Maintaining the Momentum

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The American judicial and justice system contains poor policies. Many people serve their sentence in the prison system without judicial cases. Others have undergone conviction due to petty crimes that require them to serve short periods. However, such individuals remain in prison for a longer period compared to their actual sentence. The American sentencing system remains to offer unfair sentence to inmates. Therefore, the criminal justice should undergo reform to create justice among the inmates. The statistics from the national survey states that the prison population has grown by over 800% compared to the country’s initial population that has only increased by 33% (Mortimer). According to overall statistics, the country’s population figure forms 5% of the world’s population with 25% acting as prisoners. The prison population growth rate has increased within a period of three decades since the year 1989 (Mortimer).

The increasing record comes from the explosion panic on drug addiction towards marijuana, heroin and alcohol that took place in the 1980s. The tripping point occurred when the country experienced a crack cocaine storm. The Congress introduced a compulsory sentencing to the abusers to five-year sentence. Since 1980s the huge composition of the prison population come from the drug abusers and addicts. The sentence contains unreasonable punishments to the inmates. Those who come out of prison end up in worse conditions compared to how they joined the prisons. The industries and the employment sectors fail to employ ex-convicts since they consider them dangerous. The Congress has done nothing for the past two decades to improve the status of ex-convicts in the society. They remain to handle their fate without help from the government.

The states justice department should reduce sentences on drug abuse. Serving more than 25 years for making sales on pain pills to a colleague turns out to be unrealistic. The justice department should reduce the years and change the sentencing policies that give the federal justice powers to pass such sentences. Other sentences that the state should change include the ones charged on fraud artists, tax evaders, and thieves. However, the individuals should be subjected to severe penalties in case they retrogress. The only individuals that should undergo serious charges and penalties should be the violent and dangerous drug traffickers. Such individuals cause chaos and may affect the rights to life of the citizens in the country. The federal reforms should inculcate a program that enables the ex-convicts to re-enter the society and gain full control of their lives.

The state spends more than $59 billion a year on prison services (Mortimer). Good reforms shield the states against having huge expenditures on the inmates. The states should reject the aspect of building new prisons and focus on improving the current status of the available prisons through reform programs. The federal programs should ensure that they focus on training the prisoners on how to improve their livelihood in case they come out of the prisons. Most of the prisons should ensure that they introduce a probation system that prevents most people from going to prison. Probation enables a convict to undergo a positive change in behavior. It also enables the state to save more than a quarter of its prison budget and channel the money to other state projects. The states should also train their prison wardens on how to handle the convicts while serving their sentences.

Source: www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2014/05/09/its-time-for-prison-reform-and-an-end-to-mandatory-minimum-sentences

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“How many people are in jail based on faked data?!”

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This recent Massachusetts crime lab scandal underscores how easy it is for Americans- especially poor Americans- to be incarcerated wrongly.  A chemist at a Massachusetts crime lab tampered with and falsified tens of thousands of drug samples used as evidence, forging signatures and even mixing samples to create false positives.

Of course, this is an extreme case of criminal activity within the criminal justice system- but it is also just the one who got caught.  We can never know how many people are wrongfully imprisoned because of such tampering.

Read the full Slate article here.

Out for Good: An Overview of Reentry Efforts in Tompkins County

America spends billions on it’s prison system…but shrinks from funding vital and necessary reentry programs. People often don’t consider the incredible difficulties released inmates have to deal with when reentering society, and the general lack of quality programs and resources to aid in that societal reintegration.
Quality reentry programs are proven to reduce recidivism. Why are they not getting more funding?

Keri Blakinger

Every year, close to 700,000 people are released from jails and prisons in the United States. More than 700 of them are released from the jail right here in Tompkins County.

Those individuals are “reentering citizens,” and, as criminal justice reform moves into the national spotlight, reentry is just one aspect of reform that is gaining steam locally. Reentering citizens can face an array of challenges, including finding a job when they have a criminal record, securing housing without any savings, and transportation to meeting parole and probation requirements.

José Peliot of Civic Ensemble

Ten years ago, there was relatively little to speak of in the way of reentry efforts in Tompkins County. Now there’s a smattering of local groups dedicating resources to everything from college preparation to acting, all in the name of reentry.

Reentry Subcommittee

One big player in local reentry efforts could be the county government. In its current iteration the 2016…

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Mass Incarceration: Increases Crime, Destroys Lives

The idea is simple and seemingly a truism: round up all the bad guys, lock ‘em up, and crime will go down. The American criminal justice system has obviously bought into this idea: current incarceration rates show that 5% of the American population will have been imprisoned at some point in their lives (bjs.gov).

The problem with this logic, and the prevailing criminal justice system, is that it is a fallacy. Mass incarceration, unequivocally, DOES NOT decrease crime or recidivism. In fact, the opposite is true.

There are two main reasons why the “Lock ‘Em Up” approach is such a colossal failure. First, that mass incarceration does not act as an effective deterrent to crime, and second, that imprisonment ruins life prospects and therefore increases recidivism rates.

The majority of people do not need a major deterrent not to commit crimes. People are social animals, and the drives for acceptance and social acceptance (in addition to morals) are more than an adequate barrier to an outsider life of crime. However, the majority of people begin their criminal careers between the ages of 15-25, when they are most impulsive and don’t think in the long term. Even if getting caught and a harsh sentence are highly likely, the mind set is often “It won’t happen to me”.

This issue is compounded by the fact that getting caught isn’t necessarily certain and that sentencing length is all over the map- a landmark study by Michigan professor Mueller-Smith showed that sentencing was highly dependent on what judge gets your case or how busy the courts are in a given period (quartz.com).

The second reason may truly be the root of why mass incarceration is such a tragically flawed policy. It ruins lives. Socially, economically and spiritually.

Take the case of Jay* (name changed), whom I know personally. Jay was the All-American hero growing up: Eagle Scout, active in his church, Co-Captain of the football team, and joined the Army Reserves after graduating high school. An avid outdoorsman, Jay had his fair share of extreme sports injuries and ended up getting prescribed Oxycontin for a particularly bad shoulder injury. Within 6 months he was addicted, and ended up turning to heroin when the Oxycontin became too expensive.

Like most drug addicts, Jay ended up in jail because of his addiction. He had never stolen or become violent: he was arrested trying to shoot up in a bathroom at the mall where he worked. Jay describes what happened when he woke up from his drug detox in jail:

“I realized I had a felony now- I was a felon. I had lost my right to vote, lost my job, lost pretty much everything. I knew I could handle jail; it was what my life would be like after I got out that terrified me. Who hires a felon? Who marries a felon? I felt my life sucked away from me.”

Jay would be branded a felon for life- unable to vote, unlikely to secure a good job despite his college degree and military service, no help for his addiction and generally looked at as a second-class citizen.  All for a non-violent drug offense. That’s the true tragedy and failure of mass incarceration.

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The Incarcerated Parents Crisis in America

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one out of three American children live without their biological dad in the home. Consequently, there is a “father factor” in nearly all of the societal issues facing America today. We must realize there is a father absence crisis in America that is due to the injustice of drug related sentencing.

Youths in father-absent households still have significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds! A 2002 Department of Justice survey of 7,000 inmates revealed that 39% of jail inmates lived in mother-only households. Approximately 46% of jail inmates in 2002 had a previously incarcerated family member. One-fifth experienced a father in prison or jail. What Americans needs to acknowledge is that “our” children are the future; and how we raise them is going to play a key role in the way our society will progress. Children of incarcerated parents are more likely to drop out of school, join in delinquency, and subsequently be incarcerated themselves.

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  • Official U.S. data shows that 63 percent of youth suicides (5 times the average), 70 percent of youths in state-operated institutions (9 times the average) and 85 percent of children with behavioral disorders (20 times the average) are from fatherless homes.
  • Studies on parent-child relationships and child wellbeing show that father love is an important factor in predicting the social, emotional, and cognitive development and functioning of children and young adults.
  • Daughters of single parents without a Father involved are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 711% more likely to have children as teenagers, 164% more likely to have a pre-marital birth and 92% more likely to get divorced themselves.

Our legislative system is creating generational problems for our society and the future of our nation. These children who are being raised with a parent incarcerated are not as stable as those who live in a two-parent household. These children need stability and need to have a healthy relationship with their parents, especially those incarcerated.

Knowing this we need to develop an alternative punishment for non-violent drug offenses. Such as reducing sentences for incarcerated people who participate in rehabilitation programs, expanding sealing and expungement criteria for some juvinelle offenses, and providing the possibility of parole for some offenses committed while a juvinelle.

Our legislation needs to be stronger and it should eliminate unfair mandatory minimums altogether. Our legislation should do more to eliminate punitive incarceration for children and opt instead for community-based rehabilitation. Our legislation is barely scratching the surface of what needs to be done, and there is much more to do.

Sources:

http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/publications/inc_incarceratedparents.pdf

http://www.growingupwithoutafather.org/learned.html

No Treatment for Addicts

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A recent report by Casa Columbia found that although 65% of inmates met DSM -IV medical criteria for addiction, only 11% received any treatment while incarcerated.

Our current criminal justice system isn’t “fixing” anything…it ignore the root causes of crime and perpetuates the incarceration cycle.  The phrase “Band-Aid for a bullet wound” springs to mind.  Or perhaps, “Band-Aid covered in arsenic for a paper cut” is more apt.

Read Casa’s Report here.

We Disagree with NAAUSA’s Views on Sentencing Reform

It is no secret that the federal prison population has dramatically increased since 1980. The War on Drugs has caused the prison population to plummet to a current 205,792, with over half of the inmates being convicted for drugs. In a recent paper, The National Association of Assistant US Attorneys (NAAUSA) blatantly states, “our federal prison population is not exploding.” They seem to believe that the drop in prisoners between 2013 and 2014 is enough to warrant their claim. However, that slight decrease certainly does not make up for the large increase that preceded it.

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This was the first of many other “dangerous myths” they attempted to refute on behalf of their position against sentencing reform. The only problem is that many of their claims lack moral, ethical, and logical support.

Another “myth” they attempt to refute is that “the federal prison population is a product of mandatory minimum sentences for drug traffickers.” They claim that the majority of drug traffickers sentenced in federal court are not being sentenced pursuant to mandatory minimum sentences. However, according to the United States Sentencing Commission, statutes carrying mandatory minimum penalties have increased in number, apply to more offense conduct, require longer terms, and are used more often than they were 20 years ago. In 2010, more than three-quarters (77.4%) of the 19,896 defendants convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty were convicted of a drug trafficking offense.

The NAAUSA says that violent drug dealers aren’t the only ones who deserve lengthy prison sentences. They claim that drug trafficking is inherently violent and that all drug dealing is dangerous taking the lives of thousands of Americans, destroying families, and undermining the moral fabric of our communities, regardless of whether any individual offender engages in an act of violence during the commission of a drug offense. Many communities, particularly those inhabited by minorities, have been torn apart because their fathers and brothers are behind bars. Some of these men were doing what they had to do to feed their families in their poverty stricken environments. The NAAUSA claims that sentencing reform won’t lower our taxes, but the fact of the matter is the United States spends 80 billion dollars per year incarcerating prisoners whom many of which were convicted for non-violent offenses.

In a recent visit to a federal prison to discuss the issues surrounding mass incarceration, Barack Obama said, “Imagine the good we could do, the investments we can make if we did not spend so much money incarcerating non-violent offenders.” He spoke on the case of Bernard Noble, a man sentenced to 13 years and four months for possessing two joints of marijuana. Mr. Noble is a dedicated father of seven who was working full-time and starting a small business at the time of his arrest.

The NAAUSA notes that with the recidivism rates for convicted offenders at nearly 77 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, it is highly likely that many of these offenders will revert back to drug dealing once released from prison. This is just another one of many reasons why sentencing reform is necessary. Why are we spending $80 billion a year to house inmates whom many of which have the ability to become productive members of society if given the right treatment?

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The NAAUSA argues that the current federal system and the penalties for drug trafficking present the best approach toward equal justice under the law. But as Barack Obama stated in his speech at the 106th Annual NAACP Convention, “In the American tradition and in the immigrant tradition of remaking ourselves, in the Christian tradition that says none of us is without sin and all of us need redemption, justice and redemption go hand in hand.”

Dollars & Sense: Rehabilitation Over Incarceration

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Numbers don’t lie, as the old adage goes. So let’s take a look at some pertinent ones:

  • 5 million people were arrested in 2013 for non-violent drug charges
  • Close to 25% of those incarcerated (in all types of institutions) were non-violent drug offenders
  • U.S. taxpayers spend approximately $17.5 billion a year incarcerating non-violent drug offenders (25% of the $70 billion incarceration bill the U.S. pays annually)

$17.5 billion spent on warehousing non-violent drug offenders- almost all of them drug addicts who would benefit from treatment and rehabilitation. That’s roughly $30-40,000 per inmate per year. With the average sentence length of a nonviolent drug conviction running 6 years, that’s $180,000. A drug addiction left untreated will result in continued drug use and arrests-which is why 63% of nonviolent drug offenders recidivate within 3 years. Recidivism costs the U.S. taxpayer more money re- incarcerating the same individual. The almost complete lack of any drug treatment available to inmates is a large reason for the astronomical recidivism rate.

Rehabilitation programs, which are the only realistic way to help and keep a drug addict from re-offending, cost drastically less than incarceration. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that, “Treatment can cut drug use in half, decrease criminal activity, and reduce arrests”.  Thirty day inpatient rehab programs can cost as little as $2,000, while outpatient programs are even lower cost (as little as $3,000 a year). Placing non-violent drug offenders in an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, combined with probation, is much cheaper to the taxpayer than incarceration. Economically, everyone benefits: less initial cost to the taxpayer, long term the offender is much less likely to re-offend, saving future incarceration costs, and the offender themselves can become a productive job-holding member of society.

Rehabilitating non-violent drug offenders is not just bleeding-heart, save the whales policy.  It makes hard numerical sense.  Completely objectively, would you rather spend $10,000 or $180,000?  I would much rather spend $10,000.  When a non-violent, drug addict receives proper treatment and probation, that individual is much more likely to:

  • stop using drugs and spending thousands on their addiction
  • less likely to reoffend
  • get a job and pay taxes

An untreated drug addict will just continue to reoffend, costing the taxpayer more money indefinitely.

 

Sources: drugabuse.gov, drugwarfacts.org, http://www.cepr.net

“Releasing 6,000 Inmates’ Isn’t Enough”

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Blakinger’s Post article hits the nail on the head for multiple points:

  • Pre-trial detention – 20% of the inmate population – is incarceration of people who haven’t even been convicted of a crime.  The current bail system means that the poor have to stay in jail until trial while the wealthier can be freed.
  • Incarceration of mentally ill inmates, at least as it currently stands, is doing more harm than good.  The majority receive essentially no treatment outside of some medication.  Outpatient or even inpatient treatment facilities would be less expensive and more effective than incarcerating the mentally ill.
    • (See also the documentary “Into the Abyss” on solitary confinement)

“…prison inherently is a bad environment for drug treatment. About 65 percent of inmates have drug addictions, but only 11 percent are treated, according to a 2010 report by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Not only do prisons rarely treat addictions, they often make addiction worse.”

-Blakinger

  • Incarceration does no good for and usually harms drug addicts.  Non-violent drug addicts (picked up for drug offenses, petty theft or possession) are given no meaningful treatment in prison.  Often, addictions worsen or “ratchet up” while incarcerated.  Blakinger gives the example of several women she knew who entered jail alcoholics and left heroin addicts.

Economically and humanely, it is evident that America’s current correctional system needs to change.

Read Blakinger’s article here