Friday, May 10, 2019

Mother's Day in Prison

Thanks to JPI Intern Madeline Titus for both authoring this blog post and creating an incredible podcast, Mothers in Prisonwhere she interviews three women all deeply connected to this issue.

While millions will be celebrating Mother’s Day this Sunday across the country, many of those celebrations will be limited due to the impact of the criminal justice system. Sixty-two percent of women in prison and 80 percent of women in jails are mothers, and more often than not, they are their children’s primary caretaker.

 Even as criminal justice reform has gained momentum in the U.S., women and various gender identities are often not included in the conversations. The history of mass incarceration is deeply tied to identities of race, age, gender, and socioeconomic status. While justice policy has traditionally taken a ‘one-size fits all’ approach, current reforms need to be tailored to the unique needs of different identities are their experiences, including many women’s experience in prison as mothers.

Before we can effectively tackle needed reforms, we must first understand the historical context of women in prison. Historically, incarcerated women were often treated in exile and in harsh conditions. For example, in Auburn State Prison in New York, in the 1820s women were often confined to the attic with their only interactions being with other incarcerated men and male prison guards who were known to be physically and sexually abusive. Many of these horrific conditions led to the push for separate female facilities, resulting in the first facility for women at Mount Pleasant Prison Annex in Ossining, New York in 1839; and the first female only prison in 1873, in Indiana.

With the rise of female only prisons, a new field of scholarly work began emerging in 1895, female criminology, which examined women, prison, and deviance largely through existing societal gender norms steeped in the sexism of the era. Scholars such as Cesare Lombroso published research arguing that, ‘women who engage in criminal behavior are at different levels of sinfulness, and that they are more masculine in appearance, cold, calculating and have manipulative personalities.’ W.I. Thomas argued in the early 1900s that ‘women were morally inferior’. And in the 1920s Sigmund Freud’s theories of sexuality lead him to conclude that, ‘women who are deviant are doing so to become more masculine in an attempt to make up for their biological inferiority.

Although these theories seem ridiculous now, they established the basis for policy and practice in corrections systems throughout the country. As a result of limited research on women’s experiences combined with the ever-present Jim Crow laws of the south, two distinct corrections institutions for women emerged in the 20th century: “reformatories” and “custodial institutions.” White women were often sent to reformatories for rehabilitation where they received vocational training in cooking, sewing, and cleaning, so they would be able to reenter into society with workforce skills. Women of color, however, were more likely to be sent to custodial institutions, which were often seen simply as warehouses, and reserved for those not amenable to rehabilitation. In addition, women from custodial institutions were often sent to work on state-owned plantations in horrible conditions, reminiscent of slavery.     

As time progressed, racialized policies resulting in extreme sentencing and the targeting of people of color as part of the ‘War on Drugs’ resulted in the mass incarceration that has emerged in late 20th and early 21st century. Today, drug and property offenses are more than half the charges for which women are incarcerated, while violent offenses account for only about a quarter of incarcerated women. As criminal justice policy reform is taking hold around the country, women are too often being left out of the reform conversation and ultimately left behind, with many states experiencing historic growth in female incarceration while male incarceration rates are declining.

Similar to what was seen in the early 20th century, women today are still being compared to men, when in reality they have different lived experiences and are incarcerated for different reasons. Effective policy needs to take into consideration men, women and other gender identities, in addition to race and socioeconomic status. There still remains a significant lack of academic and political interest in researching women’s involvement in the justice system, and the research that is being done, often makes broad generalizations and fails to acknowledge gender as an important factor. This results in policy recommendations that are largely based on male experiences and simply applied to women and other gender identities, regardless of their effectiveness.

Many justice system-involved women have experienced violence, trauma, and mental and physical health issues that have contributed to their situations and life choices. They often struggle with finding housing, employment and stability as a parent, facing limited programming and stigmatization. With women currently the fastest growing segment of the prison population, it is time we start thinking differently about women in prison.  

As we seek reforms to address mass incarceration in the United States, it is critically important to keep in mind what it means to be a woman caught up in the justice system, and especially a mother. As Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboys Industries stated that, “the ultimate measure of health in any community might well reside in our ability to stand in awe at what folks have to carry rather than in judgement of how they carry it.”

On this Mother’s Day let’s stand in awe of mothers, and recommit ourselves to ensuring that incarcerated mothers and all women are treated with the dignity, respect, and fairness in the justice system that they deserve.

Interested in learning more? Listen to our podcast on Mothers in Prison where we talk to three women all deeply connected to this issue.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

TODAY, October 17, at 6 PM, tune in to WPFW's "Led By Love" segment to hear our Executive Director Marc Schindler, along with National Center for Victims of Crime's Executive Director Mai Fernandez, discussing our new report “Smart, Safe, and Fair: Strategies to Prevent Youth Violence, Heal Victims of Crime, and Reduce Racial Inequality." They will address how the justice system treats youth charged with violent offenses in ways which are unnecessarily expensive, ineffective and unjust.
Read the full report at

Friday, July 20, 2018

New Resource: Abell Foundation Report

The Abell Foundation has released a new report, “Fact Check: A Survey of Available Data on Juvenile Crime in Baltimore City,” collecting and analyzing available data on trends in juvenile crime rates, arrests, and outcomes in Baltimore City.

The report found that overall juvenile arrests are down in Baltimore, but juvenile arrests for violent crimes are up. However, for the first four months of 2018, total juvenile arrests were down 34 percent in comparison to arrest rates of the first four months of 2017.

In addition to arrest rates, the report also examines court cases for Baltimore’s youth. They found that the number of youth referred to adult court—indicating involvement in a violent crime—has increased slightly from 2013 (156 cases) to 2017 (216 cases). Even with that increase, less than 10 percent of juvenile arrests in 2017 were for crimes eligible for referral to adult court. While these numbers certainly need to be addressed, this directly contradicts the political narrative of a booming juvenile crime wave in Baltimore.

And there has been an increase in the return of juveniles originally charged in adult court back to juvenile court (19 percent in 2013 to 67 percent in 2017).  The report concludes that to better understand the level of juvenile violence in Baltimore, they need more access to data about juvenile records—such as recidivism data for youth charged with violent crimes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Upcoming Event: Ending Incarceration of Women and Girls: How We Get There - Baltimore 7.21.18

Upcoming event - this Saturday, July 21, there will be a “Ending Incarceration of Women and Girls: How We Get There” town hall event in Baltimore. This event is to raise awareness about the current state of incarceration of women and girls in Maryland, and will addressing key issues such as ending women and girls incarceration, ending bail, alternatives to incarceration, re-entry, and voting/civil rights for returning citizens.

This event is free and will be held at the Impact Hub Baltimore, 10 East North Avenue from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM EDT. For more information and to pre-register for the event click here, you can also email [email protected] with any questions you may have.

This event is sponsored by Maryland Justice Project, Out for Justice, and the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Upcoming Event: 6th Annual Baltimore Back to the Neighborhood Expungement Clinic

Join us for the 6th Annual Baltimore Back to the Neighborhood Expungement Clinic July 25th 9am-1pm at American Brewery, 1701 N. Gay Street, for free legal assistance with expungements, voter registration, employment resources and information about civil forfeiture police misconduct and money bail. For more information please contact Mary-Denise Davis at [email protected] 

A big thank you to our partners the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Abell Foundation.

Please share with anyone you know who may be interested. See you next week!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Survey of New Resources

Mass Incarceration Starts Young - Podcast

"The United States locks up more people than any country in the world. That starts young: Roughly a million kids a year get caught up in the criminal justice system. In Caught, a new podcast from WNYC, we'll listen as some of those young people tell their stories over nine episodes. They'll help us understand how we got here--and how we might help, rather than just punish troubled youth. Welcome to Caught: The Lives of Juvenile JusticeCaught: The Lives of Juvenile Justice is supported, in part, by the Anne Levy Fund, Margaret Neubart Foundation, the John and Gwen Smart Family Foundation, and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project." Listen now.

The Costliest Choice - Report

The Children and Family Justice Center has published the third installment of their year-long series, Community Safety & the Future of Illinois’ Youth Prisons. This issue, “The Costliest Choice: Economic Impact ofYouth Incarceration,” discusses why Illinois should depart from youth incarceration and instead invest in strengthening Illinois youth, families, and communities – restoring much needed services damaged by the state budget crisis. 

Illinois’ use of five state prisons – incarcerating about 425 juveniles – has a direct operational cost of about $514 per youth, per day. This cost does not including education, services, or aftercare. However, alternatives to youth incarceration save money up front and provide long-term safety benefits. The report states “youth incarceration is the costliest response to delinquency – in upfront costs, hidden costs, youth outcomes, and societal costs. Even for high-risk youth, the costs of the choice to imprison outstrip other, less damaging approaches.” 

“Strong communities are key to success.” Illinois needs to increase funding for youth justice reinvestment programs and expand the capacity of local nonprofits that provide state social services to youth and families. 

Vincent Schiraldi on Parole and Probation

Vincent Schiraldi started his career in criminal justice reform in 1981, although he always knew that he wanted to dedicate his life to helping people, or as he humbly states to be “in the human services field.” Schiraldi started working at the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, and then went on to create two nonprofits, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco and our very own Justice Policy Institute. Today, at the Justice Lab at Columbia University he is a leading voice in criminal justice reform, specifically in regards to parole and probation.

Schiraldi has two reports out on parole and probation, one from a national perspective and the other focused on New York State. Since the creation of the parole and probation systems, they have deviated from their original intent and have become a trigger to mass incarceration. Schiraldi states that “nationwide there are almost five million people on probation and parole. That’s more people than live in half of U.S. states, one in 53 adults. It was never meant to be that big and it’s now a processing-back-to-prison environment.”

In an article that Schiraldi co-authored with Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, they state that when looking at the quality of justice, we often only measure its success by recidivism rate - which is “inadequate and often misleading.” Instead of focusing on recidivism rates, we should focus on alternatives to incarceration and improving what systems we already have in place - such as parole and probation, which were originally created to help people who are incarcerated. Highlights -

  • “[Probation and parole were] originally meant to be alternatives to prison, they now have become tripwires and triggers to mass incarceration.”
  • “Nationwide there are almost five million people on probation and parole. That’s more people than live in half of U.S. states, one in 53 adults. It was never meant to be that big and it’s now a processing-back-to-prison environment.”
  • On Less is More in New York report: “Twenty leading probation and parole administrators signed on to our report, which calls for ultimately cutting the systems they run in half and to reduce technical violations that lead back to prison.”
  • “There’s a lot of research showing that community cohesion and resilience makes communities safer, not just more police and more prisons.”
  • On Rikers Island: “New York’s already the least incarcerated and safest big city in the country. We’re going to do something that no U.S. city has done.”

Finding Strength Through Poetry - Poetry and Profiles

“Once you’ve been behind bars, words can feel like freedom.”

Formerly incarcerated people are now finding a new voice through poetry, thanks to the Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop. This workshop helps young men find a way to give expression to their lives during and after incarceration. Since 2002, the program has worked with teenagers charged and imprisoned as adults in the D.C. Jail and the federal prison system.

You can listen or read some of the members’ poetry here:

Monday, November 20, 2017

Risk Takers: How did the justice system change to meet the needs of the youth population?

This blog is a part of a series dedicated to celebrate JPI’s 20th Anniversary. Bart Lubow’s piece is excerpted from comments he delivered at the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s JuvenileDetention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) conference in Orlando, Florida in April 2017 on the occasion of JDAI’s 25th anniversary. JPI has been proud to partner with JDAI since its inception. We are particularly thankful to the leadership of Bart and other champions from the Casey Foundation and around the country, who made this success story possible and continue the work.

Twenty-five years ago, the juvenile justice system was struggling to survive.  It was widely condemned as soft, ineffective, and unaccountable.  Elected officials across the country, reacting to a brief spike in violent crime, ridiculed and diminished the system, most obviously by passing a slew of laws that took the most serious cases and mandated that they be prosecuted and incarcerated in the adult criminal justice system. The core notion behind the creation of juvenile justice—that youth were different from adults and deserved a system that recognized those developmental differences—was at risk of being abandoned. 

For a variety of reasons juvenile justice did deserve criticism.  While it was perceived as soft on crime, juvenile justice was in fact locking up rather minor law violators—misdemeanants, probation violators and status offenders--in jails and prisons which we euphemistically called “youth study centers” and “training schools” but which were endemic with abuse and neglect like their adult counterparts.  None of this would have been allowed had the youth in question looked like, spoke like, lived near or were related to people like me.  Indeed, the collective complexion of those who were grist for this mill was darkening at a rapid rate, with more and more Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American youth being hauled before a system that routinely acted as if youth of color were all dangerous and unredeemable.

From this, the Annie E. Casey Foundation began the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. JDAI required a huge political risk, a major shift in the way we approach pretrial detention for youth, and the development of new procedures and programs to better serve America's troubled young people. We believed that the basic myth driving the incarceration explosion—that locking up large numbers of people was the pathway to public safety—was fundamentally wrong.  Second, we argued that the use of detention was driven first and foremost by the policies and practices embraced by adults, not the behavior of the kids.  Third, we hypothesized that a focus on detention reform—while limited given the many problems with juvenile justice—would spill over to affect other issues.  Finally, we argued that no system which claimed to represent “justice” could have any credibility as long as it was perceived as biased and unfair in its treatment of youth of color. 

Now there are about half as many youth locked in juvenile facilities as there were 25 years ago, and juvenile crime rates are a modest fraction of what they were as recently as 15 years ago.  If nothing else, over the past 25 years JDAI has demonstrated that it is possible to radically reduce confinement without sacrificing public safety. 

The entire trajectory of juvenile justice has changed in the past two and one-half decades.  States across the country are now raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction and rolling back mandatory transfer laws, rather than pulling more youth into adult courts and prisons.  More and better tools are being used to inform decisions and stronger, more innovative alternatives have expanded the range and effectiveness of options in lieu of confinement.  At the national level, the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for crimes committed before age 18 and declared mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences unconstitutional.  A movement to end solitary confinement has emerged with interest at the local, state and federal levels of government.  Over the past 25 years, juvenile justice, rather than retreating under criticism, has increasingly served as the laboratory for more enlightened and effective approaches to crime, some of which are now infiltrating many state adult justice systems.

While JDAI, is not responsible for all the progress of the past 25 years, it has been in the center of much of it and it at least deserves credit for forsaking the myths and excuses of the past and for helping to nourish a wide array of practitioners, advocates and researchers whose ideas and voices were hidden during the dark days of the so-called super-predator era. We have learned many things relevant to a better future, not the least of which is to not be constrained by the limits that the status quo would impose on our thinking. 

We have come very far, but not nearly far enough for this system to pass what we have come to refer to as the “my child” test.  There can be no let-up in our clamor for change, not while lives are at stake and communities suffer the effects of mass incarceration.  The clamor must now come, first and foremost, from the next generation of reformers. All enterprises of this scale and influence are built from collective, collaborative work.  All of us stand on the shoulders of others.


Bart Lubow is a Senior Consultant with the Annie E. Casey Foundation
With almost 40 years of improving criminal justice systems, Bart Lubow served as director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group from 2009 until 2014. Today, as a senior consultant, he supports the Foundation’s juvenile justice reform agenda, which includes reducing unnecessary confinement in order to minimize long-term consequences of incarceration, prevent family disruption and increase opportunities to positively alter the life trajectories of youth in the juvenile system.