In This Issue

Feature Story: Taking the Politics out of Parole
Alabama Partnership Results in Reform
JPI Welcomes New Board Members
Responding to Veterans and the Rising Incarceration Rate
JPI Gets Full “Court” Press
Q&A: Finding Direction 

Feature Story: Taking the Poltics Out of Parole

It’s hard to change a policy that most directly impacts people who can’t come testify, can’t call up their legislators, and can’t vote. This year JPI and the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative (MRJI) showed that it can be done, though – by using video to bring the stories of those serving life sentences and of others strongly affected by current policies to the legislature.  

For several years, MRJI, with technical assistance from JPI, tried to reform the process by which people in Maryland serving parole-eligible life sentences are considered for parole.  Maryland is one of only three states where the Governor must approve parole for persons serving parole-eligible life sentences. There are currently more than 2,300 people serving parole-eligible life sentences in Maryland.  However, for the past two sessions, while the issue gained awareness with policymakers and the public through the media and other avenues, the bills to reform the process failed.

It was time to do something different. So JPI and MRJI produced Blocking the Exit, a 14-minute documentary that highlights the role politics has played in parole in Maryland. The film features individuals who served parole-eligible life sentences, a victim’s mother, and former heads of Maryland parole and corrections departments. The film was shown to elected officials in Annapolis in the House of Delegates and the Senate, as well as the general public through promotion of the online video and a series of screenings followed by discussions throughout Maryland.

This new approach worked.  While Maryland House Bill 302 as amended doesn’t completely remove the governor from the parole process, through this legislation a person recommended for release onto supervision by the Parole Board will be granted parole unless the governor objects within 180 days.

“It’s really important for our members to really get the gist of the policies that are before them. That’s why public education efforts like “Blocking the Exit” is beneficial and necessary,” said Betty Armwood, legislative assistant for Sen. Nathaniel McFadden. “Not only do members of the public gain true insight, but our policymakers are able to see the importance and impact of various issues when they hear that personal story; see faces behind the issue.”

“This is a step – albeit it a small step – toward major reform needed in Maryland,” said Walter Lomax, executive director of MRJI. “We are hopeful that this legislation will allow more people a chance at parole. It can be difficult to make such issues understood by the public, our policymakers. I think this documentary did a great job at illustrating the human element, the real-life, personal stories of people affected by the parole process.”

To schedule a screening, contact project manager, Keith Wallington at [email protected].

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Alabama Partnership Results in Reform

For years the story of Tutwiler, Alabama’s women’s prison, has been one of overcrowded conditions and poor outcomes for women there. But through a partnership with state criminal justice leaders, JPI has helped to begin rewriting that story. Working since 2009 with the Alabama Departments of Corrections and Pardons and Paroles, as well as other policymakers, local organizations and people incarcerated and otherwise affected by the justice system, JPI produced a report, Roadmap for Reduction, which was presented to state leaders. Roadmap details concrete steps that Alabama criminal justice stakeholders can take to reduce the number of women incarcerated in the state based on an in-depth system analysis, most of which focused on improving administrative functioning to insure women were not held longer or at higher custody than they needed to be.

“This was a unique project for JPI,” said Executive Director Tracy Velázquez. “Not only were we able to make recommendations, but we were able to see some of our recommendations implemented.  And through the process of writing the report, we helped build relationships between agencies that we believe will facilitate system improvements well into the future.”

Some of the specific outcomes included:

  • Changes to Department of Corrections classification policies and practices that will allow more women access community-based programming, which in turn increases likelihood of release onto parole
  • Implementation of a technical parole violation center, the “Restart” program.
  • A 45 percent increase in paroles for women.
  • A deceleration in the overall increase of the incarcerated population in Alabama—this increase has slowed to .1 percent over the past year.

JPI’s work in Alabama continues in 2011 with an assessment of parole supervision practices, with the aim of recommending cost-effective improvements that result in fewer people on parole being reincarcerated. Added Velázquez, “this wouldn’t have been possible without the leadership shown in the state, especially the Alabama Department of Corrections and Board of Pardons and Paroles. We hope we have the opportunity to engage in similar partnerships in Alabama and other states in the future.”

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JPI Welcomes New Board Members

JPI recently elected a new board chair, Peter Leone, Ph.D., who is the director at the National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice and a professor at the University of Maryland. He replaces David Fathi, Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project who served several years as board president.  We thank David for his dedicated service.

The board recently elected two new members as well. Laurel Stine, Director of Federal Relations for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, manages a portfolio of federal legislative and regulatory issues affecting children and adults with mental disorders in the areas of health care, education, and juvenile and criminal justice, providing policy analysis, technical assistance and primary representation before the U.S. Congress and the federal government. Subrina Wood is a Tax Manager at Tate & Tryon, which is a certified public account firm specializing in nonprofits. She has 24 years of exempt-organization tax experience. We welcome our new board members and look forward to working with them.

Continuing board members include:

  • Tara Andrews, Deputy Executive Director, Coalition for Juvenile Justice
  • Katharine Huffman, Principal, The Raben Group
  • Jody Kent, National Coordinator, Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth
  • Joseph B. Tulman, Professor of Law, University of the District of Columbia

Click here to read the bios for the whole board.

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Responding to Veterans and the Rising Incarceration Rate

For 40 years, our armed services veterans have been returning home to a system inadequate to address the negative consequences associated with their combat and service. In 1986, 24 percent of all people in Federal prisons and 21 percent of those in State prisons were veterans. Early data indicates this pattern is repeating itself now as men and women return home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a result, JPI recently launched a new series highlighting veterans and the justice system. The series is the brainchild of Guy Gambill, a Soros Open Society Institute Fellow. During his 18-month fellowship with JPI, Guy, who is a veteran himself, advocates for alternatives to arrest and incarceration for veterans whose justice involvement is a result of their military experiences.

“It is important for those working in justice reform to work with those who serve veterans,” said Gambill. “Most who have worked in the realm of justice reform are not conversant with the role veterans have played in the rise of the carceral state.”  Having regular communications with veterans and their families and having had direct contact with the criminal justice system, Guy has been instrumental in identifying contributors to the series.

The first in the series installment focuses on the Jordal family. In her own words, a mother paints a picture of her family’s struggle with her son’s “invisible wounds” – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – following his return home. As a result of lack of treatment and follow up, her son ended up serving 635 days in jail.

“The Kennedy Commission, Re-entry Policy Council and the Urban Institute’s Justice Roundtable–to name a few – all tore off sections of the problems around justice reform, yet none really touched upon veterans in justice,” Gambill continued. “While understandable it is nonetheless rather neglectful, as one in four men in State prisons in 1981, for example, was a veteran.”

Guy has held positions as the Research and Policy Director at the Veterans Initiatives Center & Research Institute and as the Advocacy Coordinator for the Council on Crime and Justice, both in Minneapolis, Minnesota. An Army veteran, Gambill did a tour of duty in Germany and received an Honorable Discharge in 1988. For his service, he received the Army Achievement Medal, Primary Leadership Development Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, and Presidential Unit Citation.

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JPI Gets Full “Court” Press

A sample of the media earned by “Addicted to Courts.”

Addicted to Courts: How a Growing Dependence on Drug Courts Impacts People and Communities, authored by JPI’s research associate Natassia Walsh, was released with the Drug Policy Alliance’s “Drug Courts Are Not the Answer: Toward A Health-Centered Approach to Drug Use” raising the debate about this burgeoning part of the judicial system.

The reports both made recommendations that highlighted America’s growing reliance on drug courts as an ineffective allocation of scarce state resources. While drug courts may be a better justice system option than incarceration, they are still a justice system approach to a public health issue. Drug courts also are not the most effective way to help people who are struggling with addiction, and in many ways, only serve to “widen the net” of U.S. criminal justice control, which now stands at about 7 million people either incarcerated or on probation or parole.  Click here to read Addicted to Courts.

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Q&A: Finding Direction

While it may be admirable to be “number one” in many categories, it is unfortunate that the U.S. is number one when it comes to imprisoning people, with the world’s highest incarceration rate and 2.4 million people in prison or jail. More and more policymakers are taking notice, as state and federal budgets are strained by ever increasing correctional spending.

To give policymakers more options in how to address this critical issue, this April JPI published Finding Direction: Expanding Criminal Justice Options by Considering Policies of Other Nations. 

The extensive report highlighted the criminal justice practices of Finland, England and Wales, Australia, Canada, Germany and the U.S. in an effort to examine the criminal justice practices of our international counterparts and provide policymakers with concrete examples of changes that can benefit budgets and improve community safety and wellbeing.

The report was born out of a research paper by Dr. Doris MacKenzie and Mr. Douglas Weiss in 2009. JPI used this paper as the groundwork for report, including data from the original paper and expanding policy arguments around this data. The hope initially was that the report would be useful to the National Criminal Justice Commission proposed by Jim Webb, as well as to states and local jurisdictions where most criminal and juvenile justice policies are made. Although legislation authorizing this commission has not yet passed, the report was disseminated widely to state and county policymakers, as well as advocates in the areas of mental health, re-entry, and parole and probation.

As primary author of the report, JPI’s associate director Amanda Petteruti, conducted extensive research in sentencing, parole and reentry, policing, pre-trial detention, drug use, juvenile justice. Her findings resulted in a series of recommendations to policymakers of various levels based on the fact that there are fundamental similarities to the U.S. that cross-national policy adoption could be considered.

In conducting research, JPI also received comments used in the report from Tapio Lappi-Seppala of National Research Institute of Legal Policy Finland and Loic Waquant of the University of California, Berkley.

Following the release of “Finding Direction,” Amanda was able to reflect on her research and JPI’s goals in producing an extensive study.

Q: What was the biggest challenge in approaching “Finding Direction?” 

A: The challenge in conducting this type of cross-national comparison is that other nations don’t define crime in the same way and don’t count it in the same way. We worked hard to ensure that we used sources that made the data comparable.

Q: What is your personal goal with “Finding Direction?” 

A: I hope the report will create new relationships with people and organizations in other nations. Other countries are beginning to grapple with their own rising incarceration rates. Hopefully, advocates and policymakers in those countries would use our report to guide their own criminal justice policy decisions.

Q: Who should read “Finding Direction” and how should it be applied for practical use?

A: Ideally, jurisdictions across the country will look at the report and understand that there is a whole world of innovative criminal justice policies that could be used to reduce the number of people in prison while keeping communities safe. Whether it’s policymakers that use the report directly, advocates that use it to make arguments before policymakers, or the media, we hope the report will contribute to the dialogue about criminal justice reform.

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