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Justice Reform

The Crime Report published an article about juvenile probation and how originally it was designed to keep young people out of jail but has recently been a driver for youth incarceration. “There are far more young people in the justice system under the supervision of probation departments than there are in any other aspect of the system,” says David Muhammad, a former deputy probation commissioner in New York City who is now executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform. Youth arrests have dropped from 2 million a year in the early 2000s to around 700,000 annually and many facilities are closing juvenile detention facilities. This has led to an increase in youth being on probation and parole. However, most struggle to get out of the system and rehabilitate successfully back into society.

On average, about two-thirds of youth are placed on probation by juvenile courts, leading to a reduced incarceration rate of about 60% compared to 10 or 15 years ago. However, this leads to youth becoming trapped in a cycle of recidivating and being on probation several times. It also opens the likelihood of them having technical violations resulting in detention or being sent back to jail. While the reduced incarceration rate is a positive move forward, the support for youth community supervision needs to also continue reforming with the criminal justice system changing from punitive to a rehabilitative focus.

TRACKtech is changing the way that probation and parole officers and supervisors can provide supportive and vital resources for individuals to break the cycle of being stuck in the system.  TRACKphone provides officers and clients the ability to be in constant contact and communicate via video conferencing, two-way messaging and through biometric identification check-ins. TRACKcase provides officers with the ability to geofence and monitor the location of youth, as well as check in with them. Behavioral health resources,  homeless shelters, and life skills resources, are available through the TRACKphone for clients.

Additionally, check-in eForms can be created by supervisors for clients to fill out, checking on them and to see where they can help the most. TRACKtech is working to change the way individuals, including youth, are rehabilitated back into society in the hopes of reducing recidivism and providing necessary resources for people to be successful when integrating back into society.   

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Justice Reform

Prison sentences, whether short or lengthy, affect the health and well-being of every inmate. Russell Webster published an article about why so many people are dying in prisons. Many die from natural causes but at an alarming younger age compared to those not serving time, as “the average age for someone dying of natural causes in prisons is 56, compared with 81 in the general population.” The number of natural deaths in prisons has risen from 103 in June 2009 to 179 in June 2020. Many facilities are looking at what causes these prison deaths and what can be done to prevent them, especially during the times when COVID-19 can dramatically affect individual’s health.

As defined by HMPPS, natural cause deaths are “any death of a person as a result of a naturally occurring disease process.” However, in some cases, prison deaths could have been prevented as stated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) and Coroners, even though they were classified as naturally occurring. These deaths are avoidable but due to harsh prison living conditions there continues to be an increase in the rising number of deaths.

Many prisons are understaffed, overcrowded and face many barriers when it comes to providing basic care and resources for inmates and staff. Another big factor is access to healthcare. “The PPO have found that care is particularly poor for the youngest age groups (15-34 years), with just over half receiving equivalent care compared to that received in the community.” Many individuals have underlying health issues that only worsen as time goes on and they do not have sufficient access to healthcare while imprisoned. It was found that only 36% of prisoners received proper and timely investigations of their symptoms, which is an alarming rate.

Facilities are pressed for resources and providing care as they are understaffed, causing individuals to be neglected of care and treatments. More focus should be going towards providing healthcare services to incarcerated individuals, as many prison deaths are preventable with the proper resources and these individuals deserve to have the same lifespan as those not behind bars.

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Justice Reform

JDSupra published an article taking on a new perspective on the court system and how to create better criminal justice reform in the United States. They are talking about rethinking the role of prosecutors in court cases. Conventionally, prosecutors believed that long prison terms were vital to public safety. However, with the overcrowding and growing populations in prisons this needs to be rethought and challenged. The punitive model that is employed in courts is not helping anyone rehabilitate or proving to be successful. It simply leads to recidivism, a great expense and mass incarceration rates in the United States.

At a panel discussion, Lucy Lang, the Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College and Sam Rivera, Associate Vice President of Housing at The Fortune Society, discuss the role of the prosecutor and challenging the systematic ways it has always operated. Lang touched on how racial inequality plays a role in our justice system and that leadership positions, like a prosecutor, need to overcome this. Because of this and knowing that prosecutors must enforce the law, she suggested that prosecutors start focusing on why the crime was committed and not how to punish the offender. The underlying causes of why they are committing the crime could have to do with behavioral health issues.

Lang suggested different solutions to help with justice reform in the courts and by prosecutors. Some included developing community outreach programs and strategies, studying internal disparities, not prosecuting whole categories of conduct, diverting low-level, non-violent cases out of the system, looking into public health models and drug treatments and implementing interventions to guard against implicit biases. With measures being taken to try to speed up trials and decrease bail expenses, she thinks looking at the prosecutors’ role will also help transform justice reform.

Rivera, a former inmate, recounted the challenges he faced when released. Transitioning back into society, he struggled with finding employment and support. Inmates need programs to help educate them, find employment and housing opportunities, and provide mental health services and overcoming addiction if they face this. To help with these obstacles, suggestions were made to prosecutors that included considering successful re-entry from prison as a priority, developing conviction review and integrity units and advocating for clemency or sentence reductions. If the role of the prosecutor were to be re-evaluated and examined, making changes to this could help inmates adjust better to life during and after prison.

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Justice Reform

Having access to an education is vital for youth when it comes to learning skills and being able to succeed in the world. Education has become very expensive, limiting who is able to attend schools. With many limitations already placed on who can afford and receive an education, there are other factors that affect children’s ability to attend school, one being the inability to receive scholarships if previously incarcerated. 

However, The Denver Post published an article outlining how Colorado will be the first state to award college scholarships to previously incarcerated youth. They could be eligible for scholarships up to $10,000 annually toward the cost of a state college, university or other post secondary institution according to the Colorado Department of Higher Education. To apply for the scholarships, participants need to complete the scholarship application, obtain three letters of recommendation and finally if invited, participate in an interview with the selection committee. The center is working to knock down barriers that prevent youth from pursuing their dreams and passions that are affected by affordability.

The scholarship was created by Senate Bill 19-231, a second chance scholarship program, in the hopes of giving previously incarcerate youth a fair chance at receiving an education. Many have made mistakes but wish to fix them and have a second chance at a successful life, away from crime. It is important that they be able to do this and be awarded the same opportunities as others to receive an education. This will help them learn necessary skills and set them up better to succeed in life and reduce recidivism rates. Supplying access to an education for all youth is a very powerful deterrent to recidivism and previously incarcerated youth should not be deterred because of limitations set on being able to afford an education.

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Justice Reform

The United States has come a long way to ensure equal voting rights for all Americans. However, one population that has been neglected is those previously incarcerated. Many have been unable to vote in the United States until a few years ago, when some states started reforming this law.

The National Conference of State Legislatures published an article detailing felon voting rights. The general trend recently has been towards reinstating voting rights for convicted fellows, but this does vary by state policy. Some states have fallen under the automatic restoration category, but this does not mean that voting rights and registration happen that quickly. First, prison officials inform election officials that an individual’s rights have been restored, then it is that person’s responsibility to re-register to vote. 

Some states never took away an individual’s right to vote once convicted or after serving their time including the District of Colombia, Maine and Vermont. In 16 states, felons lose their voting rights only while incarcerated and then when released have the ability to vote again. These states include Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Utah. In 21 states, individuals incarcerated lose their voting rights during incarceration and typically while on parole and/or probation or for some period of time after release. Usually, many have outstanding fines, fees or restitution that they must pay before their voting rights are restored. Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin are all states that enforce this. Finally, in 11 states, felons lost their voting rights indefinitely for some crimes or require a governor’s pardon to have their voting rights restored, have additional time periods to wait before they’re restored or require additional actions. These last few states are Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming.

Individuals deserve the chance to have their voice heard and representation in each state. especially after they have completed their sentences and are working hard to be a productive member of society. Without the right to vote, the system cannot provide adequate care or change for those previously convicted who do not have voting rights. States are slowly changing laws to allow voting rights to those previously incarcerated to be restored so if you live in one of the states that allows you to vote, take advantage.

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Justice Reform

Many individuals sitting in jail waiting for trial are simply there because they cannot afford to post bail. It is an issue statewide that many struggle with, as the United States is the only country that uses a cash bail system. Currently, there are more than 470,000 pretrial detainees simply because they cannot afford to post bail, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. “The median bail amount for felonies is $10,000, which represents 8 months of income for a typical person detained”, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. These individuals have not been convicted of a crime but are still sitting in jail, which is unfair to those who cannot afford it. Those who can are comfortably at home awaiting their trial.

An article was published about how one attorney for Chittenden County State, Attorney Sarah George, has not been requesting cash bail in pretrial cases since January. She believes it is unjust that some people are in jail only because they cannot afford bail. She is making a difference for those who cannot post bail by not requiring it, allowing less people to sit in jail while they await trial. “And that’s, you know, losing their jobs and losing their housing and potentially losing their kids and disrupting the stability of relationships within their community”, says Sarah George. Currently, Vermont allows individuals to post bail with 10% of the bail amount paid but even then, many struggle to come up with these funds. The system spends more on keeping individuals on pretrial than the cash bail system brings in.

States are starting to recognize the difficulty that a cash bail system has on individuals and have reduced the use of cash bail. It tears families apart and makes a difficult time even more challenging. All individuals deserve the same right and fair access to not sit in jail while awaiting pretrial and the diminishing of using a cash bail system is one step in this positive direction. 

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Justice Reform

An article published by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution speaks about how Georgia has been transforming its criminal justice system over the past eight years. The state is looking to serve as a hub to push criminal justice issues nationwide, including working to create strategies that cut both crime and incarceration. The Council on Criminal Justice is pushing this movement as members serving on the committee will be split into task forces that will focus on specific initiatives, including federal priorities. The reforms that this specific task force have implemented in Georgia saved an estimated $264 million in projected spending for new prisons. While this was happening, violent crime and property crime rates have dropped, as well as prison admissions. More programs are being created and put into place to serve as resources and treatments for offenders suffering from substance abuse and mental illness.

With President Donald Trump enacting the First Step Act, former Gov. Nathan Deal, who is chairing the task force on federal priorities, says “they’ve had tremendous—tremendous results—results that are incredible.” The legislation has helped shorten prison terms for federal inmates and increased job training and risk assessment programs for people in prison. The council is working to find more alternatives to incarceration and encouraging states to provide easier access to education, job training, drug treatment and anger management to those serving time, as it makes a difference. They are pushing to keep criminal justice reform a priority on both state and national levels and have the ability to do this. Georgia has become a leader in continuing to expand their justice reform programs by evaluating budgets, providing access to basic resources like education and substance abuse programs and working to improve prison life.

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Justice Reform

The Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice published a statement highlighting the need for justice in youth prisons. The United States criminal justice system like many other systems has flaws. The U.S. has long been the global leader in youth incarceration, as it locks young people up at a higher rate than any other nation. This effects not only the youth, but also their families and social ties by creating trauma and burdens on all. Youth incarceration is overused, as well as ineffective and inefficient when it comes to changing their behavior and positively influencing them.

More cities are realizing that in order to keep youth off the streets and out of jail, they need to have access to community programs and rehabilitative resources. Adolescents are still growing and developing when they are convicted of crimes and sitting in jail does not help them develop or learn from their mistakes. Punitive measures are becoming less and less conducive to changing the behavior of individuals, especially youth. Proper intervention for youth at risk of committing crimes is beneficial for the individual and public safety.

Racism also plays a heavy role in youth incarceration. With justice reform being a prominent topic right now, racism must also be addressed in youth prison systems. By dismantling youth prison systems, it protects children from physical and mental abuse, addresses the problem of racism, and provides alternatives to programs that will help steer adolescents in the right direction.

The joint statement by Fair and Just Prosecution and Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice on Youth Prisons highlights all of these issues and how improving youth corrections will improve public safety, reduce recidivism and keep children from falling into the revolving door of the criminal justice system. There needs to be positive and supportive change in their lives for them to realize the potential they have. Rehabilitation is the new ‘punishment’, in the hopes of helping adolescents stay out of prison and creating second chances for them.

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Justice Reform

Facilities and programs are facing difficult decisions when it comes to budgeting and funding as many lack funds on a daily basis, even more so now with COVID-19. The Government Executive posted an article on how agencies will need to spend a little to gain a lot to help them in the long run. With COVID-19 hitting the world hard, “tackling societal challenges will require federal, state and local governments to turn to innovation that’s supported by credible evidence.” This will prove to be a process but one that is necessary to continue operating and providing for those who need it.

One step that has been discussed is that public agencies should take a very small percentage, around 1 – 2% of program dollars, to create an innovation fund within every major program or portfolio of related programs. These programs range from reducing substance abuse addictions or lowering recidivism and prison rates, or even boosting high school graduation and the number of children able to go to school. These innovation funds should be structured so that agencies can address a number of issues using a variety of strategies.

One strategy is ‘“tiered-evidence” grants to test, validate and scale effective policies and interventions.” This strategy uses successful models at the federal level to provide. Another is prizes and challenges that use cash awards and other incentives to create a wide net for innovative solutions to priority issues. These can be won by any individual, business, institution and non-profit organization. Outcome payments require specific outcomes to be achieved by providers and result in payments but still allow for innovative approaches in order to receive the payment. These have included projects aimed at reducing prison recidivism, substance abuse and homeless populations while keeping them out of jail. Finally, waiver demonstrations allow jurisdictions or providers to modify existing program rules. This protects vulnerable populations while making sure the program is effective.

It may seem crazy to suggest investing a little more with such limited funds, but it is necessary in order to create long term benefits. These innovative funds are one step in the right direction when it comes to changing the system and making progress. Investing a little now and spending will only prove successful and show agencies they have a lot to gain from it.

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Justice Reform

With criminal justice reform, comes discussions on focusing towards better serving children and teens on the autism spectrum who have become entangled in the juvenile justice system. Washington State University posted an article about how youth on the spectrum need more access to mental health support and programs. This would allow for them to have counseling and supporters that can advocate for their needs in the system.

A juvenile probation counselor in Washington’s Cowlitz County thinks more training is necessary for police and corrections officers to help them recognize signs of autism, as many do not realize the wide variety of signs that people can exhibit. According to the CDC data from 2016, 1 in 54 children in the United States have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls, making this a very real and relevant circumstance that officers or court officials will come into contact with a child suffering from autism.

With this comes the approach of transitioning from a punitive system to a more rehabilitative one to help youth and reduce recidivism. Effort must be put into creating more resources and support for children suffering from autism that are intertwined with the law. By taking a more rehabilitative approach, the juvenile justice system can improve recidivism rates and keep children out of prison. Individuals need to be more cognizant and supportive that children who suffer from autism do not necessarily realize right from wrong. Even though they may require more mental health support, they are children who wish to have a normal life and are as teachable as other children not suffering from autism.

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