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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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Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

After discovering that 24 adolescent girls were being confined to buildings with fire risks, holes in the walls, mold and water damage, Nebraska authorities have moved them to another facility. The girls were living in the Geneva Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center, a rural central Nebraska state-run facility for female juvenile offenders. The inhabitants, ranging from ages 14-18, were sent to the facility as a last resort by the court. Many of them have significant behavioral and mental health problems.

Four state legislators visited the campus unannounced and outlined decrepit circumstances in several of the four campus houses. “It was far worse than I could have imagined,” said Omaha’s Sen. Sara Howard, chair of the Legislature Health and Human Services Committee. Alarming conditions were discovered at the facility, like something from a horror story. When lawmakers toured the campus they discovered girls confined to empty rooms with nothing to occupy them, rooms without working lights, doors without handles, and one girl was even sleeping on a bed frame without a mattress. At least one girl has found sharp metal inside the holes in the wall and cut herself. Some of the girls even claimed to have been locked in their rooms for up to five days at a time. Several of the rooms had water damage, causing mold and mildew, which can cause serious health risks.

In one building, the mechanism that opens doors when a fire occurs was damaged, meaning if a fire were to happen, the girls would be trapped in their rooms and the doors would have to be individually opened by staff members. Howard said that some of the teenagers used a broom and an electrical cord as weapons and proceeded to barricade themselves into a room with a phone. They called the child abuse hotline, local law enforcement, and their parents before staff were able to defuse the situation. “This is an awful scenario for a place, that five or six years agowas running like a top,” Sen. Howard said. “It’s like we just decided to stop making an investment in these kids.”

There were many shortages of staff in the facility, leaving employees to work very long hours. With such a lack of staff availability, there were very limited programming options and activities for the girls in the facility. In a facility meant to be focused on rehabilitation, programming is a necessity, as is a comfortable and safe environment. “I was frankly dumbfounded by the conditions,” said the inspector general of child welfare, Julie Rogers. “It is one thing to hear allegations of a deteriorated facility. But it’s another thing to see those conditions.”

Danette Smith, the CEO of DHHS, promises that they, in combination with the Administrative Services Department, are committed to restoring the facility and creating rehabilitation programming that works and is reliable. “Our goal is a smooth transition to help the girls acclimate to their routine, which includes school, mental health support, structured activities and recreation. We hope to enhance programming and treatment, and provide an environment that is safe, supportive, and gives youth the opportunity to thrive as they transition from the YRTCs into a successful adulthood.”

The girls have been moved into the YRTC facility for boys in Kearny, and will be secluded from them and will have separate programming times so that they do not interact with the young men.

This relocation ensures that the girls will receive the rehabilitation, care, and programming that they require, while in a safe and positive environment. The relocation will enable the Department of Administrative Services to evaluate the necessary repairs and upgrades to the buildings in the facility and refurbish them. Smith stressed that her biggest concern is ensuring that the facility will be a clean, healthy and safe environment for the girls.

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Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States (46.6 million) suffer from a mental illness in a given year. In the jail population, this is even more prevalent, as these people are not receiving the care they need. There is an estimated 2 million mentally ill individuals being booked into jails each year. The jail population is five times more likely than the general population to experience a serious mental illness and eight times more likely to suffer from substance abuse. A staggering 68% of the jail population has a diagnosable substance abuse disorder, however many of them do not receive the proper treatment they require.

Jails are not conducive to treating these serious illnesses and addictions. Within two weeks after being released, those with serious substance abuse are 40 times more likely to die from an overdose than those in the general population. Instead of incarcerating these people struggling with mental health and substance abuse disorders, public health options should be available for adequate treatment. Evidence-based substance abuse treatment and medical care has been proven to prevent criminal justice involvement at all. Access to essential treatment for substance abuse has been proven to reduce violent and financially motivated crimes.

Many reforms are being implemented by counties across the country to ensure that those with substance abuse disorders and mental health illnesses are provided proper care and preventative programs. Crisis intervention teams are programs that are designed to divert those with mental illnesses from the criminal justice system and into proper treatment. A group of police officers partake in special health training in order to properly evaluate the signs of a mental illness, treat the individual, and deescalate situations. This program is proving to be very effective in helping those with mental health disorders to receive treatment rather than jail time. Police mental health co-responder teams are also proving to be effective. Rather than the police being specifically trained, mental health professionals assist the police while they are interacting with someone showing signs of a mental health crisis.

There is also the option to establish mental health and drug courts that can serve as an alternative to incarceration. Multidisciplinary teams of judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, social workers, and professional mental health service providers work together in specialized courts to assist individuals in treatment and connect them with the proper services.

TRACKtech can provide individuals dealing with substance abuse and mental illness in a multitude of ways. There is an array of behavioral assessments available through the TRACKphoneLite app and the TRACKphone, and rehabilitative support can be specifically targeted to best suit the program member. The program member can also be assisted in finding local community support groups or rehabilitative services. By utilizing this automated rehabilitation platform, therapy expenses can be reduced by nearly 50%.

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Success Stories

Life after incarceration can be terrifying. Providing for families and acquiring necessities is extremely difficult without the proper resources, especially with a criminal history looming over your head. 76% of formerly incarcerated people believe the search for employment after being released is “very difficult or nearly impossible,” according to a study by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. After being released from incarceration, two-thirds are unemployed or underemployed, even after five years. Some very courageous and generous individuals have dedicated their lives to easing this burden, and provide valuable skills and experience to jump start the lives of these returning citizens through the culinary arts.

Drive Change has been moving towards improving the lives of troubled youth since 2014. Jordyn Lexton founded the New York City based nonprofit that hires formerly incarcerated youth and teaches them how to properly operate a food truck. They provide assistance with developing the necessary skills to retain a promising job in the culinary industry, while also offering year long paid fellowships to those ages 17 to 25. “We teach transferable skills, and social media, marketing, money management, and hospitality,” Lexton described. “Then we teach the actual application of the roles and responsibilities on the truck,” Lexton stated to Pix 11. “We believe that by having this really positive interaction at our truck, we might actually help to dispel some of the preconceived notions that people have about what is means to be formerly incarcerated.”

Café Momentum, a restaurant and culinary training facility based in Dallas, improves the lives of adolescents through a positive environment and educating at-risk youth on the extensive knowledge of culinary skills, job and life-skill training, and mentoring and support. Since June 2011, every month eight boys from the culinary program in the Youth Village work alongside a list of prominent Dallas chefs who teach them every aspect of a functioning restaurant, such as prep work, cooking, serving meals, and waiting tables. While providing knowledge in the culinary field, Café Momentum also assists these young individuals with preparing them for reintegrating into society in a safe and comfortable environment. Their goal is to teach adolescents that they no longer have to partake in the life of violence and crime that they have always known. Café Momentum provides a 12-month paid internship to individuals being released from juvenile detention. During this program, members are assigned case managers, who work with them closely to ensure they have a firm grasp of how to thrive outside of incarceration. They are taught parenting classes, financial literacy, career exploration, and are provided educational assistance. They also receive aid for issues that may be plaguing them as products of their criminal history, such as anger management, recovery from trauma, lack of parental figures, and abandonment. Upon completion of this 12-month program, successful participants are provided the opportunity to pursue a job with one of the community partners. These struggling youth, who would have most likely returned to a life of crime or toiled in unreliable employment circumstances, can now have a fulfilling career, save for their futures, and have a fresh start on the rest of their lives.

EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant, which we previously blogged about, is a fine french dining restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, that employs previously incarcerated individuals with the goal to reduce their risk of returning to prison by providing them with the training necessary to pursue and succeed in a career in the culinary field.

Providing employment in the culinary field for those who are recently released from incarceration is extremely effective in jump starting peoples futures, because these individuals are able to thrive in an environment where they can succeed purely on dedication and hard work, rather than needing years of training or degrees.

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Jail Overcrowding

More than 1,000 inmates are currently in Sullivan County Jail. They are at critical capacity and have received scrutiny for their handling of the situation. They only have 619 beds and are extremely understaffed. This lack of staff members makes it inherently difficult to properly care for inmates, and the jail is desperately in need of programs to alleviate the overcrowding dilemma. “It’s a very violent facility. We’re getting a lot of assaults, inmate on inmate assaults, inmate on officer assaults,” Sheriff Cassidy said. A new program has been developed for the jail with the intent to illuminate the reasons prisoners ended up incarcerated in the first place and provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to be productive citizens. 

David Stanley once served 17 months in this same jail for securities fraud and is now certified to lead the cognitive therapy program. The program takes place twice a week. Moral Reconation Therapy, or MRT, is a systematic therapy approach that aims to reduce recurrence by enhancing moral reasoning among juvenile and adult criminal offenders. It teaches that if you want your life to be better, you must be better. The second phase of the program teaches inmates vocational skills necessary for sustaining gainful employment when they are released. “We’re just looking forward to what the future holds and seeing these inmates flourish outside of jail.” Sheriff Cassidy said.

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Recidivism

Incarceration can lead to a lifetime sentence of unemployment for many that are released from prison. Difficulty in finding employment is a strong cause of recidivism, and without a stable income and a sense of purpose and responsibility, 68 percent of those released from Delaware prisons are re-arrested within three years of release. Ajit Mathew George, the founder of Second Chances Farms, has hope for a future where Delaware inmates will have careers as entrepreneurs waiting for them when they’re released. He intends to use abandoned warehouses and empty office spaces near the former inmates and turn them into farming space. His plan to reduce recidivism in his state is to hire 10-15 workers to help in his farms for every 10,000 square foot of farming space. Each worker will be paid $15 an hour during a six to twelve-month apprenticeship period. These farms are extremely effective as they are grown in LED-lit hydroponic towers and do not require soil, pesticides, or even natural sunlight. His goal is to develop a new industry and produce local organic food on a year-round basis, while also improving the livelihood of released inmates and in turn reducing recidivism.

This ingenious concept won George the honor of having the “Best Idea” at the Pete DuPont Freedom Foundation’s Reinventing Delaware competition in early December of 2018. He hopes to open Second Chances Farm No. 1 in Wilmington by September. His Second Chances Farm was awarded a start-up grant of $175,000 after the Reinventing Delaware event by the Welfare Foundation, which supports non-profits focused on social welfare causes in Delaware and southern Chester County.

George believes that the vertical farms allow up to 100 times more production per square foot than traditional farms. Second Chances Farms will be able to produce crops from harvest to grocery store shelves within 24 hours, compared to the lengthy week long and thousand-mile trek for field-grown produce. The inmates participating in these vertical farms have served their time and now can be meaningfully engaged in their community through agriculture. The chance to be able to run a high-tech hydroponic farm is a great way for these individuals to learn a growing enterprise.

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Recidivism

People might think convicted felons solely deserve retribution, but it has been proven ineffective in avoiding recidivism. Retribution is defined as punishment being inflicted on someone for a wrong or criminal act, whereas rehabilitation is the action of restoring someone to a healthy or normal life through training and therapy. Inmates have lost their freedom and are serving time as their punishment, however, rehabilitation in and after prison is the key to helping prisoners avoid repeating offenses once released back into society. 

In the article How Norway Turns Criminals into Good Neighbours, Norway realizes that a punitive “lock-up” approach does not effectively change the behavior of inmates and by moving away from this approach, they are sharply cutting reoffending rates. Instead of guards working to establish a “masculine, macho culture with a focus on guarding and security”, they can now focus on rehabilitation and interacting with inmates as if they are not convicted felons, serving as role models, coaches and mentors. Everyday inmates participate in activities alongside guards like yoga and eating meals, encouraging socialization. With this rehabilitative and social approach, the prison can feel more like home and less like an entrapment they are stuck in. This method has proven to be effective, reducing recidivism rates to only 20% after two years in Norway, compared to 50% in the UK. 

These methods do come with a higher cost to maintain the prison. A place at Halden Prison costs about £98,000 per year compared to an annual cost of a prison in England being around £40,000 to £60,000. However, the drastic reduced recidivism rates correlates to improvement in inmates overall health, mental stability and calmness. It is proving to be worth the extra spending, not to mention the cost savings of avoiding re-incarceration. Norway has a policy where no inmates are sentenced for life. Governor of Halden Prison, Are Hoidal, says they are essentially “releasing your neighbor” and “if we treat inmates like animals in prison, then we will release animals on to your street.” They have established that prisoners cannot be treated poorly to then be expected to act orderly and civil once they are released. The prison provides the inmates with positive opportunities and learning experiences to help rehabilitate them, no matter the crime they have committed. 

It is important to continue to understand that the punitive approach is ineffective compared to rehabilitative methods in prison, probation and parole systems. TRACKtech, LLC recognizes the importance of rehabilitation as the solution to reducing recidivism and helping inmates adjust to life after prison. TRACKtech provides resources and support to keep program members on track and continuing to adjust more smoothly into society. 

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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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Jail Overcrowding
Overcrowding is becoming a frightening dilemma for many jails. The Sarasota County Jail is no different. Building a new jail to house these excess inmates is incredibly expensive to taxpayers, costing upwards of $100 million. To ease this overcrowding, the County Sheriff’s Office is utilizing what they call a “pod” program. Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity (SURE) introduced the Addiction Recovery Program in partnership with the Salvation Army and the Sheriff’s Office in Sarasota County. These pods are intended to reduce recidivism rates while increasing an inmate’s productivity while incarcerated. All inmates in a pod are housed together. Instead of the inmates having excessive free time, they spend that time in programs, meetings, and receiving help for their various needs. The pods are completely voluntary, and any interested inmates must sign up to be included in them. There are up to 48 inmates in each pod and violence of any kind is strictly prohibited.

There are a multitude of pods in the prison, each dedicated to a specific program for rehabilitation and life skills. The addiction recovery pod has been in use for ten years, and in 2019 two new pod programs are being implemented in the jail; the care pod and the re-entry pod. The care pod is focused on providing mental health assistance. In the re-entry pod inmates will take parenting classes, learn how to search for jobs, create resumes and learn the importance of financial stability. Many of the inmates in these pods don’t know about the importance of credit scores, financing vehicles or budgeting. Without these essential skills and a secure footing in how to survive outside of prison, there is a very high risk of them reoffending. The pod program has shown to be very efficient and has changed the lives of countless inmates.
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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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