiz, who now helps other inmates with job interview skills, said what’s special about Kewanee is the environment it creates.

“(You’re) around so many people who want to see you succeed,” he said.

This is an edited and slightly rewritten version of a story published this month in The Pantagraph by staff writer Edith Brady-Lunny, a former John Jay Criminal Justice Reporting Fellow. It’s part of a continuing series of stories on the challenges facing people after their release from prison. To read the original story, and the entire series, please click here. Readers’ comments are welcome. Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny


OK Grapples with High Female Incarceration Rate

Oklahoma leads the nation in female incarceration – at a rate more than twice the national average. On Wednesday, legislators, activists and academics will explore how to reduce the rate in a livestreamed conference hosted by The Atlantic magazine in collaboration with Reveal, of California’s Center for Investigative Reporting.

The stories behind Oklahoma’s disproportionately high female incarceration rate are the subject of an upcoming investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and a forum in Oklahoma City that will explore the experiences of women in the state’s justice system.

On Wednesday, September 20, The Atlantic will host Defining Justice: The Experience of Women and Children Behind Bars in collaboration with Reveal. Journalists from Reveal, including senior editor Ziva Branstetter, will discuss our upcoming investigation and data analysis examining the roots of the problem.

Defining Justice will confront key questions surrounding women in Oklahoma’s criminal justice system: Why is the women’s incarceration rate in Oklahoma so high? What are the long-term human costs to women and children affected by the justice system? And what solutions would create a criminal justice system more responsive to women?

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin will join the program for a one-on-one discussion on the political path toward criminal justice reform in Oklahoma, moderated by The Atlantic’s contributing editor Alison Stewart.

Stewart and Branstetter will moderate discussions throughout the day, along with Allison Herrera, a reporter and social media editor at Public Radio International; and David Fritze, executive editor of Oklahoma Watch. Herrera and The Frontier, an Oklahoma-based news website, partnered with Branstetter on Reveal’s investigation.

Speakers include policymakers, advocates, justice experts, journalists and women who have been incarcerated in Oklahoma prisons. Among the experts taking part in the discussions are Sheila Harbert, chief community outreach officer for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma; and Mimi Tarrasch, executive director of Women in Recovery.

Also scheduled to speak are: Kris Steele, executive director of The Education and Employment Ministry and former speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives; and Susan Sharp, presidential professor emerita at the University of Oklahoma and author of “Mean Lives, Mean Laws: Oklahoma’s Women Prisoners.”

“Defining Justice” is the first in a series of three events by The Atlantic examining aspects of the American criminal justice system and how they affect women and children in cities across the country. is running an ongoing digital reporting series, The Presence of Justice, which focuses on efforts across the nation to move beyond the age of mass incarceration.

Reveal will release its investigation into Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate on our website, podcast and radio show with PRX later this month. Sign up for our newsletter to get the story sent straight to your inbox.

Defining Justice will be recorded and streamed live online by The Atlantic. You can follow the discussion on social media using the hashtag #DefiningJustice.

TCR is pleased to republish this article, produced by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a California-based nonprofit news organization. Learn more at and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at Readers’ comments are welcome.


Getting Bail Right

Releasing the wrong defendants can increase the risk that they won’t appear in court as directed—or commit additional crimes. But holding people unnecessarily can be costly. A series by The Sentinel studies the impact of bail decisions in two Pennsylvania countries.

Setting bail has consequences.

For a defendant, the consequence can be the difference between going home or sitting in jail.

Even a short stay in jail can cost an individual their job or even their home.

For society, releasing the wrong people can mean increasing the chance they will not appear as directed or possibly more victimization.

Holding people unnecessarily can be costly and, as recent studies have found, it can actually lead to an increase in recidivism and crime.

All of this is to say there is incentive for everyone to get these decisions right at the earliest possible point.

Whether a defendant sits in jail or remains free in Pennsylvania can be a matter of what zip code they were arrested in.

In 2016, the average defendant in Pennsylvania’s Cumberland County with monetary bail imposed was expected to pay $10,000 to remain out of jail, according to an analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel.

However, the average defendant in neighboring Franklin County was expected to pay three times that.

Median bail for defendants charged with selling drugs in Franklin County was $100,000 last year, compared to only $25,000 in Cumberland County.

The variations don’t stop at the county level.

In Cumberland County in 2016, median bail amounts per judge ranged from $7,500 to more than $40,000.

Both Magisterial District Judges, Paul Fegley and Vivian Cohick, had set median bail amounts of $25,000.

“My first thought process is I did not bring you here,” Cohick said about dealing with the consequences of bail. “There has been a charge against you for a violation of the law.

“This is not just saying ‘you climbed up on the stool and I didn’t want you to climb up on the stool, so I’m going to paddle your butt.’”

“A person is being charged with a violation of the law,” she added. “That takes away some of the ‘you’re free to walk around and do what you want to do.’”

The Sentinel analysis reviewed all cases entering the magisterial district judge level in 2016 and sorted bails set at preliminary arraignment, which generally occurs around the time of arrest.

Cases where the defendant was issued a summons, usually lower level offenses, were not included in the analysis.

The Sentinel found no significant difference in the types of charges dealt with at arraignment that could explain the variation in bail amounts.

“How long are they going to sit in jail? That would be one of the things that might pop in my head,” she said. “But generally not so much, because I’m scheduling (a preliminary hearing) within three to 10 days. … That would bring them to their preliminary hearing quickly, so if they may not have bail, they may not have to sit long.”

Each year, thousands of bed days are lost at the Cumberland County Prison to defendants who are held on monetary bail before ultimately have their bail reduced and are released without financial conditions.

Most appear as directed. Many are later sentenced probation or other non-prison punishments.

A growing trend in criminal justice is the use of algorithms, known as risk assessments, to help quantify the decision-making process.

A recent study by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation found a county in Ohio was able to get better outcomes with less pretrial incarceration after implementing a risk assessment tool.

“Ultimately we want to just know what the person’s true risk level is,” University of Virginia Associate Professor of Public Policy and Economics Jennifer Doleac said. “Unfortunately, that is impossible.”

Risk assessments to do not eliminate all risk or provide absolute certainty of the outcome of individual cases.

In the case of the Ohio Risk Assessment, roughly five percent of low-risk defendants will likely fail to appear for court as directed if released.

Doleac also said risk assessments do not necessarily eliminate racial or other biases in the system.

“If you are deciding whether or not someone is a risk to fail to appear … and you know the person is unemployed and has no family, we know those things seem like they would be very plausibly causal factors to show back up in court,” Doleac said. “It’s just easier for you to take off if you don’t have any ties.

“But, we also know that black men are more likely to be unemployed, marriage rates are lower and those types of factors are going to be correlated with race.

“You have to draw a line somewhere.”

This is a condensed version of a series published by The Sentinel. Read the full series here. Joshua Vaughn is a 2017 John Jay/Measuresfor Justice Fellow. He welcomes comments from readers.





How to Make Justice Count

An innovative database created by Measures for Justice is helping officials in an Indiana county make smarter policy decisions on how to deal with mentally ill individuals who run afoul of the law.

When it comes to policy decisions that impact the public and thousands of people who move through the criminal justice system each year, anecdotal information can be misleading and expensive.

In Indiana, the McLean County Board expects to use hard numbers from the county’s participation in several data collection projects to devise solutions based on facts—not perceptions—related to mentally ill residents, many of them homeless and prone to commit offenses that land them in jail.

County Administrator Bill Wasson said the county is working with the University of Chicago to develop a database of information on so-called “super utilizers” of mental health services in McLean County that could be shared with public and private agencies.

When agencies know a person’s history as defined by 300 measuring points, the work of helping the individual avoid recurring crises becomes easier, said Wasson.

McLean County Administrator Bill Wasson. Photo by David Proeber/The Pantagraph

“One of our goals is to have actionable information for our agencies so they can make the best decisions about where individuals should be directed for services, or how they can be diverted from the criminal justice system,” said Wasson.

The numbers come from more than a dozen private agencies, including hospitals, in addition to fire, police and the adult and juvenile detention facilities. Records are coded to protect the privacy of the individual whose mental health treatment or interaction with police is examined and added to the database.

The county will be able to compare how it’s doing on a wide range of criminal justice issues later this year when Measures for Justice, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, releases several years of data on McLean County.

See also: TCR May 15, 2017 “Measures for Justice: America How Are We Doing?”

The project offers a county-level view of criminal cases that follows a defendant through all stages of the system. The free data tool is currently available to 300 counties in six states and will expand to include five Illinois counties by the end of the year.

Measures for Justice looks at 32 performance measures based on three primary objectives of the criminal justice system: public safety; fairness; and fiscal responsibility. The data is designed to be a conversation starter that allows users to compare their county with their peers, said Fiona Maazel, director of communications for Measures for Justice.

“We see a need to bring a new degree of transparency to the system that’s perhaps been lacking, so people know what’s going on in the criminal justice system,” said Maazel.

In McLean County, the extensive collection of local numbers was launched by the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in 2009 as part of the effort to reduce overcrowding at the jail.

Since then, the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development at Illinois State University has drilled down jail numbers to examine factors such as inmate demographics, case processing time and recidivism.

The critical shortage of affordable and supportive housing in McLean County is the focus of the county’s partnership with the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH). The county is in the early stages of exploring whether the CSH “Pay for Success” program to fund housing for people with complex challenges, including homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse disorders, is a good fit. The county received a $200,000 grant from CSH in May for technical assistance related to the data-gathering process.

The CSH housing model relies on partnerships between private and philanthropic groups and investors who work with local governments to provide upfront dollars for housing. Providers are required to prove the success of the program through reduced costs of hospitalization, incarceration and other services frequently accessed by those with unstable living arrangements.

It may take about two years for the county to complete the research needed for the CSH program, said Wasson, but in the meantime the county is looking for other ways to address the housing situation.

McLean County Board Chairman John McIntyre traced the county’s work to reform the local mental health system back to 2012 when former Sheriff Mike Emery brought the issue of mental health care for jail inmates to the attention of the county board.

“The county has taken it on and we’re in it for the long haul,” said McIntyre.

A 2013 report from the National Institute of Corrections called the jail “clearly one of the most professionally managed and forward thinking jails in the nation,” but recommended the county consider major changes to address inadequate housing for nearly 30 percent of the jail population with a mental health diagnosis.

The county subsequently developed the Mental Health Action Plan that laid out priorities for improving the mental health system. The practice of mentally ill housing inmates in the jail’s booking area — a practice jail officials developed to protect vulnerable inmates — was addressed with the county’s plan to construct an 80,000 square foot addition to the jail. The $39 million project underway on the east side of the existing facility is expected to be substantially completed by late 2018.

Edith Brady-Lunny is a 2017 John Jay/Measures for Justice Reporting Fellow. The complete published version of her story is available here. Readers’ comments are welcome.