Baby Nurseries in Prisons

Babies behind bars: Should moms do time with their newborns?, By Colleen Long (AP), May 25, 2016, Arizona Daily Star: “Jennifer Dumas sits on a sofa, her smiling 6-month-old girl on her lap. The room is full of bright toys and children’s books. A rainbow-colored activity mat is on the floor, and Winnie the Pooh is painted on the walls. It looks like any other nursery, except that there are bars on the windows and barbed-wire fences outside the austere brick building. New York’s maximum-security Bedford Hills Correctional Facility is one of the very few prisons in the U.S. that allow inmates and their babies to live together, a century-old approach that not all corrections experts agree is the best way to deal with women locked up while pregnant. Mothers who get such a chance say it’s better than the alternative: In most prisons, babies born behind bars must be given up within a day to a relative or foster care…”

Children of Incarcerated Parents

  • When parents are in prison, children suffer, By KJ Dell’Antonia, April 26, 2016, New York Times: “Morgan Gliedman’s 3-year-old daughter keeps a few pictures of her visits with her dad taped to the wall by her bed, and the rest in a little pink suitcase along with his letters.  She’s full of ideas for what she’ll do with him when his ‘time out’ is over: camping, baking bread, reading bedtime stories. The earliest that can happen will be when she is in first grade, and he is eligible for parole from his seven-year-minimum prison sentence on criminal weapons charges.  She is just one of the five million American children who have had a parent incarcerated at some point in their lives. Her father’s sentence is hers, too…”
  • Parents in prison: How to help US children?, By Ben Thompson, April 25, 2016, Christian Science Monitor: “A new report, ‘A Shared Sentence,’ shows that millions of children in the United States have lived without one or both of their parents due to incarceration in recent years.  The policy report by The Annie E. Casey Foundation listed a ‘conservative estimate’ that 5.1 million children nationwide, or seven percent, had a parent behind bars at some point in their lives. That figure only includes children whose parents lived with them at some point…”
  • Study: Having jailed parents can have lifelong effect on child’s health, By Kristi L. Nelson, April 25, 2016, Knoxville News Sentinel: “Having a parent in jail can have lifelong effects on a child’s health and ability to succeed, a report released today indicates…”
  • 10 percent of Michigan kids have parents in prison, By Oralandar Brand-Williams, April 25, 2016, Detroit News: “Michigan is among the states with the highest number of children who have a parent behind bars, according to a report released Monday. Some 228,000 children — one out of 10 — have had a parent incarcerated, according to Kids Count in its report ‘A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration of Kids, Families and Communities.’  Michigan ranked fifth in the number of kids affected in 2011-12, the latest figures available. California was first with 503,000, followed by Texas, Florida and Ohio…”
  • Casey Foundation report: Incarceration of parents hurts children and families, By Andrea K. McDaniels, April 25, 2016, Baltimore Sun: “Nearly 6 percent of children in Maryland have a parent in prison or jail, which makes it more likely that they will struggle academically, live in poverty, and have other social or psychological problems that could plague them for life. These are the findings of a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation about the damaging ripple effects of incarceration on families…”

Medicaid Coverage for Ex-Inmates

Feds act to help more ex-inmates get Medicaid, By Jay Hancock, April 29, 2016, National Public Radio: “Administration officials moved Thursday to improve low Medicaid enrollment for emerging prisoners, urging states to start signups before release and expanding eligibility to thousands of former inmates in halfway houses near the end of their sentences.  Health coverage for ex-inmates ‘is critical to our goal of reducing recidivism and promoting the public health,’ said Richard Frank, assistant secretary for planning for the Department of Health and Human Services.  Advocates praised the changes but cautioned that HHS and states are still far from ensuring that most people leaving prisons and jails are put on Medicaid and get access to treatment…”

Public Defender System – Louisiana

In Louisiana, the poor lack legal defense, By Campbell Robertson, March 19, 2016, New York Times: “It was arraignment morning at the Vermilion Parish courthouse, the monthly catalog of bad decisions, hot tempers, hard hearts and hard luck. Natasha George, who until recently was one of 10 lawyers defending the poor of the parish, stood before the full gallery of defendants. ‘I’m the public defender in Vermilion Parish, right now the only public defender,’ she said. ‘Due to a lack of funding for our district and our office, today we will be taking applications for our service but you will be put on a wait list.’ Over the next hour, a steady stream of people left the courthouse and headed out into the rain, nearly all holding a sheet of paper explaining that as the poor and accused of Vermilion Parish they were, for now, on their own…”

Court Fines and the Poor

  • Justice Dept. tells state judges to stop targeting the poor, By Cathaleen Chen, March 14, 2016, Christian Science Monitor: “As part of the Obama administration’s latest civil rights initiative that examines individual states, the Justice Department is now calling out state court systems for operating ‘unconstitutional’ policies that unfairly target poor people in a cycle of fines, debt, and imprisonment.  ‘This unconstitutional practice is often framed as a routine administrative matter,’ Vanita Gupta, the Justice Department’s top civil rights prosecutor, wrote to chief judges and court administrator warning them against procedures like using arrest warrants to collect fines and debts…”
  • Justice Dept. condemns profit-minded court policies targeting the poor, By Matt Apuzzo, March 14, 2016, New York Times: “The Justice Department on Monday called on state judges across the country to root out unconstitutional policies that have locked poor people in a cycle of fines, debt and jail. It was the Obama administration’s latest effort to take its civil rights agenda to the states, which have become a frontier in the fight over the rights of the poor and the disabled, the transgender and the homeless…”

Bail System – Connecticut

Gov. Malloy proposes elimination of bail for some offenders, By Daniela Altimari, January 28, 2016, Hartford Courant: “Standing in a church in the North End Thursday afternoon, Gov.Dannel P. Malloy outlined his plan to take on a bail system that dates from medieval England. The Democratic governor is proposing an end to bail for low-risk defendants charged with low-level crimes. In cases where bond is set as a condition of release, Malloy is calling for a new system that would permit defendants to sidestep bail bondsmen and put up a cash deposit directly with the court in order to secure their freedom…”

Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

States grapple with girls in the juvenile justice system, By Teresa Wiltz, November 25, 2015, Stateline: “When she was 11, KiAmber was arrested for defacing school property—a misdemeanor the Tallahassee, Florida, girl insists she did not commit. That experience scared her.  By the time she turned 12, she was pregnant. School wasn’t safe—fights broke out all the time. So KiAmber asked to enroll in a program for at-risk girls, funded by the state, where she receives intensive counseling and tutoring. Now, the ninth-grader said, she’s matured and is looking forward to creating a stable life for herself and her 3-year-old daughter. Without early intervention, ‘I don’t know where I’d be,’ said KiAmber, who at 15 is still a juvenile and asked that her last name not be used.  Male juvenile offenders still greatly outnumber females. But while the arrest rate for juveniles has declined over the past two decades, it has not fallen as sharply for girls as it has for boys. And minority girls are twice as likely as white girls to be incarcerated…”

Families of Prisoners

One in nine black children has had a parent in prison, By Danielle Paquette, October 27, 2015, Washington Post: “Five percent of the global population lives in the United States, but nearly a quarter of the world’s inmates are locked in American prisons. We know our incarceration rate, among the highest on the planet, is costly — and reports show the staggering number of people behind bars hasn’t significantly reduced crime.  And now a new study, published Tuesday, adds another issue to the national debate over how to punish nonviolent offenders: the health and well-being of their children…”

US Bail System and the Poor

Court by court, lawyers fight policies that fall heavily on the poor, By Shaila Dewan, October 23, 2015, New York Times: “In January, Christy Dawn Varden was arrested in a Walmart parking lot, charged with shoplifting and three other misdemeanors, and taken to jail. There, she was told that if she had $2,000, she could post bail and leave. If she did not, she would wait a week before seeing a judge. Ms. Varden, who lived with her mother and two children, had serious mental and physical health problems; her only income was her monthly food stamp allotment.  Two days later, a civil rights lawyer named Alec Karakatsanis sued on behalf of Ms. Varden, alleging that bail policies in Clanton, a city of 8,619, discriminated against the poor by imprisoning them while allowing those with money to go free…”

Phone Rates for Prison Inmates

FCC votes to further cut cost of calls for inmates, By Heather Hollingsworth (AP), October 22, 2015, Washington Post: “The Federal Communications Commission’s decision Thursday to take additional steps to slash how much can be charged for phone calls made from jails and prisons was hailed as removing a burden on families and criticized as a budget buster for some facilities.  FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, said before the vote in Washington that the cost of the calls have placed ‘incredible burdens’ on the families of the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the U.S…”

Incarceration and Child Support

For men in prison, child support becomes a crushing debt, By Eli Hager, October 18, 2015, Washington Post: “Earl L. Harris did not owe child support when he was sent to prison in 1997 for selling marijuana. He now concedes that dealing drugs may have been a stupid move for a new father. But Harris, then 19, had grown up poor and dropped out of school, and the only legitimate work available to young, black men like him, he says, was a temp job without benefits. ‘Nobody was hiring,’ he said. ‘I got into hustling because I wanted to support my baby.’ The state of Missouri sent Harris to the penitentiary in Boonville, 250 miles from his home and baby daughter. His girlfriend moved on, later marrying someone else. After just two months in prison, Harris started getting the letters.  Child support. You owe: $168.  They came once a month, piling up debt.  Child support. You owe: $168. Arrears: $336. Arrears: $504. Arrears: $672. Plus interest and other fees. Of the 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States, about half are parents, and at least 1 in 5 has a child support obligation…”

Court Fines and the Poor – California

California unveils amnesty program for unpaid traffic tickets, By Kurtis Alexander, September 30, 2015, San Francisco Chronicle: “Millions of California motorists with suspended licenses have a chance to win back their driving privileges at a discount, starting Thursday, under a state amnesty program for unpaid traffic tickets. The state is cutting fines by at least half and waiving late fees for payments on tickets that were due before Jan. 1, 2013, an effort to eliminate what Gov. Jerry Brown called a ‘hellhole of desperation’ for those who can’t afford penalties and lost their licenses as a result. Brown signed the amnesty legislation in June. It takes effect Thursday and runs until March 2017…”

Court Fines and Debt

After Ferguson, states struggle to crack down on court debt, By Sophie Quinton, August 26, 2015, Stateline: “Say you’re caught driving 10 miles an hour over the posted speed limit in California. The state’s base fine for that offense is $35. But then the state adds an additional $40. The county adds $28. There’s an $8 fee to fund emergency medical services, a $20 fee to fund DNA testing, a $40 court operations fee and more. In total, that relatively minor moving violation just cost you $238.00. For years, state and local governments have attached additional fees and costs to everything from speeding tickets to parole supervision. The extra assessments are supposed to pay for court operations and associated justice system programs, such as DNA testing. According to a growing body of research, however, they also can trap poor people in debt, and corrupt law enforcement and the courts…”

Court Fines and the Poor

‘Sweeping’ court reform comes as Nixon signs bill to cap cities’ revenue, end predatory habits, By Robert Patrick and Stephen Deere, July 10, 2015, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday signed a broad municipal court reform bill that will cap court revenue and impose new requirements in an attempt to end what the bill’s sponsor called predatory practices aimed at the poor. Nixon called the reform bill the ‘most sweeping’ municipal court reform bill in state history, and the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, called it the ‘most significant…'”

Ex-Offenders and Health Care

Linking released inmates to health care, By Michael Ollove, June 11, 2015, Stateline: “Joe Calderon faced uncomfortably high odds of dying after his release from a California prison in 2010. According to one study, his chances of dying within two weeks — especially from a drug overdose, heart disease, homicide or suicide — were nearly 13 times greater than for a person who had never been incarcerated.  Despite suffering from hypertension during his 17 years and three days of incarceration, Calderon was lucky. He stumbled onto a city of San Francisco program that paid for health services for ex-offenders, and he was directed to Transitions Clinic, which provides comprehensive primary care for former prisoners with chronic illnesses. The clinic saw to all his health needs in the months after his release.  An increasing number of states are striving to connect released prisoners like Calderon to health care programs on the outside…”

States and Prisoner Re-entry

States try to remove barriers for ex-offenders, By Rebecca Beitsch, June 18, 2015, Stateline: “Raymond Daughton has been out of prison for 36 days. When he got out he was homeless, had no clothes and no money. All his belongings from his old apartment have disappeared. Daughton, 31, doesn’t want to get into trouble again, so he is staying out of his old neighborhood—one of the roughest parts of Baltimore—and distancing himself from some friends.   The past month has been a struggle of moving from couch to couch, scrounging some cash for a suit and tie, and applying for as many jobs as he can. Getting a job consumes him. He doesn’t care what he does; he just wants to earn enough money to gain custody of his two boys and support them. But he’s worried no one will want to hire someone with a conviction for handgun possession who also served a previous prison sentence.  An estimated 70 million people are trying to navigate the world with a criminal record, according to the National Employment Law Project. Some states, concerned with the high costs of keeping people locked up, are reevaluating and removing some of the roadblocks that ex-offenders face when they are released. The goal: to increase the chances they’ll succeed in society and lessen the chances they’ll return to prison…”

US Bail System

When bail is out of defendant’s reach, other costs mount, By Shaila Dewan, June 10, 2015, New York Times: “Dominick Torrence, who has lived in this city all his life, has a long rap sheet for dealing drugs but no history of violence. So when he was charged with disorderly conduct and rioting on April 28, a night of unrest after Freddie Gray was fatally injured in police custody, he was shocked to learn the amount he would need to make bail: $250,000, the same amount as two of the officers facing charges over Mr. Gray’s death.  Although a bail bondsman would charge only a fraction of that, normally 10 percent, for many defendants $25,000 is as impossible a sum as $250,000. ‘That’s something you get for murder or attempted murder,’ Mr. Torrence, 29, said from Baltimore Central Booking. ‘You’re telling me I have to take food out of my kid’s mouth so I can get out of jail.’  He spent a month in jail on charges that would later be dropped…”

Court Fines and the Poor – California

California governor pitches amnesty on traffic debt for poor, By Judy Lin (AP), May 23, 2015, San Francisco Chronicle: “Calling California’s traffic court system a ‘hellhole of desperation’ for the poor, Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing an amnesty program for residents who can’t afford to pay off spiraling fines and penalties that have resulted in 4.8 million driver’s license suspensions since 2006.  The push by the Democratic governor spotlights concern among lawmakers and court administrators that California’s justice system is profiting off minorities and low-income residents. It’s a civil rights issue that has prompted discussions between the Brown administration and the U.S. Department of Justice, according to the governor’s spokesman, Evan Westrup…”

Child Support Enforcement

Skip child support. Go to jail. Lose job. Repeat., By Frances Robles and Shaila Dewan, April 19, 2015, New York Times: “By his own telling, the first time Walter L. Scott went to jail for failure to pay child support, it sent his life into a tailspin. He lost what he called ‘the best job I ever had’ when he spent two weeks in jail. Some years he paid. More recently, he had not. Two years ago, when his debt reached nearly $8,000 and he missed a court date, a warrant was issued for his arrest. By last month, the amount had more than doubled, to just over $18,000…”

Ex-Offenders and Employment

Out of prison, out of work: Ex-inmates face struggles after release, By Rick Barrett, March 29, 2015, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Finding a job is hard enough these days, but finding one when you have a criminal record can be all but impossible.  James Daniels knows. After spending nearly three years in prison for a drug crime — possession of marijuana with intent to deliver — he was released March 31, 2012, only to learn that some potential employers couldn’t see past the felony…”