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The vulnerability of females in the juvenile system, Central Texas and beyond

Posted by Janice L. Bailey on August 10, 2021 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

By: Khadeeja UmanaPosted at 10:19 PM, Aug 06, 2021 and last updated 10:47 PM, Aug 06, 2021

As the number of juvenile females rises, experts are calling for a closer look at juvenile facilities and their poor resource management in addressing the lack of services this population has.


The number of girls in U.S. detention centers has risen by 49 percent, according to a report by the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice; but systems are ill-equipped to address their needs.


One survey conducted at a Central Texas facility in 2012 revealed the trauma and serious mental health issues that juvenile women typically face, and provided recommendations for statewide reform.


The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition survey looked at the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood and found that 46 percent of surveyed girls reported that the staff, programs, and treatment were unable to help them cope with past trauma. In fact, according to the survey, four percent said their time in the facility did more harm than good.


“Counselors, staff, the legal system – they can’t understand where we’re coming from and what we need," said one Ron Jackson youth in the survey. "They’re always trying to judge us for our trauma.”


The survey recommended that the state, and Texas counties, increase funding and conduct further surveys to support rehabilitation and avoid re-traumatizing youth. One key finding of the survey was that therapeutic programs are the most effective in recovery for the girls.


“I’m close to going home, and I’m almost through the drug program," said one Ron Jackson youth. "Now I’ve realized I need to do this to change my life – I don’t want to live a drug life all my life.”


According to one study, 30 percent of females with a substance use disorder also had a serious mental disorder; and incarcerated juvenile females are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and PTSD.


"While gender disparities also exist within normative samples, the rates of disorder and co-morbidity appear to increase exponentially for girls within juvenile justice settings; leading some to suggest that a gender paradox exists," said the study.


In fact, in addition to high rates of drug and alcohol use, women in the juvenile justice system are 3.5 times more likely to deal with child-birth and 30 percent have been pregnant at least once or more.


One Baylor researcher, Danielle Parrish, recently received $3.1 Million from the National Institutes of Health to test an Intervention Program that would tackle these issues. With all of the data compiled over time regarding the vulnerability and lack of resources for females in the juvenile system, Parrish and other experts believe this is a much-needed effort for this population.


"Historically, juvenile courts primarily dealt with boys under delinquency jurisdiction and girls under status offense jurisdiction," said a study by the U.S. Department of Justice. "This distinction has often led to different processing of female status offenders in courts and in mental health and juvenile justice institutions."

First Step Act is a Good Start

Posted by Janice L. Bailey on January 13, 2019 at 8:50 PM Comments comments (0)

By George Kevin Jordan

Published: January 2, 2019 - originally appeared on Afro-American Newspapers.

In 2019 organizations that supported the recently passed First Step Act, which helps reform the prison system, are calling for proper implementation and transparency, officials said.


“I think the take away from folks supporting and opposing this bill is that it’s well titled – in that it’s the first step,” said Ryan King, director of Research and Policy at the Justice Policy Institute. “I think it’s been a contentious piece of legislation even within the community of people working in criminal justice reform.”


On Dec. 18 after a rare bipartisan push from senators across the aisle the First Step Act was passed.


“Tonight the Senate took an important first step to reform our broken criminal justice system. The First Step Act is backed by a diverse group of supporters – from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Fraternal Order of Police,” said U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md), in a statement. “ It includes crucial reforms to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes, end juvenile solitary confinement, and provide more people with a second chance. While we’ve got much more to do, I was proud to support this bipartisan bill, and I will continue working to implement more reforms in the days ahead.”


The bill – co sponsored by Van Hollen, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D- RI) and Sen. John Cornyn (R – TX), would do several things including:


Hike earned credit up to 54 days per year per inmate rather than the current standard of 47 days that the Bureau of Prisons has in place.

Provide over $250 million in educational classes and training to assist with transition for returning citizens.

Ban the shackling of female inmates when they are pregnant and up to three months after their pregnancy

Institute home confinement for low risk prisoners

Provide proper ID to individuals released from prison.

While there has been debate about how substantive the bill is to the entire prison population and system, King pointed out the real time benefits can be had from the legislation.


“These are positive reforms where thousands of people will be impacted by them,” King said. “There are a number of people who have the opportunity to be released immediately. There is no question that that’s a positive.”


According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons there are about 180,000 federal inmates in the system now. This number is compared to more than 2.3 million people in the entire prison system in the U.S., according to numbers by the Prison Policy Initiative.


King noted that legislation tends to help push more legislation in the long run.


“You will see these smaller reforms have led to more ambitious reform,” King said. “People who were reluctant later become supporters.”


Some critics are wary of the Risk Assessment part of the bill, which some would say may leave an opportunity for racial and other biases to creep into who is deemed a risk to the public.


“Risk is linked to race and earned time would disadvantage people of color,” King said. “How is the risk decision being made? Those are the points of debate.”


“The reality is this is where people and organizations need to be pushing for transparency making sure they are holding hearings with folks from the Sentencing Commission and the Bureau of Prisons. For me, those are the two agencies we need to be pushing for transparency from.”


Kara Gotsch, director of Strategic Initiatives at the Sentencing Project worked with legislators on the bill. Her organization is not only focused on reduced sentencing but making sure the educational components are actually working and make sense.


“Sentencing reform was a critical piece,” Gotsch said, “The success of the bill will depend on implementation.”


Implementation is key not only because of all the moving parts but because there is no permanent Attorney General in place as of yet of oversee all the processes associated with the bill.


Gotsch added that the system’s current educational program for those incarcerated is lacking.


“It’s a basic common sense issue,” Gotsch said. “Programming isn’t going to materialize unless we reduce the prison populations.”


Officials at the Attorney General’s Office could not be reached for comment.

Paroling Elderly Inmates is Humane Solution to Costly Mass Incarceration

Posted by Janice L. Bailey on January 13, 2019 at 8:40 PM Comments comments (0)

By Marc Schindler Original article published on The Hill

As the United States enters its fourth decade of the mass incarceration crisis, state and federal policymakers are taking steps to push back against a wasteful system that costs billions of taxpayer dollars and does little to deliver on promises of public safety. It has put enormous strain on state budgets, while disproportionately impacting people of color and destroying lives, families and communities. The number of people serving life sentences is four times what it was in 1984 — currently imposed on one of every seven people in a U.S. prison.

This growth in long prison sentences has done little to improve public safety, with states that have reduced incarceration levels experiencing larger drops in crime than states that continue to incarcerate people at very high rates. But it has contributed to a rapidly expanding population of incarcerated elderly people, so that our prisons now essentially function as expensive yet inhumane nursing homes. In 1993, there were 45,000 incarcerated individuals over 50 years old; with the continuous growth, it is estimated that number will reach 400,000 by 2030.

For policymakers to significantly reduce the growing and costly prison population, strategies must include reform to long sentences for violent crimes. Focusing reforms on reducing incarceration of geriatric people is an effective way to safely reduce the prison population. Research indicates they are the least likely to pose a risk to public safety; criminal behavior typically peaks at 17 years old and then drops as an individual develops into adulthood. While many states, such as California, Texas and New York, have expanded geriatric parole eligibility, it is infrequently used.

A naturally-occurring experiment, just a few miles from the nation’s capital, provides a roadmap for this strategy to safely reduce incarceration, create a more humane justice system and save significant taxpayer dollars. A landmark court ruling — Unger v. Maryland — and the opportunities it created, offer powerful lessons for policymakers and stakeholders in tackling mass incarceration. The 2012 case, centered on remedying improper jury instructions, applied to a cohort of 235 people sentenced prior to 1981. In the six years since the decision, 188 people have been released; at release, the average age of the Ungers was 64, and the average term served was 40 years.

As with everything in America’s justice system, the issue of racial disparity is deeply intertwined and ever-present. The Unger group were deeply impacted by racial discrimination: almost 90 percent of the Unger group are black, despite only 18 percent of Maryland’s population being black at the time of their convictions. Almost all were convicted by all white judges, juries and prosecutors.

In the six years since the decision, we have learned a number of important lessons, the most significant of which is that the Unger experience proves we can safely release people who have committed a serious, violent offense. And since they’ve been home, the Ungers have been contributing to their communities; as volunteers and mentors they help keep us all safer by encouraging youths to avoid the mistakes they made when they were younger.


One of the things that make the Ungers unique is that, thanks to an investment by the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, they received specialized reentry programming before and after release. With that individualized support, the Ungers have had a less than 3 percent recidivism rate, a fraction of the Maryland rate of 40 percent. This support is a significant advance over what most people receive and should be a model for governments across the country to replicate.


The Ungers were primarily convicted of homicide and rape, yet they have safely returned to the community. Too often we fail to take into consideration a research-based assessment of the risk of reoffending when making release decisions. It is time to reconsider parole policies and assessment tools that disregard rehabilitation and continue to keep people locked up based solely on the severity of their underlying offense.


Imposing extremely long sentences, alongside low rates of parole, serves political motivations, not increased public safety. By pivoting away from a parole approach focused solely on the crime committed, to one that assesses the current risk of re-offending and provides tailored re-entry services, states can safely reduce their prison population, save taxpayer money and create a fairer and more effective justice system in the process. There are hundreds of thousands of geriatric-aged individuals in prisons across the country, many with the same profile as the Ungers. Maryland alone could save over $100 million in the first year by reducing its low-risk geriatric population.


Extreme sentencing has been justified in the name of public safety, but the evidence demonstrates it is a failed policy. Even crime victims have said long sentences don’t serve their needs, and that money could be better spent on crime prevention and victims services. Keeping someone locked up when they are elderly and infirm, in a wheelchair or on oxygen, until they die alone and far away from loved ones, doesn’t create a safe and healthy society.The Unger experience demonstrates that we can safely release older individuals. It is long past time we rethink our approach to preventing, and responding to, violent crime.