Justice Reform
The negative impact that individuals experience after imprisonment is well documented, but the challenges facing families when a loved one is incarcerated are much less well known. A new study designated “Every Second”, produced in collaboration with a Cornell University research team and, surveyed the prevalence of family imprisonment by a nationwide representative sample of 4,041 adults age 18 or older. The results are staggering.

Approximately 113 million people have a family member who has spent time in prison or jail. Today, there is an estimated 6.5 million people who have an immediate family member presently incarcerated in jail or prison. Research has demonstrated that even for a short period of imprisonment, additional penalties such as fines and fees, constraints on employment and housing, and the loss of fundamental human rights can be devastating for people long after their sentences have been finished. This penalizes not only the one incarcerated, but every family member that relies on them for financial support and security.

It is often difficult and expensive to maintain contact with a family member in jail or prison. The results from the survey demonstrate that only one person in four could visit their immediate family member during their time in jail or prison. Research has shown that sustaining contact with supportive family members during imprisonment increases the probability of successful reintegration into their communities after release, and less likelihood to be imprisoned again.

The results of this revolutionary new research are a strong reminder of the work required to mitigate the problems caused by mass incarceration and the effects it has on American families. Fortunately, a bipartisan consensus is emerging that our current processes do not make us more secure and that the financial and human costs of mass incarceration far overshadow any public safety benefits. States across the country are implementing evidence-based reforms to reduce imprisonment and improve the possibility of successful reintegration. Many organizations, such as TRACKtech are helping people prosper in their communities after they’ve been released from incarceration and facilitating family reunification.

Justice Reform

Many do not consider the struggles a person faces when they are released from incarceration. They need a stable income to provide for their families, pursue their goals, and participate in their community. There are many challenges during the transition from incarceration to community; the search for a job is an important step forward. A nationally represented data set was released estimating the unemployment rate of the 5 million formerly incarcerated people living in the United States. The data demonstrated that this demographic is unemployed at a rate over 27% higher than any historical period in the United States, including the Great Depression. For those who do manage to find employment, it is usually a very unreliable and low-paying position.

Research shows that those histories in the criminal justice system want to work and that hiring them can be beneficial for both employers and the public. An analysis of IRS data by the Brookings Institution demonstrated the majority of those released who had obtained an income were well below the poverty line. Research from 1.3 million military enlistments show that those with a criminal record are promoted faster and to higher ranks than other enlistees, and they had the same rate of attrition as their peers without records. Formerly incarcerated citizens want to work, but with current laws and policies it is increasingly difficult for them to even be given the chance.

“Ban the Box” is an international campaign for ex-offenders and civil rights groups to remove the checkbox which asks whether candidates have a criminal record on job applications. With his signing of the ban the box legislation, Governor Jared Polis made Colorado the nation’s 12th state to join the movement. The bill will be effective September 2019 for any company that has 11 or more employees. Businesses with less employees will have until September of 2021 to enforce the bill, according to Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver).

The law will allow potential employees to be evaluated on their merit rather than immediately being taken out of the candidate pool. However, employers are allowed to ask if they have been arrested and run a background during the interview process. The new law will change the recruiting culture of Colorado, said Rob McGowen, owner of Denver-based Dai Kon sandwiches. He believes it will be harder for companies to immediately dismiss a potential employee. McGowen believes that it will put more importance on the person in the interview, rather than their history. “Really, it’s about the interview and how you present yourself.”


Justice Reform

Seattle, a city once beautiful, thriving, and a hotspot for tourism, is now a collapsing swarm of trash and decay, according to the recent documentary, Seattle is Dying. This once gorgeous city now looks like the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world. Mountains of trash pile up on the sidewalks, parks, and under overpasses. Small villages of camping tents can be seen everywhere. It is not uncommon to see the inhabitants of these tent villages consumed by their own demons or madness, ranting and raving in the streets. Downtown Seattle is especially plagued with this darkness, shopping trips with family are a thing of the past. In this new third world city in ruins, everyone is used to it. This has become normal. People are dying in the streets and no one cares. Compassion has twisted into apathy. After seeing the destruction done to such a thriving city, one might wonder, how could this happen?

Seattle spends around one billion dollars on their homeless problem, but this is proving to be superfluous. The property crimes in Seattle last year amounted to an astonishing 5,258, while New York City only had 1,448. Crime is rampant in Seattle, and there are almost no repercussions. Of a list of 100 repeat offenders in Seattle, 100% of them had a substance use disorder and were homeless. Less than half of them were evaluated for mental health issues. On average, they each had 36 criminal cases and 7 jail bookings in the last year. Many of the people on the list are unapologetic of their behavior. One of these homeless offenders, Travis Berge, hasn’t been arrested for more than a year. He is proud of the lengths he’s gone to acquire the drugs he is addicted to, and shameless of the citizens he’s hurt along the way. He feels that the justice system has shown him “deference and love” and feels that he will not be arrested again. This system has a 100% failure rate, and there seems to be no action taken.

Scott Lindsay of Public Records stated that “if you take someone into jail, don’t give them meaningful help, and then put them back into the community, they’re just going to commit the same crimes in the same places.” Our criminal records show that is exactly what’s happening. In 2006, for every 100 reports received, 25 of them were not filed. In 2016, for every 100 reports received, 46 were not filed. Nothing happened to reprimand these crimes. Of the remaining 54, one third were dismissed. Only 18 of 100 reports resulted in convictions, but after plea deals and lenient sentences, few people are held accountable.

Shouldn’t these problems be easily solved by the justice system and police officers? Seattle police officers are afraid to speak out. They are absolutely terrified of losing their jobs, pensions, and support for their families. Anonymous police officers filled out a questionnaire by KOA News about their thoughts on the state of their city, and what is being done to fix it. The responses are frightening and heartbreaking. They are angry at their judicial system that seems to favor cheesy plea deals and ridiculously low sentences that put these felons back on the streets in days. They feel powerless and believe they can no longer enforce the law they were sworn to protect.

One police officer, Todd Wiebke, made a great effort to find common ground between him and the homeless dwelling in Seattle. He showed compassion, respect, and encouraged the public to not give up hope. However, his belief that Seattle could be saved was tarnished when he was given the order to impound an illegally parked RV that homeless people had been living out of and was then chastised for following those orders. He quit the next day. He states, “The only thing I can equate it to is that we’re running a concentration camp without barbed wire, up to and including the medical experiment of poisoning these people with drugs.” There were weapons and drugs in every camp. People in Seattle now feel secure keeping drugs on them. The police were no longer necessary to this new lenient system. According to Todd Wiebke, the only solution to life in Seattle right now, is just to move.

According to the statements of the anonymous Seattle police officers, this is not so much a homeless issue as it is a drug issue. “Homelessness and drug use have become such politically charged issues. Politically charged in that the city, including S.P.D. administration, have ceased to be interested in policing this population. In a misguided attempt to help this population, the city has allowed the streets to be essentially taken over. The city is falling apart and becoming more unsafe due to politics surrounding low level criminal activity and homelessness. We don’t want to screw over the homeless population, we just want the ability to police them.”

Ari Hoffman is on the committee of a cemetery that has been desecrated by homeless camps and drug paraphernalia. This should not be happening in a civilized modern society. He has found prostitutes, drug dealers and countless homeless camps on the cemetery grounds. The gravesites are riddled with needles and there is crystal meth on the tombstones. Many citizens share his frustration and are backing him on his run for city council. He hopes to fix Seattle, but so much change is needed to replace what has been broken in this now fragile and hopeless city.

The crisis in Seattle has been deemed to be caused by homeless, but drugs are the starting point, and there is nothing officers can do about it. It has gotten to the point where any homeless person on the streets is in some phase of addiction. Substance abuse is the driving factor of why many of the homeless are still trapped in their lives of eating trash and living in tents. It’s easy to feed their addictions here. The legal amount of drugs allowed on your person in Seattle is 3 grams. That’s enough for 30 doses. Crack cocaine, heroin, and meth use are on the rise. Unless someone who is found to have low level amounts of drugs on them happens to have a warrant for their arrest, they are never taken to jail. The criminals of Seattle have realized this, and they are using it to their advantage. It is not uncommon to see recreational use of these hardcore drugs in open air. Drug dealers only carry less than 3 grams on them, and they are untouchable. “It is impossible to combat the open-air drug market in this city,” states one of Seattle’s police officers.

Drug dealers get arrested and nothing happens to them. They go free, they go on to sell more drugs and ruin more lives. The disregard for humanity with the action of selling life ending drugs needs to be acknowledged, and these dealers and addicts need to be locked up and rehabilitated, or this vicious cycle will continue, and Seattle will die.


Justice Reform

Congress has begun to take steps in tackling the enormous fiscal and human costs associated with mass incarceration and the barriers affecting reintegration into society for those convicted of crimes. On Dec. 21, 2018, President Trump signed a bipartisan federal criminal justice legislation known as The First Step Act of 2018. The new law, which reduces sentences for some offenders and expands employment training and other educational programs, reflects a major focus on rehabilitation and money-saving policies by the Republican Party, a far cry from its punitive position in the 1980s.


The law requires a federal prisoner to be put in a federal prison as close as possible to the prisoner’s primary residence. This could quite possibly resolve the issue of family separation, which is one of the leading causes for problems during rehabilitation. The law also grants the possibility of low risk prisoners serving part of their sentences under community supervision, using electronic monitoring.


The First Step Act contains a multitude of other impressive justice reforms, such as broadening eligibility for elderly offenders to partake in compassionate release and home detention; provides funding for reentry and rehabilitative programs at the state level; restricts increased penalties and minimum penalties for previous drug crimes (not retroactive); requires the Bureau of Prisons to expand its opioid and heroin dependency treatment; restricts the use of juvenile solitary confinement; requires a “recidivism risk” evaluation of each inmate and provides incentives to participate in recurrence reduction programs; and provides the opportunity to receive “time credits” for certain detainees that can lead to earlier pre-release custody.


The epidemic of mass imprisonment in America has caused irreparable damage to countless individuals.  These reforms, while far from perfect, are essential for improving the lives of those currently incarcerated and their strained families.