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CSG Justice Center Convenes Meeting of State and Community Leaders to Foster Re-Entry Partnerships July 30, 2007

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The Council of State Governments Justice Center convened a meeting in Miami last month to discuss how to improve collaborations between state governments and community and faith-based organizations to serve people released from prisons and jails. Representatives from federal and state agencies, community and faith-based organizations, and private foundations offered their perspectives on the most significant factors limiting successful re-entry partnerships, and what can be done to address them. The Justice Center convened the meeting with support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, and the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, U.S. Department of Labor.

Community-based organizations have an extensive history of outreach and service to people involved in the criminal justice system. However, there are numerous challenges that impede efforts by state governments and community and faith-based organizations to work together on re-entry issues. Staffs of such organizations may have insufficient training to address the unique needs of people released from prisons and jails, difficulty complying with government regulations and contract requirements, and inexperience tracking and reporting program outcomes. Government agencies may have limited familiarity with small, neighborhood-based organizations and the services they provide, and their requests for proposals may not reach this constituency.

Participants at the Miami meeting discussed strategies to overcome these challenges, focusing on five specific areas for improvement:

Co-chairs of the meeting were Justice Center board members Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D) and Senator Stephen Wise (R). Aubry is a member of the New York State Assembly and chairs the Assembly’s Correction Committee. Wise is a Florida State senator. He also chairs the Education Pre-K-12 Appropriations Committee and is a member of the Criminal Justice Committee in the Florida State Legislature.

“People returning home from prison or jail face many obstacles to starting a new life and becoming productive, law-abiding citizens,” Assemblyman Aubry said. “Partnerships between state governments and organizations focused on re-entry needs of prisoners can help support this transition, improving not only the lives of people returning home from jail or prison, but also the lives of their friends and families, and the safety of their communities and neighborhoods.”

“Community and faith-based organizations have a wealth of experience addressing the safe and successful return of people released from prison or jail, such as helping them find employment, housing, and substance abuse treatment,” Senator Wise said. “The Justice Center’s meeting was an important step toward creating a policy guide that will address recidivism and encourage partnerships between these organizations and state governments.”

The Justice Center will use the group’s input to develop a policy guide that will provide recommendations for state governments to improve and expand collaborative efforts with community and faith-based organizations. The guide will also highlight several existing partnerships that are successfully addressing the needs of people released from prisons and jails.

For more information about the Justice Center’s work to facilitate successful re-entry partnerships between state governments and community and faith-based organizations, please download the full project description on the Re-Entry Policy Council website.


Unruly schoolboys or sex offenders? July 27, 2007

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The two boys tore down the hall of Patton Middle School after lunch, swatting the bottoms of girls as they ran — what some kids later said was a common form of greeting.

But bottom-slapping is against policy in McMinnville Public Schools. So a teacher’s aide sent the gawky seventh-graders to the office, where the vice principal and a police officer stationed at the school soon interrogated them.

After hours of interviews with students the day of the February incident, the officer read the boys their Miranda rights and hauled them off in handcuffs to juvenile jail, where they spent the next five days.

Now, Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison, both 13, face the prospect of 10 years in juvenile detention and a lifetime on the sex offender registry in a case that poses a fundamental question: When is horseplay a crime?

Bradley Berry, the McMinnville district attorney, said his office “aggressively” pursues sex crimes that involve children. “These cases are devastating to children,” he said. “They are life-altering cases.”

Last year, in a previously undisclosed prosecution, he charged two other Patton Middle School boys with felony sex abuse for repeatedly slapping the bottom of a female student. Both pleaded guilty to harassment, which is a misdemeanor. Berry declined to discuss his cases against Mashburn and Cornelison.

The boys and their parents say Berry has gone far beyond what is necessary, criminalizing actions that they acknowledge were inappropriate. School district officials said Friday they had addressed the incident by suspending the students for five days.

The outlines of the case have been known. But confidential police reports and juvenile court records shed new light on the context of the boys’ actions. The records show that other students, boys and girls, were slapping one another’s bottoms. Two of the girls identified as victims have recanted, saying they felt pressured and gave false statements to interrogators.

The documents also show that the boys face 10 misdemeanor charges — five sex abuse counts, five harassment counts — reduced from initial charges of felony sex abuse. The boys are scheduled to go on trial Aug. 20.

A leading expert called the case a “travesty of justice” that is part of a growing trend in which children as young as 8 are being labeled sexual predators in juvenile court, where documents and proceedings are often secret.



One-Year Anniversary of Confronting Confinement July 25, 2007

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One year ago, members of Vera’s Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Corrections and Rehabilitation on our then-newly published report, Confronting Confinement.

This June, on the first anniversary of that Senate hearing, Senators Richard Durbin and Tom Coburn, M.D., sent a letter to their colleagues urging them to re-read our report, saying, “the information and recommendations of the Commission are no less relevant than at their release.” You can read their entire letter here.

Today, the Commission is continuing to assist government leaders, corrections administrators, and advocates in taking steps to improve the lives of those who work and live in correctional facilities across the nation.

Here are some highlights of recent developments:

What was true last year remains true today: what happens in jail and prison doesn’t stay there. It is in the interest of everyone’s safety and health—not only those who work in prisons, but also those who are sent to prison and the communities they return to upon release—that we continue to present these important issues and recommendations to decision makers in Washington, DC, and around the country.

Thank you for your support—past, present, and future—which helps to make this possible.


Alexander Busansky
Executive Director, Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons
Director, Washington DC Office, Vera Institute of Justice

Confronting Confinement is available at the Commission’s web site, www.prisoncommission.org.


Let’s Keep Oregon’s Attention on Prisoner Deaths July 18, 2007

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Beginning last week, the Salem Statesman Journal ran three articles examining the high number of suicides in the Department of Corrections and what the DOC is doing to reduce the number of suicides in prisons (the links to the articles are at the bottom of this page). We need to thank the Statesman Journal for focusing on such an important topic and educate the public that more must be done to prevent these deaths.

The Problem is Extreme Isolation
Over the past ten years, twenty-five people have killed themselves in Oregon’s prisons, and between 2001 and 2002, Oregon’s prison suicide rate was twice the national average. The Salem Statesman Journal noted several commonalities among the deaths. One of the most significant was that a majority of the people committed suicide in the Disciplinary Segregation Unit (DSU) or the Intensive Management Unit (IMU).

DSUs and IMUs keep a person in solitary lockdown for 23 hours a day. When a person leaves his or her cell, they are handcuffed and tied with a leash. People confined in IMUs spend weeks, months or even years in solitary confinement with very little other contact with people. Even the cells are intentionally designed to magnify the isolation through sensory deprivation. The conditions in the units make people sick. They have exacerbated the illness of people diagnosed with mental health concerns and have led to symptoms in people with no previous history of mental illness. A United Nations report said the conditions in IMUs across the country were a form of torture.

While the Department of Corrections lists several steps it is taking to decrease suicides, they do not list stopping the practice of extreme isolation in IMUs and DSUs.

Please write a Letter to the Editor of the Salem Statesman Journal.

Here are some points to consider in your letter:

Here are some tips on writing letters to the editor:

Submit your letter to the editor through the Salem Statesman Journal’s website here: http://community.statesmanjournal.com/tools/sendmailforms/letters_to_the_editor.php .

The three Salem Statesman Journal articles are: Prison suicides linked to isolation, “Super max” suicides put vigilance at issue, and Prison officials consider several methods to curb suicides .

Thank you for all you do as a part of the Oregon Action Alert Network!


California parole policy change pushed July 17, 2007

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Panel to urge that fewer violators be returned to prison

Seeking to free up space for inmate rehabilitation, a state panel reviewing prison school and job-training programs will recommend that California stop re-incarcerating some low-risk parole violators, the group’s chairwoman said Tuesday.

The panel chairwoman, Joan Petersilia, a consultant to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration on prison rehabilitation policy, said the proposed change would reduce the state’s prison population by as many as 5,000 to 7,000 inmates over the next year and make more room for inmates who would get more out of the programs.

“We need to stop systematically sending low-risk parole violators back to prison,” Petersilia said in her testimony at the inaugural meeting of the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board.

Petersilia said offenders who only violate technical terms of their release, such as missing meetings with their parole agents, should be directed to community programs outside the prison system.

“We don’t want those people going back,” she said.

Petersilia is the chairwoman of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Expert Panel on Recidivism Reduction. The panel was created in last year’s budget to assess the prison system’s educational, vocational, drug and other programs designed to redirect the lives of the state’s 172,727 inmates.

Her testimony Monday highlighted the first meeting of the rehabilitation oversight board that was established under this year’s $7.9 billion prison construction package. The board is charged with making sure that the state incorporates rehabilitation into the fabric of the prison system.

Petersilia said the panel will forward the full list of its recommendations today to Schwarzenegger. They will also be sent to the Legislature by the end of the month. Copies of the panel’s report were not available Tuesday.

At least one of its recommendations has already been put into practice, however. Marisela Montes, the corrections agency’s chief deputy secretary for adult programs, told the oversight board that a pilot program to assess the rehabilitation needs of inmates, as well as the risks they present to society, got under way last week at four reception centers for incoming offenders.

“The goal is to ensure that we get the right inmate into the right program,” Montes said in an interview.

The oversight board is scheduled to meet quarterly and report to the governor and the Legislature twice a year on the status of prison rehabilitation programs.

Matt Cate, the inspector general over the prison system and chairman of the oversight board, said in an interview he wants his group “to hold Corrections accountable for actually making progress” in improving its rehabilitation effort.

“It’s a way of making sure they get traction and that the community knows, that the taxpayers know, they are moving forward in this area — finally,” Cate said.

Petersilia said while her panel found that some of the state’s prison rehabilitation programs are “incredibly good,” it also determined that they can’t be sustained or expanded amid the prison system’s seriously overcrowded conditions. Inmates are living in spaces designed for about half the current population.

The prison construction bill included money for 16,000 re-entry beds for short-term inmates, including parole violators. The locally based prisons are due to come on line over the next 18 months or so.

But even the re-entry space, Petersilia said, shouldn’t be used to house technical parole violators. Offenders who only violate the technical terms of their release — but don’t commit new crimes — shouldn’t be returned to prison, according to Petersilia. Instead, they need to be put on “a separate track” in community programs with intermediate sanctions, she said.



Calaveras officials back regional re-entry prison July 16, 2007

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Thought you’d find some info from California interesting

SAN ANDREAS – Convicts nearing the end of their prison terms and getting ready to re-enter civilian life in San Joaquin, Calaveras and Amador counties might someday find themselves in a single regional rehabilitation prison.

Calaveras County Sheriff Dennis Downum on Tuesday said he would meet that afternoon with his peers from San Joaquin and Amador counties to begin talks on where and how such a re-entry facility might be built.

The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 4-0 with Supervisor Merita Callaway absent to give their blessing to Downum’s efforts to negotiate with state officials for funding for a new Calaveras County Jail and for a prison re-entry facility.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in April signed AB900, a prison reform bill that calls for constructing 40,000 new prison beds, including 16,000 beds in so-called “re-entry” facilities, generally smaller, community-based prisons with an emphasis on rehabilitating inmates so they have a better chance of making it in the outside world.

State Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary James Tilton met with San Joaquin County leaders in early April to discuss the possibility of reopening the shuttered women’s prison outside Stockton to male prisoners. The proposed re-entry facility would house felons from the area for the final year of their sentences, providing job training and rehabilitation in the process.

Many San Joaquin County officials are opposed to allowing male prisoners into the shuttered prison, however. Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Doug Wilhoit in April proposed the facility instead be turned into a vocational high school, and county Supervisor Steve Gutierrez has questioned whether the “re-entry” proposal is a mirage to funnel more state prisoners into the county.

Currently, about 172,000 inmates are housed in state prisons that were designed to hold about 100,000. In addition to the new prison beds, AB900 also calls for 13,000 new beds in locally run jails, raising the hopes of counties such as Calaveras, whose 45-year-old jail is too small to hold most of those sentenced to serve time there.



Crowded prisons, ex-inmates finding hope in job programs July 15, 2007

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At the swanky Skyline Tower in Bellevue, Susan Smith pores over cookbooks for new recipes and pitches in with the prep work at Mezza Café.

Nine years ago, Smith wasn’t assembling the fixings for a croissant — she was cooking up meth.

A drug bust, prison and post-release help from a re-entry program gave Smith a new life and turned her from tax burden into taxpayer.

As prison overcrowding forces the state to examine ways of releasing inmates early, re-entry programs like the one that helped Smith are becoming increasingly important to prevent recidivism, say officials with the state Department of Corrections (DOC). And Smith — now manager of one cafe and about to take on expanded duties as manager of a second cafe at a new Lexus dealership — exemplifies exactly what officials hope for.

After years in prison, Smith and her husband parlayed their post-incarceration training in food services into jobs. The couple were not only able to get back on their feet, but eventually were able to purchase a home. Smith now finds herself counseling other former inmates as they struggle to readapt to the world outside prison walls.

“I love it when they tell me, ‘When I first got out I didn’t think I’d be where I am if it weren’t for you,’ ” Smith says.

Typically, when inmates are released, they are returned to their home community with no money, no job and often no more skills than when they were incarcerated. According to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy — a nonpartisan research institute — some 8,500 offenders are released annually, joining the 25,900 men and women already on parole.

Research shows that within 13 years, 54 percent of them will return to prison for new crimes.

That Smith did her time and transformed her life shows that re-entry programs work, says her boss, Rick Pinney, vice president of food services for the nonprofit Pioneer Human Services, which employs Smith. “Susan was wired for success but made a dumb left turn” when she began using drugs, he says.

A Ford Foundation study of Pioneer showed that 6.4 percent of the inmates returned to prison after two years, compared with 22 percent of those who did not go through any work-release or employment programs.

Boost from lawmakers

In its last session, the state Legislature allocated $28.3 million to expand adult offender re-entry programs, specifically work release. The DOC recently announced it planned to double its work-release capacity in the next 10 years to reduce prison overcrowding.

“Without re-entry [programs] to reduce recidivism, Washington faces a shortfall of 4,077 beds by 2017,” DOC spokesman Jeff Weathersby says. “The state would have to build at least two new prisons by 2020 at the cost of about $250 million each. The new prisons would increase annual operating costs by some $45 million per year.”

Pioneer, which provides services for federal and state prison inmates, gave Smith on-the-job training and housing after she was released from prison, at a time when no one else would hire or house her.

The counseling, job training and subsidized housing Smith and her husband, Kevin Smith, now both 48, received made success possible, she says.

Says Pinney: “She’s the kind of person we want to promote.”

Childhood on the edge

Smith grew up in a log cabin outside the Pierce County town of Buckley, one of eight children in a family that lived simply, without plumbing or electricity.

It was living on the edge, but not only because they used an outhouse and had no television. Growing up, Smith never knew when her father would spring into a torrent of blows against his wife and children.

“You never feel normal growing up,” she says.

At a young age, she left home and married the first man who seemed to be promising love and security.

A foray into the 1970s drug culture followed. So did four pregnancies. She lost a son to sudden infant death syndrome in 1980. She divorced twice, lost her mother in 1992 to an injury related to her father’s beatings, and became increasingly depressed and involved with drugs.

She was working as a bartender and living in a comfortable home in Sumner when she met Kevin and later married him. They had drug use in common. While in the beginning Smith’s drug use was experimental and occasional, once she tried highly addictive meth, she was hooked.

Smith canned vegetables, baked bread and helped her daughters with homework, believing herself to be “quite the little homemaker,” keeping her drug use secret.

But Detective Wes Tucker of the Sumner Police Department knew. Tucker was the police officer who responded to Smith’s home the day her baby died. He had seen families like Smith’s — sometimes three generations of them living in a motel — after meth took control of their lives.

Over the years, when he happened to see Smith in Sumner, he noticed how her life was increasingly out of control, and became concerned. Once, he confronted her about drug use.

“Susan, what are you doing?” he asked.

Now retired from his 27-year career, Tucker recalls Smith was “a nice person who made some bad choices. I remember her talking about how much her home meant to her. … There were kids in the home, too, and they were the world to her.”

Like Tucker did with many others he investigated for drug use, he sat down with Smith and tried to get her to consider changing.

Smith believed she and her husband would move away from Sumner to a farm in Eatonville, raising a $57,000 down payment by manufacturing meth, which also would supply their own use.

“It was such a delusion,” she now says. “I really believed it would work.”

The Smiths set up an operation in Maple Valley and kept the drug manufacturing secret from the children.



Many sex offenders end up at shelters July 14, 2007

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This article is about the state of Illinois

Nearly three years after the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state could post the names, addresses, and photos of the most dangerous sex offenders on a public website, sex offenders released from prison now often end up in homeless shelters, where it is difficult to track them, and a range of potential victims sleep nearby.

In a recent review of 77 Level 3 sex offenders — the category the state uses to define those with a high risk of committing sex crimes again — who list addresses in Boston on the state’s online registry, the Globe found that 65 percent reported they were living at homeless shelters.

Level 3 sex offenders are required by law to register their addresses with police.

City and state officials, police, and homeless advocates say the system meant to ease the transition from prison is broken.

They say the glut of sex offenders listing shelters as their address raises questions about whether they have anywhere else to go, whether they are more likely to commit additional sex crimes, and whether they list shelters as their address to evade registration.

“This is a critical issue of grave concern,” said Jim Greene , director of the city’s Emergency Shelter Commission. “Large, crowded homeless shelters are a militantly anti therapeutic milieu for people with mental health or other behavior problems. They’re just not a place for a Level 3 sex offender to reintegrate into society.”



‘Super max’ suicides put vigilance at issue July 9, 2007

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Oregon State Penitentiary’s Intensive Management Unit, designed to tame the state’s toughest convicts, has been rocked by a rash of suicidal acts by inmates in the past 2 1/2 years.

Aaron Munoz, 21, hanged himself in his cell in January 2005.

Jeremy Ayala attempted to hang himself in October. He survived, only to hang himself at a different Salem prison in May. He was 24.

And Randall James, 46, died in November after he was found bleeding in his cell from self-inflicted wounds.

An Oregon State Police investigation into James’ death uncovered lax supervision of inmates and falsified cell check logs by officers.

Prison officials said recent changes in the IMU — known as a “super max” to denote conditions beyond maximum security — are designed to bolster inmate supervision and safety in the top-security unit.

But critics adamantly say the IMU isn’t safe, especially for depressed or mentally ill inmates who can’t cope with extreme isolation.

“If you didn’t have psychiatric problems, it’ll probably cause psychiatric problems,” said Steve Gorham, a Salem defense lawyer who has represented inmates in the IMU. “And if you do have psychiatric problems, it exacerbates them.”

Gorham said inmates are subjected to sensory deprivation while they are kept in their cells for more than 23 hours per day. Amplified noise that seems to bounce off concrete and steel poses a double whammy for inmates, he said.

“It’s all metal cells, with metal doors,” he said. “There’s no insulation to suck up the noise, so the overload in IMU is just horrendous. The sensory deprivation comes in not having a lot of contact with people, being locked in that room for 23 1/2 hours a day and not being able to get outside.”

Munoz brooded in his cell, said his aunt, Kelly Ann Mills of Portland. Isolation fueled his anger, she said, along with shame and depression caused by sexual abuse inflicted on him as a teenager by a juvenile parole officer.



States seek alternatives to more prisons

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With swelling prison populations cutting into state budgets, lawmakers are exploring ways to ease overcrowding beyond building expensive new correctional facilities.

Though the construction of prisons continues as states struggle to provide enough beds for those behind bars, legislators increasingly are looking at other ways to free up space and save money, including expanded programs to help prevent offenders from being incarcerated again, earlier release dates for low-risk inmates and sentencing revisions.

Criminal justice analysts point to Kansas and Texas as recent innovators. Both states are putting off building new prisons, focusing instead on rehabilitation and recidivism. At the same time, a new $7.7 billion prison spending plan in California – where overcrowding last year forced Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to declare a state of emergency – has met with skepticism. Critics call the plan “prison expansion, not prison reform” and say the initiative relies on impractical fixes such as shipping inmates out of state.

State spending on prisons surged 10 percent nationally last fiscal year (see graphic) and growing inmate populations played a lead role in those costs, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Corrections trails only education and health care in swallowing state dollars, and experts say lawmakers are responding to the budgetary pressures by trying more cost-effective approaches.

“We’re seeing more and more states in different regions and with different political leadership tackling this issue and recognizing that the more they spend on prisons, the less they have to spend on health, education and other priorities,” said Adam Gelb, project director of the Public Safety Performance Project.

The project – which, like Stateline.org, is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts – in February forecast steep increases in incarceration rates and state spending in the next five years unless legislatures enact policy changes.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) last month signed into law a prison plan that is winning accolades for its creativity. Among other measures, the $4.4 million package provides financial incentives to community correctional systems for reducing prisoner admissions and allows some low-risk inmates to reduce their sentences through education or counseling while behind bars.

Under the plan, the state offers grants to localities for preventing “conditions violations” such as parole or probation infractions – a leading cause of prison overcrowding in Kansas and nationwide. To qualify for the grants, communities must cut recidivism rates by at least 20 percent using a variety of support tactics.

The early-release provision would cut time served by 60 days for some offenders who successfully complete programs that decrease their chances of returning to prison. Several other states, including Michigan, Nevada and Washington, recently announced plans to release some low-risk offenders early through similar initiatives, including good-time credits and expanded work-release programs.