Vera Institute of Justice and Root & Rebound issue coronavirus advice to prisons, parole officers and others

coronavirusThe coronavirus pandemic could explode within the walls of prisons and jails. And it could spread even further among those on parole. Although some states and facilities are taking action in these areas, it may be too little too late.

But there are still many things that officials can do. And they may want to follow the lead of two nonprofit organizations – Vera Institute of Justice in Brooklyn, NY, and Root & Rebound in Oakland, Calif. – which have put together excellent practical advice for them to follow in dealing with the prevention or spread of the coronavirus.

Vera Institute of Justice offers advice

Vera Institute of Justice has created a series of guidance reports for use by everyone from prison and immigration detention facility employees to parole and police officers. Each one provides nearly everything that can be done – within reason – to help prevent or contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Prisons, jails and immigration detention and youth facilities 

Among actions for prisons, jails and immigration detention and youth facilities, Vera Institute of Justice recommends that they:

  • Release as many people as possible, especially inmates with a high risk of infection – those who are older, pregnant or have compromised immune systems. And those states that don’t allow discretionary releases should change their policies.
  • Screen everyone entering the facility.
  • Provide free hand-sanitizer and antibacterial soap, and wash clothing, sheets and towels more often.
  • Use videoconferencing and email for staff briefings.
  • Continue classes, jobs and recreational activities, but reduce group size.
  • Create comfortable housing to separate those with symptoms of the virus and the actual disease, rather than put them in solitary confinement cells, which should not be used.
  • Develop a staffing plan to handle employee shortages, and ensure that essential tasks will continue to be performed.
Parole and probation officers

Among recommendations for parole and probation officers:

  • Don’t re-incarcerate those on parole for technical violations, such as missing a parole meeting or not passing a drug test.
  • Terminate probation as soon as possible.
  • Substitute in-person reporting with phone calls or videoconferencing.
  • Suspend all supervision fees to account for lost wages.
  • Create an individual emergency medical plan for those under supervision to prepare for the possibility that they may become infected.
  • Train staff on how to respond if someone under their supervision has coronavirus symptoms or the disease itself.
Prosecutors, defenders and courts

Among recommendations for prosecutors, defenders and the courts:

  • Don’t prosecute minor offenses, including drug possession and theft.
  • Convert as many charges as possible to non-arrest charges.
  • Reschedule court appearances for at least six months in the future.
  • Create a website to resolve cases online instead of through in-court appearances.
  • Judges should determine those on their detained dockets who can be released and make sure they are released.
Root & Rebound recommends changes in parole and probation practices

Meanwhile, last week Root & Rebound sent a call-to-action letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Ralph Diaz and Division of Adult Parole Operations Director Jeffrey Green, as well government officials, all California county probation offices and county boards of supervisors.

The letter urges recipients to “modify parole and probation conditions, policies and practices during this public health crisis in order to protect public health and reduce unnecessary contact between people, which will save lives by slowing the transmission of COVID-19.”

Root & Rebound recommends that parole and probation:

  • Suspend all in-person meetings, except in the case of an emergency. Telephone or videoconferencing should be used instead.
  • Suspend all required classes or groups. Instead offer these on a voluntary or virtual basis.
  • Suspend drug testing and other in-person requirements.
  • Permit people under supervision to leave transitional housing and live with family members, thus reducing crowding and ensuring space for those with nowhere else to go.
  • Create an emergency infrastructure that covers housing, financial assistance and community resources.
  • Help people being released from prison and those under supervision find safe and healthy housing.
  • Provide medical planning pre-release, and help ensure access to healthcare and prescription medications.
  • Provide early termination of probation and immediate discharge from parole for those who meet specific requirements.
  • Cease enforcement of technical violations, and release those already imprisoned for technical violations or inability to pay bail.
  • Not issue violations to people who don’t charge their GPS/ankle monitors, since those who are homeless often use libraries and public spaces to recharge them, and those places are now closed.

Note: We are impressed by the lead that these organizations have taken and would love to hear about actions initiated by other nonprofits. If you are aware of any, please contact us.

 

CalPIA Case Planning Project created to help prepare inmates for employment

CalPIA Case Planning ProjectMany people consider prison industries a form of slave labor, thanks to the incredibly low wages usually paid. But some prisoners look at it as a way to get out of their cells, feel useful and learn how to work with others.

And If more agencies create programs like the California Prison Industry Authority’s new Case Planning Project, incarcerated individuals may also have an easier time finding employment upon reentry.

The California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) develops and operates industrial, agricultural and service enterprises that provide work opportunities for offenders under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

CalPIA selected 140 participants

To carry out its Case Planning Project, now being operated as a pilot project, CalPIA has randomly selected clients from its current workforce who have a time to serve of nine months to five years.

The 140-member cohort includes groups of about 20 members. Each of these groups has a case plan manager or CPM.

“CPMs administer assessments, use motivational interviewing techniques, and meet face-to-face with clients at least monthly,” says Michele Kane, chief external affairs for CalPIA. “CPMs are present throughout the five CALPIA Enterprise locations. They work directly with CDCR Custody, Education, and Rehabilitative Program staff to support the rehabilitative goals of each client. CPMs will facilitate pre-release planning by working directly with CDCR parole staff.”

The Case Planning Project is being carried out at five facilities:

  • Central California Women’s Facility, Chowchilla
  • California Institution for Women, Corona
  • Folsom State Prison (Men’s Facility)
  • Folsom Women’s Facility
  • San Quentin State Prison
Expected outcomes of the CalPIA Case Planning Project

“CALPIA CPM staff will provide individualized offender-focused case management techniques to reinforce the goals of the offender’s Rehabilitative Case Plan. By focusing on the principles of effective intervention CALPIA will enhance public safety through evidence-based practices, which research has shown to reduce recidivism,” says Kane.

“The CDCR uses the California Logic Model, a detailed, sequential description of how to apply evidence-based principles, practices and effective delivery of a core set of rehabilitation programs. Research shows that to achieve positive outcomes, correctional agencies must provide rehabilitative programs to the right offenders, at the right time, and in a manner consistent with evidence-based programming design. The model identifies eight steps in adult offender rehabilitation. CALPIA’s integrated case-planning process includes a stronger emphasis on the offender’s ownership, acceptance, and likely completion of rehabilitation goals.

The program uses a variety of resources to carry out its mission. We were pleased to learn they selected our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, which will be given to participants who will use it as they are preparing to be released and also upon release to help them in their job search reentry.

The CALPIA Case Planning Project will continue until June 30, 2019. If it is successful, it will provide the model for an expanded program throughout CDCR.

 

 

California’s CDCR STOP program targets those leaving prison who have a risk of reoffending

CDCR Stop

Tom Lucking

During the past decade, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has focused on rehabilitation in order to help those leaving prison have more chances to succeed, with the end goal of a reduction in recidivism.

One effective way it has done this is through the Specialized Treatment for Optimized Programming (STOP). A series of contractors throughout the state works with selected individuals in reentry who the California Static Risk Assessment has identified as being at a medium or high risk for reoffending. These contractors provide a variety of services — for 180 days with a possible extension of up to a year — to those leaving prison.

One of these STOP providers is New Life Community Services of Santa Cruz, Calif. It specializes in dealing with those in reentry who have alcohol and drug addiction problems.

“We pull people into programs within 24 hours of leaving prison. We continue the program (started within prison), so they don’t get into their old behaviors and go back,” says Tom Lucking, former executive director who still works part-time in the program.

New Life Community Services operates a 38-bed coed facility, but what they do begins in the prison.

“They have substance abuse counseling. They’re given a lot of services while in prison to prepare for their release. Counselors encourage them to consider participation,” Lucking says. “I go to provider fairs and explain what New Life does. It’s education, encouragement and counseling. In the end, it leads up to a decision for them to take advantage of all these free services.”

As a STOP provider, New Life offers 25 hours of programming each week to its program residents. This could be anything from anger management to substance abuse, as part of a curriculum driven by the state of California. The classes take place in the evenings.

Since it’s a vocational program as well, each participant has a job. “We have relationships with employers in the community who have hired our folks before. We help them (people in the program) with their resume, and then they go out and meet with these employers.”

New Life does treatment outcomes and uses screenings and measurements from Texas Christian University, which has done many studies on criminality.

Other resources they have found to be helpful and have utilized for program guidance and curriculum are Thinking for a Change from the National institute of Corrections, Terry Gorski’s work on anger management and the National Association for Children of Addiction work on celebrating families.

A majority of people make it through the program

“About 60% to 75% of the people make it through the program. It’s voluntary from the beginning, so that helps our ability to succeed in the long run,” says Lucking.

Even though a percentage of participants doesn’t make it, Lucking says there’s a tremendous interest in the program. “When I go to the provider fairs, I’ll have 100 inmates appear per session,” he says. He also estimates that up to 90% of those incarcerated have a substance abuse problem.

Those soon-to-be-released in California need to be told of these programs

“Surprisingly not that many inmates we speak with know about this available help,” Lucking said. Those on the outside who know of these programs should make sure any incarcerated family members or friends know about them too to help spread the word. Parole is involved in these programs and could also be a good resource and advocate and provide support.

What groups in other states can do

How can other groups in other states do something similar?

“The good news is that there are a lot of resources being put into addressing this problem right now in places like California and New York,” Lucking says.

“You have to find a friendly state system that will support this reentry rehabilitative effort within the community and build relationships and see if you get support. If you do, there’s a lot of opportunity there to be of help.”

First, however, Lucking suggests that anyone interested in helping to start a new program should contact their local county sheriff’s department or state department of corrections and check to see if a similar program already exists. It’s possible that those incarcerated and soon-to-be-released are not aware of existing programs they may be eligible for.

Setting up a program is no small task. There has to be a facility and counselors, and everything usually has to be credentialed. It’s also necessary to have connections within the prison system. Another way to get help is to consult with an organization like Center Point , which operates in California, Oklahoma and Texas and is the one his nonprofit works with.  Other California State contractors and their contact information can be found at this link — CDCR STOP Community Provider Directory.

Lucking is encouraged when he goes to pre-release provider fairs at state prisons, where the inmates he speaks with are really interested in and committed to getting out and using the services of his and other organizations.

“I walk out thinking that this is rehabilitation in action and it’s gratifying. It doesn’t have to be this punitive justice system. There can be a restorative justice element – something that encourages inmates to support each other.”

 

What makes a good prison library

0-1At Jails to Jobs we realize the importance of inmates getting access to job search information so they’ll be ready to hit the pavement upon release.

And one way to get that information is by spending time in the library of the facility where they are incarcerated.

In order to help serve those inmates, we’ve begun a campaign to get our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, into every prison library in the U.S.

But what makes a good prison library and how do they help incarcerated people prepare for success on the outside?

We thought we’d ask Brandy Buenafe, principal librarian of the Office of Correctional Education, Division of Rehabilitative Programs of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Here’s what she had to say:

Do you have any idea of what percentage of prisons in the U.S. have libraries?

I am not familiar with the entire United States. I know here in California all of the state prisons have libraries, some more than one. There are 35 institutions in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and 125 libraries.

What is the goal of a prison library?

Our goal is to provide an accurate source of unbiased information, including updated reference and legal resources. We also provide fiction and non-fiction reading books.

What makes a good prison library?

I think when the library is perceived by custody, staff and inmates as fulfilling the above goals, it is a good library. I am also encouraged by our libraries that offer additional literacy support, such as book clubs, essay contests and reading reward programs.

How do librarians evaluate the books that go into their libraries?

Books are evaluated by several pieces of criteria, including a list of disapproved titles, the reading needs and desires of the population, and several mandates including percentages of fiction and non-fiction.

How much emphasis is given on job search info in prison libraries?

CDCR libraries include many pieces of self-help information, including resume writing and successful re-entry. We are also part of the Division of Rehabilitative Programs, which has a Community Re-entry Office.

What do prison librarians do to encourage the use of the library among the inmates?

(They sponsor) contests, and do marketing (both word of mouth and on inmate television). The contests are generally around designing a bookmark or writing an essay or poem. Rewards range from certificates of completion to special food items, such as soda pop.

How do you think prison libraries can be improved?

That’s a really good question. We are focusing on recruiting more staff, as there is historically a high vacancy rate. We are highlighting the safe working environment, excellent pay and benefits, and opportunity to impact the lives of individuals and society. We are also often behind the 8 ball when it comes to technology, but in California that is just a matter of time. Now that we will be offering in-person college courses in our institutions, our libraries will need to improve their database offerings, and I’m confident we can do so.

If any readers know of a prison librarian who would like to receive a complimentary copy of our book for their library, please tell them to contact us.

 

California expands college opportunities for inmates

pedagogy-194931_1280An agreement signed this spring between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office will provide the first-ever funding to California community colleges for courses taught inside state prisons.

Beginning with four pilot project locations announced earlier this month, the effort is expected to greatly increase and expand California inmate access to higher education and offer incarcerated students an opportunity to earn degrees, certificates or the opportunity to eventually transfer to a four-year university.

It was all made possible by the September 2014 passage of California Senate Bill 1391 authored by State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley). The bill provides CCCCO up to $2 million to create and support at least four pilot sites through funding derived from California’s Recidivism Reduction Fund.

Created last year in the State Treasury by California Senate Bill 105, the fund provides money for activities designed to reduce the state’s prison population and lower the rate of recidivism.

The $2 million dedicated to the correctional facility community college education pilot project will be split between the following educational institutions/prison sites:

  • Lassen Community College @ High Desert State Prison
  • Chaffey Community College @ California Institution for Women
  • Antelope Valley Community College @ California State Prison, Los Angeles
  • Los Rios (Folsom Lake College) @ Folsom Women’s Facility

Although a recent RAND report found that every dollar invested in inmate education resulted in $5 saved in future prison costs, California community colleges did not previously receive funding to teach within state prisons.

This limited higher education opportunities for inmates, in many cases, to distance learning models and prevented continuity in coursework between prisons. That will soon change, however.

“One of the best accomplishments of SB 1391 is the coalition between CDCR and the Chancellor’s Office,” Superintendent of CDCR’s Office of Correctional Education Brantley Choate said. “We are now inspired to work collaboratively to break down departmental silos to create the best correctional college system in the world.”

CDCR will work with CCCCO and participating colleges to determine suitable program offerings in each of the selected institutions and provide the necessary classroom space, furniture, equipment and technology. It will also provide training to participating California community college staff, faculty and volunteers to prepare them for the unique challenges of providing educational services to inmates.

“Expanding access to higher education can have tremendous benefits for incarcerated students and those around them,” said California Community Colleges Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Pam Walker. “Community colleges can provide incarcerated students with new skills and perspectives that can help build better lives and reduce recidivism.”

Classes are expected to begin in the fall.