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Jail Overcrowding, Justice Reform

Recently, a coalition of criminal justice reform groups have come out with a list of recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Slowly, inmates and prison employees are beginning to test positive for the fast spreading coronavirus. Because of this the reform groups have created a plan referred to as “SAFER”. They are fighting to suspend jail time for technical violations and suspend probation office visits and payments of fines. They are encouraging the adoption of smart alternatives to incarceration. And they are pushing to provide free medical visits and treatment, hand sanitizer, soap, and protective gear to help prevent the spread. Extra precautions for guards and staff are being initiated and the release of the elderly and vulnerable to home confinement is being advocated for. 

 

“People in prisons, jails, or under community supervision are more at risk of contracting and spreading the virus, given their age, underlying health conditions, and close contact to each other”, says Jessica Jackson, Chief Advocacy Officer at REFORM Alliance. Protecting inmate populations is just as vital to stopping the spread of coronavirus and keeping communities safe. REFORM Alliance created “SAFER” in the hopes of helping to do this as it was developed in consultation with medical and justice system experts. COVID-19 is continuing to spread quickly and it is in the best interest of communities to not allow prisons and jails to become hot spots for the virus. 

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Justice Reform

A recently published article poses the question, “Could limiting the number of cases a parole officer handles improve the criminal justice system?  ” The Senate Judiciary B Committee has already passed a piece of legislation, which would limit the number of cases that parole officers are able to take on.” Many parole officers are overworked and in charge of too many cases. For each case, the parole officers must keep track of the whereabouts of their parolees, make sure they are not violating any location restrictions, and ensure they are attending mandatory appointments and meetings. 

However, many states do not limit the number of cases a parole officer can be assigned. The new legislation would not allow for them to have over 100 cases. This would help ease the frustration parole officers feel trying to keep up with their cases and being overworked. Many parole officers want to help rehabilitate people but cannot help to their fullest capacity due to being overwhelmed. Limiting the number of cases will help with this issue, allowing parole officers to focus on getting people re situated in society and improve criminal justice reform.

TRACKtech, LLC is working to reduce stress on parole officers by offering a platform for them to easily manage and help their program members. We are working smarter, using technology to make the jobs of parole officers easier and more manageable. Our platform offers geofencing, so officers are immediately alerted if members are in restricted territory. Officers can also set automatic check-ins to ensure their program members are where they are supposed to be, whether that is in therapy or at job interviews. These check-ins use biometric identification, reassuring officers that it is the program member with the device. Finally, our platform offers video conferencing allowing remote meetings and calendaring/reminders so no appointment is forgotten. TRACKtech enables case workers to monitor all their program members efficiently and in a timely fashion, which allows them to focus more heavily on those that are not compliant without neglecting others. 

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Justice Reform

Criminal justice reform initiatives are aimed at fighting to reduce mass incarceration and the suffering incarceration has on populations. An article published by Forbes talks about improving the lives of millions and saving money by investing in criminal justice reform. According to the article, 6% of GDP ($1.2 trillion) goes to the direct cost of incarceration. They focus on bringing attention to the sustainable movements that hopefully will lower this number. 

There are many different parties involved with prisons and the care of prisons. Forbes brought attention to the statistics that roughly 4,000 companies profit off of incarceration, whether that be through investments or initiatives through the prison systems. Many companies profit off of bails and incarceration or post-incarceration fees. Some Fortune 500 companies have even been known to make a profit off prison labor, opposed to the inmates. As this helps these companies, it is detrimental to prisoners and the prison system in general. Money is being taken out of the prison system to pay companies. 

Another dilemma faced is prison exclusion versus engagement. Strategic engagement with publicly traded companies includes anything from meetings to shareholder investments. Private prison operators usually hold the responsibility of working with companies like this to make a profit or provide services to stand out. All of these are based on social factors, that in the end if improving the criminal justice system were to prevail, would result in major societal benefits. The prisoners and former prisoners would be able to have more rewarding lives and the government would save billions that goes towards incarceration.

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Justice Reform

The NFL’s new campaign, Inspire Change, is tackling necessary improvements in communities, whether that be through the need for local resources or to help foster positive relationships. These are two examples of the many issues they are battling to change. The NFL recognizes that people have different meanings when it comes to social justice. It defines theirs as being “committed to conversations and actions that move us towards a more equal and just tomorrow”. That is why they launched Inspire Change in January of 2019. 

 

Inspire Change is a “platform to showcase the collaborative efforts of players, owners and the League to create positive change in communities across the country and ensure that equal opportunity becomes a reality for all”. The platform works with the Players Coalition, NFL teams and the League office to support programs and initiatives that reduce barriers to opportunity in society. It is focusing on three priority areas that include education and economic advancement, police and community relations and criminal justice reform. Funding is provided from the League, clubs and players. 

 

Just like the Inspire Change platform, TRACKtech is dedicated to reforming the criminal justice system and impacting social justice. Through our rehabilitative resources, we strive to help at-risk populations such as justice involved individuals, the homeless population and addicts become healthy members of society. Our online case management system and TRACKphone allow for case managers to monitor and support program members by checking in with them regularly through biometric identification and video conferencing. With behavioral health resources, TRACKtech is working to make a difference in peoples lives and working towards the same positive changes as Inspire Change.

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Justice Reform

Understaffing of jails and prisons is a major issue many states are facing. An article published by the Justice Center, The Council of State Governments, highlights these staffing shortages. Prison guards are being worn down as many of them have to work overtime and double shifts. This influences their health and cognitive ability to properly do their jobs, ultimately affecting the way prisoners are treated and supervised. One high-profile case that brought up the issue of understaffing in prisons, was Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide in a Manhattan prison. The night of his death, the two prison guards were working overtime because one was required to do so and the other volunteered to for extra pay. 

Prisons have a hard time recruiting guards as it is a taxing job, one that can result in harm and usually has a lower salary; all which can steer people away from applying for the job. Because of these factors, prisons are suffering greatly to recruit prison guards and fill these positions. Prisons are trying to come up with creative ways to recruit and make the benefits more enticing. They are starting to recruit through social media, increasing salaries, taking donations, improving staff training and adding staff wellness initiatives. In addition, prisons and jails are trying to reduce overcrowding by taking less inmates in the hopes of not overwhelming guards. 

It is crucial that the under staffing of jails and prisons be addressed. It poses a threat to all inmates as guards can be short tempered and worn down, which places everyone involved in their line of duty, including themselves, at risk. With more guards able to control the situation, inmates receive better care and prison violence can be reduced.

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Justice Reform

Those released from incarceration are faced with many struggles after their release. They hope for change and redemption, and fear that they will not be accepted back into society. These fears are compacted by the way they are portrayed in society. The Board of Supervisors in San Francisco intends to clean up the language used in the criminal justice system. The city and county of San Francisco received a proposal that would cause words such as “felon,” “offender,” “convict,” and “parolee” to be exchanged for more accepting language that does not emphasize the objectification of people, and focuses on more neutral and positive ways to describe these individuals.

Instances of more acceptable language is “returning resident” or “formerly imprisoned/incarcerated person”. Instead of calling someone a “parolee” they would be called a “supervised individual.” A “young offender” or “delinquent” would be described as a “young individual affected by the judicial system.”

With one in every five Californians having a criminal record, this change of language can make a drastic difference. There is a stigma attached to such language that can be incredibly dehumanizing. They want to return to their families and contribute to their communities, but are facing so many barriers hindering their rehabilitation. The Board of Supervisors believes wording with negative connotations should not be one of those barriers. The proposal stresses that “Language shapes the ideas, perceptions, beliefs, attitudes and actions of individuals, societies and governments. People-first language places the individual before the criminal record by using neutral, objective, and non-pejorative language.”

The Sentencing Commission, the Reentry Council of the Bay Area, and the Youth Commission of San Francisco – a group of 17 youths aged 12 to 23 – passed resolutions supporting the altered language. However, the proposal has not yet been signed by Mayor London Breed.

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Justice Reform

Today, one out of every five Americans requires a professional license to perform their job, while 1 in 3 American adults have a criminal record. Vocations requiring a professional license, such as plumbers, repairmen, or electrical inspectors, were previously incredibly difficult for those with a criminal history to pursue, since the required wait time to be able to acquire these licenses was a mandatory five years if they had committed a crime against another person. This year, Delaware made strides towards easing the struggles these individuals face when applying for professional licenses. Delaware State News reported that Governor John Carney’s signed legislation greatly decreases the waiting period to just three years. 

Questions have arisen over whether previously incarcerated individuals with felony sexual assaults will have access to licenses as massage therapists. The licensing board, which accepts or denies applications for professional licenses, fully intends to retain its discretion and will deny licenses for the massage and bodywork industry to those with such crimes.

Melissa Minor-Brown, a State Representative, has supported the modifications to the criminal justice system in regards to licensing that she believes are crucial in reducing recidivism. “To believe that people can actually have second chances is so important. This legislation breaks down barriers and creates a pathway to sustainability,” she stated. The bills are essential to providing those with criminal records the possibility of good jobs with high paying wages. Employment has been proven to be a very prominent factor in reducing recidivism, and these criminal justice reforms are backed by state Attorney General Kathy Jennings. “Part of our job as policymakers and elected leaders is to help ensure that people who come out of prison stay out of prison. That’s good criminal justice policy, it’s good economic policy, and it’s a very good moral policy.”

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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 FWD.us, surveyed the prevalence of family imprisonment by a nationwide representative sample of 4,041 adults ages 18 and 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 prison or jail. 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 they have served their sentences. 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 prison or jail. The results from the survey demonstrate that only 1 person in 4 could visit their immediate family member during their time in prison or jail. 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.
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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.”

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Justice Reform, Public Safety

The impact of drugs and rampant crime on Seattle has been apparent. According to a recent documentary, Seattle is Dying, there are hundreds of homeless men and women that are unable to get the help they so desperately need, and they are dying because of it. In Providence, Rhode Island, surprising steps are being made to save the lives of people like those living on the streets in Seattle.

Jennifer Clark, the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections has created the MAT (Medication Assisted Treatment) program to assist inmates with overcoming their addictions. Her passion shows through all the work she has done to make this program a reality. “We can no longer ignore our way out of this dilemma, people are dying, and we have to stop it.” Inside the walls of Rhode Island’s prison, the inmates take their medicine every day. The inmates are provided with a choice of one of three FDA approved opiate blockers: Methadone, Suboxone, and Vivitrol. These drugs have been proven to help get people off heroin and stop this addiction.

The MAT program would not be as successful as it is without the assistance of the nonprofit, Codec. Linda Hurley, the CEO of Codec, states that “they will use these pills for life. They are no different than a blood pressure medication or insulin. It stabilizes them physically so they can do the emotional work to heal.” The Codec centers throughout Rhode Island provide medicine to any former inmate. They do not require appointments or paperwork, they get their medicine no matter what, so long as they’re in the system. 

Another very important aspect of the system that has been instrumental to its success is that inmates have counselors, recovery coaches, and group meetings. They develop relationships with these valuable individuals while they are incarcerated so that when they are released, they can retain those relationships within their support system. They will have group meetings and counseling up to three times a week. Inmates who were once addicted and felt helpless, learn to live life again, have access to job training, treatment, and everything they need for rehabilitation in one place. When they eventually leave, they are completely new people with a fresh outlook on life. They will have jobs and families and, in most cases, continue using their medicine daily.

Michael Manfredi became a full-fledged heroin addict at the age of 15 and used it for 35 years. He spent 20 years of his life locked behind bars. He has said that being locked up saved his life. He doesn’t believe that he would be where he is today if this program wasn’t here. “I would be dead.” He now has a reliable job, goes to support meetings, and has reconnected with his family. “My granddaughter is my whole world. I’ve never been happier in my whole life. I’ve never lived a productive life before. I’m proud of myself.”

Ray Vincent stole to support his habit. He too believes he would be dead if it was not for his arrest. He doesn’t want to continue to come to jail, and is happy to take his medicine if it is the stepping stone he needs to rebuild his life. He is now going to school to be a welder. He will be taking his medicine for the rest of his life.

Another inmate arrested for shoplifting to feed his addiction was Kevin Tunguay. He has been in prison for eight of the last ten years. He takes Methadone, and states that MAT makes sure to evaluate and monitor doses, ensuring the inmates taking them feel okay. He is concerned about going back to drugs. “When I was on them, I didn’t know what was real. I didn’t want to die alone. I want to put things together and make amends to my mother.” This system has given so many felons hope for their future, and their gratefulness is apparent.

Josh Broadfoot is also thankful that he was arrested. He chuckles at the thought that he is thankful for being taken away from his family, but claims that “I don’t think I would ever have been able to be with my family if I had still been on drugs. I might be gone completely.” He is on Methadone. “We have counseling and medicine that helps us stay away from opiates. This program gives me hope. It’s a major help.”

The death rate of those that leave prison is a surefire way to measure success of a treatment program, and the MAT program is astonishing. People who should have died on the streets or from overdoses have not. There has been a 65% decrease in mortality for those with a history of incarceration over the three years of this program being in effect. Once they are released from prison, they must be registered in the Codec database, and an impressive 93% of people who have been released are still following up in the community for their rehabilitation.

The MAT system makes use of two simple concepts, enforcement and intervention. It could make a great difference in Seattle if it was implemented alongside stricter laws. The hundreds of drug addicted homeless people could regain their futures and overcome the need to commit crimes to feed their addictions. MAT isn’t soft or compassionate, it’s a proven program that directly addresses the issues faced by those on the streets in Seattle and elsewhere, struggling to survive while they are trapped by their addictions.

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