Realignment and Homeless Probationers, San Francisco to Nix Costly Jail Phone Calls, and Restorative Justice in Massachusetts PrisonsJuly 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
INCREASE IN HOMELESS AB109 PROBATIONERS, AND HOW COUNTIES ARE DEALING WITH THE ISSUE
The diversion of lower-level offenders from state prison to county supervision through California prison realignment, AB 109, was designed to alleviate severe prison overcrowding and recidivism while saving the state money. But realignment has greatly increased the number of homeless people under county supervision, where they were previously supervised under state parole officers, and many counties are struggling with the expanded responsibility.
Los Angeles County may decide to consider homelessness a violation of an inmate’s terms of release, a “solution” that many advocates see as more destructive than effective (and WLA agrees). Other counties are increasing shelter beds or providing temporary shelter for homeless probationers.
The Associated Press’ Gillian Flaccus has more on the issue. Here’s how it opens:
Gov. Jerry Brown based his recent overhaul of the state corrections system in part on the idea that having those convicted of lower-level crimes supervised by county probation officers instead of state parole agents when they are released would help them stay clean, find jobs and avoid committing new crimes.
A cornerstone of the law’s success is housing, yet county probation officers throughout the state say homelessness continues to undermine their ability to help ex-cons rehabilitate, get drug treatment and find jobs. Some California counties report that up to one in five of the parolees they supervise under the governor’s realignment law is homeless.
“You’ve got somebody and … they’re gang-involved, you want to get them in classes, but they live under a bridge,” said Andrew Davis, an analyst with the Santa Cruz County Probation Department. “They’re not going to show up; they don’t know what day of the week it is.”
Counties across the state are dealing with the problem in different ways. Many are trying a patchwork of solutions as they adapt.
In Marin County, probation officers sometimes pick homeless parolees up at the prison gates and pay for motel rooms until they can find a bed. Santa Cruz County has contracted with local homeless shelters, a move that stirred controversy last year.
Homeless parolees in Riverside County are required to check in at an electronic kiosk and have their photo taken daily. In San Diego County, where nearly 400 former prison inmates are reporting as homeless, there’s a plan to spend $3 million to add 150 shelter beds. Parolees who say they are homeless must check in weekly with probation.
In Los Angeles County, where 758 convicts released under realignment say they have no permanent address, county attorneys are considering whether being homeless could be classified as an automatic violation of a parolee’s terms of release. That’s in part because many counties are finding that former inmates will claim homelessness to avoid close supervision.
Los Angeles has spent more than $6.5 million on housing for convicts who would have previously been the responsibility of state parole.
Counties say the number of lower-level offenders — defined as those who have committed crimes that are non-serious, non-sexual and non-violent — who are homeless upon their release has not necessarily changed since the realignment law took effect in 2011. State officials are still tallying the number.
The difference is that previously, these felons were the state’s responsibility. Counties are not strangers to dealing with homeless probationers, but now the numbers have increased.
SAN FRANCISCO MOVES TO LOWER EXORBITANT RATES FOR LOCAL PHONE CALLS FROM JAIL
In August of last year, the FCC placed a cap on how much companies can charge inmates (through their families) for interstate calls at 25 cents per minute. But because the cap only applies to out-of-state calls, contracted companies like Global Tel-Link continue to charge inmates’ families outsized fees for in-state calls and other services.
Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to modify the county’s contract with Global Tel-Link to reduce the costs of local and regional calls from SF County jails by up to 70%. San Francisco is one of the first counties to take a stand against contractors like GTL overcharging inmates’ loved ones. We hope other counties in California (ahem, Los Angeles) and other states follow suit.
The LA Times’ Lee Romney has the story. Here’s a clip:
The steep charges are the result of a contracting system in which the companies pay “commissions” to correctional institutions — in some cases to pay for inmate programs — while charging fees to cover those costs, according to regulators, lawmakers and inmate advocates.
Now, San Francisco is taking steps to halt the practice — one of the nation’s first local jurisdictions to do so.
At San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s urging, the Board of Supervisors last week voted unanimously to amend the county contract with Virginia-based GTL to dramatically reduce the cost of calls, which can burden inmates’ families.
“We just decided to stop the bleeding of poor people,” Mirkarimi said, noting that successful reentry into society often depends on strong family ties.
The cost of a 15-minute collect in-state regional call, such as those to a neighboring county, will drop by 70%, to $4.05 from $13.35. A 15-minute collect local call will now cost $2.75 instead of $4.45 — a 38% drop.
Earlier this year, the FCC capped the cost of interstate calls from correctional facilities between 21 and 25 cents per minute, and federal regulators are exploring whether to expand those efforts to in-state calls.
So far, most state efforts have focused on prisons, not local jails, like San Francisco’s.
California and at least seven other states ban prisons from accepting commissions…
Verizon, which isn’t in the corrections business, has weighed in against the practice, telling the FCC: “Forcing inmates’ families to fund [inmate services] through their calling rates is not the answer. … Other funding sources should be pursued.”
County-run jails have opposed regulation, and have largely managed to avoid it.
Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) hopes to change that. He has introduced a bill that would ban commissions and require contracts to be awarded to providers offering the lowest cost of service for inmates. It would apply to all jails and juvenile facilities statewide.
The California State Sheriffs’ Assn. opposes the measure, contending the changes would “negatively impact inmates” by reducing funds for inmate services.
But Quirk said, “I think there are better ways to fund it other than taxing grandma.”
The bill, which passed the Assembly, goes before the Senate Appropriations Committee in August.
MASSACHUSETTS TO LAUNCH RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PROGRAM IN PRISONS
In September, Massachusetts will pilot a new restorative justice prison program (based on the Victim Offender Education Group at San Quentin State Prison) aimed at reducing recidivism. During the 34-week course, offenders will have the opportunity to connect with victims in a mutually healing environment and take responsibility for harm they caused to others.
The NY Times’ Dina Kraft has the story. Here’s how it opens:
For many of his 15 years behind the soaring prison walls here, Muhammad Sahin managed to suppress thinking of his victims’ anguish — even that of the one who haunted him most, a toddler who peeked out from beneath her blankets the night he shot and killed her mother in a gang-ordered hit.
But he found it impossible to stop the tears as he sat in a circle together with Deborah Wornum, a woman whose son was murdered, and more than a dozen other men serving terms for homicide and other violent crimes. Each participant — victim and inmate — had a very different, personal story to share with the encounter groups that met here on a recent weekend in a process called restorative justice.
Ms. Wornum, 58, talked about the summer night three years ago when her son Aaron, a 25-year-old musician, walked out of their home with a cheerful “Be right back.” Forty minutes later the phone rang. It was a hospital; her son had been shot. He took his final breath in her arms.
“You touched me the most because it really made me understand what I put the family through,” said Mr. Sahin, 37, who was 22 when he killed the young mother. Taking a deep breath, broad shoulders bent forward, he continued. “I really don’t know how to overcome this or if I can overcome it. I’ve done a lot of bad stuff in my life. But I’ve reached a place where I’m not numb anymore.”
Lifting his head to look directly at Ms. Wornum, he projected his crime onto the murder of her son: “I kind of feel like I caused the pain, like I’m the one who committed the crime.”
The unusual two-day gathering took place south of Boston at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk, one of the state’s oldest prisons as well as its largest, with about 1,500 inmates. Under the whirring of overhead fans in an auditorium of exposed red brick, it brought 150 inmates together with victims, judges, prosecutors and mediators. Gov. Deval Patrick attended briefly and met with a small group of those present.
Restorative justice, a process with roots in Native American and other indigenous cultures that resurfaced in the United States and abroad in the 1970s, has begun to make headway in some states, including Massachusetts, where legislation was introduced last year to promote its practice. It brings offenders and victims together voluntarily. Offenders take responsibility and acknowledge the impact their actions had on their victims and loved ones as well as their own families and neighborhoods. The victim is given a chance to ask questions of the offenders and share how their lives were affected by the crime. Advocates say it is key to rehabilitation and reduced recidivism….
In September, Massachusetts will pilot a curriculum on restorative justice, modeled on a program called the Victim Offender Education Group, which was developed for California’s San Quentin State Prison. Meeting weekly for 34 weeks, participants will undergo a probing process aimed at acquiring accountability for the harm they caused.