Mark your calendars! Jobs Not Jails is hosting a Rally to End Mass Incarceration and Fund Job Creation on Saturday, April 26th at 1:00 pm on the Boston Common. From the Jobs Not Jails website: The Patrick Administration has estimated that, if current criminal justice policies are not changed dramatically, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts […]
The mission of new Chicago-based social venture Jail Education Solutions (JES) is to replace daytime television in jails and correctional facilities with educational and edifying programming. In addition to broadcasting educational content such as GED courses, documentaries, TED talks, and motivational profiles of people formerly in prison, JES’s closed-circuit programming includes information on legal issues, health and wellness (such as Medicaid enrollment), job seeking and career development, and community resources available to people as they leave correctional facilities. JES was developed in partnership with Chicago’s Cook County.
According to a March 24 Department of Justice press release, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will impose new requirements on federal halfway houses that help people transition back into society after incarceration. Under the proposed new requirements, these halfway houses will have to provide a specialized form of treatment to individuals, including those with mental health and substance abuse issues. For the first time, halfway houses will also have to provide greater assistance to those pursuing job opportunities, such as permitting cell phones to be used by individuals and providing funds for transportation. The new requirements also expand access to electronic monitoring equipment to allow more individuals to utilize home confinement as a reentry method.
The new policies have the potential to be far-reaching, as last year alone, more than 30,000 people from federal prisons passed through a halfway house.
According to a March 18th article in The New York Times, there has been a surge in violence within New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex and other jails across the country. In particular, correction officers have struggled with an increasing concentration of mentally ill individuals who experts say often respond defiantly or erratically to the harsh, zero-tolerance disciplinary measures successfully employed in the past.
The situation at Rikers Island mirrors an “epidemic of violence” in big-city jails across the country, said Dr. James Gilligan, a clinical professor of psychiatry and co-author of a 2013 report that found the treatment of mentally ill individuals at Rikers Island violated the city’s mental health standards. He said an overreliance on solitary confinement and force at Rikers Island and elsewhere perpetuated violence, particularly among the mentally ill, who have crowded the nation’s correctional facilities as mental hospitals and other institutions have closed.
The proportion of people in prison with a diagnosed mental illness has grown to 40 percent, from 20 percent, over the last eight years, according to the Correction Department. These people are responsible for about two-thirds of infractions at city jails, the department said.
The New York Times reports that Attorney General Eric Holder has met with Senator Rand Paul and other Republicans to discuss eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. According to The Times, Mr. Paul is backing a sentencing overhaul bill, also supported by Mr. Holder and the Obama administration, that he predicts will pass the Senate with support from up to half of its Republicans.
In 2010, Congress unanimously voted to reduce the 100-to-1 disparity between sentences for crack cocaine offenses and those for powdered cocaine, a vestige of the crack epidemic. Now, the Obama administration and its allies in Congress are pushing to go even further. Mr. Holder wants to make people eligible for early release if they were sentenced under the now-abolished crack guidelines. And he wants judges to have more discretion when sentencing people on nonviolent drug offenses.
For Mr. Holder, addressing sentencing laws is central to a second-term agenda that also includes defending voting rights and same-sex marriage. Black Americans have disproportionately received lengthy prison terms and are extremely overrepresented in the inmate population.
Libertarian-minded Republicans see long prison sentences as an ineffective and expensive way to address crime.