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Closing the "Gap" Between Competency and Commitment in Minnesota: Ideas from National Standards and Practices in Other States

January 9, 2018

In Minnesota, a "gap" exists in the justice system for defendants with mental illness. Defendants in criminal cases are found incompetent to stand trial, yet do not meet the higher standard for civil commitment. Commitment is the only way to receive competency restoration treatment, so individuals who do not meet the standard are unable to resolve their criminal cases or to receive treatment. The Robina Institute conducted research see how other states address incompetency.

Changing Course in Youth Detention: Reversing Widening Gaps by Race and Place

August 3, 2023

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has found large and widening gaps in youth detention by race and place in its three-year analysis of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on juvenile justice systems. When it comes to the odds of being detained, young people in the United States live in different worlds, depending on their race and the region and jurisdiction where they reside. The disproportionate use of detention for Black youth — already distressingly high before the pandemic — has increased. Also, over that three-year period, where youth lived mattered to a greater extent to their odds of being detained than it did before.

What We Need to Thrive: A Youth-Led Vision for a Just Alameda County

August 1, 2023

In July of 2021—after decades of organizing by young people and their families—California made a bold decision to close the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). As a result, California counties are now responsible for treating, caring for, and even locking-up young people who would have otherwise been reprimanded to DJJ.To facilitate this realignment, California is distributing over $500 million in grants to local counties, including Alameda. It has been nearly 3 years since these funds began flowing in, but according to young people themselves, they still do not have access to improved services. So we asked ourselves, where is the money going? And perhaps more importantly, we asked the youth: where should these funds be going? What is the county doing since realignment funds first began flowing to Alameda in 2020? Are they receiving the support they need? What services do they prioritize for youth justice in their county? What aspirations do they hold?To find out, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (EBC) and Ceres Policy Research conducted a youth-led, community-driven research project in Alameda County. This project aimed to assess the impacts of the current youth justice system, gathering input from impacted families, youth, and community leaders to build a shared strategic vision for youth justice in Alameda County, and beyond. The results are outlined in this report.

The Criminalization of Poverty in Kentucky: How Economic Crises and Flawed Reforms Fueled an Incarceration Boom

August 1, 2023

In recent decades, Kentucky's carceral system has exploded in size, fueled by policies that criminalize poverty and substance use while prioritizing punishment over public safety. Amid significant economic restructuring due to the decline of manufacturing and coal extraction industries, local governments have attempted to turn their criminal legal systems into revenue generators. Entrenched financial incentives have served as powerful motivators for jailers, prosecutors, judges, and county commissioners to preserve the status quo of mass criminalization. During a time in which communities increasingly struggled with substance use disorders and needed real solutions to tackle this public health crisis, Kentucky's lawmakers continued to pass laws that allowed prosecutors and judges to impose harsh penalties for drug-related offenses. Through interviews, archival research, and data analysis, this report shows the consequences of this system on people's daily lives, in a state where criminalization has become the de facto response to poverty and substance use.

Changing Prison Culture Reduces Violence

August 1, 2023

Restoring Promise, an initiative of the MILPA Collective and Vera, works with departments of corrections to transform housing units so that they are grounded in dignity for young adults in prison. Launched in 2017, Restoring Promise is now operating in six prisons and one jail across five states. The housing units are led by trained corrections professionals and mentors—incarcerated people serving long sentences who live on the unit and guide the young adults. The program strives to transform the prison culture into one of accountability, healing, and learning.This brief presents findings from a randomized controlled trial (RCT) conducted in prisons in South Carolina. The study found that Restoring Promise's approach to culture change in prisons significantly reduces violence and the use of solitary confinement.

Recommendations To Reduce Frequent Jail Contact

July 25, 2023

Although most jail admissions represent the only contact a person will have with the criminal legal system, there is a small group of people who experience more frequent jail contact and who represent a disproportionate number of both jail admissions and expenditures. People with frequent jail contact experience complex, interconnected social, economic, and behavioral health needs that may exacerbate (or be exacerbated by) their frequent jail contact. This group also experiences frequent contact with other services in the community, such as emergency rooms, homeless shelters, and treatment facilities. Strategies to implement services that meet complex needs and address structural barriers are critical to meaningfully and sustainably reduce system involvement among the population of people who experience frequent jail contact.Effective change for people with frequent jail contact must proceed simultaneously on a systemic, policy level and on the individual services level. The population discussed in this policy brief typically has complicated behavioral and medical health needs, extensive criminal legal encounters, and significant social deficits such as poverty, isolation, and elevated risk of being unhoused. Many of their needs can be addressed with intensive, person-centered treatment in a coordinated continuum of care.

Implementing Domestic Violence Peer-Support Programs in Jail: A Starting Point

July 11, 2023

Domestic violence is one of the most prevalent crimes in the United States, and even more prevalent for women who are or have been incarcerated. About 75% of women who have been or are incarcerated have experienced domestic violence. This trauma can lead to victims feeling isolated, alone, shamed, or even like they're at fault for what has happened. In some cases, survivors start having suicidal thoughts or ideation. When domestic violence victims become criminal defendants or are incarcerated, they still need full wrap-around services, including advocacy, support, safety planning, and community resources. Domestic violence survivors face an increased risk of incarceration. In some cases, they may be arrested after using self-defense against their abusers or kidnapping their children to protect them. In other situations, their abusers may force them to commit crimes, or they may run into trouble with the law due to an addiction stemming from trauma. Some domestic violence survivors even recant reports of abuse because of threats from the abuser.

At The Intersection of Probation and Jail Reduction Efforts: Findings on Probation, Jail, and Transitional Housing Trends in Pima County, Arizona

July 11, 2023

Reducing jail populations – and the collateral consequences of criminal legal system involvement – requires jurisdictions to critically examine why and how people are entering the system to begin with. Much of the research around jail reform focuses on the pretrial population; however, with rising numbers o individuals under probation supervision and jail commonly being used to detain those awaiting a hearing on a probation violation, reform efforts to understand how violations contribute to the overall jail population are essential. To learn more about the impact probation revocations have on jails and to advance promising strategies to address them, CUNY ISLG funded the Urban Institute through the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) to conduct a mixed-methods study on how people on probation end up in jail incarceration and the impact of a program aimed at improving these outcomes with transitional housing support through the Adult Probation Department (APD) in Pima County, Arizona. Using administrative data from the Pima County Jail and APD, case record reviews, and interviews with APD leadership, probation officers, judges, community-based housing providers, and people on probation, this study aimed to decipher the system-level trends in jail incarceration for probation violations and the key pathways to jail incarceration for those individuals currently on probation. It also sought to understand the impact of the transitional housing support program on short and long-term outcomes for people on probation receiving funding from APD for transitional housing.

"I Just Want to Give Back": The Reintegration of People Sentenced to Life Without Parole

June 28, 2023

In recent years, less than 4 percent of people sentenced to life without parole in California have been released due to changes in state law and executive power. At the time research began, there were only 143 people who fit this description. This report focuses on the historic release of these individuals and examines the positive contributions they have made with their second chances.Using statistical data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and qualitative data from a series of interviews conducted with individuals formerly sentenced to LWOP in the state of California, this report sheds light on the positive impact these people can have on society. Notably, the interviews were conducted with 110 out of the 143 individuals who had been released, representing approximately 77 percent of the total population. This comprehensive sample reinforces empirical research suggesting that LWOP sentences are unnecessary when it comes to promoting public safety. Moreover, it contends that LWOP sentences are counterproductive to public safety because they deprive communities of the unique and valuable contributions individuals with the sentence can make.

Hidden Hazards: The Impacts of Climate Change on Incarcerated People in California State Prisons

June 21, 2023

California is at the forefront of climate change. In the last ten years, the Golden State has experienced large-scale wildfires, surging temperatures, and devastating flooding, among other climate hazards, that have caused harm to human health and the natural environment. This series of climate hazards has made it evident that the effects of climate change will continue to intensify, have the greatest impact on already vulnerable populations, and, most critically, the California carceral system is not prepared to respond to climate hazards in or near prisons.Our first-of-its-kind report was developed through a mixed methods approach, using interviews with experts, a survey of nearly 600 currently incarcerated people in all 34 of California's prison facilities, and a spatial analysis, we concluded that incarcerated people face unique challenges during climate hazards and thus must be included in any measure of vulnerability to ensure their safety and well-being.Our report seeks to:Understand the risks that incarcerated people in California state prisons face as climate change related hazards such as wildfires, floods, and extreme temperatures, accelerate.Put forth policy solutions that protect taxpayer interests, keep incarcerated people safe, and ensure our government institutions are held accountable.

Establishing, Implementing, and Maintaining a Language Access Program

May 23, 2023

The MacArthur Foundation launched the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) in 2015 with the goals of safely reducing jail incarceration and addressing racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system.Many organizations and agencies within local criminal justice systems receive federal financial assistance and are thus legally obligated to provide language services. When law enforcement agencies, court systems, and correctional systems provide adequate language services they strengthen access to justice for people who are limited English proficient (LEP) - e.g., providing life-saving public safety assistance, supporting victims of crime, and delivering vital medical and behavioral care to people who are incarcerated. While national guidance for improving language accessibility exists, the extent to which language services are available in local justice systems is relatively unknown.

Risk Averse and Disinclined: What COVID Prison Releases Demonstrate About the Ability of the United States to Reduce Mass Incarceration

May 23, 2023

"Risk Averse and Disinclined" builds upon prior findings produced last year through the Institute's publication "Examining Prison Releases in Response to COVID: Lessons Learned for Reducing the Effects of Mass Incarceration." Through this new report, researchers present case studies of six states — Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Washington — to gain a more in-depth view of what legal mechanisms were available to jurisdictions and the factors that influenced whether they were willing or able to use those mechanisms to release people from prison during the pandemic. The findings of this report show that although jurisdictions have the power to make releases from prison using back-end discretion, they are unlikely to use it due to risk aversion stemming from the fear of public and political backlash should anyone who is released go on to commit a serious crime. Thus, the authors continue to conclude that back-end release mechanisms offer only a modest opportunity to reduce mass incarceration. Instead, state-level carceral policies that focus on diffusing responsibility for back-end release and reduce incarceration in the first place have the greatest chance of achieving long-term reductions in prison populations.

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