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Making jail a site of services for veterans


What you’ll read today

  • Making jail a site of services for veterans

  • Pennsylvania case challenges “death by incarceration” for 18-year-olds

  • A suit on behalf of 6,000 women decries law enforcement’s handling of sexual assault cases

  • Where ballot initiatives pertaining to the criminal justice system passed on Tuesday—and where they didn’t

  • Number of attorney-client calls recorded at Orange County jail 30 times higher than previously disclosed

  • What Florida voters accomplished through Amendment 11

  • The death penalty by social deprivation

  • What about equal pay and post-release work for California’s incarcerated firefighters?

In the Spotlight

Making jail a site of services for veterans

Since 2003, roughly 250,000 service members have left the military each year. In recent decades, the rates of incarceration for veterans have gone below those of the general population. Some of the credit goes to specialized veteran courts where treatment is available as an alternative to incarceration. However, according to the most recent numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were still approximately 181,500 veterans incarcerated in jails and prisons in 2011-12. Veterans behind bars are more likely to have diagnosed mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and are likely to be older than nonveterans in jail and prison. [Quil Lawrence / NPR]

For those veterans who are incarcerated, there is a growing trend of jails and prisons across the country designating special housing to address their specific needs. [Todd Shepherd / Washington Examiner] While still far from universal, The Associated Press reported in February that 86 prisons and jails across the country had designated veterans’ housing. The programming in these special units is instructive for what it demonstrates about the services, support, and dignity that can be offered to incarcerated people, when the resources and political will exist. [Associated Press] When describing these programs, sheriffs offices are also often explicit about the link they see between people having access to programs while incarcerated—including everything from counseling and mental health services to “integrative therapies in creative pursuits, such as art, music, theater, and writing”—and being less likely to be reincarcerated. [Scott Morgan / KETR]

In Albany, New York, the county jail was among the first nationwide to create a specialized veterans “pod.” The sheriff’s office partnered with a nonprofit, Soldier On, when creating the unit. The organization opened transitional housing near the jail. NBC News reported last year that Soldier On’s staffers are at the jail 42 hours a week, paid largely through a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grant of $225,000 a year. The services include group discussions on addiction and post-traumatic stress, psychological counseling, benefits counseling, and discharge planning.There is also access to the services of a chiropractor, paid through private donations. Residents of the pod can wear “Soldier On” T-shirts over their jail uniforms, get extra time out of their cells, and benefit from a jail program that allows participants to earn full pay. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple explained to NBC News how it differs from the typical jail experience: “It’s still jail,” Apple said. “But we want to help them let their guard down a little bit and trust us as we want to trust them.” [Tracy Connor / NBC News] Three-hundred thirty-one jailed veterans have been placed in the jail’s veterans “pod” in the three years since it was opened. Their recidivism rate is 6 percent, far below the average recidivism rate for people in jail. [Associated Press]

One Colorado program offers an example of how a program might treat vulnerabilities that, while common among veterans, are also shockingly prevalent among all incarcerated people. Traumatic brain injury has been called the “signature wound” of U.S. military service personnel serving in the post-9/11 wars. A screening of 4,100 people in jail, on probation, or assigned to drug courts in six Colorado counties revealed its prevalence among those entangled in the criminal legal system—54 percent of those screened were found to have serious brain injuries, compared with 8 percent in the general population. [Jennifer Brown / Denver Post]  

Colorado’s Mindsource-Brain Injury Network now works in local jails throughout the state to identify people with a history of traumatic brain injury and teach them how to manage their cognitive deficits. One veteran incarcerated at the Boulder County jail told U.S. News & World Report that he believed that the daily mortar attacks he experienced while deployed in Iraq were what caused his TBI, leaving him constantly “kind of re-creating the war scene.” A lack of impulse control and sensory overload is typical of traumatic brain injury survivors, making the rigors and stresses of jail especially difficult to cope with. Participants in the program are also connected to case managers with the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado, who guide them through the transition after release. [Casey Leins / U.S. News & World Report] See also Our newsletter of April 23, 2018, looked at Colorado’s statewide screening of people in jail and on probation and how knowledge of traumatic brain injuries can shape their treatment.

The program also educates jail staff about the impact TBI can have on those suffering from it. In a class for Boulder County sheriff’s deputies that began in June staff learn about the prevalence of traumatic brain injury among people in jail and on probation populations and how to better identify and work with them. One deputy told U.S. News & World Report that, A lot of (working with them) is just patience and understanding.” [Casey Leins / U.S. News & World Report]

Stories From The Appeal

With permission from the artist
A painting of Avis Lee by Mary DeWit

Pennsylvania Case Challenges ‘Death by Incarceration’ for 18-year-olds. Recent Supreme Court cases have led to a review of life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed at age 17 and younger, but attorneys for Avis Lee say there’s no reason to stop there. [Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg]

A Suit on Behalf of 6,000 Women Decries Law Enforcement’s Handling of Sexual Assault Cases. In Travis County, Texas, detectives refused training that would have helped them interview victims of trauma. [Kira Lerner]

Stories From Around the Country


Where ballot initiatives pertaining to the criminal justice system passed on Tuesday—and where they didn’t:
Last week voters in 15 states decided ballot initiatives on measures relevant to criminal justice and law enforcement. On this map you will find the result of each referendum. The Appeal: Political Report previewed all of these referendums here, and The Appeal published a report on the successes of Marsy’s Law on Wednesday.

Number of attorney-client calls recorded at Orange County jail 30 times higher than previously disclosed: The company Global Tel Link (GTL) recorded nearly 34,000 calls made by people in jail in Orange County, California, to their attorneys between 2015 and 2018, according to numbers disclosed Friday in court. This is a dramatically larger number than the 1,079 calls GTL previously admitted to recording. Furthermore, Orange County sheriffs accessed these recorded calls 347 times, not 58 times as had been previously disclosed. Friday’s disclosure came after Tuesday’s election for Orange County sheriff and Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors vote to renew GTL’s contract for jail communications for another year. The Sheriff’s Department had said the numbers could not be revealed sooner because they were under court seal. Orange County Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders told the Orange County Register that he did not believe the latest disclosures accurately captured the number of calls recorded or recordings accessed by the Sheriff’s Department. [Todd Harmonson / Orange County Register]

What Florida voters accomplished through Amendment 11: Last week, Florida voters passed Amendment 11, a ballot measure that overturns the state’s ban on retroactive changes to criminal sentencing laws. This allows changes made to state sentencing laws to apply to those previously sentenced under those laws. One state senator, Republican Jeff Brandes, who has written and sponsored several criminal justice reform bills, told Reason that, “One hundred percent, there will be a bill on retroactivity this year.” Brandes noted that Florida spends $2.3 billion dollars a year to incarcerate 96,000 people. Thousands of those are people punished under the state’s harsh opioid trafficking laws. Previous changes to those laws could not apply retroactively. Greg Newburn of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which began the campaign for Amendment 11 several years ago, has pointed out that if Florida were to ever legalize marijuana, Amendment 11 would allow expungement of criminal records for all those convicted of marijuana offenses. [C.J. Ciaramella / Reason]

The death penalty by social deprivation: At the annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience last week, one session examined the cognitive and emotional consequences of solitary confinement. One panelist, a professor from the University of Chicago, said, “we see solitary confinement as nothing less than a death penalty by social deprivation.” Prolonged social isolation is associated with a 26 percent increased risk of premature death, largely due to an “out of control stress response” that triggers higher cortisol levels, increased blood pressure and inflammation. It also increases the risk of suicide. Recent research also shows that one month of social isolation leads to a range of cognitive changes. The vast majority of people in solitary confinement in the United States are isolated for more than one month, many for more than a year. The question of whether this damage is reversible or not is unresolved though one of the scientists on the panel said she doubts “you can live through that experience and come out with the same brain you went in with, and not in a good way.” [Dana G. Smith / Scientific American]

California’s incarcerated firefighters deserve equal pay and the chance to work after release:

We’ll see you tomorrow.

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