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Posts Tagged ‘rehabilitation’

My cousin Alex Frank is on a mission to reform the criminal justice system, starting with young men. She has worked in prisons on a variety of programs for some years now and is seeing measurable results.

A recent Boston Globe editorial expressed hope for the latest initiative. “Early next year, one of the most important criminal justice reform experiments in the country will spread to a stately brick jailhouse in Billerica.

“The Middlesex Jail and House of Correction will become one of the first in the nation to create a dedicated, service-rich cell block for young men.

“Inmates, ages 18 to 24, will gather in peace circles to talk through conflict. They’ll learn how to budget for rent and transportation. And they’ll get the chance to hold their children during visiting hours. ….

“The idea is that 19- and 24-year-olds are fundamentally different than 35- and 40-year-olds — less mature, yes, but also more malleable, and better positioned to change.

“It’s an idea borne out by decades of neuroscience research, which shows the brain is still developing into the mid-20s. And Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, who is launching the unit, understands that research intuitively.

“He calls himself a ‘recovering young adult,’ who was adrift as a young man and didn’t get serious until his mid-20s. …

“Koutoujian says it only makes sense to keep impressionable young offenders away from the older inmates they mix with now. … Tailored services, he says, can make a real difference. A separate unit he established for military veterans is showing strong early results and garnering national attention.

“For this new project, Koutoujian is leaning heavily on the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based organization that helped create the nation’s first comprehensive unit for young adults at a tough prison in Cheshire, Conn., known as ‘The Rock.’

“The Cheshire unit hasn’t had a single fight between prisoners or attack on a guard since it launched early this year, and just a fraction of the disciplinary issues that normally arise among young adults in prison.

“Alex Frank, a senior program associate at Vera who has worked on both the Connecticut and Middlesex projects, says any serious effort to reduce mass incarceration in this country ‘requires a focus on young adults.’

“Eighteen-to-24-year-olds account for 10 percent of the American population but 21 percent of prison admissions, she notes. And their recidivism rates are much higher than for other age groups. Whatever we’re doing now is clearly failing. …

“The most expedient approach may be creating the sort of separate cell block Koutoujian is preparing to launch in Middlesex in February. …

“UTEC, an impressive, Lowell-based organization already working to rehabilitate some of the toughest young men in the region, will play a central role. Gregg Croteau, the executive director of the nonprofit, says his group will aim to smooth the transition to the outside — offering job training in jail, for instance, followed by work at a UTEC-run cafe after release. More.

See also this Lowell Sun article, which quotes Alex: “This project goes beyond simply improving living conditions for young people, and seeks to transform facility culture for everyone who lives and works in their facility … By providing meaningful opportunities for young adults to be successful and investing in their potential, supporting and reimagining the role of staff, Middlesex Jail & House of Correction is transforming the current correctional culture to promote equity, accountability, restoration, and healing.”

I think reader Asakiyume, who volunteers in a prison, knows exactly what Alex is saying about prison culture.

Photo: UTEC
Young people from the nonprofit UTEC in Lowell, Massachusetts, have been actively engaged in pushing for criminal justice reform. In February, they will start working with the Middlesex sheriff on a promising prison intervention.
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The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Some reasons: required minimum sentences, for-profit prisons that lobby officials to get more business, lack of programs to treat addictions. Most US prisons don’t help people who commit crimes to learn better behaviors, and it’s hard for ex-offenders to find jobs when they get out.

According to the Sentencing Project, “In the last forty years, incarceration has increased with rates upwards of 500% despite crime rates decreasing nationally.”

The good news is that here and there, local sheriffs are experimenting with techniques to reduce recidivism, as are individual states. Whether the new programs are motivated by the wish to save public money, by compassion, or for any other reason, the trend is promising.

Mikaela Porter writes at the Hartford Courant about an initiative in Connecticut.

“For years John Pittman was known as a lifer in the state prison here. But now, he’s taken on a new identity: mentor. …

” ‘My philosophy is this: no one is going to save us but us,’ Pittman said in an interview. ‘I’m older than these guys – grandfather age – and if they can learn something from me without being in my situation with a life sentence then I felt I did my job.’

“The pilot program, called T.R.U.E. (Truthfulness to oneself and others, Respect toward the community, Understanding ourselves and what brought us here, Elevating into success) was set up [early this year] for about 70 18- to 25-year-old offenders at the prison. …

“The pilot program started with a visit to Germany, when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Correction Commissioner Scott Semple, Vera Institute of Justice President Nicholas Turner toured prisons there.

” ‘We saw people behind bars who had keys to their own cells, cells [they] decorated themselves,’ Turner said. ‘They wore their own street clothes and they cooked their own meals and they worked in the community. People who were there left better off than they had come in.’ …

” ‘This population of 18- to 25-year-olds is responsible for 25 percent of the incidents that we respond to within our correctional institutions,’ Cheshire Warden Scott Erfe said.

“Erfe said approximately 100 correction staff over three shifts will work in the unit, and that workers have taken three weeks of training on human development and behavioral impact, motivational interviewing, mediation and conflict resolution for young offenders, trauma-informed interventions for young adult offenders and family engagement.

“The program includes work on life skills, educational assistance, team-building exercises and family assistance.

” ‘Although this unit is still in its infancy, it is clear that this has a chance to be something truly special,’ Erfe said.” More here.

I particularly like the “U” of T.R.U.E. I believe a lack of self-knowledge probably underlies most of the world’s problems, not just incarceration rates.

Photo: Lauren Schneiderman / Hartford Courant
Inmates talk to Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy about a rehabilitation program at the Cheshire Correctional Institution. Mentors work with offenders between the ages 18-25 to both make facilities safer and prevent young adults from returning to prison.

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Photo: Mary MacDonald/Providence Business News
A rehabilitation project recently turned the old Mechanical Fabric Company mill in Providence’s West End into a live-work space for culinary entrepreneurs.
Providence can be a good place for starting a food business, partly because Johnson & Wales turns out so many good cooks, partly because the cost of a restaurant liquor license is much less than in many other cities.

And in recent years, the arrival of food incubators like Hope & Main in nearby Warren have provided a way for food entrepreneurs to get up and running without going deep into debt.

Recently, Providence Journal reporter John Hill wrote about a new food incubator, combined with living space, going into the old Mechanical Fabric Co. mill in Providence’s West End.

“In its 125 years,” writes Hill, “the old brick factory at 55 Cromwell St. has made bicycle tires, electronic components and jewelry. Now it’s getting ready to make dinner.

“The interior of the 1891 building, once filled by the clatter and thrum of steam-powered, belt-driven machines, is being gutted and rebuilt as the new home of two commercial kitchens, restaurant space and 40 efficiency apartments for young food-industry entrepreneurs.

“Federico Manaigo, whose Cromwell Ventures LLC owns the building, said the conversion is aimed at capitalizing on Providence’s reputation as a restaurant mecca. When finished, he said, the factory will be home to recent college graduates considering the restaurant business, either as chefs or owners. …

“Manaigo wants to see if he can duplicate the success of Hot Bread Kitchen, an incubator program in East Harlem in New York City. That program, without apartments, rents space to people with small ethnic food businesses who want to grow into full-fledged commercial operations. It also provides training programs and rents space to start-ups that grow from those efforts.

“The idea is to give promising food-business grads a way to stay in Providence, he said, where they can hone their skills and, when they’re ready to open a restaurant, bakery or catering company, do it in Rhode Island and hire Rhode Islanders. …

“Manaigo said he wants to see if the project can tap into sources of culinary inspiration beyond the colleges. The East Harlem incubator found success by recruiting immigrants, especially women, from the neighborhood, persuading them to share their recipes from home and start small bakeries selling their food. The West End has Middle Eastern, Asian and Central and South American restaurants in its storefronts, a sign of a diverse ethnic population Manaigo said he hopes the kitchen can work with.”

Mayor Jorge Elorza has said he likes that the project offers “a way for the city to use the colleges in the area as sources of potential new business owners and play off the restaurant business in a way that could make it even bigger in the future.

” ‘The whole food scene is a strategic strength for the city,’ he said. ‘This fits squarely within that.’ ” More here.

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Kirk Johnson writes in today’s NY Times about efforts to make time in prison more constructive, both in terms of sustainable practices that control prison costs and in terms of inmate improvement.​ The endangered frog program in Oregon, which requires perfect behavior from participating prisoners, is especially intriguing.

Johnson writes, “Mat Henson, 25, serving a four-and-a-half-year sentence for robbery and assault, and his research partner, Taylor Davis, 29, who landed in the Cedar Creek Corrections Center here in central Washington for stealing cars, raised about 250 Oregon spotted frogs in the prison yard this summer.

“Working with biologists, Mr. Henson is now helping write a scientific curriculum for other frog-raisers, in prison or out. A previous inmate in the program, released some years ago, is finishing his Ph.D. in molecular biology. …

“The program’s broader goal of bringing nature and sustainable practices to prisons is echoed across the nation as states seek ways to run prisons more cost-effectively.

“Utilitarian practicality led Wisconsin in 2008 to begin having inmates grow much of their own food. And federal energy rules are pushing the goal of zero-net energy use in federal prisons by 2030.

“Indiana and Massachusetts have become aggressive in reducing energy and water consumption and waste in their prisons, and tough renewable energy mandates in California are pushing alternative generation and conservation at prisons there, said Paul Sheldon, a senior adviser at Natural Capitalism Solutions, a Colorado-based nonprofit that works with government agencies and companies on sustainability issues. …

“There may be some intangible benefits for inmates who are being exposed to the scientific process, many of them for the first time, said Carri LeRoy, a professor of ecology at Evergreen State College in Olympia, and co-director of the Sustainability in Prisons project.

“Science, she said, is about procedural order, point A to point B, with every step measured and marked for others to check and follow. And when the focus of that work is a creature that undergoes a profound metamorphosis from egg to tadpole to adult, the lesson is also one about the possibilities of change. In a prison, Professor LeRoy said, that is a big deal.

“ ‘This image of transformation, I think, allows them maybe to understand their own transformation,’ Professor LeRoy said.”

Read more.

Photograph: Matthew Ryan Williams for The New York Times

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