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Recidivism
Hudson Link, with the help of Mount Saint Mary College, will help provide access to higher education at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility. The article goes into detail about how two dozen incarcerated men will have the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences. “The Hudson Link and Mount Saint Mary College will facilitate the program at the correctional facility”, providing the opportunity for people incarcerated to earn a higher education.

Hudson Link is a nonprofit that provides college education, life skills, and reentry support to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. They hope to help make a positive impact on the lives of the prisoners and their families and communities. With providing access to a higher education, they also hope to reduce recidivism rates and poverty because prisoners will be able to attain better jobs. The recidivism rate for people who have completed the Hudson Link program is less than 3% and they have high hopes it will stay this low. The numbers for men being accepted into the program are growing and increasing their access to earning the bachelor’s degree. So far 21 men are scheduled to complete the degree in two years, which helps the employability once released from prison.

Pursuing a degree while incarcerated can be difficult but thanks to companies and institutions like Hudson Link and Mount Saint Mary College, degrees are attainable. They want to continue to help reduce recidivism rates and provide access to education for incarcerated individuals.
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Justice Reform
The Daily Mining Gazette posted an article bringing to light how much a person’s past can affect their present day lives, no matter the time period. Past mistakes for people, including criminal records, still affect the lives of many. No matter how long it has been since their criminal acts, they are unable to move on from them because they pop up everywhere. Criminal records are a constant reminder of people’s past mistakes. Many serve their sentences and pay their fines trying to move on from young mistakes. However, they are unable to because they have to share their criminal records for job interviews or education facilities.

The Michigan House realized this and therefore fought for their bipartisan expungement reform plan to be approved by the Michigan House. This plan would give “hundreds of thousands of residents with old, low-level criminal convictions the ability to start fresh. It would also shorten the period people must wait before their records can be set aside and establish an automatic expungement system for certain types of offenses”. This provides people a chance to not be haunted by their past. Their past criminal record will not be able to hold them back any further than it already has.

This will also increase public safety as former convicts will be able to obtain better jobs from not having this barrier. It will keep them off the streets and able to provide for themselves and their families, reducing recidivism and crime. Increasing the number of people eligible for jobs will help the job market and companies looking to hire, knowing they have more options. The expansion of the expungement will provide new opportunities to deserving people and work to strengthen and build communities.
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Justice Reform
A highly debated topic in the United States is the laws forbidding convicted individuals, or those with a criminal past, the right to vote in elections. It creates unfair election outcomes as a high percentage of the United States population does not get a say in who is elected. The Sentencing Project stated that 6 million Americans were unable to vote in the 2018 midterms because they had a felony conviction. This is a significant number of voices unheard in America that are most effected by election outcomes. However, some states are hoping to change this. The Guardian posted an article about how Washington D.C. is working on becoming the first state to allow those with felony convictions to vote.

With this new measure in place and being passed by the city council last week, 4,500 people could be affected in Washington D.C.. “I am hopeful that the District’s action will inspire states to recognize the value of universal suffrage and the engagement of all its citizens,” said Nicole Porter, Director of Advocacy at the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform group. The United States has some of the strictest voting policies compared to other countries in the world. Some states do have laws that after a certain period of time, convicted individuals are able to vote, but this is not popular in most. Over the years, people have been advocating more to restore voting rights for people released from prison. They deserve a second chance and to have a say in who represents them in the government.

This Washington D.C. measure is unique though, by working on restoring voting rights while the individual is still incarcerated. The District is following in the footsteps of Maine and Vermont, as they are the only two states that allow those convicted of felonies to vote in prison. There is hope that the new law will be approved by the Washington D.C. mayor, Muriel Bowser, to continue to fight for justice reform for those in and out of prison. Many previously convicted felons work hard to turn their lives around post-incarceration and deserve to be able to vote, without their past actions continuing to haunt them.
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Justice Reform

LEVICK is a communication firm that focuses on rebuilding other companies reputations and helping fix the impossible. They recently wrote a blog featuring TRACKtech about what companies can do to embrace #BlackLivesMatter and the ongoing civil rights movements. They focused on Rayshard Brooks story and how he was one of many who fell through the cracks of the prison reentry and probation system. His story, however, has gone viral unlike many others who had devastating and unfortunate outcomes. One detail that is not discussed about Rayshard Brooks’ death is that he should never have been in contact with police the night he died. He was serving probation time, after being incarcerated, and working hard to turn his life around, as he had a job and family to support. He was trying to be better for them and to do the right thing but felt restricted by the criminal justice system.

There is a large lack of guidance and support for individuals who are on parole and probation. Many leave prison with nowhere to go, no income, no job lined up, and no knowledge of how to support themselves. Rayshard Brooks describes these hardships and needing more guidance and mentorship in a video that was recorded just four months before his death. He said he wanted “things to be better, you know, within probation and parole and also monitoring”. The system needs to focus more on looking at people as individuals and structuring support towards their needs, by taking a rehabilitative approach instead of punitive. Those serving parole have paid their debt to society through incarceration and if they are seeking to have a second chance, they should have that opportunity. It should be easier for them to turn their lives around if willing than is possible in the justice system right now.

Rayshard Brooks talked about needing a mentor and having his probation officer there for him more. With officers being overloaded with case loads, it is hard for them to provide attention to all individuals assigned to them. TRACKtech understands this difficulty for parole and probation officers but also for the individual needing more structure and resources to reintegrate back into society. Our products are designed to provide these resources for the individual, such as Rayshard Brooks, through different rehabilitative services and programs. We believe in rehabilitative practices that focus on the individual and speak to their needs. Also, our products give officers more time with each person by being able to remotely check-in with individuals through biometric identification, video conferencing and being able to monitor their compliance through an easy to use dashboard. It is vital that the justice reform system be transformed to help individuals like Rayshard Brooks who struggle reintegrating into society and finding their place again. It should be accessible and rewarding for the hard work they put into their second chance at life.

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Justice Reform

Slowly, more people are supporting the idea that reforms in the community supervision system are feasible and working, according to an article published by The Crime Report. Jessica Jackson, Chief Advocacy Officer at REFORM Alliance, elaborated more on the situation of how COVID-19 has affected and influenced these changing views. The pandemic has led offenders to be able to remotely check-in with probation officers, which allows for more focus and time being spent on rehabilitation. Government resources in the past have been spent on maintaining a parole and probation system that sends more individuals back to jail for technical violations rather than criminal behavior. It is structured to punish the individual instead of rehabilitating and taking a more reformed approach to reducing recidivism. Many individuals have expressed they do not feel supported by their officers and find it already hard readjusting to life outside bars without having to worry about all the technicalities. Arthur Rizer, a former police officer and law professor at George Mason University says community supervision should support individuals released from detention rather than just supervise them.

In order to reduce mass incarceration, something has to change in the support and rehabilitation resources offered to individuals in the community supervision division. TRACKtech, LLC is working to bridge this gap between individuals not feeling supported and provided enough resources to stay out of jail. With the TRACKphone, officers are able to remotely check-in with individuals via bio-metric identification and video conferencing. This allows for them to monitor an individual’s location and make sure they are compliant. Individuals also have access to a wide variety of rehabilitative resources and calendar reminders for job interviews and appointments. This helps them better integrate back into society and provide them with some stability to reduce recidivism rates.

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Community Supervision

With COVID-19 still being rampant in the United States, release of individuals from prisons and jails has been a solution to overcrowding. A recent article highlights how Tuolumne County Court won funds for a pilot pretrial release program. Tuolumne County Court Executive Officer Hector Gonzalez shared a new pretrial pilot program under a two-year grant to improve pretrial release practices, which began on June 30th. The program was created to address jail overcrowding, reduce failures to appear, prioritize community safety and reduce discrimination based on wealth and race. Tuolumne was chosen with 17 other counties to participate in the pretrial release program. It was awarded $632,000 by the Judicial Council of California (JCC) to work on pretrial release.

Many jails have been releasing individuals before trials, as there is no space in jails to keep them. Overcrowding has become an even more pressing issue during COVID-19 as it puts inmates and staff at risk. The pretrial program is working to keep people safe while providing an alternative to keeping individuals in jail while awaiting trial.

TRACKtech is a platform designed to help officers with pretrial individuals as well as those on probation and parole. With the TRACKphone, officers are able to remotely check-in with individuals via bio-metric identification and video conferencing. This allows for them to monitor an individual’s location and make sure they are compliant. Individuals also are sent calendar reminders for court dates, to help ensure they show up. This reduces technical violations and helps keep the individual responsible for appearing in court, while remaining out of prison. Pretrial release is a prevalent issue that TRACKtech can help solve by allowing officers and courts to be in contact with the individual and still monitor their location. Our products provide an alternative to people being out on release while awaiting trial, instead of overpopulating jails.

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Public Safety

The Marcus Harris Foundation posted about children of incarcerated parents needing support now more than ever. COVID-19 continues to turn the lives of families, especially those incarcerated, upside down. Children with parents who are incarcerated already suffer from lack of resources and recognition but even more so now. The children are not the ones at fault for being incarcerated but continue to feel the full effect and problems that come with incarceration of a parent. These children miss out on celebrating major milestones with their parents and now with COVID-19 affecting visiting hours and interactions with family members in prison, children are suffering even more. They are unable to visit or talk to their parents and continually worry about whether they are okay and safe.

Children may not understand the direct issues and problems that come with COVID-19, but they certainly can sense the stress it is putting on their loved ones. Facilities are being shut down, there is a concern for lack of equipment and testing in jails and prisons, early releases of individuals and movements of criminal justice reform that are causing riots and distress. An organization, Our Children’s Place (OCP), is encouraging communities to consider what they can do to support children whose parents are incarcerated. Professionals are able to check in with children and see how they are doing, while providing materials and resources such as books and tool kits online for youth. The resources are made for the children but also provide information for their caregivers and family members about access to food, books and other types of distribution efforts for children with incarcerated parents.

Children are the next generation of the world and need to be supported and cared for by all to show them the endless possibilities that still exist, even if they have parents who struggle. Learn more about how you can help in a time of need by visiting Our Children’s Place website linked above.

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Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Michigan State University elaborates in an article on how the national Stepping Up Initiative is helping to reduce the number of people in jails that are suffering from mental illnesses. The Stepping Up Initiative is led by the Council of State Governments, the National Association of Counties and the American Psychiatric Foundation. It was created to help counties redirect individuals with mental illnesses to treatment centers to receive the care they need and reduce jail populations. Currently, more than 500 counties in 43 states are part of the initiative. It is working to keep individuals with mental illnesses out of the justice system and provide them with the help they need.

A professor and her colleague at Michigan State University have been awarded a grant to study how the Stepping Up Initiative works and to determine what techniques can be used for treatment for individuals who suffer from mental illnesses. “Our primary goal is to learn more about how county agencies can work together to reduce the number of mentally ill people in county jails,” said Jennifer Johnson, a C.S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health at MSU College of Human Medicine.

Around two-thirds of jail populations have mental health problems and around three-quarters of them also suffer from substance abuse addictions. However, most jails are not equipped with the proper programs or treatment plans to treat those suffering from mental illnesses, as many of these individuals should not be in jail but rather mental health facilities. These individuals find themselves in jail after going off of their medication and acting erratically, leading to arrest. It creates a cycle of individuals being brought in while suffering from mental health issues, being put back on the street and then acting up or committing a crime, landing them back in jail again. This is where Stepping Up comes into play by helping jails find the right fit and facility for those suffering or in need of a mental health facility. This ultimately reduces overcrowding in jails and places people in correct facilities, where they can be treated in the hopes of helping keep them out of jail.

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Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) published an article about how a Telehealth Program could improve outcomes for drug addicted, justice-involved women. The first few days following the release of incarcerated individuals is very difficult and puts them at  high risk for opioid use. In the hopes of preventing relapse and overdosing, researchers have been testing ways to connect inmates with community-based treatment and support programs before they are released. This research project is called the Women’s Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network (WJCOIN), which is supported by the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative (NIH HEAL Initiative). They have been testing videoconferencing-based telehealth solutions as a solution to expand evidence-based practices involved in treating addiction. This battles against the justice system and helps respond to the opioid crisis. This telehealth approach is seeking to understand what works best for real women in life situations.

The project is being launched in 18 states and Puerto Rico to test strategies to expand effective treatment for people with opioid use disorders. The initiative has partnered with local and state justice systems and community-based treatment providers to create the best outcome for people with substance abuse disorders.It is estimated that one half of people in the country’s jails and prisons suffer from a substance use disorder but very few receive the treatment they need. Narrowed down, women in particular face high barriers when it comes to having access to treatment and continuing it after being released. They also suffer from a higher rate for opioid overdose compared to men. Because of this, the five-year WJCOIN study will aim to enroll 900 incarcerated women with opioid addiction problems at nine state jails who are within 30 days of being released to use telehealth to link them to community treatment providers.

Collaboration between Department of Corrections (DOC) and Behavioral Health Treatment Centers is key to helping women have access to recovery programs and getting them on the right track after being released. Many suffer from opioid addictions and never fully recover, ending up back in jail. The Telehealth Program hopes to reduce recidivism and help individuals, specifically women, get back on track to living a sober and healthy life.

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Jail Overcrowding

A local news station in Bannock County, Idaho published an article on how one problem, COVID-19, has solved another problem, overcrowding, in their county jail. Sheriff Lorin Nielson recounts how Bannock County Jail is much too small for the number of people being kept there. The jail has seen overcrowding for six or seven years according to Nielson. This overpopulation problem has caused chaos in the jail, including riots, fights and major lack of space for inmates. Additionally, the funding to build a new, larger jail is not possible as it is not appealing to county taxpayers.

However, COVID-19 seems to be helping reduce the jail population.  The courts have been sending people home on what they call “their own recognizance”, which is a no-cash bail system. Instead of sitting in jail until they are able to post bail, they are being sent home without having to pay a bail fee. People being sent home are normally incarcerated for a DUI or misdemeanor violations, including technical ones. With these people being able to go home, there has been a major reduction in overcrowding and unnecessary individuals in jail. Usually, the jail reaches capacity at 333 people but last Wednesday reported there were only 250 people incarcerated. This has been the lowest number of people incarcerated in a while says Sheriff Nielson.

Also, “own recognizance” is helping contain the spread of COVID-19, as it mitigates officers, personnel and inmates being exposed to new people coming in who may have the disease. This keeps everyone safer and helps reduce contact between individuals. The new policy is helping reduce overcrowding and keep people safer in uncertain and hard times.

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