Wednesday, August 31, 2011

There is Hope!

By Kellie Shaw

I recently viewed a piece from the TODAY Show on that featured the story of a unique and progressive summer camp titled “Prison Camp: Getting to know Dad- behind bars.” The summer camp, based out of Washington, D.C. focuses on the relationship between incarcerated fathers and their children. The program, The Hope House: Father to Child Summer Camps, is reportedly the nation’s first and only of its kind, offering summer camp for men in prison. The purpose is to generate strong bonds between fathers and their children, allowing 15 youth participants in the program. The children spend the mornings and afternoons in the prison with their fathers engaged in structured activities such as art, creative writing, music, and games. At night, the staff and the youngsters retreat to a local campground or conference center where they participate in other recreational activities.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Re-examining Re-entry

By Kelsey Sullivan, JPI Summer Intern

When we think about the criminal justice problems in the U.S., we often think about prison overcrowding and the exorbitant amounts of money spent on our prison system. It is true: these are indeed very real problems -today, the United States has approximately 2.4 million people behind bars. Something people often forget to consider is the fact that the vast majority of those individuals will eventually be released back into society. In fact, more than 600,000 people are released every year to rejoin their communities. Efforts have been made to improve the reentry process, but how successful have these efforts been considering roughly two-thirds of released individuals will be rearrested within three years of their release? Reentry is and will continue to be an important focus of our criminal justice reform, and special attention must be paid to the issues related to the reentry process.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Celebrating putting one more person in prison?

By Nastassia Walsh

Recent news of former Luzerne County, Pennsylvania juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella’s conviction and 28 year prison sentence hit the wires this week, to much acclaim. His conviction acknowledges his horrendous actions in taking bribes for sending youth to private prisons, in effect ruining these kids’ lives. Ciavarella needs to be held accountable for his actions. But what worries me about the ensuing celebration over his long prison sentence, is that we are jumping on the same hype that we frequently try and fight. How often have we fought against long prison sentences for kids when the media and community cry for more punishment? How often do we talk about wasteful incarceration and the negative effects on families and the people who are incarcerated? And yet, this is thrown out the window this week as we celebrate the extensive prison sentence of a person who was convicted of a nonviolent offense?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Questions Emerge as Florida Plans Massive Prison Privatization

By Joey Kavanagh, JPI Summer Intern

Despite growing concerns by major newspapers and advocates throughout Florida, the state’s legislature is planning to sell 30 of Florida’s prisons to the highest bidder by January of 2012. The state’s rationale is that the purportedly cheaper private management will trim Florida’s bloated corrections budget. What the legislature missed is the fact that the compensation of soon-to-be estranged state employees will not only offset the intended (though unreliable) savings but actually cost the state money. This deal ignores Florida’s rocky history with private prisons, their oft-contested savings motto and research showing cost-effective, community-based options proven successful in reducing recidivism while limiting the number of people who come in contact with the justice system—thereby actually reducing corrections spending. But, above all, the deal raises questions as to the extent that private prison companies influence legislation.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Criminal Justice Reporting: It's Your Beat Whether You Think So or Not

By Zerline Hughes

Criminal justice reporting can be a challenge for journalists in these times. For that matter, reporting on anything is a challenge with the various fiscal issues that face media outlets today. Further challenging is the fact that criminal justice reporting is no longer a beat all its own. The old-school neighborhood cops and courts reporters have now transformed into regional and national politics and fiscal affairs reporters. Even health and medical issues reporters are assigned to the justice
beat as a result of the many issues that now span criminal justice (conditions of confinement, impact on state/national budgets). The same thing goes for journalists originally trained as finance and business reporters – they’re now dabbling in criminal justice-related issues because our U.S. criminal justice system is responsible for many states’ – and the nation’s – financial troubles. Entertainment and sports reporters, too, are now on the CJ beat, as celebrities and high-profile people (Lindsay Lohan, Martha Stewart, Plaxico Burress, Bernard Madoff, Dominique Strauss-Kahn) have been involved in the ‘system’ and regularly made headlines. How to report on these issues without sensationalizing them, and how to accurately explain how the law works and the lasting effects of criminal justice system involvement should, too, be a part of news reporting.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Is Data Doing Justice to our Veterans?

Below is the most recent installment, written by Soros Justice Fellow Guy Gambill, in JPI’s series on Veterans & Justice. Over the past four decades, too many veterans have returned home from war only to end up in our prisons and jails. This is often a result of their combat experience and our country’s inability to address the negative consequences associated with it. Returning veterans began playing a central role in the rise of the U.S. prison population following the Vietnam era; in 1986, 24 percent of all Federal prison inmates and 21 percent of those in State prisons were veterans. Early data indicates this pattern is repeating itself now as men and women return home from Iraq and Afghanistan. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can read the full essay here.

Following my own military service, I experienced homelessness and plenty of justice contact. In addition, I watched far too many other veterans live shattered lives, in many cases dying at far too young of an age. I had hoped to not see this happen again, but I am afraid, unless things change rapidly, it will be so. And while there are many fronts that need to be worked on, until we have accurate data on the scope of the problems our vets are currently facing, we cannot begin to come up with solutions.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Juvenile Justice Youth Shortchanged by Overloaded Juvenile Defense Caseloads

By Tracy Velázquez

Focusing on changing youth behavior is important. However, youth success also depends on what we as adults do, particularly when it comes to youth who come in contact with the justice system. The Justice Policy Institute’s new report, “System Overload,” shows how our shortchanging of public defender systems can have significant and lasting negative affects for both youth and adults who rely on them.

The right to effective counsel, regardless of ability to pay, is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. This includes youth facing juvenile delinquency proceedings. However, a lack of financial resources for public defenders means that attorneys don’t have enough time for each case. Youth may not see their attorney until shortly before a hearing, or their public defender’s office might not have funding for investigators to look into the facts around the alleged offense. The following are some possible consequences of not having a robust public defender system:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Welcome to Just Policy Blog, from the Justice Policy Institute (JPI).

Just Policy Blog will bring you our perspective on criminal and juvenile justice reform. From concise synthesis of our own reports, briefs and factsheets, to highlights of under-the-radar news stories, to original ideas and musings about justice-related issues from our own staff, interns and board members as well as others working in the field, Just Policy Blog will run the gamut of issues related to incarceration and policies that are driving incarceration and justice system involvement.