Women in Prison Disciplined More Often than Men, and the news in criminal justice reform

“Women right now are being punished for coping with their trauma by a workforce that doesn’t understand them.”

An investigation by NPR and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism found that women in prison are disciplined at higher rates and for smaller infractions than men. Infractions can be small or vague, including “reckless eye-balling,” “insolence,” and “disrespect,” but the consequences are significant. Women can lose good time credits, be placed in solitary confinement, lose visitation privileges and be denied access to feminine hygiene products. Experts consulted in the investigation recommended “gender responsive” training to deal with higher rates of substance abuse and trauma for women who are imprisoned, and to facilitate communication between the women and mostly male prison staff.

“The notion that we’re delivering behavioral health services and mental health services in the criminal justice system more than any other system is a national embarrassment. We have to have the courage to start by saying that we’re doing a terrible job.”

Pennsylvania’s Stepping Up Technical Assistance Center provides counties with support and resources to help reduce the number of people with mental illness in county jails, and ensure those who are incarcerated receive the treatment they need. The center is a partnership between the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and will use in-person and distance-based training to improve screenings and assessments and establish a baseline to track progress. To date, 29 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have committed to reducing prison populations with mental illness, and officials are optimistic that Stepping Up’s resources and information-sharing will help achieve that goal.

“I hope it gives them hope for the future, a reason to be a good role model, a reason to make tough decisions.”

Colorado’s Division of Youth Services is implementing a “two-gen” approach for incarcerated youth and their children, in an effort to maintain family relationships and reduce recidivism. Officials surveyed youth in their detention facilities in August and found 25 were parents, with children ranging from infants to 5 years old. Between 2010 and 2017, the division held 111 girls who were pregnant, and two who gave birth while incarcerated. Changes made under the new approach include expanded visiting hours, more welcoming spaces for family visits, and the development of parenting classes for incarcerated teen parents.

“We are deeply concerned that those charged with enforcing our laws are instead breaking them. No one is above the law – this includes Alabama’s sheriffs.”

The American Conservative Union Foundation, FreedomWorks, Southern Center for Human Rights, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, and the Adelante Alabama Worker Center wrote to Alabama’s U.S. attorneys this week asking for an investigation into the continued use of jail food funds by county sheriffs. Earlier this year, reporting by AL.com exposed insufficient or spoiled food served to people jailed in Etowah County, while Sheriff Todd Entrekin kept $750,000 of jail food money for his personal use. SCHR and Alabama Appleseed have also sued to obtain public records in 49 counties to determine whether, and by how much, sheriffs have personally profited from jail food funds.  

“What’s refreshing with these dashboards is that before no one understood the basis of their efforts or the impact of their efforts. No one knew how their decisions impacted the jail population, and now we do.”

The Urban Institute conducted an examination of data dashboards in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and the City and County of San Francisco California, and released a report on model structures and lessons learned for other jurisdictions looking to increase data-driven decision-making. Officials have created dashboards “to guide high-level decisions across agencies, and to support program and line-staff in their daily responsibilities,” and were able to monitor real-time effects of decisions on outcomes including jail populations and probation-related detainers.