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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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Justice Reform

Many states are beginning to pass common-sense laws that reform the criminal justice system and help get people out of jail and back into their communities. At the inauguration on January 15th, new Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf stated the changes he wanted to see over the next four years and his hope for a justice system that does not treat the poor unfairly. Surprisingly, lawmakers in Pennsylvania from both parties are coming together in attempts to produce this change. Jordan Harris, Democratic Representative, and Sheryl Delozier, Republican Representative, joined forces to form the “Criminal Justice Reform Caucus.” This caucus will examine problems such as job licenses, inability to pursue employment, availability of educational programs during imprisonment, probation and parole and other complications that may hinder people’s ability to enter society successfully after a criminal conviction.

This past year has been a time of instrumental change for criminal justice reform, with movements such as the Clean Slate bill, which allows non-violent criminals to have their records sealed after a predetermined amount of time. Delozier was a strong supporter of the Clean Slate bill and believes that our justice system should not be primarily punitive but should strive to make released offenders into productive members of their communities.

The need for improvement in our justice system and the desire for a strong group of lawmakers with a primary goal of reform and community change was apparent last week, when 32 members of the House had already joined the Criminal Justice Reform Caucus.

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Jail Overcrowding

The dilemma of jail overcrowding has been a constant and difficult issue for countless states in our country. The most common answer to overcrowding is to simply build a new jail, but this can be incredibly costly to taxpayers and ultimately does not fix the fundamental cause of overcrowding. The Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council concluded that the best way to fix their issue of overcrowding was to lower the number of low risk offenders who are in their prisons. The council’s work has brought about reforms which in the last three years have produced promising results and caused many to reconsider their approach to criminal justice. Their efforts have reduced the jail population by an astonishing 25 percent.

In 2014, most of the jail’s inmates were there for relatively minor offenses such as trespassing, misdemeanor shoplifting, public intoxication, marijuana possession, or open container violations. The resources and space spent on these people with minor infractions was better reserved for more serious offenders. Instead of sending these minor offenders straight to jail, officers had begun writing citations instead. By 2017, the number of people imprisoned on a single charge involving one of these minor offenses decreased by 51 percent and the number of officials who issued citations instead of making arrests increased by 46 percent. This has made a huge difference in the amount of overcrowding in the Charleston County Jail and has kept those who committed these minor offenses from suffering the repercussions of having a criminal record.

Although these positive changes are outstanding, it is important to keep people culpable for breaking the law and never compromise public safety. These reforms are necessary if we are to make a positive difference in the overcrowding of jails and keep otherwise law-abiding citizens out of the criminal justice system. 

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Jail Overcrowding

Overcrowding in jails is one of the key problems faced in justice systems worldwide. In 2018, every single one of Hawaii’s jails were overcrowded. Minority groups have been deemed by experts to be unjustifiably impacted by overcrowding due to their financial status and as such are unable to afford bail. It is not uncommon for those who are not able to afford bail to be held for weeks, months, or even years at a time – before they have even been found guilty of a crime. This abundant amount of time away from their lives can be devastating. They can lose their jobs, housing and lose custody of their children.

Two bills, House Bill 175 and Senate Bill 192, have been implemented in the state capitol with the intent to reduce the financial burden faced by those detained by offering judges additional options for securing bail. These bills are one of many being proposed by states across the country to reform the detrimental bail system. If this legislation were approved, it would enable defendants to be released until their trial date on a bond that does not require the full, or any, portion of the bail to be paid. Only those who can demonstrate that they are unable to cover the cost of the cash bail without experiencing significant financial hardship are eligible for this accommodation.

With substantial reforms to a process as critical as bail, criticism is warranted. It has been disputed that this level of bail reform could risk public safety by releasing accused offenders too soon without the looming obligation of financial constraint. However, advocates for the bill have attested that it will establish an accountability to defendants by requiring that they would still be responsible for paying the bail amount if they were to fail to attend court, or if they committed additional crimes while on bail.  Hundreds of thousands of possibly innocent people languish in jails while their lives fall apart simply because they can’t afford bail, and reforms like this bill hope to make a substantial improvement.

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Jail Overcrowding

Although the bond reform in Illinois has reduced prison overcrowding substantially, it may be detrimental to public safety. According to Cara Smith, the Chief Policy Officer for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, keeping track of the 300 offenders who have removed their ankle bracelets is a challenge that has gotten much more difficult since bond reform. An order was made in 2017 by the Cook County Chief Judge, Tim Evans, that would require judges to set affordable bonds for defendants that did not pose a danger to the public.

Bond reforms have become very prevalent in many states and Illinois is no different. Elected officials have been trying to release those who were being detained in Cook County Jail while they await trial. Unfortunately, this has caused an increase in violent offenders with serious criminal histories being released early. Tristian Hamilton, a convicted felon with a criminal history of gun charges and aggravated robbery, was released with electronic monitoring, and he went AWOL in December 2018, without any form of supervision or communication of his whereabouts. Smith insists that this problem is one that not only the sheriff’s office should be concerned with, but the whole county stakeholders. A terrifying dilemma to this extent directly impacts public safety and it is a collateral response to reform.

Reliable technology is necessary to manage this complicated result of reform, especially for high risk, violent offenders. Reliable accountability for the whereabouts of these offenders is necessary to ensure they are taking the proper steps towards reintegration into their communities and ceasing their life of crime. 

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