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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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Recidivism

ABC released an article following the story of a convicted man, Micah Turner, and his hopes to reduce recidivism. He was convicted of three charges of manslaughter of his daughter, son and brother-in-law in after rolling his car. He originally was only sentenced to ten years’ probation with two years of house arrest, but then served eight years in prison after breaking his probation. He eventually came to terms with himself and what he had done while being incarcerated. He had a lot of time to reflect and when he was released realized how hard it is to return to society.

From his experience, He said the prison facility gives you a bus ticket and $50 upon release but offer no other programs or help once inmates are released. It makes life very difficult for individuals and leads to higher rates of recidivism. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, one-third of inmates released return to Florida prisons within five years of their prison release date. In order to help fight this number and offer assistance to inmates being released from prison, Turner came up with a solution.

Turner and his wife started collecting items such as  clothing and toiletries to give to men and women when they get out of prison. They create small care packages for people to help their transition back into society. With these packages people have a better chance of providing for themselves leading to less recidivism. They are hoping to continue to be able to provide for those and help rehabilitate former inmates into society.

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Success Stories

The EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant, founded in 2007, believes that every human being has a right to a fair and equal future, regardless of their past.  EDWINS is well known not only for its delectable classic french dining and delicious desserts, but also for the lasting effect it has made on the lives of those recently released from incarceration in Ohio. The Washington PostFood and WineForbesThe City Journal, the Steve Harvey Show and CNN have all featured EDWINS. EDWINS hopes to reduce the risk of these individuals returning to prison by providing them with the training necessary to pursue and succeed in a career in the very lucrative culinary field. Every person who receives training at EDWINS, short for “education wins”, has a criminal history and has spent time in prison.  

Brandon Chrostowski, the leader of this growing restaurant empire, has had his own unfortunate brush with the justice system. When he was 18 years old, he was caught dealing drugs. Rather than being sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison, he was put on probation and received training at a kitchen in his hometown of Detroit. Over the years, he has received training at the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in many of the top French restaurants in both New York and Paris. He was constantly reminded of the second chance at life he had when he received his lenient sentence, and has since developed a plan to provide the same chance for others who were not so lucky – to open the best French restaurant in the world, in Cleveland, and improve the lives of all who work there. “I just looked at where the worst high school graduation rate was, and Cleveland, Ohio, happened to be the number two city in the country where people in high school didn’t graduate,”Brandon said. “So I figured that’s a place that it’s needed.”

“We give formerly incarcerated adults a foundation in the culinary and hospitality industry while providing a support network necessary their long-term success. Our mission is three-fold: to teach a skilled and in-demand trade in the culinary arts, empower willing minds through passion for hospitality management, and prepare students for a successful transition home.”

The students participate in classes on various topics, such as champagne tasting and opening, and the proper use of knives. Only 30% of students make it through the rigorous training process, as classes go from noon until midnight. Not only are students trained on fundamental culinary skills, they are also provided aid in acquiring many basic needs to succeed in society outside of incarceration, such as finding employment, medical care, clothing, job coaching, legal services, literacy programs, access to free housing, and more.

According to the DOJ, the rate that inmates return to prison is up to 83% within 10 years from their release. EDWINS was established with the goal to reduce recidivism, and it has made astonishing strides to do so. Of the 350 graduates, Chrostowski stated that the recidivism rate is only 1.4%. Nearly 100 students graduate from EDWINS a year, and the graduates have acquired jobs in Cleveland’s best restaurants after completing the program.

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Success Stories

Between 60%-75% of ex-offenders remain unemployed one year after their release from prison. Employment is essential in keeping someone motivated to continue their rehabilitation and become a successful and functioning member of society. Without the income from employment, the chance of returning to prison is incredibly high. A non-profit by the name of 2 Fish Home Renovations hopes to improve these chances for formerly incarcerated young adults through the renovation of houses. 

The non-profit provides possibilities for jobs and work growth for formerly imprisoned young adults in need of a second chance at life. 2 Fish has been renovating homes for two-and-a-half years, and has successfully renovated nine homes so far. They have helped people like Frank Grazier, who has been calling 2 Fish a game-changer for those in jail. “Once they give ’em a chance [to] start, to actually build things and feel good about themselves, do something about themselves, then, man…they’re on their way,” said Grazier in an interview with WDEL News. Grazier, who after the death of his wife and son, was incarcerated for three years due to a conviction from driving under the influence , could not explain how grateful he was for a fresh start. “This is, this is, like, the best opportunity ever,” he exclaimed.

2 Fish purchases distressed houses at huge discounts and refurbishes them with crews of recently released young adults. The men undergo training from experienced foremen to grow their knowledge and understanding of the skills necessary to flip houses, such as painting, decking, tiling, remodeling, cleaning, and landscaping. The knowledge gained by the prior inmates prepare them for the possibility of a prosperous career in the home remodeling and construction industry. 

Chuck Wallace, a member of 2 Fish, believes that the men who participate in this non-profit are extremely grateful for the chance to make something of themselves. “You’re just giving them an opportunity that they’ve never even had before, and, I mean, the guys we have here are grabbing the bull by the horns, and they love the opportunity,” said Wallace.

These former inmates are given a fantastic opportunity to stay productive, gain skills, and improve their lives while gaining knowledge that is essential for a successful future outside of prison. 

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Recidivism

The Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE), has adopted a structured strategy to help prisoners find reliable employment when they are released from prison. The inmates are evaluated on their ability to perform particular vocations, and then provide the proper skills and training under the Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) framework. The WSQ is a national credential system that trains, assesses, develops, and certifies skills and abilities for the workforce.

In order to better prepare inmates for a real job setting when they are released, they are put through simulated job scenarios. When the inmates complete their training, they decide which jobs they would like to apply for, and are later interviewed by prospective employers. In special cases, employment offers may be provided before they are even released. In order to make these job prospects possible, SCORE coordinates with employers to guarantee that inmates, once released, are provided fair wages and partake in progressive work practices. SCORE provides assistance to former offenders for up to 12 months during the early phase of finding employment. SCORE coordinates with employers and case workers during this period to ensure that these recently released individuals are provided the necessary assistance to effectively re-integrate into their communities and become reliable members of the workforce.

Relationships with family members are also critical to the effectiveness of re-integrating into society. Research has shown that those with healthy familial bonds are less likely to recidivate. With the help of community partners, the Singapore Prison Service conducts programs that assist inmates with forming stronger bonds and relationships with their families. Former inmates who are motivated and hopeful are better prepared to rebuild their life and re-integrate into society. With employment prospects, stronger family bonds, and ties to their community, they have a much higher chance of succeeding in their new lives.

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Community Supervision, Public Safety

For years, the United States has struggled to provide effective support to the more than 650,000 people who return to society from prison every year. As imprisoned individuals prepare to re-enter their communities, there are many factors that determine whether they are going to build a successful life after incarceration or whether they end up back behind bars. The potential challenges for re-entry include compliance with probation requirements, gaining employment, housing security and access to behavioral health services. If we are to succeed in reducing the number of re-offenders in America, we must find ways of changing the status quo in current policies and practices and embrace emerging technologies.

Technology has the capacity to greatly affect this intractable problem of recidivism in countless ways. The benefit of technology is that it can be customized to fit countless situations. Devices that continuously monitor alcohol intake of a person have completely changed how supervisors tackle alcohol abuse with offenders. Access to internet-based applications can provide automatic updates on job opportunities, deliver therapeutic materials and assist with training skills for the offender. Case Management Systems make it easier for case workers to monitor compliance and provide rehabilitative support though a streamlined secure website. Electronic monitoring devices can be customized to fit the needs of the offender using it, such as approving certain apps, controlling internet access, and monitoring their behavior. Video conferencing and messaging can allow for constant contact with a probation officer, including after normal business hours or across distances, which would minimize conflicts between work, family, and probation obligations.

TRACKtech™ provides two options for electronic monitoring. The TRACKPhone™, which is a specialized smartphone issued to Program Members, is intended to enforce compliance for those in need of more severe supervision. It provides biometric verification, GPS tracking, and more strict compliance enforcement. TRACKphoneLite™ is a more moderate alternative in the form of a smartphone application. This application can be applied to the Program Member’s smartphone and allows location check-ins, communication with their supervising officer over video chat, calendar reminders, and community-based recovery resources. These emerging technologies have the potential to transform reentry compliance and drastically reduce recidivism.

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Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
The National Alliance of Mental Illness Tri Cities in Washington is scheduled to host a discussion about their “Lourdes Prosecutorial Diversion” program. The program provides another option for law enforcement officers in dealing with low-level, non-violent offenders with symptoms of mental illness. It has been in effect for three years, and it identifies inmates with behavioral health conditions in Benton and Franklin County Jails, particularly where competence issues arise. The vast majority of those with mental health issues are less likely than anyone else to be violent, criminal, or dangerous. According to a study published by American Psychological Association of Crimes committed by those with a mental illness, only 7.5% were directly related to symptoms of a mental disorder. People with mental illnesses are not inherently prone to crime, but for those who have persistent illnesses that are chronic and have reoccurring flare ups that impact their judgement, they may do things they normally would not, such as shoplifting or trespassing.

Jail is not a place conducive to mental health treatment. The program is in effect to engage these patients with treatment so they can return to a functioning and coherent state. Upon completion of the program, which can span from six months to a year, the inmate’s charges will be dropped if they are low level crimes. The inmate will also receive resources such as housing and medical treatment.

A large majority of these inmates are charged for trespassing. Adriana Mercado, the Care Coordinator for the program, states that trespassing is very common because these individuals are symptomatic, or they haven’t been on the proper medications. “It’s really rewarding to get somebody into a home and see that change of behavior” as 50 inmates have successfully finished the program. According to Mercado, the recurrence rate has dropped substantially among these inmates.

The program collaborates with the crisis response and in-patient unit, Transitions, to determine the most suitable placement for each inmate so they can receive medication and work on becoming stable. The end goal of the program is to reduce recidivism for those who already face a very high chance of returning to prison once they are released.

Ken Hohenberg, the Police Chief of Kennewick, has stated that “from my perspective, this is not only going to be able to help keep people out of the criminal justice system that truly don’t belong there, but also provide some hope for their families and friends. We see this as the right thing to do.”
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Recidivism

The latest Bureau of Justice Statistics recidivism study found that within five years 77 percent of almost 70,000 prisoners released from 30 states have been convicted of new crimes. Prison efficiency is frequently measured by the rate of re-offense by those released into the community. The relatively high recidivism rate observed among prisoners demonstrates the ineffectiveness of current US prison systems. Not only have punitive policies been largely ineffective, they have also been wasteful and expensive. But can we diminish the costs of incarceration while also increasing the efficiency at which we prevent recidivism?

From the 1970s to the mid-2000s, prison population boomed, not only through more punitive sentences but also an increase in crime rates and, perhaps most notably, government expenditure. Punitive approaches have historically rarely achieved positive results in corrections. These approaches tend to not reduce recurrence, because they do not address the reasons why the individuals who have are released fail to transition from prison to their community. With an effective program in place, prisoners willing to participate, will lead to less recurrence and reduce both the use and costs of imprisonment.

Before evidence-based decision making and practices, those who were incarcerated had scarce access to resources necessary for their rehabilitation, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), treatment of substance abuse and dependency, sex offender treatment, education, employment programming and social support intervention. These practices have been proven to be highly effective and give the most value for our investment when applied as a system.  Therefore, it is important to incorporate and apply these programs by helping prisoners manage their needs through existing resources and support systems, ultimately reducing recidivism.

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Recidivism

According to the Tennessee Department of Correction, the delinquent population in Tennessee has increased by 11.7% in the past 5 years. On March 1st, 2019, a state grant provided support in the amount of $250 thousand to a Dyer County Jail program which aims to reduce recidivism. Funds were also awarded to Franklin County, Knox County and the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance. Over a period of two years, each facility will receive two-thirds of the $250 thousand to begin new programs or expand current ones. The Dyer County Jail collaborates with a local college, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and industry partners to facilitate the program.

These funds will be used to build a new female facility, which will be modeled after their very successful male facility. The female facility will contain 10 inmates and a classroom space, compared to the current 30 inmates in the male facility. The program aims to allow inmates with sentences of one to three years the ability to work while they are incarcerated so they can accrue funds to pay for child support, fees, and court fines. Most inmates that partake in the program will have enough funds to establish housing and become a productive and successful member of society once they are released. Dyer County Sheriff, Jeff Box, has stated that about 100 inmates have completed the program since its initiation, and technical violations such as failing to pay fines for violating probation are much less prevalent.

Reducing recidivism is a constant struggle. It is our belief that those re-entering our communities require more support than they have been receiving, and this program will be imperative to providing inmates with work experience and knowledge necessary to thrive after incarceration. Programs such as this are a huge step towards providing prisoners with a better chance for a successful and fulfilling life when they are released.

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Community Supervision

Despite changes and reforms in the treatment of those prosecuted and detained in jails, our legal system is still riddled with dilemmas and uncertainty. Though much reform has occurred in the past year and a half, Co-Executive Director of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, Sharlyn Grace, stated that there are still concerns about the more than 2,000 people in Chicago that are supposed to be tracked under electronic monitoring. Grace insists that there is no research confirming if electronic monitoring is effective, but that ankle monitors cause a very serious restriction on liberty. Lavette Mayes, who was under electronic supervision for five months, stated that ankle monitors are just little miniature jails in the community. There is a thin line between public safety and the rights of the accused.

The goal of our criminal justice system is to improve public safety and to ensure that justice is properly and impartially administered. But how far is too far when it comes to the rights of those under electronic supervision?

Theoretically, ankle monitors are an appealing alternative to jail and provide the chance to be in the community with family and friends, but they also seem to deprive people of their rights and liberties  to a certain point. Ankle monitors require hours of charging or the offender risks being sent back to jail, so they often must stand by a public outlet and charge their ankle monitor while enduring the judgement of those around them. The monitors are also incredibly expensive, sometimes costing up to $40 per day. This exorbitant cost can keep someone from being able to pay their bills and cover basic needs. This can result in a higher risk of ending up back in jail or becoming entangled in crime as a last resort, causing a more prudent threat to public safety.

Despite the increase in usage of ankle monitors, there is a lack of extensive research to suggest that ankle monitors inherently keep the public safe to the extent that this intrusion of rights is warranted. Punitive technology is not addressing the root of the problems that people face and why they end up in prison. Instead of punishing these people, we should be using technology to help them to create better and healthier lives.

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