Category Archives: Corrections

Six myths about criminal justice reform

Source: Chelsea Thomson, Urban Institute, August 10, 2017

When it comes to criminal justice reform efforts, states are leading the charge. Programs such as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), a structured criminal justice reform process designed to help states more safely and cost-effectively manage their corrections populations, as well as Louisiana’s recently enacted bipartisan, data-driven legislation highlight states’ ongoing work to enact evidence-based reforms and data-driven solutions.

But the ongoing discussion on criminal justice reform has put forth varied messages about what really improves outcomes for communities and what the possibilities are for additional reform.

Fortunately, research helps us answer those questions. Here’s the truth about recent criminal justice reform efforts….

Taking Care of the Mentally Ill

Source: B.L. Sloan, D.E. Efeti, Corrections Today, Vol. 79 no. 3, May/June 2017
(subscription required)

A training opportunity for correctional professionals. …. Across the nation, individuals with a serious mental illness are three times more likely to be incarcerated than placed in a mental health facility. … Because of this ever-growing population, the challenges facing correctional staff regarding custody, supervision and treatment of mentally ill offenders have never been greater. Therefore, it is not only necessary for the treatment staff to address then needs of the mentally ill offender, but it is critical for security staff members to understand and recognize problems faced by this special population and be better equipped to manage it. ….

Bureau of Prisons: Better Planning and Evaluation Needed to Understand and Control Rising Inmate Health Care Costs

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), GAO-17-379, Published: Jun 29, 2017

From the summary:
What GAO Found
From fiscal years 2009 through 2016, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) obligated more than $9 billion for the provision of inmate health care and several factors affected these costs. Obligations for health care rose from $978 million in fiscal year 2009 to $1.34 billion in fiscal year 2016, an increase of about 37 percent. On a per capita basis, and adjusting for inflation, health care obligations rose from $6,334 in fiscal year 2009 to $8,602 in fiscal year 2016, an increase of about 36 percent. BOP cited an aging inmate population, rising pharmaceutical prices, and increasing costs of outside medical services as factors that accounted for its overall costs.

BOP lacks or does not analyze certain health care data necessary to understand and control its costs. For example, while BOP’s data can show how much BOP is spending overall on health care provided inside and outside an institution, BOP lacks utilization data, which is data that shows how much it is spending on individual inmate’s health care or how much it is expending on a particular health care service. BOP has identified potential solutions for gathering utilization data, but has not conducted a cost-effectiveness analysis of these solutions to identify the most effective solution. BOP also does not analyze health care spending data, i.e., what its institutions are buying, from whom, and how much they spend. BOP has pursued some opportunities to control its health care spending through interagency collaboration and national contracts, but it has not conducted a spend analysis to better understand trends. Doing so would provide BOP with better information to acquire goods and services more strategically.

BOP has initiatives aimed to control health care costs but could better assess effectiveness and apply a sound planning approach. Since 2009, BOP has implemented or planned a number of initiatives related to health care cost control, but has not evaluated their cost-effectiveness. Further, BOP has engaged in a strategic planning process to help control costs, but has not incorporated certain elements of a sound planning approach, such as developing a means to measure progress toward its objectives and identifying the resources and investments needed for its initiatives. By incorporating these elements, BOP could enhance its planning and implementation efforts before expending resources, better positioning itself for success as it aims to control health care costs.

Why GAO Did This Study
As of June 2017, BOP was responsible for the custody and care—including health care—of about 154,000 inmates housed in BOP institutions. Health care includes medical, dental, and psychological treatment. BOP provides most care inside its institutions, but transports inmates outside when circumstances warrant. GAO was asked to review health care costs at BOP institutions.

This report addresses: (1) BOP’s costs to provide health care services and factors that affect costs; (2) the extent to which BOP has data to help control health care costs; and (3) the extent to which BOP has planned and implemented cost control efforts.

GAO analyzed BOP health care obligations data for fiscal years 2009 through 2016, gathered information on BOP’s health care cost control initiatives through a data collection instrument, and reviewed BOP’s health care related strategic plans. GAO also interviewed BOP officials and visited 10 BOP institutions, selected in part, for total and per capita medical services costs. ….

Mental Disorders Among Criminal Offenders: A Review of the Literature

Source: Emily D. Gottfried, Sheresa C. Christopher, Journal of Correctional Health Care, Vol. 23 Issue 3, July 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This article examines mental illness among adult, juvenile, male, female, jail, and prison inmates. It also explores the way in which mental health diagnoses impact offending and violent behavior. A review of literature pertaining to differences between the genders and age of offenders suggests that psychiatric disorders are more common among criminal offenders than the population at large. Furthermore, it appears that many mentally ill offenders do not receive sufficient treatment during their incarcerations and that barriers inherent to incarceration prevent adequate treatment of mental illnesses.

‘Giving Help and Not Asking for It’: Inside the Mental Health of First Responders

Source: Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene, Governing, July 7, 2017

Teaching cops, firefighters and prison workers to recognize and know how to handle people with mental illness is a big part of the efforts to reduce suffering and death at the hands of law enforcement. Less talked about is the mental health of the cops, firefighters and prison workers themselves. ….

Indicators of Mental Health Problems Reported by Prisoners and Jail Inmates, 2011-12

Source: Jennifer Bronson and Marcus Berzofsky, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 250612, June 2017

From the press release:
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a study today that revealed 14 percent of state and federal prisoners and 26 percent of jail inmates reported experiences that met the threshold for serious psychological distress (SPD). In comparison, the BJS study found that one in 20 persons (5 percent) in the U.S. general population with similar sex, age, race and Hispanic origin characteristics met the threshold for SPD.

The data on the prison and jail inmates are from the BJS’s 2011-12 National Inmate Survey and the general population data are from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The NSDUH data were standardized to match the sex, age, race and Hispanic origin of the prison and jail populations.

The report examined the prevalence of mental health problems among inmates based on two indicators: self-reported experiences that met the threshold for SPD in the 30 days prior to the survey and having been told at any time in the past by a mental health professional that they had a mental health disorder.

Among the incarcerated population, the study also found that females in state and federal prisons reported experiencing feelings that met the threshold for SPD at higher rates (20 percent) than males (14 percent). In jails, 32 percent of females and 26 percent of males met the threshold for SPD. Similar to the pattern for SPD, two-thirds of female inmates in both prisons (66 percent) and jails (68 percent) had been told by a mental health professional that they had a mental health disorder, compared to around a third (33 percent) of male prisoners and 41 percent of male jail inmates.

Thirty-seven percent of state and federal prisoners had been told by a mental health professional in the past that they had a mental health disorder. The most common disorder was a major depressive disorder (24 percent), followed by a bipolar disorder (18 percent), post-traumatic stress or personality disorder (13 percent) and schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder (9 percent).

Among jail inmates, 44 percent had been told in the past that they had a mental health disorder. Nearly a third had been told that they had major depressive disorder and a quarter had been told they had bipolar disorder.

Among inmates who met the threshold for SPD, more than half (54 percent) of prisoners and a third (35 percent) of jail inmates had received mental health treatment since admission to their current facility. About three-quarters of prisoners (74 percent) and jail inmates (73 percent) who met the threshold for SPD said they had received mental health treatment at some time in their life. Treatment included prescription medication, counseling or therapy, or both…..

America’s mass incarceration problem in 5 charts – or, why Sessions shouldn’t bring back mandatory minimums

Source: Tanya Golash-Boza, The Conversation, May 29, 2017

Today, the United States is a world leader in incarceration, but this has not always been the case.

For most of the 20th century, the U.S. incarcerated about 100 people per 100,000 residents – below the current world average. However, starting in 1972, our incarceration rate began to increase steadily. By 2008, we reached a peak rate of 760 incarcerated persons per 100,000 residents.

The increase in incarceration cannot be explained by a rise in crime, as crime rates fluctuate independently of incarceration rates. Incarceration rates soared because laws changed, making a wider variety of crimes punishable by incarceration and lengthening sentences.

This sharp increase was driven in part by the implementation of mandatory minimums for drug offenses, starting in the 1980s. These laws demand strict penalties for all offenders in federal courts, no matter the extenuating circumstances.

The Obama administration took some measures to roll back these mandatory minimums. In 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memo asking prosecutors to prosecute crimes with mandatory minimum sentences only for the worst offenders.

Earlier this month, however, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that memo and issued his own, which requires prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious” offense. The punitive sentiment behind Sessions’ memo is a throwback to our failed experiment in mass incarceration in the 1980s and ‘90’s…..

Measures for Justice

Source: Measures for Justice (MFJ), 2017

Measuring justice, one county at a time.
Assessing and comparing the performance of the entire U.S. criminal justice system.

THE PROBLEM
No one really knows how well our entire criminal justice system is working on the county level.

THE SOLUTION
Measures for Justice gathers criminal justice data at the county level and uses them to populate performance Measures that address:
Public Safety, Fair Process, Fiscal Responsibility

The Measures track how criminal cases are being handled at the county level from arrest to post-conviction. They are designed to increase the transparency of local justice systems and enable more informed discussions.

All of our Measures and analyses present data at the county level and are available for free to the public on a web-based Data Portal. The Portal is searchable and can be configured to break down performance data across multiple factors including race/ethnicity, sex, indigent status, age, offense type, offense severity, court type, and attorney type. The Portal also allows for county-to-county comparison within and across states.

The Price of Prisons: Examining State Spending Trends, 2010 – 2015

Source: Chris Mai and Ram Subramanian, Vera Institute of Justice, May 2017

From the overview:
From the early 1970s into the new millennium, the U.S. prison population experienced unprecedented growth, which had a direct influence on state budgets. In recent years, however, lawmakers in nearly every state and from across the political spectrum have enacted new laws to reduce prison populations and spending. This report, which builds upon the information found in Vera’s 2012 publication The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers, found that 13 states were successful in reducing both population and spending. However, no single reason explains a rise or fall in spending; instead, a multitude of factors push and pull expenditures in different directions. Read the report and explore our interactive data visualization below to learn more.
Related:
Interactive Data Visualization
Fact Sheet

Reducing the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jail: Six Questions County Leaders Need to Ask

Source: Risë Haneberg, Dr. Tony Fabelo, Dr. Fred Osher, and Michael Thompson, Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails, sponsored by the National Association of Counties, the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, and The Council of State Governments Justice Center, January 2017

From the summary:
Reducing the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jail: Six Questions County Leaders Need to Ask serves as a blueprint for counties to assess their existing efforts to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders in jail by considering specific questions and progress-tracking measures. The report also informs the initiative’s approach to technical assistance.

Here are the six questions county leaders need to ask:

Is your leadership committed?
Do you have timely screening and assessment?
Do you have baseline data?
Have you conducted a comprehensive process analysis and service inventory?
Have you prioritized policy, practice, and funding?
Do you track progress?