Category Archives: addiction and recovery

More on justice reform: which ex-offenders need the most help?

As expected, Senator James Webb (D-Va), reintroduced his bill on criminal justice reform on Tuesday. The National Criminal Justice Commission Act,  first drafted two years ago, would set up a bipartisan group  to conduct an 18-month review of the U.S. criminal justice system and offer concrete recommendations on what needs to be done to fix it.

The bill was passed by the House last year, but held up in the Senate  over concerns about how it would be financed. In an interview last week, Webb’s spokesman Will Jenkins said the Senator ” never wavered in his commitment to reform and was determined to press on this year.”  The fact that Webb  has several Republican co-sponsors, Jenkins added, “has opened the door for compromise.”

Will he get it?  Conservatives have recently embraced justice reform, most notably through Right on Crime, an organization pushing for fiscally responsible change  at the local and state levels. Their goal is to recalibrate an incarceration-heavy system that has led to diminishing returns in terms of safety and effectiveness.  Mark Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a signatory for Right on Crime, said there are good things about Webb’s bill and that he believes the commission could be financed  using current corrections funding.  ” I’d hate to see the proposal held up over costs,” he added.

Beware, the pressure for quick fixes

Still, its passage will likely come down to whether legislators have the patience for a detailed review or feel the need to  press for more immediate reforms.  To that end,  a newly released report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, provides a preview of where they might start.  The report, which grew out of a 2009 request by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va) to hold a summit on proven ways to both serve justice and reduce crime and recidivism, offers a useful summary of what works and what doesn’t.

The report takes on a state system that costs more than $50 billion annually.   Apparently, only Medicaid increased faster as a proportion of total state budgets.  Meanwhile correction spending grew at nearly three times the rate of spending on higher education. At the same time, the authors caution that pushing fiscal auterity alone will lead to ill-advised policy decisions. Already they note:

Although many states and localities have made successful strides in prisoner reentry, elected officials in a growing number of jurisdictions are finding budget pressures and other conditions make it practically impossible to finance, on a large scale, strategies necessary to make someone’s transition from prison to the community safe and successful.  

Scary.  Especially considering how cursory so many reentry efforts are right now.

Where should the funding go?

So how to make avoid making ill-advised funding decisions while paring costs?  The report suggests four areas where funds and energies should be targeted (read “justice reinvestment”) to get the most bang for the buck.

  1.  Focus should be on people most likely to reoffend.
  2. Programs should be based on scientific evidence and have measurable outcomes.
  3. Efforts should be made to improve community supervision.
  4. Place-based strategies should be emphasized.

Yes,  such a reallocation of resources will result in some people falling through the cracks.  Ex-offenders with lesser crimes, for example, may lose out on some access to programs and services to aid in their reentry.  But the authors also provides evidence that directing efforts to those individuals most likely to commit a new crime will be more beneficial in terms of reducing the crime rate and improving public safety.

At any rate, the report provides a  useful summary of current thinking and programs, so  it’s  well worth checking out if you haven’t already.

Some other highlights:

  • Drug treatment in the community is  more effective than while in  prison.
  • Prison education programs work, (yeah!), but  community based programs have more an impact on recidivism rates than those based in prison.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy that is action-oriented is the more successful in changing behavior and reducing recidivism than fear tactics and emotional appeals, talk therapy or other client-centered approaches.
  • Focusing services, resources and attention to certain high crime areas will have a bigger payoff in terms of reducing crime and recidivism.  Probation and other reentry service offices located in where the individuals live have been found to be more effective.

Readers, what are your feelings on reform?  What do you expect to happen?

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under addiction and recovery, alternatives to incarceration, prison reform, reentry

An ex-offender’s story and other reading

I’ve been bad about posting  as I’ve tried to get off to a good start workwise in the New Year.   While I get up to speed, here are  some of articles I’ve come across that might be of interest to ex-offenders and others who work with returning citizens: 

On starting over:   There’s  an interesting piece in the Washington Post Magazine that  tells the story of  49-year-old Louis B. Sawyer, who spent 25 years in prison and the challenges he’s facing trying to start life over.   The writer does a great job of showing the multitude of challenges from housing, to finding a job, rebuilding trust that former felons face. 

On the unintended victims of high incarceration rates:   A growing number of children are facing life  with an incarcerated parent, according to an article in California Watch.  A recent study by non-profit Justice Strategies found that 1.7 million children in the U.S. now have a parent serving time, and as a result suffer the emotional trauma that goes along with that.     A shout out  to Piper Kerman for tweeting this one.  For more information you can also refer to the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated at Family and Corrections Network.

On mental illness in prison:  Proof that this isn’t just an American problem.  A recent study of a the Central Prison in Bangalore, India found that nearly 80 percent of inmates suffered from either mental illness or substance abuse. 

On our flawed system:   New York Magazine and The Philadelphia Inquirer received the John Jay /HF Guggenheim Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Awards, according to the Crime Report.   In the New York Magazine article, “I Did It,”  Robert Kolker told the story of  Frank Sterling, who served19 years in prison after making a false confession.   The Inquirer looked at the growing problems with Philadelphia’s criminal justice system in its “Justice Delayed, Dismissed, Denied” series.

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Filed under addiction and recovery, offender health, reentry, second chances

Just out: a nationwide guide to reentry programs

If you’re looking for help starting over, you might want to check-out this great new guide reentry programs.

The searchable database was the brainchild of  the Council of State Goverments Justice Center with support from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA.

The goal of new online Reentry Programs Database is to provide a comprehensive catalog of  initiatives to help former adult and juvenile offenders and those with criminal records.  It’s a great idea, and the CGS is enoucraging agencies to update their data so that users will be able to locate the most current information on reentry.

When I took a look at the guide this past week, it was simple enough to search by entering your city and state and the type of assistance you were seeking.  The idea is very similar to a resource offered by the National Hire Network, which also offers a state-by state listing of reentry and other helpful resources.

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Filed under addiction and recovery, adult education, education ex-offenders, employment assistance ex-offenders, hope for ex-offenders, reentry, reentry resources, second chances, starting over, training for ex-offenders

Lindsay Lohan’s jail break

Jail is an awful, dehumanizing place, and I don’t envy Lindsay Lohan for having to spend time there.

In case you’ve fallen behind in your tabloid reading: Lohan, the talented, but increasingly troubled actress, began serving a 90-day sentence today at the women’s jail in Lynwood, California.  She got it for failing to show up to court and violating the terms of her probation on earlier misdemeanor drug and driving charges.  

 In the run-up to her surrender, there was a predictable face-off between those who felt Lohan was getting what she deserved and those who thought she’d be better off in a rehab program.

While I agree that jail isn’t going to cure  a serious substance abuse problem, I have to say I’m glad she’s there.   And no, not just because this proves a famous actress isn’t above the law and has to pay for what she’s done like everyone else.   Initially, I thought that might be why as I’ve often expressed how I feel about rich or celebrated lawbreakers getting special treatment.

But ultimately, I realized it was more because of Lohan’s similarities to others who are doing time  behind bars.   If you take out the spoiled actress part and all the money, she’s actually a  pretty typical inmate.  Consider:

Lohan, who first charmed me playing twin sisters in “The Parent Trap,” has some incredible gifts.  My hope  is that she’s able to see this as a wake-up call and use her time away from society — which is expected in the end to be around 23 days — to face her problems.  Going to rehab is almost fashionable among the Hollywood set.  But sometimes people need a bigger dose of reality to get them to truly want to change.   Just as with Roberty Downey Jr.,  whose drug use ultimately earned him a prison term, this could be a turning point for Lohan. 

Readers, what do you think?  Have any of you ever been prompted to change your life or deal with major shortcomings because of  a jail or prison term?  How did you do it?

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Filed under addiction and recovery, alternatives to incarceration, life in prison, personal responsibility, second chances, sentencing alternatives, starting over, taking responsibility, women ex-offenders

What you have the power to do

“The most common way  people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”        

             Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple”

I love this quote.  It reminds me of something I’ve struggled with on occasion.  Like say, last week when I was having a career-related ” poor me”  party, and forgot that I wasn’t completely at the mercy of events;  that there were some steps I could take to on my own behalf.

Yes, I was guilty of giving my power away.

If you’re starting over with a criminal record, you might also feel you have little power.  That’s okay.   It’s perfectly  understandable to worry about taking charge of your life again, particularly if you’ve served time and had most of your daily movements proscribed. 

But you do have more power than you realize, and even if you don’t feel it now, you can reclaim it.  Here are some of the most common areas where people with criminal records (and even those without them)  tend to give up power and strategies on how to get it back.            

 Job Search

  • Signs and Symptoms:    Thinking no one will hire you because you have a criminal record, thinking you’re turned down for jobs because of your past or because there’s something wrong with you.  Giving up prematurely on an employment search, getting overly nervous in interviews because you’re afraid you won’t get the job. 
  • Remedies: Assessing your strengths and weaknesses so you know what you have to offer an employer and how to sell yourself.  Being upfront about  your background and how you’ve changed and moved beyond it.  Acknowledging you understand why an employer might have concerns, but emphasizing how you will work to the best of your ability to prove yourself.  Realizing that everyone gets turned down for jobs, particularly in this market, and persisting in your search for as long as it takes. 

Relationships

  • Signs and Symptoms: Staying in a relationship where you are unable to be your best self, or one that is abusive or otherwise unhealthy.  Can include romantic relationships or friendships where you are encouraged to engage in behavior that is not in your best interest. Becoming involved in a relationship where you feel you must sacrifice your dreams or desires in order to make someone else happy.   Carrying grudges or anger from slights or hurts in the past.
  • Remedies:  Learning to value your own wants and needs as much as other people’s.   Making sure you do not have to sacrifice who you are to maintain a friendship or relationship.  Seeking out alliances with individuals you admire who are living the kind of life that you aspire to. Leaving relationships that are abusive or otherwise unhealthy.  Dedicating yourself to developing your own strengths and reaching your own goals.  Letting go of blame for past hurts and moving on with your own life.

Addiction

  • Signs and Symptoms:  Usually obvious and unhealthy attachment to substances or practices that are destructive and ultimately take over your life; drugs, alcohol, gambling, thrill-seeking, sex, etc.
  • Remedies:  Acceptance, treatment and support.

Dealings with Law Enforcement:  

  • Signs and Symptoms:   Unnatural or exaggerated fear that even though you have served your time, police or local law enforcement (sometimes even probation officers are included here) are out to get you.
  • Remedies:  Realization that you have control over your actions.   As long as you choose to abide by the conditions of your release and become a law-abiding citizen, you should not be in trouble again.  Realizing the people, places and things that can get you in trouble and avoiding those can go a long way towards helping you stay on the right path. 

Readers, how about you?   Have you ever struggled to hold onto your power?   Have you ever given it away and regretted it?   And if so, how have you gotten it back?

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Filed under addiction and recovery, companies hiring ex-offenders, criminal records, employment ex-offenders, ex-offender psychology, goal-setting, life in prison, personal responsibility, reentry, second chances, starting over, talents

Women and addiction: the challenges

Today was supposed to be a day off for me after 31 straight of blogging…

Alas, I couldn’t resist after stumbling upon this new government report , courtesy of Crime In America.  It was prepared by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the HHS, and lays out how addiction is different in women than men.  

I know, duh!  But it’s good to see it documented along with recommendations on treatment.  This is near and dear to my heart as so many of the offenders I work with, both male and female struggle with  substance abuse — in fact, it’s often what led to or had a role in their arrest.  As researchers note:

 Numerous factors influence the reasons for initiation of substance use among women, and a number of these factors are more prevalent among women than men. Women often report that stress, negative affect, and relationships precipitate initial use. In fact, women are often introduced to substance use by a significant relationship such as boyfriend, family member, or close friend. Though genetics also may be a significant risk factor for women, more research supports familial influence—a combination of genetic and environment effects. Less is known about familial influence of illicit drugs, but parental alcohol use increases the prevalence of alcohol use disorders among women by at least 50 percent. Family of origin characteristics play a role too. Exposure to chaotic, argumentative, and violent households, or being expected to take on adult responsibilities as a child, are other factors associated with initiation and prevalence of substance use disorders among the female population.

Other notable and alarming points:

  • Women are more likely to take temporary  breaks in their usage for caretaking responsibilities.
  • Women’s earlier patterns of use are leading to higher rates of dependency.
  • Women progress faster from initiation to full blown addiction and its consequences.

The report lays out a road map for treatments that are more successful and applicable to women as well.  It’s long (382 pages), but packed with info and well worth checking out if you or a loved one struggle with addiction issues.

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Remembering the battles soldiers fight — away and at home

On this Memorial Day, I find myself thinking about a couple of people I know.  These particular folks not only served their country — in some cases with much distinction — but in a twist that’s become all too familiar, they also served time in prison or jail.

Sadly, the longer America has been at war, the more common this scenario  has become.   So common, in fact, that the prevalence of combat veterans who get  in trouble with the law after they return has been well-documented — In stories like this one from the Salt Lake City Tribune. Or  in the “The Wounded Platoon” , a television documentary airing earlier this month, which opened with a tale of how three army combat buddies had killed a fourth after a night of drinking in Colorado Springs.

As these reports note, it’s difficult to find hard statistics on incarcerated veterans, let alone the whys behind their offenses.  This oft-cited special report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics looked at the ex-military population in prisons and jails in 1998 and found a preponderance of Vietnam War vets, higher-levels of education and people who were more likely to be addicted to alcohol than drugs.

But new wars have brought new challenges.  “The Wounded Platoon,” depicts how the need for troops prompted the military to accept recruits with criminal and juvenile records who might have been rejected in the past.  Faced with a spike in post-traumatic stress disorder during IED-laden guerrilla wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military also began to allow soldiers in combat to take prescription drugs, among them antidepressants and Ambien. Some believe this may account for higher incidences of  post-war drug and alcohol abuse.

Given the difficulties of readjusting to life outside a war zone — and the little support available  —  it’s not a big leap to imagine how a combination of substance abuse and psychological disorders could lead a veteran to cross the line. Granted, many in the service had problems before they ever put on a uniform.  As one commenter noted on the story in the Salt Lake City Tribune, some “would have committed a crime regardless.”  Still, the 2000 BOJ report found that veterans were more likely to be serving a sentence for a violent offense than those who had never served.  They were also more likely to be older and first-time offenders.

I’m not saying those who have broken the law should be exempt from punishment because of their military service.  It just seems that perhaps military service needs to be factored in more.  This was brought home to me earlier this year when I met an offender whose profile didn’t make sense to me.  This woman had spent nearly a decade in the service, fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and received commendations and assignments that required a high level of security.   The incident that got her in trouble was alcohol-fueled and happened shortly after her return to the U.S.   Obviously, I don’t know all the details because I wasn’t there, but the idea that the crime warranted time in jail as opposed to some other sort of psychological or substance abuse treatment seemed bizarre.

This is not just an issue in the U.S., by the way.   Veterans in Prison, an organization founded by a group of British ex-soldiers tracks similar problems in the UK.  In 2008, for example, a report found that 1 in 11 people serving time in British jails was a former member of the armed forces.

What can we do?  That’s a good question.  Fortunately, as more soldiers reenter civilian life, there seems to be a growing  awareness of the challenges they face.   This was reflected in a California ruling  last year in a case involving a former Army Ranger accused of  breaking into two pharmacies to fuel his prescription drug addiction. Although he was facing up to 12 years in prison, he was given treatment as opposed to jail upon appeal.

I’m hoping to see more of this.  How about you?

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On an administrative note:  Alas, today is the official end of the WordCount Blogathon 2010. Yesterday, I reflected on what a long, often challenging, but rewarding trip it’s been.   Unfortunately, (or fortunately, for those of you who were tired of me nattering on) this means that I’ll no longer be posting daily.  But thanks to some new followers, some great ideas and lots of inspiration, I”m hoping to be able to use the longer lead time between posts to tackle some stories I’ve been meaning to get to — like ban the box and other pressing issues.

So thanks again for sticking with me for a month’s worth of posts and blog-discovery.  And a final shout-out to Michelle Rafter, who made this whole event not just possible, but loads of fun.

I hope you’ll stay tuned…..

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Filed under addiction and recovery, alternatives to incarceration, breaking the law, criminal records, ex-offender psychology, homelessness