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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

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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Recidivism

Convicted Felon. This title carries with it a heavy stigma, and it can completely transform how a person is viewed by their community. On April 8th, 2019 Leroy Green of WLTX19 interviewed two prominent figures of the South Carolina community about the effects of recidivism. Professor Jennifer Trombley from Claflin University and Beasy Baybie, a DJ for HOT 103.9, are both convicted felons. Their stories are troubling, intriguing, and give a unique perspective of what it is like to have gone through the criminal justice system and made it out to become successful in their communities.

Beasy was incarcerated when she was still mothering her children. She did not know what to expect upon reentry and feels that she did not have adequate information on how to continue with her life outside bars. “I lost everything – clothes, car, house. I went to jail with kids and came out with kids, but I didn’t know how to parent them. Certain programs need to be included for women. We have expectations to be a mother, but how can I mother when I’m still broken? There needs to be more availability of forms of counseling and groups who have been incarcerated and come out the other side to raise their children. There are programs to help you with paperwork, IDs and Social Security cards to prepare you, but why aren’t there programs to prepare you for what to tell your children? There are parenting classes outside all the time, we need more in prison.”

They both believe that helping people with their reentry to society is incredibly important. Barriers to success need to be evaluated, and resources and programs to help with this need to be readily available. Mass incarceration does not work and has not been working for years. In five years, developing programs for recidivism has greatly cut down on the tax dollars spent on incarceration expenses and improved the recidivism rates for inmates in these programs. The recidivism rate fell 25% in 2014 and the state saved $491 million, while helping to improve the lives of generations of inmates.

There have been many monumental steps taken by the most recent presidents to overcome the ever-growing dilemma of recidivism. President Obama declared a National Reentry Week, in which he put into place 31 million in grants for job training for employment. These programs are evidence based and included many proven strategies to help those in need. He procured permanent support for housing, mentoring and parent programs, and put into motion the ban on the felony box in resumes for federal agencies. Prospective employees cannot be asked if they have a felony until after they have been offered employment. President Trump signed the bipartisan First Step Act that is full of monumental justice reform, such as greatly reducing the time spent by those incarcerated with good behavior, and moving prisoners closer to their families. Even with these changes, there is still a great deal to go before we have solved this crisis.

“We need to figure out how to not even send them to jail,” states Baybie. “They wound up in prison because they have no hope or options. Their circumstances made it feel necessary to commit these crimes. There are some brilliant people in prison that shouldn’t be there.” Trombley agrees, mentioning that “most of those who are in jail are marginalized populations. They struggled before and were in terrible circumstances. Why do we think that without sufficient resources and help that when they get out the circumstances would be any different?”

Many people do not consider recidivism or the incarcerated population to be something that affects them, but it affects them more than they could imagine. “You should care because eventually, they get out, and having people come home and not understanding how to get jobs or parent or be part of the community affects us all. We are all connected, and it would benefit us to help them not go to prison, and if they do, to help them become more productive when they get out,” states Beasy. Eventually, they do get out, as 80-85% of inmates reenter society. They need to be equipped with the proper tools and strategies to acquire a job and be less likely to reoffend. The Second Chance Program in South Carolina helps to drive these positive changes and assist reentering civilians to acquire jobs and better their lives. Out of the 783 people who went through the program, 75% got jobs.

Both Beasy and Trombley have hope for these new programs and the positive changes to justice reform, but they still feel that felons are looked at with a debilitating stigma. “It feels like we’re segregated. People don’t think that we are like them, but we are people. Their children go to school with our children. They’re driving around the streets with them. We are people that exist,” Beasy says, sadly. Trombley concurs, stating that “it almost feels like people don’t want us to succeed. The stigma feels like they want us to fail.” Jail was not easy for either of them to endure, and when they got out, it was like a whole new terrifying world.

They share a unifying desire to better their lives and the lives of others after being released. They both are driven by their faith and want to leave the world with a positive message that lives longer than they do. “It’s all about purpose, living one day to the next.” They want to spread awareness of the struggles faced by those rejoining their communities and what can be done to help. Ultimately, they want to spread love.

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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.

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Justice Reform

In Cook County, IL, there are more accused criminals monitored by electronic ankle bracelets than the rest of the Illinois Corrections Department statewide, 300 plus of which are missing from the monitoring program, according to documents ABC7Chicago obtained from the Cook County Sheriff.  Almost 50% of those who are currently on ankle bracelet monitoring are accused of either violating gun laws or committing violent crimes.

One of these offenders is Jovany Galicia, a convicted felon with an extensive criminal history. He was awaiting trial on gun and assault charges. The 26-year-old was listed as an armed and habitual criminal on the county records, yet he was still placed on an ankle bracelet.  Electronic monitoring through the form of an ankle bracelet for violent criminals awaiting trial or on parole poses a high risk for public safety. Not to mention, how many of the 300 missing monitored offenders are violent? 

Ankle monitors can be a reliable way to track and maintain those accused with non-violent crimes awaiting trial, however, offenders with violent crimes or gun violations require more attention and monitoring than those with less serious crimes. While an ankle monitor provides a location on a map, it lacks the capability to assist offenders with reintegrating into their communities. To make a real change in the effectiveness of electronic monitoring on high risk and violent offenders, new technologies must be utilized. TRACKTech provides not only GPS location monitoring but also real-time information on offenders, risk factor scoring, compliance monitoring, and rehabilitative support.

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