Keeping Kids in Communities, Victim-Focused Violent Crime Reform, CA Makes it Under Prison Pop. Limit, and Justice in SwedenJanuary 30th, 2015 by Taylor Walker
STUDY: FAR BETTER OUTCOMES FOR KIDS SUPERVISED IN THEIR COMMUNITIES THAN IN DETENTION
A remarkable new report commissioned by the state of Texas found that kids housed in state detention facilities were 21% more likely to be arrested again within one year of release than kids under community supervision. And, when kids did recidivate, the kids who had been locked up were three times more likely to commit a felony than the kids kept in their communities.
The report collected and analyzed data from more than 1.3 million juvenile records, taken from 466,000 kids who had been in contact with the Texas’ juvenile justice system between 2004 and 2011.
The far-reaching report, conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, in partnership with Texas A&M, aimed to gauge the efficacy of a series of important state juvenile justice reforms. (Faced with an overwhelming over-incarceration crisis around 2007, the state built up rehabilitation and reentry programs and incarceration alternatives spearheaded by the conservative criminal justice reform group, Right on Crime. These reforms so greatly reduced the prison population that Texas has been able to actually close state prisons.)
Michael Thompson, director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and Xavier McElrath-Bey of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth appeared on PBS Newshour to discuss the report’s findings and implications. You can watch the segment in the video above, but here’s a small clip from the transcript:
[MICHAEL THOMPSON:] We found that they were saving the state a lot of money, hundreds of millions of dollars, by closing these facilities and really putting the emphasis on community supervision. Very few states could conduct an analysis like, this yet it’s the kind of analysis that states everywhere should be conducting.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And what was — what was so different about the community incarceration care for these young men and women that was from the state-run facilities?
MICHAEL THOMPSON: Right.
I mean, when you hear it and you think about it, it really makes a lot of sense, right? I mean, what we have been doing is we have been pulling kids away from their community, sending them to a facility hundreds or thousands of miles away, interacting with staff who don’t look like them, don’t necessarily speak their language, uprooted from any kinds of ties they had in the community, further away from positive influences they had, like maybe family members or a pastor or a sibling.
And we expect there to be some tremendous corrective action when we’re putting them with a bunch of kids who maybe will have a negative influence on them because they’re a higher risk of reoffending. So, really, when we talk about it that way, we shouldn’t be surprised that those kids actually end up doing better when they’re closer to home.
In an op-ed for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Nate Balis, director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, lays out ten meaningful takeaways for the rest of the nation. Here are the first two (but be sure to read the rest):
1. The report shows that dramatically decreasing the population of youth confined in state juvenile corrections facilities is good public policy.
CSG found that Texas youth released from state institutions were: 21 percent more likely to be arrested within 12 months than comparable youth who remained under the supervision of county probation departments and three times more likely to face felony charges if arrested. These findings were controlled for offending history, demographics and other relevant factors. CSG reports that the average cost of a stay in state custody exceeded $200,000.
Texas is not an anomaly. These results confirm the already overwhelming evidence that in virtually every recidivism study, the vast majority of youth released from large, state-run correctional institutions are rearrested within two or three years of release, and one-third or more are reincarcerated in a juvenile facility or adult prison.
Research also consistently finds that state-funded youth corrections facilities are dangerous, unnecessary, obsolete and inadequate for the serious mental health, educational and social service needs faced by many court-involved youth.
2. The CSG report shows that contrary to commonly held fears, there is not a substantial population of superdangerous youth beyond the capacity of counties to supervise.
CSG found no difference statistically between the population of youth committed to state-run secure facilities and those placed under the supervision of their county juvenile probation departments. Youth committed to state custody “look no different than many of those who are kept in their communities,” CSG commented. “This tends to suggest that many more of the committed youth could just as successfully be rehabilitated under the supervision of the county juvenile probation department.”
CONSIDERING THE VICTIM MAY BE ANOTHER STEP TOWARD SOLVING THE US’ OVERINCARCERATION CRISIS
Seattle Weekly’s current cover story introduces the ACLU’s Alison Holcomb, who is heading a $50 million political campaign to end mass incarceration. Holcomb, who used her new position to back the Californians for Safety and Justice’s Proposition 47 campaign, says she feels pulled to focus future efforts on developing victim-centered approaches to dealing with violent crime issues.
And Holcomb is coming from a place of devastating personal experience. When her husband, Gregg, was 24, his father was murdered by a 17-year-old at an ATM.
Here are some clips from Nina Shapiro’s story for Seattle Weekly:
Holcomb is beginning to focus on a rather revolutionary approach to criminal-justice reform—one that views the tremendous resources put into prosecutions and prisons as misguided, and that aims to siphon some of those resources instead to victims. “I’m just spit-balling,” she says, “but it seems to me that we could be a lot more creative and have a much more victims-centered approach to violent crime than we do right now.”
“It’s funny,” she begins. “The last month, I had an opportunity to talk with people thinking about violent crime.” They included Bass from the North Carolina group and a Brooklyn woman named Danielle Sered, who directs an organization that, as its website puts it, facilitates “a dialogue process designed to recognize the harm done, identify the needs and interests of those harmed, and develop appropriate sanctions to hold the responsible party accountable.”
“So how would the last 22 years have looked if that opportunity had been presented to Gregg?” she wonders. “Even if he wasn’t ready to take anybody up on the offer until year six or seven or 12 or 13. What might have changed if there had been a kind of support, if our criminal-justice system actually focused on the victims instead of . . . ”
She trails off into what she calls her “floating hypotheses”—that the fear of “vigilante justice” of the sort entertained in her husband’s darker moments has led the state into an outsized role. “We knights in shining armor, we prosecutors, we are going to step in and take care of this . . . on behalf of the victim.
“I think for a surprising number of victims that’s not what they want, not what they need…
CALIFORNIA FALLS BELOW FEDERAL JUDGES’ ORDERED PRISON POPULATION LIMIT
After several missed and extended deadlines, California has finally brought its prison population below the 137.5% of capacity mandated by a panel of federal judges. The number of inmates in state prisons dipped below the 113,722 limit by 259 inmates, hitting the marker more than a year in advance of the most recent deadline.
But the state must continue to take meaningful steps toward easing overcrowding through the final February 2016 deadline.
Contributing efforts to reduce the population average include realignment (AB 109), moving inmates to private and out-of-state prisons, early release programs for the elderly, the three-strikes reform law, and the recent passage of Proposition 47, which reduced certain felonies to misdemeanors.
The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton has more on the new numbers. Here’s a clip:
After years of legal battles that went as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, the state’s prison population has been decreasing steadily, and a report posted online Thursday by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation puts the latest inmate population at 113,463, below the court-ordered cap of 137.5 percent of capacity for the first time. The prisons’ design capacity is 82,707 inmates, and the population as of midnight was 137.2 percent of capacity.
The latest population figure is merely a snapshot and may fluctuate, and the corrections department did not have an immediate comment on the development.
But one of the lead attorneys in the effort to force the inmate population reductions said the announcement is a “significant moment.”
“We should all acknowledge it’s an important, significant and historic moment,” attorney Michael Bien said, but he added that the state must show that it can maintain the reductions over time.
Head over to the SacBee for more statistics and the backstory on California’s prison population saga, if you’re unfamiliar.
SWEDEN: LOW INCARCERATION RATES, LOW CRIME RATES, FOCUSED ON REHABILITATING OFFENDERS
Policy Mic’s Zeeshan Aleem has an interesting story comparing the oppressive and dehumanizing mass incarceration mechanism in the United States to Sweden’s rehabilitation-centric “open” prison system.
Sweden’s methods are geared toward releasing inmates back into the world as improved versions of themselves than when they arrived. And, while Sweden and the United States have different populations, Sweden’s results are certainly worth noting. Here’s a clip:
…in the past decade, the number of Swedish prisoners has dropped from 5,722 to 4,500 out of a population of 9.5 million. The country has closed a number of prisons, and the recidivism rate is around 40%, which is far less than in the U.S. and most European countries.
Öberg believes that the way Sweden treats its prisoners is partly responsible for keeping incarceration and recidivism rates so low…
While high-security prisons in the U.S. often involve caging and dehumanizing a prisoner, prisons in Nordic countries are designed to treat them as people with psychosocial needs that are to be carefully attended to. Prison workers fulfill a dual role of enforcer and social worker, balancing behavioral regulation with preparation for re-entry into society.
“Open” prisons: Even more remarkable than this is the use of “open prisons” in the region. Prisoners at open prisons stay in housing that often resembles college dorms, have access to accessories such as televisions and sound systems and are able to commute to a job and visit families while electronically monitored. Prisoners and staff eat together in the community spaces built throughout the prison. None are expected to wear uniforms.