US announces early release plan for nonviolent, low-level drug offenders

This is welcome news from Russia Today:

Jan. 30th-Feb. 1st  2014

The Obama administration announced Thursday a new clemency effort that encourages defense lawyers to refer to the Department of Justice low-level, nonviolent drug offenders for early release from federal prisons.
Speaking before the New York State Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole unveiled the plan that seeks to determine possible clemency for inmates whose long-term incarceration “harms our criminal justice system.”
“You each can play a critical role in this process by providing a qualified petitioner – one who has a clean record in prison, does not present a threat to public safety, and who is facing a life or near-life sentence that is excessive under current law – with the opportunity to get a fresh start,” Cole said.
In addition, the US Bureau of Prisons will begin informing such low-level, nonviolent drug offenders of the opportunity to apply for early release, Cole said.
The announcement follows other initiatives and statements regarding prison reform made recently by top officials. Attorney General Eric Holder said in August that the same type of low-level drug offenders, with no ties to gangs or major drug trafficking organizations, would no longer be charged with certain offenses that instituted harsh mandatory sentences.
President Obama followed Holder in December with the commutation of sentences of eight inmates serving extensive terms in prison for crack cocaine convictions. All of the eight – recommended by the Justice Department – had served at least 15 years in jail and had been convicted before the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which was passed in effort to close large sentencing disparities between those convicted for crack and those for powder cocaine crimes.
Obama said at the time those eight inmates would have received shorter sentences had the law existed when they were convicted, adding some would have already served their time by then.
Cole said the Justice Department would like to send more of those kind of cases to the White House.
“The president’s grant of commutations for these eight individuals is only a first step,” he said. “There are more low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who remain in prison, and who would likely have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of precisely the same offenses today.”
Cole did not specify how many candidates the White House will consider in the clemency program, though there are currently thousands of inmates serving time in federal prison for just crack cocaine crimes.
The Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney is in charge of advising the White House on the merits of specific cases.

ACLU: 40 Years and Over 40 Million Arrests Later, War on Drugs Still Harming Our Communities


By: ACLU of Ohio
Posted by Mike Brickner, ACLU of Ohio, Jun 16th, 2011

June 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of a “war on drugs” — a war that has cost roughly a trillion dollars, has produced little to no effect on the supply of or demand for drugs in the United States, and has contributed to making America the world’s largest incarcerator. Throughout the month, check back daily for posts about the drug war, its victims and what needs to be done to restore fairness and create effective policy.

Cleveland, Ohio, is known for many things: we have a world-class art museum, three professional sports franchises, and we’re home to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

However, one fact you won’t find in Cleveland’s tourism brochure is that we are ground zero for the failed war on drugs. After 40 years and over 40 million arrests, the drug war has devastated many communities across the nation — and nowhere is that more evident than Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland.

That’s why the ACLU of Ohio issued a report today on the effects of the war on drugs in Cleveland. Overcharging, Overspending, Overlooking: Cuyahoga County’s Costly War on Drugs sheds new light on the vast racial http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifdisparities in Cuyahoga County’s justice system treats drug offenders.

Two factors have emerged as determining whether drug offenders in Cuyahoga County are sentenced to jail: geography and race. For instance:

White offenders from the suburbs or out-of-town are 77 percent more likely than African-American city residents to receive a misdemeanor charge rather than a felony.
Whites account for nearly three-quarters of the participants in jail diversion programs, such as treatment and job training, in the county. African-Americans only account for a quarter of participants, despite the fact they are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
While African-Americans are only about a quarter of the county’s total population, they make up nearly three-quarters of those sentenced to prison from Cuyahoga County.

The result has been far too many people, particularly African-Americans, incarcerated because of drugs. Locking up a person costs much more than a diversion program. The annual cost to house an Ohio prisoner is $25,097.40, while diversion costs $1,812. This has become a major drain on state resources, as the state prison system is at 133 percent of its capacity, with the sixth largest prison population nationally.

Those who are sentenced to prison for drug offenses emerge with little access to rehabilitation and educational programs, and struggle to find employment because of their felony convictions. As a result, many of those who serve time because of felony drug convictions end up back in the community with no resources, continued drug problems and little hope to turn their lives around.

The net result of 40 years of “lock ’em up politics” and the war on drugs has been the devastation of communities where people need a hand up, rather than a jail cell. If Cleveland, and the nation, wish to begin to rebuild these neighborhoods, we must put an end to the war on drugs.

Mother’s Day: Sentencing and the War on Drugs

 

Women in Prison: A Fact Sheet
The Issue: Sentencing and the War on Drugs
The Department of Justice found that women were over represented among low level drug offenders who were non-violent, had minimal or no prior criminal history, and were not principal figures in criminal organizations or activities, but nevertheless received sentences similar to “high level” drug offenders under the mandatory sentencing policies. From 1986 to 1996 the number of women sentenced to state prison for drug crimes increased ten-fold. Nationally one in three women in prison and one in four women in jail are incarcerated for violating a drug law. (Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Prisoners in 1997)
·  According to The Boston Globe, “nearly 26% of the nearly 2000 men and women crowding Massachusetts prisons for  drug crimes are first-time offenders…. Worse, nearly three out of four drug traffickers who do get charged in major cases, but agree to forfeit substantial drug money to prosecutors, bargain their way out of the long sentences…. The result: those with no money or information to trade face the hard mandatory sentences.”
·     From 1986 to 1996, the number of women sentenced to state prison for drug crimes increased from 2,370 to 23,700.  (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington DC Prisoners in 1997)
·  In 1986, 12.0% of women in prison were drug offenders. In 1991, 32.8% of women in prison were incarcerated for  drug offenses.  (Women in Prison, Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991. US Department of Justice, March 1994, NCJ 145321)
The Issue: Sexual Assault and Misconduct Against Women in Prison
The imbalance of power between inmates and guards involves the use of direct physical force and indirect force based on the prisoners’ total dependency on officers for basic necessities and the guards’ ability to withhold privileges. Some women are coerced into sex for favors such as extra
food or personal hygiene products, or to avoid punishment.   
·  Powerlessness and Humiliation
There are 148,200 women in state and federal prisons. In federal women’s correctional facilities, 70% of guards are male.  Records show correctional officials have subjected female inmates to rape, other sexual assault, sexual extortion, and groping during body searches. Male correctional officials watch women undressing, in the shower or the toilet. Male correctional officials retaliate, often brutally, against female inmates who complain about sexual assault and harassment
·  Retaliation and Fear
In many states guards have access to and are encouraged to review the inmates’ personal history files (this includes any  record of complaints against themselves or other prison authorities). Guards threaten the prisoner’s children and visitation rights as a means of silencing the women. Guards issue rule infraction tickets, which extend the woman’s  stay in prison if she speaks out. Prisoners who complain are frequently placed in administration segregation.
·  Impunity 
Ineffective formal procedures, legislation and reporting capacity within US jails and prisons account for much of the  ongoing sexual abuse of women. In 1997, according to the US Justice Department only 10 prison employees in the  entire federal system were disciplined, and only 7 were prosecuted. If a prison official is found guilty, he is often simply transferred (“walked off the yard”) to another facility instead of being fired. The inmate may also be transferred. 
The Issue: Medical Neglect of Women in US Prisons
Women are denied essential medical resources and treatments, especially during times of pregnancy and/or chronic and degenerative diseases.
·  Failure to refer seriously ill inmates for treatment and delays in treatment
Women inmates suffering from treatable diseases such as asthma, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, cancer, late-term miscarriages, and seizures have little or no access to medical attention, sometimes resulting in permanent injury or death. Instances of failure to deliver life-saving drugs for inmates with HIV/AIDS have also been noted.  
·  Lack of qualified personnel and resources and use of non-medical staff
There is too few staff to meet physical and mental health needs. This often results in long delays in obtaining medical attention; disrupted and poor quality treatment causing physical deterioration of prisoners with chronic and degenerative diseases, like cancer; overmedication of prisoners with psychotropic drugs; and lack of mental health treatment. The use of  non-medical staff to screen requests for treatment is also common. 
·  Charges for medical attention
In violation of international standards, many prisons/jails charge inmates for medical attention, arguing that the charge deters prisoners from seeking medical attention for minor matters or because they want to avoid work. In some supermaximum prisons, where prisoners cannot work at all, the US Justice Dept. expressed concern that charging prisoners impedes their access to health care.
·  Inadequate Reproductive Health Care
In 1994, the National Institute of Corrections stated that provision of gynecological services for women in prison is inadequate.  Only half of the state prison systems surveyed offer female-specific services such as mammograms and Pap smears, and often entail a long wait to be seen.
·  Shackling During Pregnancy
Shackling of all prisoners, including pregnant prisoners, is standard policy in federal prisons and in the US Marshall Service and exists in almost all state prisons. Shackling during labor may cause complications during delivery such as hemorrhage or decreased fetal heart rate. If a caesarian section is needed, a delay of even 5 minutes may result in permanent brain damage to the baby.
  
·  Lack of treatment for substance abuse
The gap between services available and treatment needs continues to grow. The number of prisoners with histories of drug abuse is growing, but the proportion of prisoners receiving treatment declined from 40% in 1991 to 18% in 1997.  
·  Lack of Adequate or Appropriate Mental Health Services
 48-88% of women inmates suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to sexual or physical abuse experienced prior to coming to prison.  Very few prison systems provide counseling. Women attempting to access mental health services are routinely given medication without opportunity to undergo psychotherapeutic treatment.  
The Issue: Discrimination Based On Gender, Race and Sexual Orientation
The growth in incarceration has had its greatest impact on minorities, particularly African Americans. Women are most vulnerable to different forms of discrimination, including sexual harrasment or abuse. Women that do not fit the “norm”, such as lesbians, are more succeptable to torture and abuse.
Discrimination Based on Race:
·  Over a five-year period, the incarceration rate of African American women increased by 828%. (NAACP LDF Equal Justice Spring 1998.) An African American woman is eight times more likely than a European American woman is to be imprisoned.  African American women make up nearly half of the nation’s female prison population, with most serving sentences for nonviolent drug or property related offenses. 
·  Latina women experience nearly four times the rates of incarceration as European American women.
·  State and federal laws mandate minimum sentences for all drug offenders.  This eliminates the option for judges to refer first time non-violent offenders to drug treatment, counseling and education programs.  The racial disparity revealed by the crack v. powder cocaine sentences insures that more African American women will land in prison.
Although 2/3 of crack users are white or Hispanic, defendants convicted of crack cocaine possession in 1994 were 84.5% African American.  Crack is the only drug that carries a mandatory prison sentence for first time possession in the federal system. 
Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation:
·   Human Rights Watch has documented categories of women who are likely targets for sexual abuse. Perceived or actual sexual orientation is one of four categories that make a female prisoner a more likely target for sexual abuse, as well as a target for retaliation when she reports that abuse.
·  If a woman is a lesbian, her criminal defense becomes more challenging.  Jurors in the US were polled as to what factors would make them most biased against a defendant, and perceived sexual orientation was chosen as the most likely personal characteristic to bias a juror against a defendant, three times greater than race. (National Law Journal November 2, 1998.)
·  The case of Robin Lucas depicts how sexual identity may subject a woman to further abuse or torture by a guard. She was placed in a men’s prison where male guards allowed male inmates to rape her.  The male guards taunted her about her same sex relationship, saying to her “maybe we can change your mind”.  
For more information on issues affecting women in prison and other women’s human rights issues, please visit the Women’s Human Rights Program website at www.amnestyusa.org/women or contact us at AIUSA 5 Penn Plaza-16th floor, New York, NY 10001 or at (212) 633-4292.

Still Prosecuting People of Conscience

Let’s gather in community with Josh the night before the court appearance for his November arrest at Ft. Huachuca, for music, refreshments and a roundtable discussion on why we need to continue to protest torture – April 22 at 7 p.m. at Southside Presbyterian Church (address below).  And if you’re able, please come to court as well –

Ft. Huachuca protester Joshua Harris, from Santa Barbara, California, will appear on Friday, April 23 at 9:30 a.m. in U.S. District Court, Tucson, Arizona.  He intends to enter a change of plea and expects to be sentenced that day.
Josh was one of five protesters who entered Fort Huachuca (home of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center where interrogators are trained) on November 15, 2009 with a message for military personnel and civilian employees.  They carried a statement (see below) opposing the cruel treatment and abuse of detainees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and calling for the civilian oversight of all military interrogation practices.  The statement also condemned the used of armed drones in warfare.
All five protesters were given a formal letter barring them from entering the base for a year.  Because Josh initially refused to identify himself, instead saying he was there representing a victim of torture, he was also charged with trespass and refusing to provide a truthful name.
Please join us:
Thursday evening, April 22 at 7 p.m.
Southside Presbyterian Church, Fellowship Hall
317 W. 23rd Street, Tucson, Arizona
Let’s gather in community with Josh the night before his court appearance
Friday morning, April 23 at 8:30 a.m.
DeConcini U.S. Federal Courthouse, plaza in front of courthouse
405 W. Congress, Tucson, Arizona
Join Josh for an 8:30 a.m. circle of support before his 9:30 a.m. court appearance
Please note that you need a photo I.D. to get into the courthouse.  Cameras, pocketknives, etc. are not allowed in the courthouse.
For more information about past and future protests at Ft. Huachuca, please visit http://tortureontrial.org and http://southwestwitness.org/

The annual Ft. Huachuca demonstration will take place on Sunday, November 14, 2010.
STATEMENT CARRIED INTO FORT HUACHUCA, November 15, 2009

We return to Fort Huachuca to call for an end to torture.

We are here because we desire dialogue with soldiers and commanders engaged in interrogation training. We are here because we still question whether soldiers are provided with adequate training about international human rights law so they would know to refuse illegal orders and other pressure to torture captives (including a guarantee that speaking out would not lead to retaliation or punishment). We are here in the hope that healing can take place–healing for the victims of torture, as well as the men and women who have been involved in carrying out torture.

Because the Obama administration has failed to close Guantanamo and the U.S. continues to imprison and interrogate thousands of captives at military prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and places unknown, we renew our call for civilian, human-rights centered oversight of all interrogation training and practice.

Ft. Huachuca is also implicated in the rapidly expanding, legally questionable and morally reprehensible use of remotely-piloted aircraft, or drones, as a weapon of war. We’re told that currently the Army only trains for the operation and maintenance of reconnaissance and surveillance drones at Ft. Huachuca. But we also know that the Army plans to weaponize some of these same drones.

Drone attacks have killed many more innocent civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, than alleged terrorists. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions has asked whether the use of drones in targeting terrorists to be killed constitutes “arbitrary extrajudicial executions,” or rogue assassinations in violation of international law. We are here today to call for an end to the use of armed drones in warfare. We believe this terrorizing and killing generates deep resentment in the region that incites hatred for the U.S., boosts recruitment for Taliban, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, and may spawn decades of retaliation.

We act in solidarity with the campaign to close the School of the Americas/Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation at Ft. Benning, Georgia, where the testimony of torture survivors has informed our outrage and moved us to action. We also act in solidarity with people in New York protesting the presence of Reaper drones at a NY Air National Guard base outside of Syracuse today.

Rogue assassinations and torture have damaged the soul of our nation and tarnished our image around the world. We know that a world without torture, without violence and without war is possible. We invite you to help us create that world.

Prisoner of the War on Drugs: Letter to the President

This was in the Huffington Post, originally published last month (just now discovered by me). Still topical and well-articulated. We need to hear and support these voices more often.

This grandmother, by the way, appears to still be in prison.

We need to get these people home.

This would be a good model letter to send friends and family in prison, by the way, for them to appeal their sentencing. Just cut and paste it, so it doesn’t look printed up from a website (some prisons have rules about website material, to keep prisoners out of trouble) – just put it in a word doc like an essay – I think that’s totally legitimate.

Anyone who does write a letter like this to a judge, the governor, a legislator (particularly Cecil Ash’s House Study Committee on Sentencing), or Obama, we’d love a copy to publish – your letter in turn emboldens other prisoners and family members to write in. That’s how we begin to build critical mass.

– Peggy

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A Letter from Behind Bars on President’s Day

Hamedah Hasan

Posted: February 15, 2010 08:41 AM

As we celebrate President’s Day, one prisoner asks President Obama to exercise his clemency power to commute the remaining 10 years of her 27-year sentence, which she received for a first time, non-violent drug offense. Hamedah Hasan, who is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a formal commutation petition today and included a letter addressed directly to President Obama. Below is a condensed version of her letter, adapted especially for Huffington Post. To read Hamedah’s full letter and learn more about her story and the President’s unique power to send her home, click here.

Dear Mr. President,

Today is President’s Day. As the President of the United States, you have the unique and absolute power to commute the sentence of any federal prisoner. That means you could send me home today, and that is what I am asking you to do.

From everything I have observed, you are a compassionate and just man. I pray that if you learn of the story behind my sentence, you will be moved to exercise your clemency power to give me a second chance.

I am a mother and grandmother serving my 17th year of a 27-year federal prison sentence for a first time, nonviolent crack cocaine offense. I never used or sold drugs, but I was convicted under conspiracy laws for participating in a drug organization by running errands and wiring money. Had I been convicted of a powder cocaine offense, I would be home with my three daughters and two grandchildren by now. I have had a lot of time to think about where I went wrong, and I genuinely take full responsibility for my actions. But I hope you will see that over 16 years in prison is enough time for me to pay my debt to society.

When I was 21 years old, I found myself in a horridly abusive relationship with a man in Portland, Oregon, who intimidated, cursed, slapped, punched and kicked me. I had my first child, Kasaundra, when I was 16 years old, and this man was the father to my second child, Ayesha. Even though my self-esteem at this point in my life was virtually nonexistent, in my heart I knew that this life wasn’t what I wanted for myself or — most importantly — for my children.

The only option I could see was to go live with my cousin, Ahad, in Omaha, Nebraska. Ahad set me up with a safe place to live, and most importantly, it was hundreds of miles away from my violent ex-boyfriend. Ahad recently wrote a letter in support of my commutation petition. In it, he accurately summed up the situation:

Her boyfriend was a gang member and his main goal in life was to be the best gang member he could be. He beat Hamedah all the time and threatened to kill her. She could not hide from him in Portland – he knew where everybody lived. He drank a lot and used drugs. It was not a good environment for Hamedah to raise her kids in, and it wasn’t safe for Hamedah either. So she came to me in Omaha.

The thing is, Ahad was dealing crack cocaine. Although I never used drugs myself, it wasn’t long before he asked me to run various errands and to transfer some money. He never held a gun to my head; I knew what I was doing, and I regret my poor decisions during this period of my life more than anything else. At the time, I felt out of options, and I believed that I needed to perform these tasks to show my gratitude for Ahad’s help in escaping my abusive relationship.

After less than two years, I decided to move back to my hometown in order to get away from the drug operation. I wanted my girls to grow up with their mother earning an honest living and leading by example. I enrolled in a welfare-to-work program and was getting back on my feet.

But soon after I returned home, I was arrested, indicted and convicted of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine from my time in Omaha with Ahad. I was sentenced to life in prison (later reduced to 27 years), based on the total quantity of drugs involved in the operation. I gave birth to Kamyra, my youngest child, in prison. That was one of the hardest experiences of my life.

During my more than 16 years of incarceration, I have taken long, hard looks at myself. I’ve done everything in my power to redeem myself and to demonstrate through deeds that upon release, I will be a community asset, not a community liability.

If you commute my sentence, I could have 10 years back on my life. Ten more years to make up for being so far apart from my daughters. Ten more years to realize my dream of starting a nonprofit dedicated to providing community services for the children of incarcerated parents. Ten more years to make a real, positive difference in the world.

I hope you will give me that chance. You have said you believe the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity should be eliminated. I know Congress is considering legislation to equalize the federal sentences. You should understand, however, that none of the legislation being considered would apply retroactively to me.

As much as I am cheering — even from behind prison bars — for a reform in the federal laws, I don’t want to fall through the cracks. I still have a lot of living, mothering and giving to do.

I would not be writing to you today unless I had no other option. I have appealed my case to the highest courts in the land, and you, and you alone, Mr. President, can send me home by exercising your executive clemency power to commute my sentence.

Sincerely,

Hamedah Hasan

Criminalized Victims: Feeding Mothers to the Machine…


Via Lois Ahrens at the Real Cost of Prisons Blog. Very troubling article, though nothing new. I don’t understand how we can just rip people out of their families and lives and imprison them for years – some until they die – to what good end? I don’t think judges often realize how important some of these “criminals” are to their families. Some community-based support for the whole family to remain together, for moms to make amends by finally being there, seems more in order – and you have to make more effort to keep “repeat offenders” in the community – it takes more than one try for most people to kick a habit.

——————

Mothers among the fastest growing prison population
by Cat Mayin Koo
March 11, 2010

She squared her posture and with a piercing, straight-ahead look, the 49-year-old grandmother of six said, “Crack. I was ad­dicted to crack for over 20 years.”

Darlene Horton, now an advocate at Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers, paid the price for her addiction. The Peoria native went to prison twice, the first for most of a year in 1997 and the second for two and a half years less than a decade later.

Both were nonviolent offenses that left her four children without a parent.

Horton’s tale is emblematic of one of the fastest growing prison populations in the state and county: mothers.

Between 1990 and 2005, the number of women in Illinois prisons quadrupled, according to the state Department of Corrections.

At both the state and county level, about 80 percent of women are convicted of nonviolent crimes and around 80 percent of them are single mothers, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Cook County Sheriff’s office.

A main reason for this dramatic upswing is most of these crimes – up to 80 percent – are drug related, said Gail Smith, executive director of the advocacy group.

“Sentencing has gotten much, much harsher on drugs since the ‘war on drugs’ began in the 1980s,” Smith said.

Changed laws impacted more women, poor and African-Americans, said Patricia O’Brien, a social work researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies incarcerated mothers.

Penalties for crack cocaine, found more often in poor black neighborhoods, are 10 times more severe than penalties for powder cocaine, which is more expensive and found more in affluent white communities.

“It did next to nothing to the drug king pins, but it destroyed many, many lives,” Smith said.

Stacking trauma

Back in the downtown office, Horton unravelled her personal history of abuse, incest and rape.

Horton began using drugs to “start looking for love and the feeling of not feeling,” she said.

In Cook County, eight of 10 female offenders have been physically or sexually abused and more than three-quarters of them are addicted to drugs.

O’Brien found the link between abuse and addiction common in her research.

“Women tend to internalize their pain and that’s where the drug use and the alcohol come to play – self-medication,” O’Brien said.

Smith described imprisonment as adding to this pain.

Most women who come out of prison have been abused, so you’re putting trauma on trauma,” Smith said

O’Brien’s research shows that trauma is one of the pathways that lead women to crime. Others include early exposure to crime and the absence of a parent.

Missing moms

Horton’s children never came to visit her when she was in prison. They were hours away and didn’t have the money or means to get to the Decatur Correctional Center.

Phone calls were a rare luxury. The only contact with her children Horton had was when her oldest daughter, Nicole, who was 17 at the time of Horton’s first incarceration, would write.

One letter stuck out to Horton.

“I wasn’t allowed an emergency phone call when my son got shot in the head,” Horton said.

Horton found out about the incident in a letter and was threatened with more severe punishment when she kept asking for the call.

Her incarceration devastated her children and the effects still linger, Horton said. Jeffrey and Randy, her sons were both imprisoned as young men.

“My oldest daughter, she stressed to me on many occasions that she hated me,” Horton said. Rebuilding that relationship was a slow process, Horton said.

Smith agreed that incarceration tears a family apart.

“Any time you’ve had a separation,” Smith said, “the mom and kids need to overcome the trauma of the separation and the mistrust and anger and everything that ensued from that arrest.”

Treatment

In Illinois, imprisoned mothers get little or no contact visits with their children, O’Brien said.

Yes, there are programs geared specifically for mothers, such as the 15-bed MOM’s program offered to pregnant or postpartum offenders through the county’s Women’s Justice Services.The off-site program rewards good behavior for non-violent offenders and allows women to serve a portion of their sentences with their children.

But these programs are available to a scanty few of the women who need them. Most women who give birth in prison usually have less than two days with their child, O’Brien said.

“As the population increased, money for programs decreased,” O’Brien said.

Drug treatment is another area that lacks adequate resources.

Roughly 80 percent of women in state prisons need substance abuse treatment, but only 16 percent will ever receive it, according to data from the Illinois Department of Corrections.

“People don’t understand that addiction keeps going even though you’re locked up,” Horton said, “and the next time you decide to get high, it takes off full speed, like you never quit.”

Within a year, 39 percent of released women will re-offend and within three years, 58 percent of women will re-offend, according to a study by the National Institute of Justice.

Part of the reason why incarceration is ineffective at preventing second offenses is because of the way women are put through the system, Smith said.

“Corrections tend to be based on a male model,” Smith said. “The assumption is that you are dealing with someone who is incarcerated for a violent offense.”

Better options might be what Smith calls gender-specific, trauma-informed treatment that would take into account abuse and drug dependency.

The Women’s Treatment Center offers such treatment, allowing women convicted of nonviolent drug offenses to receive dependency treatment and complete their sentences with their children.

Out of the 45 participants who completed the program over the last three years, none have been reincarcerated. State recidivism rates for women hover above 45 percent.

“Until we understand that this is more a public health problem than a criminal issue, we’re going to continue to have people recidivate,” Smith said.

“We know we’re hurting families and we’re failing to address something that prevents futures crimes and in the next generation,” she said.

Side Bar: and URLs for Graphs on Women and Incarceration: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=161609

‘War on drugs’

The modern “war on drugs” that began in the 1980s marked a metamorphosis in the way America policed and punished.

A slew of drug laws were altered to have heavier penalties.

One of the effects of this is drug offenders in the nation’s prisons skyrocketed by almost 1,100 percent from around 41,000 in 1980 to 490,000 in 2003, while national violent crime rates plummeted, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In Chicago, drug arrests in 1980 made up only 5 percent of total arrests. By 2003 they made up 28 percent of all arrests, according to a report by the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice nonprofit.

Girls and justice

Girls make up the fastest growing population of juvenile delinquents, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

National trends show that crime is dropping, but in Illinois in 2006, there were 26 percent more female juveniles incarcerated than in 1996, according to the state Department of Corrections.

“Changes in enforcement mean that girls are being put away more,” said Meda Chesney-Lind, a researcher at the University of Hawaii-Manoa who studies girls in gangs.

Even if crimes that girls commit tend to be less violent than those of boys, sentencing has gotten more severe, Chesney-Lind said.

“If a girl runs away and she comes back home, her family could call her in on burglary,” she said.

Most girls that get in trouble have a history of trauma or abuse, according to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Experts like Chesney-Lind say that girls in juvenile facilities need trauma-informed treatment that consider histories of abuse.

http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=161609