A new bill could finally ban predatory inmate phone costs

Prison phone price gouging should end and end now
Prison phone price gouging should end and end now. Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

For nearly two decades, criminal justice reform advocates have been fighting to fix a persistent and egregious flaw in the US prison system: the frequently exorbitant cost of inmate phone calls, which can run up to $17 for a 15-minute local phone call. A confluence of market failures, political intransigence, and public indifference has created a broken billing system that veteran Federal Communications Commission official Mignon Clyburn has called “the greatest, most distressing, type of injustice I have ever seen in the communications sector.”

Last Thursday, a bipartisan group of US senators introduced a bill that aims to restore federal authority to crack down on what prison reform advocates call the “usurious,” “abusive,” and “exploitative” business practices of a small handful of companies that dominate the $1.2 billion US prison phone industry.


An Obama-era policy sought to rectify the matter by capping inmate calling fees at as low as 11 cents per minute, but President Trump’s telecom chief Ajit Pai — facing a fierce legal attack from prison phone companies, including the two industry titans GTL and Securus — refused to defend a key portion of the rule last year. As a result, the rules are stuck in a legal quagmire.

For years, GTL and Securus have exerted effective monopoly power in many states to charge inmates, families, lawyers, and clergy excessive rates that can result in monthly bills of as much as $500. For a struggling family whose former breadwinner may be locked up, that’s a lot of money just to stay in touch with a loved one.

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Mississippi DOC lowers phone call rates

The cost of inmate phone calls is now less than 4 cents per minute at all state-operated facilities in Mississippi, with the three privately ran prisons soon following suit.

The call rate is dropping from 11 cents per minute to .039 cents per minute under a new agreement with Global Tel*Link (GTL) Corp.

Alabama Department of Corrections has contracted with ICSolutions and charges $0.21 cents per minute in addition to the $3.00 charge that is applied anytime you add funds to the account.

“The reduced rate will make services even more accessible and affordable for inmates’ families and loved ones,” said Commissioner Pelicia E. Hall. “Family members will be able to stay in touch with their loved ones without worrying about the cost. We realize that family contact is very important for rehabilitation.”

The MDOC last dropped rates in March 2016 when the FCC mandated lower rates per minute for calls in prison systems.

From March 2016 to January this year, inmates made 3,599,018 calls and talked for 37,028,605 minutes at state-operated facilities, including the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, and South Mississippi Correctional Institution.

In January alone, 188,764 calls were made, additionally the new contract calls for equipment and technology to aid the department’s efforts to control contraband cellphones inside prison walls.

So it begs the question, if Mississippi can do it, why can’t Alabama?

Depressed? Know the Signs and Solutions

By Stacia Ray & edited by admin
The information in this article is not intended to diagnose or treat any mental health condition. Always seek the advice of a qualified medical professional with any questions you may have about your health or treatment.

Depression behind bars

For some people, the holidays are a time of joy and celebration. But for others, they bring a sense of loneliness and pain – especially behind bars. Its common for prisoners to experience depression around the holidays, so its important to know the signs and learn the tools to cope.

Dr Karen Boortz, a psychologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, explains that sadness is a normal emotion that everyone experiences sometimes, usually in response to a difficult situation. Depression however, is “an abnormal state.” It makes you feel sad about everything and it doesn’t even require an outside trigger.

Signs of depression

Women with depression are more likely to experience severely low self-esteem, self-harm, anxiety, panic or eating disorders. But the normal stresses of adjusting to prison life can look like depression. So how can you tell whether you’re depressed or just a little “off”? In a nutshell, depression symptoms are abnormal and constant.

Dr Sarah Deweese, a psychologist at San Quentin Prison, says if the things that usually make you happy, no longer cheer you up, that might be a sign. “Look for clues that something doesn’t feel right, that you’re not yourself,” says Deweese. Pay attention if others seem concerned about your state of mind, because depression can distort your sense of reality and make it hard for you to realise that something is wrong.

Other symptoms of depression include: Lack of interest (feeling detached or numb); major change in weight or appetite; trouble sleeping or sleeping too much; fatigue or agitation; feelings of worthlessness or shame; trouble concentrating or thinking straight; and thoughts of dying or suicide. Physical symptoms may include headaches, body aches, and digestive problems.
there are so many commercials on TV showing happy, perfect families, you can feel very alone

Reasons for Prison Depression

The largest factor leading to depression behind bars, Boortz says, is the separation from family, friends and community, a factor that gets even harder during the holidays. Deweese points out that we’re designed to be social creatures. “The holidays are a reminder that the family system, the bond with people you’re accustomed to being around, has been broken, so it makes sense that prisoners would feel a loss,” she says.

Dr. Lisa Herman, PsyD, LP, a psychologist, adds that things we see on TV or hear on the radio can also make the holidays harder. “There are so many commercials on TV showing happy, ‘perfect’ families, and traditionally the holidays are a time of the year focussed on family togetherness,” so when you don’t have that because you are in prison, away form family, “you can feel very alone.”

Other factors that can make depression worse include the lack of privacy, the constant noise, too much downtime and less access to support. Symptoms can be more severe during these winter holidays because the days are shorter and darker.

Ways to Cope

Ready for some good news? There are self-care tools that you can use when dealing with depression behind bars. Even if you’re not clinically depressed, these tips can help you get through a tough time.

  • Get the right sleep. Depression might have you up all night or sleeping all day. Going to bed at a decent hour and getting out of bed during the day can help improve your mood.
  • Eat well and exercise, outside if possible. Be kind to your brain and your body. Stay away from mood-altering substances (including caffeine), which can make things worse. Take a walk in the fresh air; sunshine can boost your mood.
  • Meditate. Deweese suggests reading and doing relaxing meditations (and even mini-meditations where you focus on your breathing, feel your heart and count your heartbeats for 30 seconds). Creative outlets like playing music or journaling can help too.
  • Set a goal. Find a daily activity like memorizing a chapter of the bible, or walking a certain distance everyday; start small (even as simple as doing 10 jumping jacks) and slowly increase the task when ready. Meeting a goal can help fight the feelings of worthlessness.
  • Connect. Isolation tends to make depression worse. If you can, connect with others who are going through the same thing. “Creating a makeshift family and talking with supportive fellow prisoners can help you feel much better,” Deweese says, Join an educational program or religious group. Turning to Jesus by praying and reading scripture can bring comfort, but its important to note that you can be a Christian and still struggle with depression.
  • Go easy on yourself. Use extra kindness towards yourself and others, remembering this time and these feelings – will pass.

Depression is not about weakness. “The brain is an organ, and just like any other body part is susceptible to illness or imbalance, so is our brain,” says Deweese. “And just like theres no shame in seeing a doctor if you need a cast on your leg, theres no shame in getting extra help if you’re depressed.



The Big Business of Prisoner Care Packages

Inside the booming market for pocketless clothing, clear radios & other electronic devices, food in pouches and other corrections-approved goods.

Inside the booming market for prisoner care packages

By TAYLOR ELIZABETH ELDRIDGE This story also was published at Vox.

It’s the holiday season, but many incarcerated Americans won’t get presents directly from home.


To stop drugs and weapons from entering jails and prisons, many corrections agencies bar family members from mailing packages or bringing them during visits. Those who want to send food, clothing and other gifts to incarcerated relatives at any time of year often must go through private vendors. (SEE NOTE BELOW ABOUT PRODUCT IMAGES)

CLEAR RADIO $27.99 | Wyandotte County, Kansas | Sold by ICARE/ARAMARK
CLEAR RADIO $27.99 | Wyandotte County, Kansas | Sold by ICARE/ARAMARK

Here’s how it works: Families shop from print and online catalogs supplied by care package companies. Every item is PRISON- AND JAIL-APPROVED. In some facilities, that can mean no glass or metal containers or no personal hygiene products containing alcohol. Items are often contraband-proof, from sealed food pouches to clear electronics to pocketless sweatpants.

TUNA POUCH $1.45 | Clark County, Illinois | Sold by ACCESS SECUREPAK
TUNA POUCH $1.45 | Clark County, Illinois | Sold by ACCESS SECUREPAK

For the holidays, families can choose from seasonal products; think red and green cream-filled Hostess cupcakes and peppermint Twinkies. The Los Angeles County jails’ contract for care packages includes annual “gift packs” that are given to inmates for free during the winter holiday season, complete with a card from the county.

EGG CRYSTALS $3.95 | Hutchinson Correctional Facility, Kansas | Sold by UNION SUPPLY DIRECT
EGG CRYSTALS $3.95 | Hutchinson Correctional Facility, Kansas | Sold by UNION SUPPLY DIRECT

At least one program, Access Securepak, offers RELIGIOUS ITEMS including the Bible, rosary beads and Allah pendants.

Prisoner care packages are part of a lucrative industry that provides a RANGE OF SERVICES to incarcerated people and their families. Companies that offer care package programs often bundle additional services, such as phone and commissary, into one contract with a corrections agency. Keefe Commissary Network, which along with Access Securepak is part of Keefe Group, reported net sales of over $375 million from care package, commissary and technology programs in 2012, according to a 2014 contract proposal posted on the West Virginia state government website. Access Securepak had over 125 active custom package programs nationwide in 2014 and was the exclusive provider for 18 state departments of corrections.

SWEATPANTS $15.08 | Correctional Treatment Facility, Washington, D.C. | Sold by ACCESS SECUREPAK
SWEATPANTS $15.08 | Correctional Treatment Facility, Washington, D.C. | Sold by ACCESS SECUREPAK

Companies often offer their services at no charge to corrections agencies along with a share of the profits. In its bid for the West Virginia contract, Union Supply Group, which oversees Union Supply Direct, projected that the state stood to earn about $95,000 in one year, based on a 17 percent commission of annual care package sales.

Honeybuns Calories 280 Fat 16g Sodium 210mg Sugar 16g Avg. Price $1.06
Honeybuns Calories 280 Fat 16g Sodium 210mg Sugar 16g Avg. Price $1.06

The privatization of services at correctional facilities generally leaves prisoners and their families with fewer choices, forcing them to do business with certain vendors or go without, says Wanda Bertram, a spokesperson for the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit that advocates for incarcerated people and their families and has conducted research on predatory practices in the prison and jail communication industry.

Pork Rinds Calories 80 Fat 5g Sodium 300mg Sugar 0g Avg. Price $4.05
Pork Rinds Calories 80 Fat 5g Sodium 300mg Sugar 0g Avg. Price $4.05

Although catalogs can contain hundreds of items, some relatives lament their inability to send a personalized gift. “We want to love the prisoner. We don’t love their crime, but we love them,” says Julie Tyson of Morehead City, North Carolina, whose son is incarcerated in a state prison. “It’s hard to do that through the calls and brief visits. It would be so nice to send a pair of socks or something I went and picked out for him.”

Perhaps because prison meals often leave much to be desired, food tends to dominate care package offerings. Most snacks and meals are HEAVILY PROCESSED and packed with sugar, fat and sodium. (Food typically must be in hermetically-sealed and tamper-proof packages, which rules out most fresh options.)

This gift will warm
This gift will warm “the heart” and soul with a creative blend of snacks from Frito Lay and Ramen, according to iCare’s online catalog. At Wicomico county jail in Maryland “Miss You” costs $32.99. Not pictured: Double Barrel Salami Sticks, Double Barrel Spicy Meat and Cheese Sticks.

There’s often a variety of PRE-MADE GIFT PACKS, like the “Heat and Eat” package sold by iCare, a program of the stadium and schools food service giant Aramark, that contains a quesadilla, soda and 10 packs of ramen noodles.

QURAN $22.50 | Chittenden Correctional Center, Vermont
QURAN $22.50 | Chittenden Correctional Center, Vermont

Most food items can be stored without refrigeration and consumed in a cell with the help of a hot pot, including dried ramen noodles, instant coffee and mac and cheese. In some cases, the snacks — such as Big Haus Sausages — are made exclusively for correctional facilities; other items, like single packets of mayo, are typically not sold individually.

PRAYER SHAWL $52.80 | William S. Key Correctional Center, Oklahoma
PRAYER SHAWL $52.80 | William S. Key Correctional Center, Oklahoma

iCare even allows loved ones to send prepared HOT FOOD to inmates; for example, New York, Virginia and Tennessee each have a jail where inmates can receive an Angus double cheeseburger, a calzone or a pepperoni pizza.

The three major care package providers, Access Securepak, Aramark’s iCare, and Union Supply Direct, each have relied on INCARCERATED WORKERS. Access Securepak has used inmates to unload trucks, stock and pick items from warehouses and assemble packages, according to a 2015 West Virginia contract proposal. In its 2014 bid, Union Supply Direct reported that it employed inmates to, among other things, clean freezers and manufacture clear electronics sold in its package program.

$1,248 Projected ANNUAL PAY for one inmate working fulltime in package program. (SOURCE: 2014 UNION SUPPLY DIRECT CONTRACT BID IN WEST VIRGINIA.)


SATANIC BIBLE $17.76 | Bernalillo County, New Mexico
SATANIC BIBLE $17.76 | Bernalillo County, New Mexico

“We deliver experiences that enrich and nourish millions of lives every day,” Karen Cutler, vice president of corporate communications for Aramark, wrote in an emailed response to questions. Correctional facilities determine the prices, nutritional guidelines and labor model used in their contracts with the company, she said.

Keefe Group and Union Supply Direct did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Prisons and jails have long restricted the types of items inmates can receive from the outside — nothing with poppy seeds, for example, or no boxer shorts with patterns on them. And where packages from home are allowed, workers have thrown away those that contained forbidden items. So some families may consider ordering through authorized private vendors, which only offer pre-approved goods, to be more convenient than navigating a prison’s byzantine gifting rules.

This pre-assembled package as a chance to send a loved one
This pre-assembled package as a chance to send a loved one “a gift bag full of their hometown snack favourites”. According to iCare’s online catalog. At Lenawee County Jail in Michigan, “Hugs and Love” costs $55.99. Not pictured: Big Haus Sausage

But others say sending packages through these companies can be onerous and expensive.

Ramen Oriental Flavor Calories 190 Fat 7g Sodium 800mg Servings 2 Avg. Price $0.85
Ramen Oriental Flavor Calories 190 Fat 7g Sodium 800mg Servings 2 Avg. Price $0.85

Corrections agencies set DIFFERENT RULES for how many gifts inmates can receive and how often they can receive them. In some facilities, inmates who are eligible to receive packages (usually those who are lowest risk and have good behavior) can get a care package once every three months; at others, inmates are allowed weekly deliveries. The timelines are strict, said Joi Davis of Clarksville, Tennessee, whose husband has been incarcerated since 2003. “If you miss the window, even by one day, you can forget it,” she said.

Keefe Coffee Calories - Fat - Sodium - Servings 18 Avg. Price $3.65
Keefe Coffee Calories – Fat – Sodium – Servings 18 Avg. Price $3.65

Packages can also be limited by weight, price and item count. Many facilities don’t allow packages that weigh more than 30 pounds. Gifts are often limited by dollar value; in some places, the cap is $50 a week, at others, it’s $150 every three months. The number of items, like hair ties or sunglasses, can be restricted as well.

“It’s a taxing experience,” Davis said. “There should be other avenues for families to be able to send their loved ones items that they want and need.”

Double cheeseburger and “extreme boneless wings” Available from the “Burgers ‘N More” section of iCare’s catalog for the Western Tidewater Regional Jail, Virginia. | $20.99 | (Image courtesy of iCare’s catalog.)
Double cheeseburger and “extreme boneless wings” Available from the “Burgers ‘N More” section of iCare’s catalog for the Western Tidewater Regional Jail, Virginia. | $20.99 | (Image courtesy of iCare’s catalog.)

Family members also complain that they’re often forced to buy their loved ones BASIC NECESSITIES that should be provided by the prison. Jennifer Gross of Livonia, Michigan, says she sent her boyfriend, an inmate in the Michigan Department of Corrections, a care package containing toilet paper after he told her he had gone without for four days. “We don’t expect for all our loves to be freed,” she said. “We just want them to have the basic needs and nutrition they deserve.”

Clear Typewriter $331.64 Luther Luckett Correctional Complex, KENTUCKY $209.00 Calipatria State Prison, CALIFORNIA
Clear Typewriter $331.64 Luther Luckett Correctional Complex, KENTUCKY $209.00 Calipatria State Prison, CALIFORNIA

Price is another issue. Relatives say that some goods sold in prison-approved catalogs cost more than they would in a store. At the very least, the PRICING OF ITEMS can be unpredictable. At Franklin County Jail in Pennsylvania, for example, a radio from Access Securepak costs $22, but in Custer County, Nebraska, the program sells that same radio for just under $13. At Arrendale State Prison in Georgia, a wire-free bra from Union Supply Direct is $13.80; at Northeast Correctional Complex in Tennessee, the company sells the same bra for $25.95.

Boxer shorts $3.00 Okeechobee Correctional Institution, FLORIDA $7.00 Moore Haven Correctional Facility, FLORIDA
Boxer shorts $3.00 Okeechobee Correctional Institution, FLORIDA $7.00 Moore Haven Correctional Facility, FLORIDA

Such variation comes from how individual contracts are negotiated between corrections departments and their vendors. In Los Angeles County, Keefe’s contract requires that prices fall within 2 percent of the cost of the same item at any three convenience and grocery stores within 12 miles of the central jail; in contrast, Aramark’s catalog prices in Santa Clara County are required only to be the same as or lower than the prices in the commissary.

In other places, pricing guidelines use the fair market price of an item as a baseline and mandate that the prices stay within 10 percent of the current selling price.

Some inmates have filed LAWSUITS against prison officials and private companies over the cost of care packages, with little luck. In New Mexico, an inmate sued over the price differences for identical products sold through county and state prisons. In California, an inmate alleged that his family suffered by having to purchase items exclusively through a private company with inflated prices and extra fees, particularly for items that he claimed should have been paid for by the prison.

The case in California was dismissed because the inmate was unable to pay the court filing fees. The New Mexico case was dismissed because the judge ruled that inmates do not have a constitutional right to goods at certain prices. The judge also ruled that many of the allegations made by the inmate could be brought only by government agents responsible for oversight of private companies, such as the United States attorney general or the Federal Trade Commission. In Mississippi, the state attorney general is currently pursuing a lawsuit against Keefe alleging fraud and bribery in its contracts with the state department of corrections.

Keefe Group, based in St. Louis, Missouri, is comprised of several companies that provide services to prisons and jails nationwide, including care packages, commissary, video visitation and surveillance technology. Keefe is a wholly-owned direct subsidiary of TKC Holdings, which is indirectly controlled by the Miami-based private equity firm H.I.G. Capital.
Keefe Group, based in St. Louis, Missouri, is comprised of several companies that provide services to prisons and jails nationwide, including care packages, commissary, video visitation and surveillance technology. Keefe is a wholly-owned direct subsidiary of TKC Holdings, which is indirectly controlled by the Miami-based private equity firm H.I.G. Capital.

Keefe Group did not respond to requests for comment about the Mississippi lawsuit.

Despite her frustrations with the industry, Davis estimates that she spends as much as $600 of her monthly budget on staying in touch with her husband through things like phone calls, visits and care packages. “It eats up the money, but you don’t want your loved ones to go without,” Davis said.

She has two recommendations for other families who want to send care packages to incarcerated loved ones: “Have a budget and a lot of patience.”

About our product images: The companies mentioned in this article deliver to correctional facilities only, so The Marshall Project purchased and photographed retail store products that most closely resembled items sold in corrections package catalogs. All catalog prices are current as of December 2017, except for the boxers sold by Access Securepak through Okeechobee Correctional Institution, Florida; they were sold in a June 2017 catalog.

Editor’s note: Tony Tamer, the co-CEO of H.I.G. Capital, which indirectly controls TKC Holdings, the owner of Keefe Group, provided the endowment that funds the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at the Columbia University Business School. The Tamer Center funds summer fellowships at organizations making social change, including The Marshall Project.

REPORTING - Taylor Eldridge
EDITING - Geraldine Sealey

It’s A Fact: Women & Girls Have Vastly Different Pathways into the Justice System than Men.

The lineup. The pathways of 98% of women to prison carved by lifetimes of sexual and domestic abuse.

Gender Responsive Justice Systems Matter.
A powerful body of literature reveals important differences in the reasons underlying men and women’s criminal involvement. The research conducted on women’s specific “pathways” into crime indicates that their experiences of victimization and abuse, poverty, mental illness and substance abuse play a key role.
Unless otherwise indicated, the data provided in this table was adapted from the document “Ten Truths that Matter when Working with Justice Involved Women” (NRCJIW, 2012), a cogent and comprehensive review of the research on justice-involved women.
The US prison system was designed to house a large male population, and is operated by primarily male officers and officials.  
Women represent less than 8% of the total US prison population, and their unique risks, strengths and needs are often eclipsed throughout  systems lacking in gender responsive practices. 
Despite this fact, women are the fastest growing prison population:  The number of women in prison grew 800% vs. 400% in the past 30 years.  

Justice-Involved Women:  United States vs Illinois Trending

The following data was developed for the “The Gender Informed Practice Assessment” Report on Logan Correctional Center.
Disproportionate H​​istories of Abuse and Trauma
  •  ​​​The vast majority of women in prison have experienced interpersonal or sexual violence, with estimates as high as 90%.[i]
  • Histories of interpersonal violence are prevalent among both men and women in prison, but rates are much higher among women.[ii]
  • Incarcerated women with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) report a much higher rate of witnessing violence than the female population in general.[iii]
  • Trauma such as sexual victimization is linked to mental health, substance abuse, and relationship difficulties and contributes to crime pathways for women. Women with histories of abuse and neglect are 77% more likely to be arrested as an adult than their peers who were not abused.[iv]
  • The correctional environment is full practices that trigger women’s past trauma, including pat downs and strip searches, frequent discipline from authority figures, and restricted movement.[v]
  • In Illinois, 98% of incarcerated women in state prisons have experienced physical abuse at some point in their lives; 75% experienced sexual abuse and 85% experienced intimate partner stalking and emotional abuse.[vi]
[i] Miller, N. A., & Najavits, L. M. (2012). Creating trauma-information correctional care: A balance of goals and environment. European Journal of Psychotraumatology.
[ii] Baglivio, M. T., Epps, N., Swartz, K., Huq, M. S., Sheer, A., & Hardt, N. S. (2014). The Prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) in the lives of juvenile offenders. Journal of Juvenile Justice, 3(2).
[iii] Hackett, M. (2009). Commentary: Trauma and female inmates: Why is witnessing more traumatic? Journal of the American Academy Psychiatry Law, 37(3), 310–315.
[iv] Widom, C. S. & Kuhns, J.B. (1996). Childhood victimization and subsequent risk for promiscuity, prostitution, and teenage pregnancy: A prospective study. American Journal of Public Health 86 (11): 1607.
[v] Miller, N. A., & Najavits, L. M. (2012). Creating trauma-information correctional care: A balance of goals and environment. European Journal of Psychotraumatology.
Benedict, A. (2014).  Using Trauma-informed Practices to Enhance Safety and Security in Women’s Correctional Facilities.  National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women. Retrieved from https://www.bja.gov/Publications/NRCJIW-UsingTraumaInformedPractices.pdf
[vi] Reichert, J., Adams, S., & Bostwick, L. (2010). Victimization and help-seeking behaviors among female prisoners in Illinois. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

Higher Rates of Reported Mental Illness

  • Nationally, female inmates report higher rates of mental health problems than male inmates (73% of females versus of 55% of males in state prisons).[i]
  • Nationally, women in prison have more frequent suicide attempts than male inmates.[ii]
  • Incarcerated women with a history of trauma and accompanying mental health concerns are more likely to have difficulties with prison adjustment and misconduct.
  • Justice involved women are more likely to experience co-occurring disorders; in particular, substance abuse problems tend to be interlinked with trauma and/or mental illness. The majority of women who suffer from mental illness also have substance abuse disorders.
  • Women experience mental illness differently than men; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and eating disorders are all more prevalent in justice-involved women than in men.
  • The lack of trauma-informed practices and inadequate access to mental health services, combined with the experience of confinement, pose a greater risk of either creating or exacerbating mental health issues among female inmates. Also, correctional policies and procedures – and institutional environments in general – can trigger previous traumatic experiences, exacerbate trauma-related symptoms, and interfere with a woman’s recovery.
  • In Illinois, the percentage of all incarcerated women on a mental health caseload is 58% compared with 25% of all incarcerated men. Logan Correctional Center, the state’s largest women’s prison, currently houses an estimated 770 women prisoners diagnosed as Seriously Mentally Ill (SMI). In addition, a study of all women incarcerated statewide indicated that an estimated 60% have suffered from PTSD.[iii]
Note: While data regarding the need to address diagnoses of “Serious Mental Illness” among incarcerated women is compelling, it is important for corrections systems to explore their use of the category “Seriously Mentally Ill” and ensure that 1) appropriate clinical criteria are being used and adhered to when identifying someone as SMI, and 2) gender, culture, trauma, oppression and other factors are thoroughly considered so that women are not inappropriately diagnosed.
[i] US Department of Justice. (2006). Mental health problems of prison and jail inmates.
 [ii]James, D. J., & Glaze, L. E. (2006). Mental health problems of prison and jail inmates.;  Bedard, L., E. PhD (2008) Women in Corrections. Retrieved from http://www.correctionsone.com/women-in-corrections/articles/1843155-Female-vs-male-inmates-The-rewards-and-challenges-of-managing-both/
 [iii] Reichert, J., & Bostwick, L. (2010). Post-traumatic stress disorder and victimization among female prisoners in Illinois.

 ​​Disproportionate Involvement of Women of Color

  • Nationally, African American women are incarcerated at twice the rate of white women, and rates among Hispanic women are 1.2 times higher.[i] These rates perhaps most dramatically impact younger women: A 2012 study revealed that black females ages 18 to 19 were three times more likely to be imprisoned than white females, and Hispanic females in this age group had imprisonment rates nearly twice those of white females.[ii]
  • In Illinois, most state prison admissions for men and women in general, and particularly those of Color, are from Cook County. A decline in admissions from Cook County between FY2005 and FY2010 resulted in a decrease in the overall proportion of African American women incarcerated in state prisons (from more than 70 percent in the late 1990s to less than 50 percent among the FY2010 female court admissions).  Commensurately, the shift resulted in an increase in the proportion of white females from 20% to nearly 50% in that same period, while Hispanic women experienced a slower, more gradual shift from 2-3% in 1989 to 7.8% today.[iii]
In Illinois, while disproportionality has trended downward, African American women still represent 42% of the women’s prison population, while African American citizens represent only 15% of the Illinois population. Conversely, White women represent 51.4% of the women’s prison population and White citizens represent 73.5% of the Illinois population. [iv]
[i] Carson, E.A. (2015). Prisoners in 2014. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
[ii] US Department of Justice. (2013). Prisoners in 2012
[iii] Olson, D., Escobar, G. & Stalans, L. (2011) An Examination of admissions, exits and end-of-the-year populations of adult female inmates in the Illinois Department of Corrections, state fiscal years 1989 to 2010. Chicago, IL: Loyola University Chicago, Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology
[iv] IDOC Offender 360 Report  (2016).  US Census Data.

​​Higher Rates of Substance Abuse & Drug Crimes

  • A large proportion of justice-involved women have abused substances or have engaged in criminal behavior while under the influence and/or to support their drug use.
  • In a 2006 Bureau of Justice Statistics study, over 60% of women reported a drug dependence or abuse problem in the year prior to their incarceration. Moreover, there is evidence indicating that current substance abuse among women is a strong direct predictor of prison readmission.
  • Substance abuse among justice-involved women may be motivated by a desire to cope with or mask unpleasant emotions stemming from traumatic experiences and ensuing mental health problems.
  • Nationally, on every measure of drug use, women in state prisons have reported higher usage (40%) than males (32%).[i] In addition, 25% of female prisoners serve time for drug offenses, compared to 15% of male prisoners.[ii]
  • In Illinois, 85% of women surveyed in state prisons reported periods of regular alcohol and drug use and an average age of onset at 16.3 years old.[iii]
  • In Illinois, nearly the entire increase in court admissions of women to state prisons from FY1996 to FY2005 that led to the skyrocketing prison population were attributed to low-level, Class 4 felonies for drug and property crimes. Conversely, the dramatic 40% decline in female court admissions from FY2005 to FY2010 was also linked to a reduction in court admissions for primarily the same class of low-level drug crimes.[iv]
[i] US Department of Justice (1999). Women Offenders. Note: This is self-reported data. Actual number of offenders with substance abuse histories is approximately 80 percent (national data).
[ii] US Department of Justice. Prisoners in 2013 (2014).
[iii] Reichert, J., Adams, S., & Bostwick, L. (2010). Victimization and help-seeking behaviors among female prisoners in Illinois.
[iv] Olson, D., Escobar, G. & Stalans, L. (2011) An Examination of admissions, exits and end-of-the-year populations of adult female inmates in the Illinois Department of Corrections, state fiscal years 1989 to 2010. Chicago, IL: Loyola University Chicago, Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology
 More Likely to be the Custodial Parent of their Children
  • Nationally, more than 60% of women prisoners are parents, and women prisoners are more likely than men to serve as the custodial parent of their children.[i]  According to a  Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report, 77% of mothers in state prison who lived with their children just prior to incarceration provided most of the children’s daily care, compared to 26% of fathers. 88% of incarcerated fathers identified the child’s other parent as the current caregiver, compared to 37% of mothers.”[ii]
  • The Annie E. Casey Foundation found that Illinois has the 7th highest number of individuals who have experienced parental incarceration during their childhood, totaling 186,000.
  • Children of incarcerated parents “…display short-term coping responses to deal with their loss, which can develop into long-term emotional and behavioral challenges, such as depression, problems with school, delinquency, and drug use.”[iii]  Children of incarcerated mothers in particular are at greater risk of dropping out of school and academic challenges.[iv]
  • “Preserving a child’s relationship with a parent during incarceration benefits both parties. It also benefits society, reducing children’s mental health issues and anxiety, while lowering recidivism and facilitating parents’ successful return to their communities.”[v]
  • In Illinois, a snapshot of the women incarcerated at Logan Correctional Center in October 2015 indicated that 71% of them (1,304 out of 1,835) are mothers of a total of 3,700 children.​
[i] Glaze, L. E., and Maruschak, L. M. (2009). Parents in prison and their minor children.; Ney, B. Ten facts about women in jails. Retrieved from http://www.americanjail.org/10-facts-about-women-in-jails/ 
[ii] Glaze, L. & Maruschak, L. (2008) Parents in prison and their minor children.
[iii] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Keyes, K., Hamilton, A., Uddin, M., & Galea, S. (2015). e collateral damage of mass incarceration: Risk of psychiatric morbidity among nonincarcerated residents of high-incarceration neighbor- hoods. American Journal of Public Health, 105(1), 138–143. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/25393200
[iv] Dallaire, D. H. (2007, December). Children with incarcerated mothers: Developmental outcomes, special challenges, and recommendations. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 28(1), 15–24.
[v] Annie E Casey Foundation (April 2016) “A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families & Communities; La Vigne, N. G., Davies, E., & Brazzell, D. (2008, February 12). Family and recidivism. AMERICAN Jails, 17–24. Retrieved from www.vera.org/ les/the- family-and-recidivism.pdf.; The Osborne Association. (2012, May).
Higher Rates of Poverty & Unemployment
  • Economic hardship, lower educational attainment, fewer vocational skills, underemployment, and employment instability are more common among justice-involved women. These factors are particularly problematic when considering that women are more likely to have child-rearing responsibilities, particularly as single mothers.
  • Compared to men, it is more difficult for justice-involved women to obtain and maintain legitimate and well-paying employment that will meet their family’s needs, both before and following incarceration. Research has indicated that programming designed to enhance women’s educational/vocational skills are effective in reducing their risk of recidivism.
  • Nationally, women report greater levels of poverty than men and less employment history immediately preceding incarceration. In addition, those seeking affordable housing and reunification face considerably greater challenges. [i]
  • A study of the Women’s Prison Association found that 60% of women reported that they were not employed full-time at the time of their arrest (compared to 40% of men) and 37% of women had incomes of under $600 in the month leading to their arrest (compared with 28% of men).[ii]
  • A study conducted by the Urban Institute regarding prisoner reentry suggested greater challenges for formerly incarcerated women seeking employment.  A sample allowed comparisons of the statistical differences between male and females in several states, and indicated 61% of males were employed post release vs 37% of women.[iii]
  • In Illinois, 43.8% of women at Logan Correctional Center, the state’s largest prison, do not have a high school diploma or GED; and one study indicated that approximately 58% of women in Illinois prisons were employed either full- or part-time at the time of their incarceration.[iv]
[i] Ney, B. (2015, January 8). Ten facts about women in jails. Retrieved from http://www.americanjail.org/10-facts-about-women-in-jails/ 
[ii] The Sentencing Project (2007). Women in the criminal justice system. Retrieved from http://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Women-in-the-Criminal-Justice-System-Briefing-Sheets.pdf)
[iii] Returning home: Understanding the challenges of prisoner reentry.  retrieved from http://www.urban.org/center/jpc/returning- home/
[iv] Reichert, J., Adams, S., & Bostwick, L. (2010). Victimization and Help-Seeking Behaviors Among Female Prisoners In Illinois. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.  

Lower Public Safety Risk, Yet Fastest Growing Criminal Justice System Population Nationwide

  • Justice-involved women are less likely than men to have extensive criminal histories.
  • Women typically enter the criminal justice system for non-violent crimes that are often drug-related and/or driven by poverty. Nationally, women in state prisons are more likely to be incarcerated for a drug or property offense than a violent crime: 24% of women have been convicted of a drug offense, compared to 15% of men; 28% of women have been convicted of a property crime, compared to 19% of men; and 37% of women have been convicted of a violent offense, compared to 54% of men.[i]
  • The nature and context of violent crime committed by women frequently differs from that observed in men. When women commit aggressive acts, they typically involve assaults of lesser severity that are reactive or defensive in nature, rather than calculated or premeditated. Compared with men who tend to target strangers and acquaintances, violent acts committed by women occur primarily in domestic or school settings, and are more likely targeted at family members and/or intimates.
  • Women released from incarceration have lower recidivism rates than their male counterparts. This holds true for rearrests, reconvictions, and returns to prison with or without new prison sentences. Moreover, for the small proportion of women who are incarcerated for violent crimes, most do not reoffend with another violent crime.
  • Within prisons, incidents of violence and aggression committed by women are extremely low. Studies indicate that incarcerated women are five times less likely than men to commit such acts – 3-5% of women compared to 17-19% of men.
  • Despite women’s lower level crimes, arrest data from 2010 reveal that the number of female arrests in the United States increased by 11.4% from the preceding decade; this increase is in contrast to a 5% decline for male arrests. During the same time period, the number of women incarcerated in federal and state correctional facilities increased by 22%. Women now constitute one-fourth of the probation and parole population, representing a 10% increase over the past decade.
  • In Illinois, 34% of women in state prisons are incarcerated for a violent offense, compared with 43% of male inmates.  Women are also more likely to be incarcerated for a drug crime (29% vs 21%) or a property crime (30% vs 19%).[ii]
[i] Carson, E.A. (2015). Prisoners in 2014. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Incarcerated-Women-and-Girls.pdf
[ii] Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice Reform (2015). Illinois prison overview. Retrieved from http://www.icjia.org/cjreform2015/research/illinois-prison-overview.html
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The Women’s Risk Needs Assessment: Putting Gender at the Forefront of Actuarial Risk Assessment

Published by Breanna Boppre & Emily Salisbury12th April 2016

Women have distinct pathways to offending to men, often marked by violence, abuse, trauma, mental illness and unhealthy relationships – all factors which translate into needs and risk factors for reoffending. However, traditional risk and need assessments are designed with male offenders in mind. This blog post by criminologists, Breanna Boppre and Emily Salisbury of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, summarises the gender-specific risk assessment that was designed specifically for women in the U.S. to bring gender to the foreground of offender rehabilitation.


SPLC: Alabama prisons must address staffing needs and accept monitoring of failing mental health treatment

article published 10/20/2017 & originally posted here
An Alabama Prison
An Alabama Prison

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) must conduct a meaningful analysis of the staffing it needs to address an unconstitutionally inadequate level of care for prisoners who have mental illnesses, according to a brief filed in federal court yesterday by the SPLC.

ADOC will likely need more than double its current level of correctional staffing and nearly triple its mental health staffing, according to the brief. Additionally, the court should appoint security and mental health monitors to ensure that ADOC is carrying out the court-approved remedies, the brief states.

The filing is in response to a plan that ADOC proposed to the federal court last week, claiming that it would increase spending for mental health care workers – and would double staffing in those positions – but only if the state legislature provides enough funding next year.

“Compliance with the U.S. Constitution is not optional, and the state can delay no longer. Mental health staffing is woefully inadequate in ADOC prisons, and the flagrant constitutional violations that result must be addressed immediately in order to protect prisoners with mental illnesses from an ongoing risk of serious harm,” said Maria Morris, senior supervising attorney with the SPLC. “ADOC’s plan to remedy these glaring staffing deficiencies is vague, unsubstantiated and incomplete. It must address these issues now.”

The filing is the latest development in the SPLC’s ongoing litigation against ADOC for failing to provide adequate medical and mental health care for people in its custody. U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson issued a sweeping, 302-page ruling in June declaring the mental health care system in Alabama prisons “horrendously inadequate.”

The court specifically found that “persistent and severe shortages of mental-health staff and correctional staff” are among the overarching issues that contribute to the inadequacy of mental health care in ADOC prisons.

The court also found that ADOC’s mental health caseload is substantially lower than the national average, and that this failure to identify prisoners with mental health needs is the result of a number of factors, including “insufficient mental-health staffing.”

Recruiting and retaining adequate staff will take time and funding, but ADOC already has the authority and funding to hire some correctional staff right now. For example, ADOC does not need legislative approval to fill its existing, authorized staffing levels.

“Throughout this case, the court has repeatedly made it clear that lack of funds is not an excuse for ADOC’s failure to provide constitutionally mandated care to prisoners with mental illnesses,” Morris said. “ADOC officials have known for years that they need more staff, but they have delayed addressing the problem. Now, they want to delay even further, leading to more pain, suffering and possibly even death.”

Morris said: “The state has an immediate duty to hire enough qualified staff to address the crisis in care for the mentally ill. Over the long term, however, the only solution to this and other problems in the Alabama prison system is to decrease the prison population by getting people the help they need to stay out of prison in the first place. The state should ensure that people with mental illness get treatment, instead of just locking them up and throwing away the key.”



Attorneys say Alabama prison plan inadequate, vague

The Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s plan to improve correctional and mental health staffing in state prisons is vague and inadequate, attorneys for inmates told a federal judge last week.

The attorneys for inmates criticized the state’s proposal submitted to U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson.

“Commissioner Jefferson Dunn and Associate Commissioner Ruth Naglich appear not to recognize that they have been found to be running a correctional system that provides horrendously inadequate mental health care,” wrote Maria Morris, an attorney representing the inmates.

Thompson ordered Alabama to overhaul conditions in June after finding that psychiatric care of state inmates is so “horrendously inadequate” that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. One of the inmates committed suicide days after testifying in federal court about his treatment in prison.

Thompson ordered the state to submit a plan to address shortages of correctional and mental health staff.

The Department of Corrections told the judge in a filing this month that it was increasing staff and conducting a comprehensive analysis to determine security staffing needs, and had begun some of those steps before Thompson’s ruling.

Inmates’ attorneys argued the state should have deadlines for increasing staff and benchmarks for caseloads or the plan “will remain nothing more than words.”

Thompson scheduled an Oct. 30 hearing on plaintiffs’ request for additional information about the state’s plan.


Cost of incarceration in the U.S. more than $1 trillion

article originally posted here by By Neil Schoenherr

More than half of the costs are borne by families, children and community members who have committed no crime

mass incarceration in the United States

The cost of incarceration in the United States exceeds $1 trillion, or six percent of gross domestic product, and dwarfs the amount spent on corrections alone, finds a new study from Washington University in St. Louis.

“The $80 billion spent annually on corrections is frequently cited as the cost of incarceration, but this figure considerably underestimates the true cost by ignoring important social costs,” said Carrie Pettus-Davis, assistant professor at the Brown School and an expert on incarceration.

A new study, “The Economic Burden of Incarceration in the U.S.,” led by doctoral student Michael McLaughlin, with assistance from Pettus-Davis, draws on a burgeoning area of scholarship to assign monetary values to include costs to incarcerated persons, families, children and communities, which yield an aggregate burden of $1.2 trillion dollars.

Carrie Pettus-Davis
Carrie Pettus-Davis

“We find that for every dollar in corrections costs, incarceration generates an additional $10 in social costs,” said Pettus-Davis, director of the Concordance Institute for Advancing Social Justice and co-director of the Smart Decarceration Initiative.

“More than half of the costs are borne by families, children and community members who have committed no crime,” she said.

The scale of incarceration in the U.S. over the past 40 years is unprecedented, Pettus-Davis said. The prison population grew seven-fold as this country became the world leader in incarceration.

“Researchers have devoted considerable effort to estimating the cost of crime, but no study has yet estimated the aggregate burden of incarceration,” Pettus-Davis said.

“Recent reports highlighting the costs to incarcerated persons, families, and communities have made it possible to estimate the true cost of incarceration,” she said. “This is important because it suggests that the true cost has been grossly underestimated, perhaps resulting in a level of incarceration beyond that which is socially optimal.”