From: Make the Walls Transparent on June 9, 2009
Dear Community Leaders and People for Criminal Justice Reform:
To update you, all the key budget bills that Gov. Gibbons vetoed have been overridden by both houses of the Legislature. We need to thank them and congratulate them all for working together in a non-partisan way for the good of all Nevadans!
Today I’m asking you to write them ASAP, as there is only today and tomorrow before the Legislature will be out of session. The bill we have been honchoing the most almost got lost in the budget fights. But, Senate Finance did pass it out and passed it on the Senate floor today. Now it is in the Assembly Ways & Means Committee instead of Assembly Judiciary—where it should have gone. In it’s original form, it did have a fiscal impact, but that has been amended out of it, at RAIN’s initiative. We need to ask Ways & Means to pass it out of their committee–not to Judiciary because it’s too late for that—but directly to the Assembly floor. It has to be read 3 times there before it can be voted and sent to the Gov. So no time to lose!
Please send them an emergency message asking them to pass SB236, which will set up a fund to accept money with which to fund more re-entry programs for ex-offenders coming out of prison. In it’s current form, it really is a simple, straightforward bill, and it does not have a fiscal impact on state revenue.
You can read what I sent them below, and send a shorter version of that to them.
Subject: PLEASE PASS SB236 AS AMENDED – NO FISCAL IMPACT
First, RAIN and I thank you very much for your nonpartisan working together to override Gov. Gibbons’ vetoes, all of them that you have overridden! This is the way that legislators should be serving the best interests of ALL the people of Nevada.
As for SB236, as amended, there is no fiscal impact. All we are asking for at this time is that a fund be set up that can receive government grants, grants from ngo’s, and churches, in order to assist ex-offenders make a successful re-entry back into the community after they have served their time. Research tells us that 95-98% of people incarcerated will return to the community at some point. Most of them have drug and/or alcohol addiction problems, and the great majority also have some level of mental health deficits or problems (besides being psychotic or sociopathic, many have ADHD; learning disabilities; Fetal Alcohol Syndrome [FAS]; PTSD [especially Vets, but also anyone physically or sexually abused as a child, which again is a majority of them]; brain damage from drug abuse, etc. In order for ex-offenders to learn to live successfully, legally, and addiction-free in society, most of them will need assistance and treatment during the first few months after incarceration.
Wouldn’t you rather see them make a successful transition than be part of the revolving door and recycled back into prison? Prison costs five times what treatment in the community costs, plus community treatment is much more effective for the time and money it costs.
RAIN has worked on this bill for the past two years, in conjunction with members of the Commission on the Administration of Justice, and especially Chief Justice Hardesty. — RAIN has also worked with the few recognized half-way houses and treatment centers in the community to develop this legislation. As amended, it is simple and straightforward. We are trying to get our community programs and official departments to work together to bring about the best results for the community at large. Nevada would be eligible for Federal funds in this category, and we can get the churches to join the cause as well. We need to get his fund established!
PLEASE PASS SB236 OUT OF COMMITTEE, TO THE FLOOR OF THE ASSEMBLY IN TIME FOR IT TO GET PASSED AND TO THE GOVERNOR!
THANK YOU SO MUCH!
The Rev. Dr. Jane Foraker-Thompson
Episcopal Diocese Social Justice and Prison Ministry Coordinator
RAIN Board member and past president
Ret. Criminologist and Prison Chaplain
WHY WE NEED RE-ENTRY PROGRAMS FOR EX-PRISONERS
This is a nonpartisan issue. It affects every citizen regardless of political party,
whether they live in cities or rural areas, regardless of education level, type of work, or family history. This is a subject that affects everyone’s life in Nevada, whether they know it or not.
I. The United States has the highest incarceration rate (number of people in jail or prison per 100,000) in the technologically developed world.
A. A Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project study titled “More than One in 100 Adults are Behind Bars” released in Feb. 2008 found that “for the first time in history more than one in every 100 adults in American are in jail or prison –a fact that significantly impacts state budgets without delivering a clear return on public safety.”
B. “As prison populations expand, costs to states are on the rise.”
C. In 2008, over $50 billion was spent on state corrections systems and consumed one I every 15 discretionary dollars.1 U.S. prison population in 1987 was 585.084 and in 2007 it was 1.596,197.2
D. In 2007, the U.S. had the highest absolute number of adults in prison in the world: 2.3 million, with a rate of 750 per 100,000. Second highest nation for prison population was China, with 1.5 million adults; and third was Russia with 890,000. Compared with the U.S. rate of 750 per 100,000, Germany had a rate of 93 per 100,000.3
II. The crime rate has been decreasing over-all since 1980, yet growth of prisons and prison population has increased four-fold during that same period. Why?
A. The public was misled by media hype to think that crime was increasing, and media hype created fear of crime in people’s minds.
B. Thanks to media hype about violent crime, it became politically popular for politicians to run for office with a slogan “to get tough on crime.”
C. Part of the same syndrome meant new policies kept offenders in prison longer.
1. Elected legislators passed new sentencing laws which called for longer sentences, and “three times and you’re out” statutes, which often meant that minor offenders who got caught three times ended up doing life or very long sentences, while offenders who committed one violent crime might get out in a few years.
2. Judges gave longer sentences for crimes than they had before the so- called “sentencing reforms” or “truth in sentencing” laws were passed. Minor offenders who might have been sentenced to probation ended up getting prison and longer sentences.
3. Parole Boards started leaving people in prison longer for given crimes.4
4. America now has more than 7.3 million adults under some form of
5. “Prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect a parallel
Increase in crime.”6
III. Recidivism rates show failure of the American corrections system. Recidivism means the return of released prisoners, back to prison within three years, for whatever reasons, i.e., it is a failure rate.
A. In spite of cost of state corrections rising from $11 billion in 1987 to $50 billion in 2007, recidivism rates have remained the same.7
1. Recidivism in 1994 study was 60% for all released prisoners after
2. Recidivism rates for released prisoners aged 18-34 was 66.5%
a) 71.4% had been rearrested
b) 50.3% were reconvicted
c) 53.1% were returned to prison with or without a new prison sentence, i.e., on a technical violation such as positive drug test, missed appointment with parole officer, missed payment of fees, etc.8
3. In a 15 state study, over two-thirds (67.5%) of released prisoners were rearrested within three years.9
a) 68.1% to 73.8% for property crimes
b) 50.4% to 66.7% for drug offenders
c) 54.6% to 62.2% for public order offenders
B. “For all the money spent on corrections today, there hasn’t been a clear and convincing return for public safety.” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project.10
C. “If a business tried to operate on this kind of deficit and production failure rate, it would go out of business.”11
IV. How to expeditiously make our correctional system more cost-effective, productive. Assumption: dangerous and violent offenders should be locked up to protect society. So which offenders can be safely released and/or kept in the community? How can prison populations safely be decreased?
A. Community Corrections holds a big promise.
1. Probation and Parole, the dominant form of community corrections
“seven times as many new dollars went to prisons as went to probation and parole… while fewer than one out of three offenders is behind bars, almost nine of 10 corrections dollars are spent on prisons.”12
a) “The number of people on probation or parole has skyrocketed to more than 5 million, up from 1.6 million just 25 years ago. This means that 1 in 45 adults in the United States is now under criminal justice supervision in the community, and that combined with those in prison and jail, a stunning 1 in every 31 adults, or 3.2 percent, is under some form of correctional control.”13
b) The daily cost of supervising a person in the community in fiscal 2008 was $3.42; the average daily cost of a prison inmate is $78.95 ($28,816.75/person/year), which is more than 20 times as high as community supervision.14
2. Community Corrections of all sorts are drastically under-funded, even though they are less expensive than incarceration and more often than not, more appropriate for the level of offender. Nevada’s Probation and Parole Officers have caseloads of over 120 parolees; whereas national standards state that P&P officers should have a caseload of no more than 45 parolees. This means that they cannot spend sufficient time per person
for adequate supervision and assistance.
3. “For hundreds of thousands of lower-level inmates, incarceration costs
taxpayers far more than it saves in prevented crime. And new national and state research shows that we are well past the point of diminishing returns, where more imprisonment will prevent less and less crime.”15
4. Half-way Houses, Residential Treatment Centers, Day-Treatment:
Half-way houses and treatment centers can be used as “half-way into the system” or half-way out” of the system.” That is, they can be an alternative to going to jail or prison as a first opportunity to get their lives straightened out, or as a transition help & control for ex-prisoners coming out of prison back into the community.
a) Studies indicate that about 80% of offenders have a drug &/or alcohol addiction problem, which exacerbates their behaviors and often leads them to commit crimes. Addict treatment has been shown to be more effective in community facilities than in incarceration. It would be cheaper for the state to fund community treatment facilities than to pay for incarceration or build new prisons.
b) Numerous criminal justice studies place the number of mentally ill offenders at between 12-15%. This figure usually refers only to prisoners who are psychotic or schizophrenic. Prison psychologists and trained chaplains can testify that many more prisoners have lesser mental health problems such as: bi-polar disease; ADHD; fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS); PTSD, especially among veterans but also those who were abused as children; substance-related disorders; dissociative disorders (especially women offenders who were sexually abused as children, which is a high percentage of women offenders); sexual and gender identify disorders; other impulse control disorders; borderline personality disorders; antisocial personality disorder; narcissistic personality disorder; avoidant personality disorder; obsessive-compulsive disorder; etc.
c) Even people with learning disabilities who became early “failures” in School when parents and teachers did not understand their deficits, often become anti-social due to that rejection and isolation.
d) When one adds all these people in prison together who have these conditions, I would estimate the prison population has more than 60% who have some level of mental health deficit and/or behavior disorder that needs to be addressed before they can become healthy, self-disciplined and self-motivated citizens in society.
e) Again, community treatment of people who fall under these categories would be much less expensive and much more effective if done by trained professionals in the community. Prisoners will never receive adequate or appropriate targeted treatment in prisons, as they lack that kind of trained staff, plus the atmosphere is not conducive to mental health treatment and emotional healing. Such offenders would be best sent to community treatment directly rather than ever being incarcerated, unless they are violent and have uncontrolled behaviors. In most cases, drug courts and mental health courts are very appropriate if combined with treatment facilities to meet the needs of the offenders. At this time, Nevada has two drug courts and is considering a mental health court. This is a move in the right direction. But Nevada also needs to fund the community facilities to treat people who are sentenced by these courts. Currently, Nevada only has a handful of licensed, qualified half-way houses and offender treatment facilities.
B. Policies to reduce prison population: 1) the number of new admissions, and 2) length of time an inmate spends in prison. Small modifications in each decision point can yield marked slowdown–or acceleration–in prison population growth.16 Which offenders can safely diverted to community corrections?
1. Non-violent, and victimless crime offenders, to probation with proviso For restitution, counseling, education, etc.
2. Drug-addiction offenders, sentenced to drug treatment centers
3. Offenders with mental health/mental deficit issues, sent to small, Specialized mental health treatment facilities
4. Probation and Parole violators. In 2005, parole violators accounted for more than one third of all prison admission, 40% of which were for technical violations; not new crimes. One-half of people in U.S. jails are there for probation violation, not new crimes. It would far less expensive to sentence them to community corrections rather than prison.17
5. Since 2004, 13 states have adopted legislation creating an expansion of community corrections options
a) adjust length of prison terms
b) use earned credit for “good time” to reduce time spent, i.e.,
completion of education, drug treatment programs, sex-
offender treatment, pre -release classes, good behavior–
no write-ups for bad behavior. Nevada uses this policy.
C. Who benefits from these policies?
1. The Public benefits. These community residential programs cost about one-fifth of the cost of incarceration, while the treatment effects are found by research studies to be much more effective in helping offenders to change their behavior patterns.
2. Offenders benefit. These are not violent offenders but people with severe behavior disorders. Appropriate, targeted treatment gives them the help they need to learn skills and discipline to lead a responsible, law-abiding life. They would rather do this than waste away in prison where they will receive no such help.
3. This in not “being soft on criminals.” It is an intelligent, targeted approach, and one that can hold the offenders more accountable.
V. Is this approach politically viable? Will any elected officials and judges dare to
buck the current stream of revenge and “lock them up and throw away the key,” and work toward a more intelligent, less expensive treatment and accountability system?
A. “It’s always safer politically to build the next prison, rather than stop and see whether that’s really the smartest thing to do. But we’re at a point where I don’t think we can afford to do that anymore.” John Whitmire,
State Senator from Houston, Texas, Chair of Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee.18
B. Critical shortage of state funds would be better spent on state education and Human services such as health and mental health care. “Collectively,
Correctional agencies now consume 6.8% of state general funds, 2007 data show. That means one in every 15 dollars in the states’ main pool of discretionary money goes to corrections.”19
C. “Between 1987 and 2007, the amount states spent on corrections more than doubled while the increase in higher education spending has been moderate. Higher education grew 21%, while corrections grew 127%.”20
VI. What do ex-prisoners need in order to make a successful transition, or re-entry, to the community?
A. Some need residential treatment from an accredited half-way house such as
The Ridge House in Reno. We need more of these across the state, and in the population centers of Clark County, Washoe, Carson City and Elko.
B. If they don’t have families to go to, they need other support in the community, possibly from faith-based organizations, the Urban League, or whatever solid community organizations exist in each urban center
C. Ex-offenders need mentoring during the first few months to help them learn to deal with a changed society, to learn social and practical skills, and discipline to stay away from drugs and alcohol. They are lonely and scared when they leave prison.
D. They need jobs. Someone needs to be willing to take a chance on them and mentor them in their jobs. They may need more education and job training.
E. They will need long-term housing and be able to pay for it.
F. They will need health care, and possibly mental health care. If they are addicts, they will need on-going contact with an addict recovery group, and to be held accountable to attend consistently.
G. Not only Parole & Probation needs to track the ex-offenders, but they need friendly mentors to encourage them, teach them, believe in them until they get on their feet emotionally, financially, employment-wise, etc.
Faith-based groups and others interested in helping ex-offenders are needed in the community, such as My Journey Home and Kairos in the Reno-Sparks area or the Urban League, Salvation Army, Southwest Prison Ministries, or other prisoner support groups in Clark County and other areas.
F. When they have housing and a job, ex-offenders can begin to pay restitution to victims, where appropriate; pay for their supervision, and begin to get ahead in establishing a life for themselves in the community. When they are working they will join the ranks of tax-payers and become legitimate members of the community.
G. It benefits society when ex-offenders become law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who will be responsible for themselves and can leave a normal, crime-free life.
H. One possible source of funding for some of these program is The Second Chance Act passed by Congress and administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), U.S. Department of Justice. The Council of State Government Justice Center is conducting free webinars (seminars Via the web) to help potential applicants apply for grants from The Second chance Act. These funds will be either for mentoring adult ex-offenders of for juveniles through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).21
I. The Justice Center also has an online database that provides a comprehensive inventory of collaborative criminal justice/mental health activity across the country.22
VII. There are solutions for the current dilemma of overbuilding and over-reliance on prisons and over-institutionalization of too many people as prisoners. It is time for society to re-assess where it is going with the handling of offenders, both juvenile and adult. We can undo the damage and build a better system.
It is time for society to wake-up and realize how insane, counter-productive, outrageously expensive and what a failure this current system is of large warehouses for anyone and everyone who has ever inconvenienced society in anyway.
It is also time to realize that if people are really interested in reducing the crime rate in our society, the best way to do that is to intervene with troubled families, protect children from being abused and neglected, and see that children and others who have the mental health and learning disabilities listed above, get the appropriate, compassionately delivered help and treatment required to help them learn to deal with their disabilities and assist them to become self-maintaining, self-respecting individuals in society, rather than punishing them for not being perfect.
There is no good reason that the United States should have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. We have over-criminalized our own society, ourselves.
It is to our shame that we can be thus described by people around the world. How ironic that we have the miss-conception about ourselves that we are a society that loves children, is family-oriented, loves democracy and freedom, and upholds human rights as a high standard that all should live by. We need to learn to live by it ourselves first before we point fingers at others.
“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5
This is a nonpartisan issue. It affects every citizen of Nevada in one way or another. It has to do with our moral, financial, social, commercial, educational and spiritual health. What kind of society are we? Who do we want to be?
The Rev. Dr. Jane Foraker-Thompson
Episcopal Diocese of Nevada, Social Justice & Prison Ministry Coordinator
RAIN Board member and past president
Retired Criminologist and Prison Chaplain