Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Insulation Breakdown: Realities of our Justice System are Shocking

By Spike Bradford

Having worked as an auto mechanic, I often think of criminal and juvenile justice issues the way a mechanic would: as an interacting web of systems. After all, a car is simply a series of systems (ignition, electrical, drive, etc.). The mechanical term that has been in my mind lately is “insulation breakdown.” This usually involves stripped wires or damaged circuits or anything that allows current to go where it’s not supposed to. In short (pun intended), this is a bad thing.

Working in criminal and juvenile justice reform-minded research, I experience “insulation breakdown” of a different sort on a daily basis; a good kind of “insulation breakdown.” You see, unlike many that work in my field, I am not from a disproportionately impacted community of color or close to people who have been negatively affected by what I know to be our broken, arbitrary and institutionally racist systems of justice. I am a middle-class, highly educated, Volvo-driving, NPR-listening white guy. In other words, I’m insulated. Insulated in a way that most Americans are when it comes to understanding criminal and juvenile justice in our country.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Virginia's Justice System: Expensive, Ineffective and Unfair

This Just Policy Blog is a repost from the Campaign for Youth Justice Blog originally posted Wednesday, November 20, 2013.

By Christine Brugh
Last week, the Justice Policy Institute released a new brief titled, “Virginia’s Justice System: Expensive, Ineffective, and Unfair.” The brief examines trends in incarceration in Virginia, delving into topics such as racial disparity and drug laws. According to the brief, Virginia has the 8th highest incarceration in the United States, making it even more pertinent that these disparities be addressed.

During Governor Allen’s tenure, prisons in Virginia have become even tougher, and have earned a reputation for being one of the most severe systems in the United States. Over-incarceration has contributed to this reputation and has serious consequences for communities and taxpayers in Virginia. The increased use of incarceration has been justified by the goal of reducing crime through the incapacitation of law-breakers. However, this comes at the expense of disproportionate incarceration of African Americans and African-American youth.

The brief reports that the cost to incarcerate a young person in a juvenile facility is approximately $100,000 per year. Virginia’s policies on juvenile justice falls behind those of other states; youth as young as 14 year- old can be transferred to criminal court for certain offenses, and in some cases, the transfer is automatic. According to the brief, Virginia is unnecessarily transferring many of these youth to adult court: a majority of these adolescents do not receive sentences requiring placement in adult prison.

Monday, November 4, 2013

'Lead Them Back to Good Jobs, Good Homes and a Better Life'

By Mishana Garschi

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of theMarch on Washington and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, George Washington University is hosting a year-long “Pro(Claiming) Freedom” series of events. The fall segment concluded in September with an address from New York Times bestselling author Michelle Alexander. Her renowned book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, has brought the issue of racial and criminal justice to the forefront – finally giving these issues some of the attention they deserve.

In honoring and remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Alexander asked, “What does Dr. King’s dream mean in an era of mass incarceration?” Here Alexander is eluding to the fact that 65 million people in this country have been branded as criminals and stripped of their human rights that they supposedly won in the  civil rights movement. Alexander outlined key points of her book, which illuminates how mass incarceration has specifically marked African-American men as permanent second class citizens through the "War on drugs."

Alexander concluded with the opinion that any successful path to racial justice in the criminal justice system must include those individuals that have been marked as “guilty.” She stated, “We need to create an underground railroad for people released from prison and lead them back to good jobs, good homes and a better life, but we have to be willing to work for the abolition of this system of mass incarceration in America.”

Friday, October 25, 2013

Corporate Crime: Getting a Clear Picture of our Criminal Justice System

By Matthew Brosmer

Not following federal guidelines or providing an adequate worker-safety environment is unacceptable. Major multinational corporations tout regulations as harmful, decreasing productivity and incentives for future investment, which is rhetoric and not true. It's interesting to see how low-level offenses receive harsh sentences while white collar offenses? Does our criminal justice system protect people from the most harmful sources?

Site of chemical explosion near Waco, Texas.
Reforming the criminal justice system is a must. A real change in the criminal justice system needs to come from holding those who create the most risk in society accountable. Wealthy individuals and multi-corporations create more in social, environmental, and financial damages and systemic risks, hurting tens to millions of people at a time, contrary to a low-level risk person, who is using drugs or committing theft. Most of the time these corporations will pay a fine for their negligence rather than serving time in federal or state prison.

Monday, October 21, 2013

10 Years Too Long

Just Policy Blog repost by the Campaign for Youth Justice originally posted on October 21, 2013 for Youth Justice Awareness Month. Their recently released report, "State Tends," can be found here.

By Carmen Daugherty

More than a decade ago, a federal law was created to decrease and prevent prison rape and sexual assault in U.S. jails, prisons, detention centers, and lock ups. Yet, ten years later, youth under 18 are still at the highest risk of sexual victimization in adult detention facilities. With nearly 100,000 youth in adult jails and prisons each year, more must be done to protect youth under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) creates awareness for youth in the adult system, and this week, YJAM will focus on raising awareness for the full implementation of PREA. 

PREA includes standards for youth under 18 in adult facilities. Unfortunately, the regulations do not call for the complete removal of kids in adult facilities, but Governors should see these regulations as a floor, not a ceiling.  Under PREA’s Youthful Inmate Standard, facilities must keep youth under 18 sight and sound separated from adults. Often times, adult facilities use solitary confinement or “segregation” to keep youth safe and away from adult offenders. Sadly, youth placed in solitary or segregation are not any safer since we know that youth in adult facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than their counterparts in juvenile facilities. To account for this, the Youthful Inmate Standard states that the use of isolation should not be used as a means to separate youth from adults.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Juvenile Justice & Afterschool: An Important Connection

Just Policy Blog repost by the Afterschool Alliance originally posted October 15, 2013.

By Erik Peterson

Afterschool programs during the peak hours of youth crime keep young people safe while engaging in learning opportunities.
For almost 40 years, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) has supported the work of afterschool programs to protect young people and promote safe communities.
While just one part of the whole JJDPA picture, funding for evidence-based afterschool programs has empowered communities to implement innovative programs that provide opportunities to engage young people in their own futures.
afterschool alliance
This week, JJDPA will be on our minds as more than one million Americans and thousands of communities nationwide celebrate Lights On Afterschool, an annual event that helps to raise awareness about the need for afterschool programs that keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families.

The JJDPA was one of the first federal legislative efforts to clearly link quality afterschool programming to prevention of youth crime and violence. Within Title V of the law, Incentive Grants for Local Delinquency Prevention Programs fund a range of innovative and effective initiatives that bring together communities to provide mentoring and engaging activities for young people.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Campaign for Youth Justice Releases New Report - State Trends: Legislative Victories 2011-2013

Just Policy Blog repost by the Campaign for Youth Justice originally posted on October 10, 2013.

By Carmen Daugherty

Today the Campaign releases its newest report: State Trends Legislative Victories from2011-2013 Removing Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System. 

State Trends documents the achievements of the past eight years in which twenty three states enacted forty pieces of legislation to reduce the prosecution of youth in adult criminal courts and end the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons. October is the perfect month to highlight these state victories by releasing our newest publication during Youth Justice Awareness Month.

State Trends documents the continuation of four trends in justice reform efforts across the country.  In the last eight years the following progress was made:
  • Trend 1: Eleven states (Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Nevada, Hawaii, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Oregon and Ohio) have passed laws limiting states’ authority to house youth in adult jails and prisons.
  • Trend 2: Four states (Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi, and Massachusetts) have expanded their juvenile court jurisdiction so that older youth who previously would be automatically tried as adults are not prosecuted in adult criminal court.
  • Trend 3: Twelve states (Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Ohio, Maryland and Nevada) have changed their transfer laws making it more likely that youth will stay in the juvenile justice system.
  • Trend 4: Eight states (California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Texas, Missouri, Ohio, and Washington) have changed their mandatory minimum sentencing laws to take into account the developmental differences between youth and adults, allow for post-sentence review for youth facing juvenile life without parole or other sentencing reform for youth sentenced as adults.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Substantial Progress Thanks to Collaboration and Risk Assessment ​

Just Policy Blog Guest Post as part of Pretrial Justice Institute and Justice Policy Institute Bail Month 2013. This post was originally posted Monday, September 23, 2013 by the Pretrial Justice Institute.

By John Chisholm, Milwaukee County District Attorney

Every prosecutor’s office in the country shares common challenges, regardless of size and population demographics. Prosecutors also share a set of core values grounded in protecting the public, holding offenders accountable and maintaining the integrity of the criminal justice system. I fundamentally believe that what prosecutors do on a daily basis makes communities better, but it is very easy to become consumed and defined by what happens inside the courthouse walls.  How we do the work of prosecutors does matter, and a growing body of research shows that the decisions we make concerning how we hold offenders accountable can play a significant role in stabilizing individuals, families and communities by changing the behavior that leads to repeated criminal acts.

In deciding what to do with any individual contacting the justice system, prosecutors naturally try to obtain as much information and evidence as possible concerning the alleged crime, the prior criminal history of the defendant and the harm done to the victim or community. Historically, we have not been objectively well informed about the risk that the person poses to commit new offenses. Sure, we use our professional judgment and institutional experience to approximate risk, but only recently have we started examining whether our assumptions are supported by the outcome we desire: is an offender changed by the encounter? Does he or she stop committing crimes?

In this context, two Wisconsin counties, Milwaukee and Eau Claire, have committed to developing a framework that places risk assessment at the forefront of our decision making process. Working with experts in pretrial justice services, we developed validated risk assessment tools that we apply to everyone coming into our jail. The objective is to have actuarial information that helps better inform decisions on what we do or do not charge, what kind of bail conditions are set and what kind of intervention resources we apply early on in the continuum from arrest to sentencing. Some tools are used to assess short-term risk, addressing whether a defendant will show up for court and obey conditions of release. Other tools tell us how likely the person is to commit new offenses.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Here’s the Problem with Bail ...

Just Policy Blog Guest Post as part of Pretrial Justice Institute and Justice Policy Institute Bail Month 2013. 

By Jean Chung
Say you’re arrested in Baltimore City. At your initial bail hearing, the bail commissioner will examine your current charge and your criminal record, if you have one. Based on this information, the bail commissioner will determine your bail amount—or whether you will be offered bail at all. If you are denied bail, you’ll be sitting in jail until your court date, which might be weeks or even months from now. If you are offered bail but can’t afford to pay, too bad. You’ll be sitting, too.

Here’s the problem: if two people with identical offense histories are arrested for the same crime and offered the same bail amount, a difference as arbitrary as the size of their wallets may keep one person in jail while the other walks free. When a bail system relies almost exclusively on financial terms of release, it inevitably results in the release of wealthier people while poorer individuals stay locked up for no reason other than their inability to pay. Since the criminal justice system has a disproportionate impact on low-income communities, bail amounts as low as $100 can keep people behind bars. On February 13, 2012, there were 40 people in the Baltimore City jail who had been detained because they could not afford bail amounts between $100 and $500.

A bail system that penalizes folks for being poor isn’t just discriminatory—it yields grave consequences for individuals and families. At 52 years old, Ed Spence was arrested and charged with fraud and a probation violation. He never even met with a bail commissioner; a correctional officer at Central Booking simply informed him that he would not receive bail. After that, he spent 40 days in jail awaiting trial. When he got out, the job he’d held at Safeway for 10 years was gone. He had been replaced.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Representation at First Appearance Bail Hearings

Kudos to PJI for bringing national attention to much needed reform at the front-end of states' justice systems. Veterans of pretrial justice know that a defendant’s access to bail money typically determines which people accused of crime will regain liberty before trial and who will stay in jail for days, weeks and months at public expense until final disposition.

PJI’s emphasis on an evidence-based, risk assessment and recommendation provides another way. It allows judicial officers to make better informed decisions that often will lead to appropriate supervision rather than unnecessary jail for people charged with non-violent crimes and others who do not pose a significant safety or flight risk. Consistent with current law, Pretrial supervision provides a non-financial alternative to incarceration for people who lack the necessary bail money and who can be trusted to return to court.

Yet states’ pretrial justice reform must take one more critical step to enhance the administration of fair and equal justice for low-income and poor defendants and maximize cost savings in unnecessary incarceration.  They must include the surprising missing player -- the public defender and assigned defense lawyer -- and guarantee counsel’s representation at a defendant’s initial appearance. A defense lawyer’s early representation provides the necessary additional information and advocacy to ensure that judicial officers rule correctly.

Friday, September 20, 2013

We Need More Bail Reform

Just Policy Blog Guest Post as as part of Pretrial Justice Institute and Justice Policy Institute Bail Month 2013. This post was originally posted Wednesday, September 18, 2013 by Pretrial Services Agencies for the District of Columbia.

By Clifford T. Keenan, Director

September is Bail Month. Bail Month features activities aimed at educating the public on the need for bail reform in America’s courts. Most jurisdictions across the nation continue to rely on money bail as the mechanism for release and detention, albeit almost 50 years since the Bail Reform Act of 1966 introduced the concept of least restrictive non-financial pretrial release and over 40 years since the Court Reform and Criminal Procedures Act of 1971 set forth legal statutory-based pretrial detention of truly dangerous defendants. Money bail contributes to unnecessary detention of many low-risk pretrial defendants, inappropriate release of high-risk defendants who have financial means, unwarranted financial burdens on low-income communities, and the gamble of placing public safety in the hands of a bail bonding industry that always will put profit before the public good.

While there is much work still needed throughout the country, there is also much progress being made toward pretrial reform. Pretrial Justice Institute Executive Director Tim Murray notes, “Bail Month is undoubtedly a time to renew our commitment to pretrial reform, it is also time to celebrate. There is wonderful work being done by an ever-growing coalition of professionals who refuse to accept a status quo that is anything less than the best we can do for our communities.” For many criminal justice professionals and advocates looking to reform their bail systems, the District of Columbia continues to be the model of fair and effective pretrial decision-making and programming.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Respecting the Rights of Defendants

Just Policy Blog Guest Post as as part of Pretrial Justice Institute and Justice Policy Institute Bail Month 2013

By Lauren-Brooke Eisen

Across the country, too many jurisdictions still depend on money bail to determine which defendants can be released pretrial. Forcing defendants to face financial loss if they flee, proponents insist, is essential to ensure that they will return to court. Those who cannot afford bail remain in jail, a reality that disproportionally impacts low-income communities. This practice has significantly increased our overreliance on incarceration, contributing to an exponential growth in our prison population over the past three decades. More than 2 million Americans are behind bars,
20 percent of those pretrial, and more than 65 million adults – a quarter of the nation’s adult population – have criminal records.

In 1966, the United States Bail Reform Act established the rationale of bail: to guarantee a defendant’s court appearance. The Act emphasized that when possible, the law favors release pending trial. The law established a presumption of release by the least restrictive conditions with an emphasis on non-monetary terms of bail. Two decades later, the Bail ReformAct of 1984 permitted judges to consider the danger a defendant posed to the community as a factor in making bail decisions.

Five decades of research
has consistently shown that pretrial detention increases post-conviction incarceration. These studies show that defendants detained in jail while awaiting trial plead guilty more often, are convicted more frequently, are sentenced to prison at a greater rate, and receive harsher sentences than those who are released awaiting trial or case disposition.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bail Month: Prevention

This blog was originally posted on the Pretrial Justice Institute's Blog on September 9, 2013 as part of Pretrial Justice Institute and Justice Policy Institute Bail Month 2013.

By Sheriff Stan Hilkey, Mesa, County, CO

Law enforcement officers are familiar with the term "prevention" and understand that any time you can be proactive and direct energy towards problems, rather than simply reacting to them, you nearly always have positive outcomes. Prevention in the context of “recidivism” may be less familiar to us, though, and so we may be missing out on some of the most meaningful reform in the criminal justice system.

At those times when a crime occurs, law enforcement, specifically the cops on the street, have perfected the process of walking a person to the front door of the justice system and pushing them inside-- and this is the point at which we have traditionally stood back, dusted off our hands, and declared it’s up to the “system” now to deal with this person. We are also often the biggest critics of the system as we stand on the front step as spectators of what occurs after the arrest.

There is now a large body of research available to us that demands our action to improve the front end of the system. It turns out that interventions on reducing recidivism should start at the point of arrest, rather than starting at the point of trial or conviction, and the entire front end of the justice system, prior to trial or conviction, has remarkable ramifications for recidivism and our officer safety. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Bail Month Returns This Year, This Time in Partnership from the Pretrial Justice Institute

Happy Bail Month!

This month, JPI, in partnership with the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), aims to educate the public on the need for bail reform for the second year in a row. Using money as a pre-trial release mechanism contributes to jails overcrowded with unconvicted people, burdens low-income communities and supports an ineffective for-profit industry.
Despite a lack of evidence that financial release options improve pretrial outcomes, jurisdictions throughout the country continue to rely on money as a proxy for risk in the pretrial process. This approach weakens public safety and creates two criminal justice systems: one for those with money and one for those without. The for-profit bail bonding industry - a corporate insurance behemoth that profits off the inequitable bail system - has enjoyed more than 100 years of corruption and political influence, and continues to skew judicial decision-making and put profit before public safety.   

Throughout September, JPI will re-release our three reports on bail -- two national analyses that highlight concerns and solutions around money bail and for-profit bail bonding -- and one highlighting the real-life stories of residents in Baltimore. We will also unveil a factsheet highlighting updates and news in bail reform. PJI will, too, release a report on money bail and release on recognizance (non-financial and financial release).

On Tuesday, September 10,
PJI and JPI will talk about the latest updates in bail reform as part of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) State Criminal Justice Network (SCJN) conference call series entitled National Advocacy Calls on Developing Legislation. To receive the call-in number, RSVP for the 12:00 p.m. EDT call at  [email protected].       

Read the Just Policy Blog and the Pretrial Justice Institute Blog. Share our bail stamp. Tweet about our reports using hashtags #BailFail and #BailReform. Pass on our reports and post them on your various social media sites. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

From Chicago with Love: Alternative Recommendations for Struggling Communities

Just Policy Blog Guest Blogpost

By Angela Rudolph

Dear Conservatives,

Thank you for your concern regarding the high instances of gun violence and its impact on the African-American community in Chicago. In recent months I have been blown away by the number of times I have turned on my television to either the cable or broadcast news programs to see so many of you championing the need for a targeted address to the violence plaguing the city I love. In the July 21 episode of CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Newt Gingrich stunned me with his seemingly heartfelt distress regarding the violence on the south and west sides of Chicago. During a recent appearance on CNN’s Pierce Morgan, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson  the leader of the South Central Tea Party (South Central who knew?) mentioned the 500 gun deaths we had in our city last year and called for a renewed focus on community violence.  Add on top of these cries, the attempts by Ben Shapiro, Editor in Chief at a conservative news and opinion website to focus attention on the murder of Chicago teen Darryl Green. It has been amazing to see all of these, previously thought, unlikely supporters following the happenings here so closely, calling on the African-American community and our leaders to address the “rampant black on black crime spree” in cities like Chicago. This outpouring of love and concern is, to say the least, overwhelming.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Aging Behind Bars

Guest Blog Post By Criminal Justice Degree HubThe elderly population in prison is rising at a staggering rate. The consequence of mass incarceration and strict sentencing policies at the federal and state level, older prisoners require more expensive care at a time when their danger to society at large is waning. Most are likely to die in prison, as programs designed to release such prisoners on compassionate grounds are rarely invoked, and don’t have much potential to reduce the population of elderly prisoners. Continued high rates of long-term incarceration of the elderly are likely to add billions to state and federal criminal justice budgets.
Aging Prisoners
Source: Criminal Justice Degree Hub The Rise of the Elderly Prison Population
Between 2007 and 2010, the number of state and federal prisoners age 65 or older grew 94 times faster than the overall prison population.

Between 1981 and 2010, the number of state and federal prisoners age 55 and over increased from 8,853 to 124,900. By 2030, that number is projected to grow to 400,000, an increase of 4,400 percent from 1981.

4 Types of Elderly Prisoners

Old offenders

Age at 1st incarceration: 50 or older
Sentence length: 20 years or more
# of terms: 1st prison term
Crimes committed: Murder or sex crimes

Young long-term prisoners

Age at 1st incarceration: Younger than 50
Sentence length: Varies
# of terms: Either 1st term or repeat offenders
Crimes committed: Murder, armed robbery, rape, repeat drug offenses

Repeat prisoners

Age at 1st incarceration: Younger than 50
Sentence length: 20 years or more
# of terms: 2nd or more
Crimes committed: Burglary, theft, drug possession

Young short-term offenders

Age at 1st incarceration: Younger than 50
Sentence length: Less than 20 years
# of terms: 1st
Crime committed: Burglary, theft, drug possession
Why The Elderly Are In Prison
The overall prison population has doubled during the past 20 years from 739980 prisoners in 1990 to 1543206 prisoners in 2010 due to truth-in-sentencing guidelines and “three strikes” laws.

The number of inmates serving life sentences quadrupled between 1984 and 2008; inmates who live a long time with life sentences will grow old and are most likely to die in prison.
The number of inmates sentenced to life without parole more than tripled between 1992 and 2008.

Government Fiscal Impact
Care for aging prisoners is at least twice as expensive than for younger prisoners because this population:

* Has more health problems and requires more medical care
* Requires longer and more frequent hospitalizations
* Needs care outside of the prison system, which represents 72 percent of all healthcare costs spent on aging prisoners

Managing the Problem

By the time a person turns 50, the likelihood of that person committing another crime has dropped precipitously. Only 16.9 percent of prisoners released at age 45 and older return for new sentences.

Policies that could reduce the number of aging prisoners include:
* Granting conditional release for aging prisoners who pose little safety risk
* Utilizing and expanding medical parole
* Reauthorizing and expanding aging prisoner release programs
States could save an average of $66,294 every year for each released aging prisoner, which accounts for increased parole, housing and public benefits costs.
Impact of annual cost savings of releasing the average aging prisoner versus keeping them behind bars:
* Low, $28,362
* Medium, $66,294
* High, $104,434.


Bureau of Justice Statistics, Human Rights Watch, American Civil Liberties Union, Pew Center for the States

The Criminal Justice Hub provides information and advice about traditional and online and criminal justice schools and careers in criminal justice.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Right on Time: Juvenile Justice Resource Centers for Advocates

The Justice Policy Institute has a special position in the social justice world in that we address adult criminal justice issues, in addition to juvenile justice issues. Our research runs the gamut, analyzing data to understand racial disparity in the adult and juvenile systems, commenting on upticks in incarceration, and making connections to policies and practices that affect incarceration rates and trends.

Recently, our reports like "Common Ground," addressing the recent trend in the reduction of juvenile confinement reform across the U.S., and our series on Washington, D.C. youth, have kept us grounded in juvenile justice -- an area that advocates and the general public are increasingly gravitated towards in an effort to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline.
With Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement Tuesday that the Justice Department will prioritize fixing a "broken" justice system, advocates, policymakers and practitioners, are propelled to continue reform work. And now, the icing on the cake is that there’s a new resource out there to help advocates, policymakers, and practitioners make communities safer and improve outcomes for youth.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced the launch of the new Models for Change Resource Center Partnership. As a part of the partnership, four new Resource Centers will be available to help provide judges, prosecutors, defenders, policymakers, advocates, probation officers, and mental health and social service agencies with much needed technical assistance, trainings, tools, and resources to help advance juvenile justice reform across the country.

Over the last decade, there have been juvenile justice reform efforts in 35 states. Much of this work is grounded in the seminal research funded by the foundation that showed that adolescents are fundamentally different from adults, and that treating juvenile offenders as adults, relying on incarceration, and failing to commit resources to rehabilitation and treatment is expensive, jeopardizes public safety, and compromises future life chances for young people in contact with the law.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Prison Phone Predicament

By Victoria Ravenel
Have you ever considered the importance of prison phones?

Keeping incarcerated individuals in contact with the outside world is immensely important to their re-entry into society – a smooth transition lessens the likelihood of repeat offenses.

But phones cost money, even in prison. So who pays?

As I learned through coverage in the Los Angeles Times' and at the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights (LCCR) on July 25, it is not the incarcerated persons, but the families and taxpayers who must pay the unreasonably high costs of prison phone calls. 

And just what are the costs? This skit, put on by LCCR organizers helped me and a host of social justice interns from Washington, D.C.,  see not only the monetary costs, but the impact on communication between the incarcerated and their families as well.

Background: This scenario features a mother of three whose husband has been incarcerated for five years. All of her children are in school and the oldest child is applying for college this month. Between the mother and her oldest child, both have been working overtime but there is one more application fee to be paid for. After groceries, rent, and transportation they both only have enough to pay for the last application fee.

Prison Phone Call Transcript

*phone is ringing*

Loved one: Hello?

Operator: I have a collect call from John Wilson.  Would you like to accept the charges?

Loved one: *looks at money left* I’m sorry.  I’ll decline the charges.

Operator: Ok. Thank you. Have a nice day.

*hours later…phone is ringing*

Loved one: This is Mary, how may I help you?

Operator: I have a collect call from John Wilson.  Would you like to accept the charges?

Loved one: *sighs* Sure. That’s fine.

Operator: Ok.  Ma’am you do realize that because this call is taking place in Virginia and is going out to Maryland that you will be charged a $4.95 connection fee?

Loved one:  Ok. I understand. Put him through.

Impacted person:  Hey, how is everything?  I called you guys earlier.

Loved one:  I know.  I know.  I couldn’t accept the call just yet.  I was picking the girls up from school.  Never mind that, how are you holding up?  Are you eating?

Impacted person:  Just missing you guys.  I want to hear about the girls though.  Have any decisions been made yet on schools?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mobbing, er, Missing the Point

Just Policy Blog Guest Post
By Angela Rudolph

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on May 18, 2013 signed into law legislation increasing the criminal penalties against individuals who use electronic communication or social media to organize violent flash mobs. Senate Bill #1005 allows a judge to hand down an extended prison sentence to anyone convicted of mob action who used social media or text messaging to organize it. Supporters of the bill argued the legislation is in response to a “growing trend” of large groups using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to organize flash mobs to commit crimes. Lawmakers and police cited summer-break concerns of mob attacks being on the rise, pointing to previous incidences of teens being arrested after groups began randomly attacking each other and pedestrians along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile causing dozens of arrests and multiple injuries.

We see it virtually every year when the weather gets warm,” City of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said after the Mag Mile attacks. “We were deployed, we were right on top of it and made the arrests. Preventing it is something that's very difficult to do."