Reducing Segregated Housing: But – What Else Can We Do?

By Susan Hills Rose, IAHR Contributing Reporter

The serious consequences of extended segregated housing – both for the prisoner  subjected to it and for the public safety of his or her future community – have been well    documented. But some would say there is no alternative; prisoners misbehave, and they  must be punished. What else can we do to maintain order in our prisons?

 Three major approaches have evidence and experience behind them. Here’s what we can do instead:

 

1. Use a range of graduated sanctions.

Because of its devastating impact on mental health and social skills, segregation should never be the first option for responding to behavior issues. Lower levels of infractions that do not involve violence toward others can be dealt with through temporary, less severe sanctions. Here are some of the many alternatives to disciplinary segregation identified by the U.S. Department of Justice [1]:

  • Forfeit “good time,” which reduces sentence length
  • Loss of privileges, such as visiting and phone calls
  • Move to less desirable housing
  • Loss of participation in a program or group activity
  • Impound personal property, such as a CD player or musical instrument
  • Require extra duty, or
  • Delay parole date.

Does this mean correctional officers will be less safe? When Colorado reduced its use of extended solitary confinement, it found that prisoner-on-staff assaults actually declined [2].

2. Reward positive behavior.

Public safety-minded correctional systems are increasing incentives for positive behavior rather than spending their scarce resources responding to discipline problems. For example:

  • Kevin Kempf, Director of Idaho’s Department of Corrections, has allowed prisoners who have gone 3 months with no disciplinary offenses to buy pizzas from a local partner [3].
  • Kempf is also partnering with local school districts to set up “art in the yard” events where prisoners can display and sell their art to the community.
  • In Ohio, some segregated housing units were converted to “limited privilege unit” that allowed more out-of-cell time and privileges. Prisoners can gain early release by participating in pro-social activities such as anger management and problem-solving programs (ASCA, 2016).
  • Privileges such as time to work out, access to desirable food, job opportunities, and more desirable housing assignments can be offered to prisoners who have good records.


3. Reduce the conditions that make prisons less safe.

Many states are taking a hard look at conditions within their prisons that lead to hopelessness, anger, violence, and self-harm. Then they are developing innovative programs to change those conditions. If they are successful, prisoners will be more successful in finding jobs and rejoining their families when they re-enter communities. In the short term, prisons will be safer places for both correctional officers and prisoners.

Offer effective programs to help prisoners with mental illness

For example: Prisoners with mental illness, especially severe mental illness, often have difficulty complying with prison rules. They may also have a range of challenges in social interactions. Long periods in segregated housing can make even healthy persons develop mental problems; for people who already have them, they just get worse. What can be done?

  • In South Carolina, the Department of Corrections is developing a program to screen and evaluate prisoners to identify those in need of mental health care. It is also developing a training program to help staff intervene appropriately when there is a crisis (ASCA, 2016).
  • In Colorado, prisoners with Serious Mental Illness were moved from segregated confinement to residential treatment units where they are offered 10 hours of therapeutic interventions and 10 hours of recreational programming weekly (ASCA, 2016).

Teach ways to de-escalate conflict

Vera Institute of Justice also urges prisons to “use communication and de-escalation techniques to resolve conflict [4]." Both prisoners and correctional officers can learn techniques to dial-down conflict situations that can lead to threats and violence. In a striking example:

  • In Colorado, prisoners in restrictive housing have access to “de-escalation rooms” that may offer soothing wall colors, dim lights, and a comfortable chair. People can listen to calming music, use exercise balls, or participate in art therapy (ASCA, 2016).

Improve conditions in restrictive housing

Prisons and jails can also decrease the likelihood of permanent harm to individuals’ mental health as a result of extended segregated confinement. For example:

  • The Hampden County Sheriff’s Department in Massachusetts distributes preprogrammed MP3 players to people in restricted housing as a reward for positive behavior. The players have self-help programs, music, nature sounds, and audio books (Vera Institute, 2018).
  • Prisons can give prisoners a date certain on which their confinement will end unless there is a serious infraction and keep their word.
  • In Oregon, people in segregated housing can view nature videos in a “Blue Room” – an innovation that both staff and prisoners say has led to a “calmer atmosphere in the unit” and fewer disciplinary infractions (Vera Institute, 2018)

Kristi Jacobson’s HBO film is Nominated for Two Emmy Awards


Solitary, directed by Kristi Jacobson

Solitary, directed by Kristi Jacobson (2016 Breakthrough Filmmaker Award recipient) was nominated for Outstanding Investigative Documentary  and Outstanding Editing – Documentary.

Solitary investigates an invisible part of the American justice system: the use of isolation and segregation in US prisons, commonly known as solitary confinement. With unprecedented access inside a prison, Ms. Jacobson explored this issue by interviewing both incarcerated men and correctional officers.

IAHR promoted the film in DC, Richmond, and Alexandria.  IAHR Board member, Gay Gardner has been corresponding for almost three years with a number of the men who were interviewed in the film.


Second Forum on Solitary in Maryland Sparks Renewed Concern

Rabbi Charles Feinberg

 

Over 30 people attended IAHR’s second forum on solitary confinement in Maryland in Frederick on July 24.  The forum was held at Frederick Friends and was cosponsored by Unity in Frederick, Social Action Committee, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick, Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland, and the Baltimore-Washington Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries.

Several things stood out in this month’s forum.  First, Wendell France whose career was devoted both to law enforcement and corrections, spoke about how prison authorities get so much wrong. The reason he said is that no one asks the prisoners how to run the prison better!  Indeed, if feedback from those incarcerated was taken seriously, the prisons would deliver services that would truly meet their needs. This would mean delivering real education and training to the incarcerated consistently, better medical care, and better communication with loved ones.  The result of this is that those leaving prison would be better equipped to re-enter the community and live as law abiding citizens. 

Second, Munib Lohrasbi (who was a last minute replacement for another speaker who could not come) spoke eloquently about the research he is conducting for Disability Rights Maryland.  Munib spoke extensively about how people in solitary are mistreated and have to endure difficult if not horrible conditions: cold in the winter, intense heat in the summer, broken windows, and indifferent medical care. 

Third, the energy in the room rose when Suzanne O’Hatnick spoke about how people could get involved.  IAHR plans to introduce new legislation on solitary confinement in the 2019 session of the Maryland Legislature.  We will be announcing that legislation this fall.  But we need people to volunteer now.  Please click here to see the different volunteer opportunities. 

Our next scheduled forum on solitary confinement in Maryland will be held on September 20 in Prince George’s County.  Time and location will be announced shortly.


2018 Solitary Confinement Reform Act in Maryland

Here is IAHR's and the Maryland Prisoners' Rights Coalition Bill on Restrictive Housing which will be submitted to the 2018 Session of the Maryland Legislature. 

Correctional Services - Restrictive Housing – Limitations 

This section applies to facilities operated by a correctional unit, as defined in Correctional Services §2-401(b). 

Definitions

  1. “Vulnerable inmate” means an inmate who:
    • Is 18 years of age or younger;
    • Is 65 years of age or older;
    • Is pregnant, in the postpartum period, or has recently suffered a miscarriage or terminated a pregnancy;
    • Is or is perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex;
    • Has a diagnosed serious mental illness; or
    • Has an intellectual, developmental or physical disability, or traumatic brain injury.
  2. “Substantive infraction” means an act committed inside a correctional facility that constitutes a violation of Maryland criminal law.
  3. “Administrative infraction” means an act committed inside a correctional facility that does not constitute a violation of Maryland criminal law.
  4. “Incident report” has the meaning defined in COMAR 12.02.27.02(B)(21)(b)
  5. “Alternative disciplinary sanction” means the penalties identified in COMAR 12.02.27.39 (D) 1-4

Graduated sanctions

1. An inmate who has been found guilty of an administrative infraction may be subject to:

For a first infraction, no more than a verbal warning;

For a second infraction, no more than an incident report;

For a third or subsequent infraction, no more than an alternative sanction;

2. An inmate who has been found guilty of a substantive infraction may be subject to:

For a first infraction, no more than 15 days in restrictive housing;

For a second infraction, no more than 30 days in restrictive housing;

For a third and subsequent infraction, no more than 45 days in restrictive housing

3. An inmate may not be subject to more than 15 consecutive days or a total of 90 days in restrictive housing in a one-year period in restrictive housing, unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the inmate poses an immediate and substantial risk of physical harm to the security of the facility, to the inmate, or to others.

Prohibited bases for restrictive housing

  1. An inmate may not be placed in restrictive housing for:
  • Non-disciplinary reasons;
  • Refusing medical treatment; or
  • Self harm behavior, unless the inmate’ placement in restrictive housing is temporary and has been ordered by a medical professional in a clinically designated and supervised area

Vulnerable populations

Unless there is a facility–wide lockdown, vulnerable inmates may not be placed in restrictive housing until alternative disciplinary and informal sanctions have been attempted, documented and have failed to mitigate the risk of physical harm to the security of the facility, to the inmate, or to others.

Conditions of restrictive housing

1. Inmates in restrictive housing shall be provided:

Weekly comprehensive physical and mental health assessments by a member of the evaluation team, as defined in correctional services §4-101(f), to determine if the inmate may be released from restrictive housing;

The same standard of access to phone calls, visits, mail, basic necessities, including, but not limited to, food, water, showers, clothing and bedding, sanitary conditions and medical care, including, but not limited to, any appropriate preventive and emergency care, that are provided to inmates not in restrictive housing; and

Maximized access to recreation, education, and programming

2.  Failure to comply with this subsection shall be recorded in the inmate’s file

3.  An inmate may not be released directly from restrictive housing to the community, unless it is necessary for the safety of the inmate.

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"We are Jonah"

On September 30 which was also the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Rabbi Feinberg gave a sermon at the Hill Havurah, a Jewish congregation on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. This is the text of the sermon. 

Jonah’s Story

The story of the Jonah the prophet is an essential text for the Jewish observance of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.  The story is read during the afternoon service.  The story is actually one of the 15 prophetic books in the Prophetic section of the Hebrew Bible.  Here is a summary of the story. 

God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh; instead he hops a ship to Tarshish, which is in the opposite direction.

Jonah falls asleep in the bottom of the boat while a storm brews.  The storm intensifies and the sailors perceive that someone has offended the gods.  They cast lots and Jonah comes up short.  The sailors want to know who Jonah is. 

He tells them he is a Hebrew and that he fears the God of Heavens who made the sea and the dry land. 

The sailors are very afraid and ask Jonah what they should do since he seems to be responsible for the storm.  Jonah says to them to throw him overboard.  The sailors are pious and don’t want to offer up Jonah to his God.  They call out to God begging him not to destroy them.  They don’t want to spill innocent blood. But Jonah instructs them to throw him overboard in order to save themselves as well as the passengers and animals on the ship.  

After the sailors throw Jonah overboard, the storm passes and the sea is calm.  The sailors again are filled with fear and awe and offer up a sacrifice to God and make pledges of future offerings to the God of Israel.

God invites a large fish to swallow Jonah.  Jonah prays to God and after three days and nights the fish spits Jonah out. 

God then instructs Jonah to go to Nineveh and to deliver a message: “In 40 days Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Lo and behold, the people of Nineveh declare a fast and dress in sackcloth.  The King also rises from his throne, dons sackcloth, and sits in ashes.  Everyone fasts: young and old as well as large animals.  Even the animals fast! 

The people repent for their evil ways and the violence in their hands.  The implication is that they have shed innocent blood.

God’s anger dissipates and God decides not to do to them what He had promised.  That is, for the time being God forgives them.

Jonah is furious at God.  Jonah says to God I always knew that you were a gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, full of loving kindness, and renouncing punishment.  Jonah believes that we should not forgive sinners and evildoers until they are punished.  The people of Nineveh did terrible things, they have blood on their hands! How can God let them off the hook without punishment?!

What does Jonah do?  He walks to the east of the city.  God causes a squash plant to grow over him providing shade.  God then causes the squash plant to shrivel and up and die. He brings the east wind and raises the temperature to 100 plus degrees.  He asks Jonah, “Is anger good for you?”  Jonah says “anger is good for me until death.”  God says “you did not nothing to cause the squash to grow.  It came and went.  Should I not have compassion for a city with 12,000 residents and much cattle?”

The story raises many questions but two are most salient for me today: Why is Jonah so angry and why did he go sit in the sun on the east side of the city? 

Jonah is angry at God for forgiving the people without punishing them and without being sure that their Teshuvah (repentance) is sincere.  So what does Jonah do?  Jonah decides to travel to the eastern side of Nineveh.  There Jonah sits and waits.  What is he waiting for?  He believes the Teshuvah (repentance) is insincere and is waiting to see the city recidivate.  He wants to tell God, “I told you so!”  He believes that all the rituals of repentance—sackcloth, ashes, fasting—were a sham.  Jonah doesn’t trust that the people will continue to act justly.

The Story of Michelle Jones & Reginald Dwayne Betts

Let me tell you two modern stories that I believe are connected to the story of Jonah.

Michelle Jones served 20 years in prison for a heinous crime: murdering her 4-year-old son. During her two decades behind bars, Ms. Jones compiled a record an extraordinary record of accomplishment. She published a scholarly article on the first prisons for women in the United States. She wrote a play that will open in December in an Indianapolis theater. She led a team of incarcerated women whose efforts won the Indiana Historical Society’s prize for best research project for 2016. Not the best research project by prisoners, but the best project. Period.

But Ms. Jones’s stunning record wasn’t good enough for top administrators at Harvard University. In a rare move, they overturned the history department’s admission recommendation and rejected Ms. Jones.  However, NYU did accept her and she recently started a doctoral program there.

Ms. Jones’s remarkable story put me in mind of a similar one — that of Reginald Dwayne Betts, the Yale Law graduate whose initial application to the Connecticut bar was recently rejected. Mr. Betts, who was convicted of carjacking in 1996 when he was 16, went on to astonishing success after his release in 2005, including publishing two books, earning BA and MFA degrees, and being accepted by Yale Law School. Mr. Betts passed the Connecticut Bar Exam and he is now employed as a Public Defender in Connecticut. 

There is one catch.  The Connecticut Bar refused to admit him even though he passed the exam.  According to the Bar, all attorneys have to be of good moral character.  Because he is a former felon, there isn’t a presumption of fitness to practice law. He has to prove it with “clear and convincing evidence.” As he continues to pursue admission to the bar, it’s clear that what matters most is the crime he committed as a teenager.  Very recently due to public pressure, the Connecticut Bar admitted Mr. Betts. 

What is the connection between the ancient story of Jonah and the modern stories of Michelle Jones and Reginald Dwayne Betts?

Harvard and the Connecticut bar are Jonah. And more importantly, too many of us are today’s Jonah.  Even with punishment we don’t believe people can change and renew their lives.  Better said, we don’t trust that the people who have committed violent crimes have really changed. Remember Jonah was angry at God because God forgave without punishing.  But our society punishes like no other on earth. And still we have a hard time being ready to forgive men and women who have done bad things, often violent acts, who have served long prison sentences, but who have also done Teshuvah and are ready to renew their lives.

I have experienced these things myself. I have made friends with returning citizens.  Some of them committed violent crimes.  One man I know who is now a leader in the DC Reentry Community was convicted of murder over 30 years ago.  He served a 25 year sentence. He reports to me that there are people with whom he associates who are afraid to invite him into their homes. We are Jonah!  We want people to be punished!  Not only that we have a very difficult time forgiving and accepting people who have done bad things but who have done Teshuvah. 

Ms. Jones and Mr. Betts are very accomplished people.  They are clearly very smart and capable.  What does it say about us that people who are not only brilliant but have also changed their lives have to overcome such obstacles?  Do their stories just serve to undermine the efforts of tens of thousands of incarcerated people to change their lives?  “If two such brilliant people have such trouble convincing liberals that they have changed, what chance do they have? Especially, if they have little education and are not skilled? How can they persuade others that they have truly changed?”

We often lament the fact that over 2 million Americans are in prison; that 30% of all the women in prison in the world are in American prisons.  Yet we—you and I—are the reason for this.  We tolerate brutal prisons, with extraordinary rates of men and women committed to solitary confinement, who are not given proper medical or psychological care, who are isolated from their family and community and with limited educational opportunities. 

Then when these men and women are released from prison, we make it next to impossible for them to find work or housing.  Then we shake our heads and are surprised that so many recidivate.

What Can We Do?

20 years ago, the District was in bad financial and political shape.  At that time the District and the Congress decided to take away from the District most of their criminal justice responsibilities and obligations.  Federal prosecutors prosecute all the felonies committed in the District.  The Public Defender Service is funded by Congress.  The District closed its prison in Virginia.  Any DC resident convicted of a felony serves his or her sentence in a federal prison.

Today, approximately 4600 DC residents are incarcerated in 122 prisons around the country.  DC residents are in prison in California, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota, to name a few states. 

This means that DC residents are doubly isolated.  They are isolated from their community and family.  The majority are poor and their families cannot afford many trips out west or south to visit them.  They are also isolated in these prisons.  They are from a city that is often demonized in many parts of our country. 

Much research indicates that the rate of recidivism is a function of whether a prisoner is in touch with his family and community.  The more isolated she is, the more likely she will return to prison after her release. 

To address this issue in one way, IAHR has launched a pen pal project.  The aim of the project is to connect those of living in the District or in the suburbs with a DC resident in prison.  We are asking each pen pal to write at least once a month for one year. Then you can decide if you want to continue or not.  Many of the prisoners have access to email.  So you don’t necessarily have to write a snail mail letter.  In addition, we are planning an orientation for pen pals. We have guidelines that we want everyone to abide by.  In addition to the orientation, we plan to hold periodic meetings for the pen pals so they can share experiences and talk about any issues that may come up. 

IAHR has advertised the program in 10 different federal facilities. We have received a very strong response.  We need your help in order to make this program a success. We have flyers promoting the program.  If you want to get involved, you can contact me.  My contact info is on the flyer.  If you are interested in helping organize part of the program, please talk to me during the break. 

On one level, this is a program to reach out to lonely isolated DC residents who are scattered around the country.  On another level, I hope that those who become pen pals will begin to view the person they are writing to not only as a number, not only as a convicted felon, but as a person with a soul.  I hope and pray that people like you and me will learn about the conditions in our prisons.  You will understand that many of those residing in our prisons want to do Teshuvah and want to renew their lives.  By reaching out to these men and women, we can begin to change the culture that usually wants to write these people off. 

Join with me in reaching out to the incarcerated.  Join with me in saving souls!  


Virginia Coalition Opens Talks with Gov. McAuliffe's Office

RICHMOND, VA - June 21, 2017 – Solitary confinement is torture. In American prisons, more than 50,000 people suffer in long-term solitary confinement, many with no clear expectation of release into general population.

Members of the Virginia Advocacy Group (VAG), the Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR) and advocacy partners met today with Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration to present a petition of nearly 20,000 signatures gathered in the case of Kevin Snodgrass, a Virginia prison inmate housed in isolation for almost four years. Research has found the cruelty of isolation has long-term psychological and psychosocial effects on inmates, including despondency, depression, and even suicidal tendencies.

The group advocated at the meeting for prisoners with mental illness and other disabilities, related the IAHR’s position condemning solitary confinement in Virginia, and urged the administration to establish guidelines for its use modeled after the U.S. Department of Justice’s Report and Recommendations Concerning the Use of Restrictive Housing. The group also addressed the lack of structure and clarity of the “Step Down Program”.

Specifically, VAG asked the governor, through his representatives, to:

  • Limit the use of solitary confinement to when it is absolutely necessary and other alternatives are unavailable;
  • Provide prisoners in solitary confinement with a written plan for returning to less restrictive conditions as soon as possible; and
  • Stop placing inmates with serious mental illness or mental, physical or intellectual disabilities in solitary confinement.

Collectively, the Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR), National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), Virginia Council of Churches (VCC), Social Action Linking Together (SALT), the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia (ACLU-VA) and Virginia CURE have been advocating for reform as part of their long-standing mission to eradicate solitary confinement.

Virginia Advocacy Group meeting attendees included:

  • Charles Feinberg, executive director IAHR;
  • Gay Gardner, secretary, IAHR;
  • Kimberly Jenkins-Snodgrass, mother of Kevin D. Snodgrass #1203403, board member, IAHR;
  • Rev. Dr. Jonathan Barton, general minister, VCC;
  • Bill Farrar, director of strategic communications, ACLU-VA; and
  • Carla Peterson, director, Virginia CURE.

Representatives of the governor’s administration present at the meeting included Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, Deputy Secretary Victoria Cochran, Policy Director Jennie O’Holleran, and Counsel to the Governor Carlos Hopkins.

“The bottom line for us is that prisons and jails have to become transparent so that their leaders can be held accountable,” said IAHR Executive Director Rabbi Charles Feinberg.

“Solitary confinement is a cruel, ineffective and costly practice that causes great harm to the individuals who are subjected to it while failing to make incarcerated people, prisons or the communities to which inmates eventually are released any safer,” said ACLU-VA Director of Strategic Communications Bill Farrar.

“In the case of my son, Kevin Snodgrass, the efforts of VAG and advocacy partners led to global support of his petition, but for most others there is no clarity on what guidelines are set forth that would ensure proper treatment of inmates,” said Kimberly Jenkins-Snodgrass. “In many cases prisoners have been in solitary confinement for decades.”

About the Interfaith Action for Human Rights

Interfaith Action for Human Rights is a mid-Atlantic coalition of faith communities. We seek to change the culture, policy or practices that cause torture or violate human dignity. Our guide is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the wisdom of our respective faiths.

About the Virginia Advocacy Group

The Virginia Advocacy Group is working to minimize the use of prolonged isolated confinement and related abusive treatment in the Commonwealth of Virginia prisons.

###

For VAG member media interviews:

  • IAHR, Charles Feinberg, 240-324-9160, Iahr.cfeinberg@gmail.com, @iahr_dc
  • IAHR, Gay Gardner, 703-627-6482, gaygarden@msn.com
  • VCC, Rev. Dr. Jonathan Barton, 804-321-3300 x-102, barton@vacouncilofchurches.org.
  • ACLU-VA, Bill Farrar APR, 804-523-2156, bfarrar@acluva.org, @vachangeagent
  • Virginia CURE, Carla Peterson, (703) 272-3624, carla4vacure@gmail.com
  • IAHR, mother of Kevin Snodgrass, Kimberly Jenkins-Snodgrass, (703) 855-7871, iahr.ksnodgrass@gmail.com, @kimjsnodgrass

MORCA Testimony

Testimony in Support of Expanded Budget for MORCA

Rabbi Charles Feinberg

Interfaith Action for Human Rights

May 4, 2017

My name is Charles Feinberg and I am the Executive Director of Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR).  IAHR represents people of faith from Maryland, the District, and Virginia.  Our mission is to end policies and practices that promote torture in our society as well as affirming the dignity of each human being.  I am also a member of the DC Reentry Task Force and I am a resident of the District, residing in Ward 4. 

I am testifying in support of expanding the budget of MORCA in the following ways: 

  1. Strategic Planning: Funds should be added to MORCA’s budget to engage a strategic planning consultant. The plan will allow MORCA to clarify its role in the re-entry process, define its relationship with other system players, and create an accountability structure for achieving its goals as D.C.’s re-entry hub. A larger FY19 budget ask will be based upon the results of this strategic plan.
  2. Additional Staff: Fund 2 full-time case managers for MORCA. This will double the office’s capacity to serve its returning citizen clients in the short-term.

Returning citizens have to overcome many obstacles in order to become functioning independent residents of the District.  Men and women coming home from serving time in federal prison often do not recognize the city since it has changed rapidly in their absence.  They need assistance in navigating public transportation, in attaining a photo id, in purchasing a metro card, and in finding a place to live.  Returning citizens need guidance and assistance in how to go about looking for a job in our community.  Whether it is writing a resume or learning how to conduct themselves in a job interview, they need our support.  Often returning citizens need to learn new skills in order to become employable.  They need an agency who will be their support and their advocate.  They need one central office who will give them the information they need to begin to acclimate themselves to living in Washington.  

Last fall, I attended a Seminar at the Brookings Institute on Reentry and Recidivism. Many learned professors and attorneys spoke at this program.  I learned some important facts.  One fact is that the national recidivism rate for returning citizens is 51%.  I also learned that if a returning citizen can pass through the first 18 months home without incident; then the recidivism rate drops down 5 to 10%!   A number of the experts made the point that returning citizens are most vulnerable to breaking a parole rule or breaking the law during that first 18 months. 

Why is that?  We don’t give them the necessary support during that first year and a half home.  Consider how expensive housing is in this city.  Consider how difficult it is for a returning citizen to find work with a criminal record.  While the District has passed a ban the box law, it is a law that is easily circumvented. 

DC residents who are coming home, need an imaginative, well-staffed, and well-funded agency who will be there to give them the support they need.  They need one agency with one address who will organize their integration into the community.

Today, returning citizens have to negotiate a host of agencies whose staff often do not understand the needs of these men and women.  The way we handle reentry indicates that we as a community do not really care about these folks.  We communicate a message that they really don’t count or matter and that we would be just as happy if they were back in prison.  Often that is what happens.  They get the message and they return to prison. 

Let us at least start by funding two case workers for MORCA.  MORCA then will be able to begin to address the needs of returning citizens.

Two case workers, however, is not sufficient.  In order to effect change we need a vision and a plan for the men and women who return home every day.  The first step is put into the budget of this great city the resources for MORCA to develop a strategic plan for DC residents coming home.  This plan would incorporate values, vision, as well as the kind of staff needed to make the vision a reality.  It is really important that returning citizens be involved in the creation of the vision and the plan.  They are the experts.  They know what they need and they know what has been unhelpful.  By involving returning citizens in the creation of the plan, then we would be sending a strong message to them.  We would be saying you matter; your opinions matter.  We would be signaling to them that we want them to have a stake in the future of this city. We want them to be part of the future of District of Columbia. 

Once vision, values, and a plan are in place, then we can begin to figure out how to implement the plan.  We will have to build community support for the plan.  We will have to see if we can implement it in a series of short term stages.  If the community is involved in making this plan, then there will be support to implement and to find the funds to pay for it. 

Too often, returning citizens are looked upon as scapegoats whenever there is an uptick in crime.  Too often, we as a society assume that returning citizens are not important and are really bad people.  If we continue to send that message, then I assure you the recidivism rate will remain at 51%  But if we can send a message that we value returning citizens, that we want them to be part of our community, then we have an opportunity to reduce the numbers incarcerated and lessen the anger and bitterness among so many.

I urge this Council to take the first step by setting aside funds for MORCA to develop a strategic plan and to hire two case workers.


Testimony in Support of the DC Incarceration to Incorporation Entrepreneurship Program

District of Columbia Incarceration to Incorporation Entrepreneurship Program 

Rabbi Charles Feinberg

DC Council

May 4, 2017

My name is Charles Feinberg, I am the executive director of Interfaith Action for Human Rights. Interfaith Action for Human Rights is a mid-Atlantic coalition of faith communities. We seek to change the culture, policy or practices that cause torture or violate human dignity. Our guide is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the wisdom of our respective faiths. Our main agenda is criminal justice reform in Maryland, the District, and Virginia as well as countering bigotry, especially anti-Muslim bigotry.  I am a DC resident and I reside in Ward 4. 

I speak in support of the Incarceration to Incorporation Entrepreneurship Program (IIEP) which has the potential to make a real dent in the high unemployment rates for returning citizens. I am here to ask that as chairperson of this committee you work with your colleagues to appropriate up to $10 million to the Incarceration to Incorporation Entrepreneurship Fund (IIEF) for DC Law 21-159.  The Incarceration to Incorporation Entrepreneurship Program would provide business education and training for returning citizens to assist them in starting a business or fulfill other professional goals. The IIEP was passed unanimously by the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs and then by the full council in July, 2016. 

According to the recent report on Reentry issued by the Council for Court Excellence (CCE), “employment is a major problem for returning citizens.  Among employable returning citizens entering supervision during 2015, 71 percent reported they were unemployed.  Unfortunately, D.C.’s job market poses special challenges for the city’s returning citizens.  In 2012, nearly half of the job openings in the D.C. metro area required a college degree, a rate 10 percent higher than other metro areas.  It is projected that by 2020, 76 percent of all jobs in D.C. metro area will require post-secondary education.[1]

According to the CCE report, increased unemployment among returning citizens leads to decreases in drug dealing, violent crime, and property crime.  Returning citizens have to overcome many obstacles in order to find employment.  The majority of returning citizens remain unemployed.  According to the CCE report, “national surveys of returning citizens find that as many as 60 to 75 percent remain jobless up to a year after release.[i]  The CCE report documents that the lack of formal education, the lack of experience and training, employer resistance, and racial discrimination contribute to very high unemployment among returning citizens.

In addition, 31.5 percent of those under community supervision have less than a high school or GED certificate.  Those who are under the care of the D.C. Corrections have similar levels of educational achievement.  36.2 percent of men incarcerated at the DC jail have less than a high school education; 54.6 percent reported having a high school diploma or its equivalent; 3.1 percent reported have a college degree.  Similarly, 35.5 percent of women in the DC jail said they have less than a high school education; 47.9 percent reported having a high school or GED certificate, and only 4.1 percent reported having a college level education[2].  Contrast these levels of education with what one needs to secure employment in the District!

We must face up to certain realities.  Many people have hard time with school, no matter how good the school is.  These people are not necessarily incapable.  On the contrary many of them are very intelligent but their inner makeup resists the norms and practices of formal education.  Others are very smart but they learn so differently that it is hard for them to assimilate the material as it is presented.  I know this because my wife is a special education teacher.  She specializes teaching reading to children with learning disabilities.  She and her colleagues have often reported that many children with learning disabilities are very intelligent. Indeed, they become so frustrated because they are so intelligent and yet have such a hard time learning.  Many such students who are not given special help at a young age often fail at school.  They become so frustrated and angry that they drop out.  Some then engage in criminal acts in order to succeed. 

It is not realistic to expect returning citizens who have had low levels of educational achievement suddenly to become star students.  On the other hand, these returning citizens are capable, very intelligent, and given the right incentives and training could easily start their own businesses. 

This is why the Incarceration to Incorporation Entrepreneurship Program could become an important component in a program to help returning citizens become economically independent.  The IIEP would provide a relatively short term program that would give returning citizens the skills to set up their own businesses.  Certainly one of the reasons some people are in prison is because they have difficulty taking orders and direction from others.  That is certainly another reason that they failed in school.  But given the opportunity to be their own boss, they could very likely succeed and excel. 

I have met a number of retuning citizens who have started their own businesses. They are incredibly imaginative and entrepreneurial.  They were able to succeed because someone at some point helped them.  Given a little help, they then became incredibly successful.

Finally, I have been a rabbi for almost 44 years. One of the major lessons I have learned in my life and career is that people’s imaginations need to be stimulated and challenged.  When we challenge and stimulate people, they become excited and hopeful.  Whole worlds open up before them. 

I urge this Council to fund fully the Incarceration to Incorporation Entrepreneurship ProgramGive hope to those returning from prison.  Help them become independent so that they can become productive and creative citizens in our community. 



[1] Beyond Second Chances, Council for Court Excellence, December 2016, p. vi.

[2] Ibid. p. 43.



 


Testimony In Support of Maryland Bill SB1015 & HB1001

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Testimony in SUPPORT of SB1015 & HB1001

February 15, 2017

To: Maryland House Judiciary Committee

From: Suzanne O’Hatnick, President of Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR)

Re: SUPPORT for HB1001 & SB1015 Correctional Service - Restrictive Housing - Limitations

Interfaith Action for Human Rights is a mid-Atlantic interfaith human rights organization that focuses in Maryland on the intersection of public safety and human rights.  We appreciate having the opportunity to testify in SUPPORT of HB1001 (SB1015).

Last year the legislature passed bipartisan legislation that was signed into law mandating that the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services report annually on its use of restrictive housing.  Restrictive housing means a physical separation  in which the inmate is placed in a locked room or cell alone or with another prisoner for approximately 22 hours or more in a 24 hour period.

The mandated report was issued in January 2017 for FY2016. It revealed some shocking statistics:

  • 68% of inmates in state prisons spent time in isolation - restrictive housing - for an average of 50 - 60 days in FY2016. Approximately a quarter of those inmates spent multiple periods in isolation.
  • 269 inmates were released directly to the public from restrictive housing in FY2016. 
  • 172 inmates diagnosed as Seriously Mentally Ill (SMI) spent time in isolation,
  • as did 9 juveniles ages 16 or younger.

Some background about how this legislation came to be developed is useful. In 2011 IAHR was asked by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture to learn about how solitary confinement (current term of use is restrictive housing) was used in Maryland. Because of the pattern of abuse seen in US prisons abroad, there was a growing concern about the use of solitary confinement in US federal, state and local prisons and the potential for abuse in a situation where there was little information and no scrutiny.

In 2012 The Vera Institute of Justice did an assessment of Maryland’s use of restrictive housing - referred to at that time as administrative and disciplinary segregation. The Institute found that 8% of the population was in solitary at any given moment representing double the national average of use. In addition, the Institute found that use was arbitrary, varied from facility to facility and that time in isolation sometimes exceeded  even the maximum length of time in COMAR, which, at 360 days, they found also excessive. The Institute made 10 recommendations for change.

IAHR attempted to learn of the response to these recommendations, but was unable to get information voluntarily from DPSCS. In 2014 Senator Lisa Gladden and Delegate Jill P. Carter proposed legislation that  IAHR supported requiring a public reporting of the use of solitary confinement. DPSCS said they had no such thing and the bill did not make it out of committee..

in 2015 Senator Gladden and Delegate Carter once again introduced legislation to require reporting on the use of isolated confinement. We did not know what data DPSCS collected at that time and the argument that year was that we were asking for too much information that would be too costly to document. Again, the bill failed. Community support led by the ACLU, however, grew. The Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post ran editorials calling for the end of solitary confinement.

Later in 2015 through the query of a state legislator, it was learned that indeed, the situation had not really changed since 2011. Some data was provided to the legislator and in 2016 a bill was crafted to request the data that DPSCS already had. In 2016 the bill gained bi-partisan support with Senator Hough joining with Senator Gladden and Delegate Kittleman leading with Delegate Carter. The bill was signed into law in May 2016.

This year’s legislation is intended to support reform efforts recently initiated by DPSCS as recommended initially in 2012 by the Vera Institute of Justice, known for its work with states to reduce isolated confinement, and in 2016 by the National Institute of Corrections. There is clear evidence that extended periods of isolation can cause or exacerbate mental instability.  It appears that with so many being subjected to isolation in Maryland prisons,  restrictive housing is not being practiced as a last resort, but rather as a catch-all.

For that reason, IAHR strongly SUPPORTS Delegate Moon’s bill, HB1001, to limit the use of restrictive housing as a last resort rather than the first for infractions of rules.  There are times when it may be necessary. However, other methods need to be tried first - and there is ample evidence that it is possible to reduce isolated confinement and increase prison safety at the same time. One need only look to Colorado, Mississippi and New Mexico, among other states for examples.

Additionally, access to data and to prison visits upon request for a selected Working Group adds an element of transparency that has been missing.

For these reasons, IAHR urges members of the Judiciary Committee to SUPPORT HB1001 (SB1015).

Thank you for your service and for allowing this testimony.

Sincerely,

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Suzanne O’Hatnick

President, Board of Directors

Interfaith Action for Human Rights



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