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Crime and Justice Archive

It's Pride Week, but the struggle isn't over

Author: Meredith Dank and Kate Villarreal

| Posted: June 27th, 2014


It’s Pride Week in New York City, and members of the LGBTQ community have reason to celebrate with gay marriage now legal in 19 states (plus the District of Columbia) and support among the American public on the rise. This year’s theme, “Yesterday’s struggle is today’s heritage,” gives festivalgoers an opportunity to reflect on the storms the LGBTQ community has weathered and the strides it has made since the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village.

But despite civil rights advances and growing support at the national level, youth across the country still get thrown out of their homes for being gay or transgender, even in seemingly tolerant places like New York. This can have very real and, at times, perilous consequences for LGBTQ-identified teens and young adults who may not have anywhere else to go. A 2012 study found that among homeless youth, 40 percent identified as LGBT, having fled home because of family rejection or abuse they experienced when they came out, or due to family violence or poverty.

Surviving on the street

Once they’re out on the streets, it can be hard to find a supportive safety net, and some youth turn to trading sex in order to meet basic needs.

The first time I got involved because, all right, my friend used to do the same thing. And yeah, so I like, picked up on it. I picked on because, like, my family wasn’t providing for me and nobody was doing nothing for me, so I got to find out a way how to get money. And yeah, that’s how I got started getting money and getting food in my stomach.

We interviewed the young person above as part of a new study we’ll publish this fall on LGBTQ youth, young men who have sex with men, and young women who have sex with women who are—or are profiled as by law enforcement—engaged in New York City’s commercial sex market. Our study aims to get at how and why these teens enter the sex trade and what services they need. We know from past research that the majority of youth who enter the trade wish to leave it, but the pathway out is not always clear and can be laden with obstacles.

Current services aren’t enough

New York’s emergency shelter services currently offer 250-300 beds to homeless youth, but the total homeless youth population numbers in the thousands. If a young person can secure a shelter bed, they can only stay for 30-60 days, which may not be enough time to come up with a stable housing arrangement. And often, they face homophobic and transphobic abuse in shelters and group homes. This can perpetuate a cycle where youth return to trading sex in order to have a place to sleep, a meal, and a shower.

I don’t remember it that vividly, all I know is just that I was starving. I was starving and it was this, like, my friend was like, come to the stroll, trust me, you'll get somebody. I was hungry, I was cold, so I did it…

Supporting the family

Although many of the youth we interviewed were trading sex for their own personal survival, some youth that we spoke with still lived at home, but began trading sex for money in an effort to support other family members.

My mom got laid off a couple of weeks ago and we didn’t have any food or anything like that, so I told her I was going to try to find a job, which I did try to find a job and I couldn’t get a job. Some jobs told me I was overqualified and so I was desperate, and my first time was about around February of this year…

What needs to happen next?

No teenager should feel that they have to trade sex for basic survival. Our research points to serious services gaps when it comes to support for LGBTQ youth. At the top of the list is a need for increased emergency and long-term housing options so that youth have immediate and available places to go. They also need access to both formal and informal education, training opportunities so they can acquire skills for employment, and living-wage jobs.

While intervention efforts are paramount to helping youth find other options, stepping up prevention-based programming at the community level is equally important. This includes building public awareness of the issue and addressing systemic factors like poverty, abuse, and homophobia and transphobia that put LGBTQ-identified youth at risk of homelessness and needing to trade sex for survival needs.

With the country’s growing support for gay rights issues prominently on display in New York and other US cities this weekend, it’s time to celebrate the civil rights victories of 2014. But it’s equally important to remember that the struggle isn’t over for everyone.

Photo from Flickr user ccho (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Filed under: Adolescents and Youth, Crime and Justice, Economic well-being, Economic well-being, Families, Geographies, Homelessness, Housing and Housing Finance, Human trafficking, Justice Policy Center, Metro, National (US), New York, Policy Centers, Poverty, Vulnerability, and the Safety Net, Sexual attitudes and behavior |Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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Guns, policy, and big data: what Internet search data say about public interest and behavior

Author: KiDeuk Kim and Sam Bieler

| Posted: June 25th, 2014

What can search engine data tell us about offline behavior? Probably more than you’d expect. Researchers have used Google data to predict everything from influenza patterns to stock market movements. Though big data can’t provide the level of specificity available through traditional “small data” research, it can supplement insights garnered from surveys, experiments, and conventional statistical reporting. It may also help bridge gaps where reliable data don’t exist.

Sitting at the center of a perfect storm of partisan spin and limited data, few relationships in social science remain as elusive as that between Americans, their guns, and the current events that shape gun-buying decisions. There are no publically available counts of how many guns are bought or sold in America—such a registry is illegal at the federal level, and states don’t have any consistent data on gun ownership.

Soft measurements, like media analysis, are equally problematic because of political interest in portraying gun ownership as moving in one direction or another. Depending on the source, record numbers of Americans are either arming themselves or rejecting gun ownership entirely.

Because of challenges like these, gun ownership research in the United States is done through proxies, like the percent of suicides committed with a firearm. Online search data offer a new source of information we can use to investigate how public interest in gun ownership reflects response to big events, and how interest translates into action. Here’s how.

Interest in guns tracks big events

We tracked the frequency of gun purchase-related search terms over the past 10 years: “buy gun,” “buy guns,” and “buy a gun.” We then normalized the search score between 0 and 100 so that  100 represents the highest levels of search engine activity and all the other data points are relative to this point. The data are also adjusted for the total number of all searches on Google.

The resulting graph reveals how effectively search data can track public interest. Media outlets reported increased interest in gun laws and ownership after both the election of Barack Obama in November 2008 and the Sandy Hook school shooting in December 2012. Search engine data offer new support for these reports, showing spikes in related search-engine activity around both events.

From interest to action

Linking Google search data to other sources gives us the next piece of the story: how public interest in buying a gun relates to Americans’ gun-buying activity. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) conducts a check whenever a licensed firearms dealer makes one or more sales to ensure buyers are legally allowed to purchase firearms. (Although NICS has several limitations as an indicator of gun buying, it’s a common measure of US firearm commerce we can use to get a sense of gun purchases.)

NICS and Google search data measures are closely correlated and show a spike in activity around both the election of Barack Obama and the Sandy Hook school shooting. Americans’ interest in buying guns and the background checks that facilitate these purchases follow each other closely.

What’s next?

There’s much more work to do to verify the relationship between Google data and gun purchasing, but this example demonstrates the immense opportunities presented by search engine data. Both the granularity and accessibility of search engine data are powerful supplements to conventional research tools. By drawing on trends in search activity across states and even cities, researchers can develop new insights into how changes in public opinion and public policy affect one another, and policymakers can be more responsive to the needs of the communities they serve.


Filed under: Crime and Justice, Crime and justice statistics, Forensic science, Justice Policy Center, Victims of crime |Tags: , , , , , , ,

What about LGBT refugees in the United States?

Author: Erwin de Leon

| Posted: June 20th, 2014




A line in a recent Christian Science Monitor article asks, “Are children fleeing Central American violence refugees who need asylum or illegal gold-diggers who need to go home?”

Politicians, talking heads, policymakers, and those of us interested in immigration have been transfixed by the surge of unaccompanied minors at our southern border. Whether these children are refugees worthy of asylum will eventually be determined by immigration courts, if and when their cases finally get there.

Another group fleeing violence but not getting as much press – if any at all – are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) refugees. In a report prepared for the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the Heartland Alliance estimates that around 3,500 LGBT refugees arrive in the country annually. Another 1,250 are granted asylum every year.

Arriving in small numbers, they tend to fly under the public’s radar. Some also choose to remain in the shadows, due in part to the conservatism of their own ethnic communities. LGBT refugees might enjoy more freedoms here, but they often live among fellow immigrants, who tend to be more socially and religiously conservative than native-born Americans.

Queer women and men flee their homelands because of the oppression they suffer based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. They are routinely subject to human rights abuses, including sexual assault and corrective rape, physical violence, torture, imprisonment, and murder. In Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and parts of Nigeria and Somalia, people can be put to death for same-sex conduct. In an additional 76 countries, LGBTs can be imprisoned for living openly. While gay and transgender people are still subject to discrimination in some parts of the United States, their rights are generally and increasingly protected.

In my last post, I discussed the crucial role immigrant organizations play in the lives of immigrants. These community-based nonprofits are community centers, social service providers, advocates, and network builders. They prop up the immigrant safety net. However, there are not enough to serve the needs of immigrant communities.

There are far fewer organizations for refugees. In 2012, over 58,179 refugees were admitted into the country and 29,484 individuals were granted asylum. A quick search with Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics reveals a mere 128 community-based organizations dedicated to refugee relief.

Aside from limited capacities, these organizations are rarely equipped to deal with the housing, employment, medical, mental health, safety, and legal needs of LGBT refugees. While gay and transgender refugees avail of the same services as other refugees, they benefit from a sensitivity resulting from an awareness of queer concerns and realities. In 2011, ORR Director Eskinder Negash expressed concern for the lack of resource materials tailored for queer refugees, which are critical to their successful resettlement and integration: “The current resettlement network has limited understanding of the LGBT community.”

A lot of work is left to be done, from advancing international and domestic policies protecting queer refugees to increasing the number and capacities of refugee relief and resettlement organizations. But it all begins with education and storytelling. A trickle of LGBT refugees, however, simply isn’t as compelling as a tsunami of undocumented child migrants.

Illustration by Tim Meko

Filed under: Advocacy organizations, Crime and Justice, Crime and justice statistics, Human services organizations, Human trafficking, Immigrant-serving organizations, International, Nonprofits and Philanthropy, Social impact, Victims of crime |Tags: , , , ,
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Why don’t governments implement evidence-based best practices?

Author: John Roman

| Posted: June 19th, 2014

In 1975, Robert Martinson famously wrote that “nothing works” in treating convicted criminals and thus he concluded that rehabilitation in any form was not cost-effective. As discouraging as the criminal justice research was at the time, it was no more pessimistic than education, or public health, or child welfare research.

Today, however, we have mountains of evidence about effective programs. There is rigorous, transparent, objective evidence about what works in schools, what works to prevent violence, how we can help high-risk adolescents get on a better life path, and how to curb criminal offending in general. There are resources that can help guide governments find best practices in almost any sector, from child welfare to health care.

We don’t have a solution to every problem, but there are evidence-based solutions to many problems. But these programs focus on very narrow populations. If a government is looking to reduce drug use within the criminal justice system, we can provide precise estimates of the likelihood that community-based treatment will reduce new offending.

sibs_blogBut what if government wants to reduce all types of criminal reoffending? Drug treatment alone is not enough to accomplish that objective. You also have to improve work skills, deal with mental illness, chronic homelessness, anger management, and more. There is no silver bullet for recidivism that can be summarized in a nice figure like the one above.

A few months ago, I was asked by a local government to help them think through what kind of social services they might finance through a new financing mechanism called social impact bonds (SIBs). SIBs are used to fund evidence-based programs, shifting the risk of new investment from the government to the private or philanthropic sector. The result could be an infusion of new money to fund programs demonstrated to work.

The local government’s particular question: How do we increase high school completion in our city by 20 percent?

Great question.

The problem is that what we do in the social sciences is ask very particular questions about the effectiveness of very narrow programs. If the goal is to reduce new offenses from highly at-risk youth, research provides an answer. If the goal is to increase high school completion among all youth, that is much more difficult to answer.

Florida Redirection is a cost-effective intervention for the highest-risk adolescents, a group that is a tiny (but expensive) fragment of high school dropouts. Reducing the high-risk adolescent dropout rate helps overall high school completion, but only somewhat. If you want to reduce overall high school dropout rates, you have to do lots of things. You have to have effective mentoring. You have to improve math literacy. You have to do out-of-the-the box things, like reduce asthma, which is a leading cause of truancy.

At the moment, we have no idea how to do these things in combination. Just like drug therapy for an illness, two really good medications could complement each other—or have adverse consequences. But that’s not how we study social service programs today.

In the United Kingdom, though, they are taking this issue head on. There, governments are testing 10 SIBs to improve the life chances of NEET youth (NEET being Not in Education, not Employed, not in a Training program), who often become huge drains on social resources as they age.

Each SIB tries a different combination of remedies for the NEET youth. And ultimately, that’s the way we will figure out the solution to these big policy problems.

The point is this: We don’t have solutions that cross programs and sectors yet. But we can if we use SIBs and other social innovations as a way to experiment, to test ideas about how evidence-based programs can work together.

Until then, research will have the wrong answers for policymakers’ questions, and policymakers will not pursue the evidence-based answers researchers can provide.

Filed under: Crime and Justice, Economic Growth and Productivity, National (US), Tracking the economy |Tags:

Helping fathers become better parents

Author: Margaret Simms

| Posted: June 12th, 2014



“No single factor is more important in the life of a child than the love and support of caring, committed adults.” –My Brother’s Keeper Task Force Report to the President, p. 7.

On this Father’s Day, the role of fathers is even more in the spotlight, largely because of the recent release of the report from President Obama’s task force and a near-concurrent publication from a group of foundation executives called A Time for Action: Mobilizing Philanthropic Support for Boys and Young Men of Color.

Two-thirds of black children and one-third of Hispanic children are growing up in households without a father living with them. However, the fact that a father does not live with his children doesn’t mean he is completely absent from their lives—or that he wants to be absent from their lives. In fact, over 60 percent of low-income dads report seeing at least one of their children daily.

Researchers who have been looking at this issue and talking with mostly young noncustodial fathers find that generally, men want to be a part of their children’s lives. In Doing the Best I Can, Kathy Edin recounts many stories of fathers who think that having a child is a blessing and supporting their children both financially and emotionally is something they really want to do.

Similar sentiments come through in other studies as well. Recently, some of my Urban Institute colleagues met with young men involved in a fatherhood program. When asked why he was trying to be a better parent, one young man expressed a feeling that most of the group shared: “We didn’t have a father, and we don’t want to see our children go through that, too.”

Going beyond learning from their father’s mistakes

But often these young men don’t have the resources or knowledge about how to be the best fathers—how to earn enough to provide financially, how to be emotionally and developmentally supportive of their children, and how to make their relationship with their child’s mother work to the benefit of the child. Instead of letting them “learn from their father’s mistakes,” as some of them are trying to do, they could benefit from more structured support from the community and the government.

There are many fatherhood programs designed to help noncustodial fathers get job training and develop coparenting and parenting skills. Some of the larger training programs that include fatherhood initiatives in their curriculum include STRIVE-New York City and the Center for Urban Families. Others, such as the Young Dads Program in Minnesota, focus just on fathers under age 30. If programs like these are effective, they will help these men become a more positive force in their children’s lives.

Fatherhood behind bars

Being a good father is more challenging for fathers who are in jails or prisons. One of every nine black children, one of every 28 Hispanic children, and one of every 57 white children has an incarcerated parent. Often, these parents are incarcerated a long way from home, and it is difficult to build or maintain bonds during this time, making it nearly impossible to resume a healthy parent-child relationship once they come home.

The federal task force behind My Brother’s Keeper recommends several steps prisons can take to help incarcerated parents build their parenting skills and stay connected to their children. Several states are facilitating family visits, and many states are already operating responsible fatherhood programs in prisons, often using standard curricula like InsideOut Dad and Active Parenting Now.

If these programs can help noncustodial fathers be a positive force in their children’s lives, Father’s Day will be a happy one for mothers, sons, and daughters, as well as newly empowered fathers. And it will make every day a better one for families as well.

Photo from Shutterstock.

Filed under: Adolescents and Youth, Child care, Child welfare, Children, Children's health and development, Crime and Justice, Economic well-being |Tags: , , , ,
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How government can (finally) start paying for success

Author: John Roman and Kelly Walsh

| Posted: June 11th, 2014

Government doesn’t always work as well as it should, but there are solutions. Today we released new research on the five steps to implementing a pay for success (PFS) project. This is a new concept that can break through traditional barriers to government efficiency to help deliver social programs that produce a public good, government savings, and private profit.

Injecting private capital into the public sector addresses the problem of widespread underfunding of public sector interventions and innovations. PFS, social impact bonds (SIBs), and scaled finance are all similar models that share a core concept: using private capital to buy outcomes, while promising a profit if the program is successful.

Today, government pays for programs regardless of whether they work, and bears all of the risk of that investment. PFS transfers risk from the government to the private sector– philanthropy, venture capital, or commercial banks. In a PFS deal, government only pays if the program achieves predetermined outcomes.

PFS is a special solution for special problems. This is not a tool for pet projects. It’s best suited for programs with a track record of actual success and programs that serve people who use large amounts of public resources and touch multiple systems, like family-based therapies that are designed to work with the most at-risk adolescents and which have the strongest evidence-base.

Here’s how it works. Each deal requires a collaborative effort: private investors, such as commercial banks, high-net-worth investors, and philanthropists, supply capital; nonprofit service providers supply evidence-based programs; a “knowledge intermediary” interprets the evidence for government and investors; an independent researcher evaluates program outcomes; and the government agrees to repay the investor, plus a profit if the program meets its objectives. If the program does not achieve performance goals, the investors lose all or some of their investment and any potential return.

Governments begin the process by contracting with a knowledge intermediary that manages the process and identifies costly, recurrent social problems and the evidence-based programs to solve them. A financial intermediary negotiates with investors and the government, and the intermediaries ensure that service delivery adheres to an evidence-based model.

The evidence is the key to these deals. If the PFS-funded program has a limited evidence base, the risk of failure may kill the deal before it starts. Investors won’t invest if the likelihood of success is uncertain, and governments won’t commit to paying a profit on programs that aren’t grounded in evidence.

PFS is potentially transformative. It funds solutions to problems that are too big for current funding mechanisms, and shifts risk from the government to the private sector, allowing government to innovate in ways it cannot today. Most importantly, a PFS deal demands data. In order to entice investors, the transaction requires that data is acquired and shared, that target performance metrics are realistic (for investors) and aspirational (for government), and that all costs and benefits are specified. In order for the deal to be properly priced, prior research must be carefully analyzed to provide transparency to all parties, and that data and knowledge must be shared across sectors. No other public financing mechanism places these requirements on government, which is why government is so inefficient today.

PFS is being tested. The challenge for the first generation of PFS and SIBs has been to prove the concept and to demonstrate that a PFS transaction can work. The challenge for the next generation is to jump from funding a single program to funding a portfolio of evidence-based programs. Just as there is no one cause of our most pressing social needs, there is no one solution. The PFS deals and SIBs of the future should support a multifaceted solution to these complex and expensive problems.

Stopping problems before they start sounds like common sense, but efforts to fund preventative programs are stymied by the nine barriers outlined in yesterday’s post. PFS financing may break those barriers and offer a new route to positive social change.

Filed under: Adolescents and Youth, Aging, Courts and sentencing, Crime and Justice, Finance, Performance Management and Measurement |Tags: , , , , ,

Nine reasons why government doesn’t work

Author: John Roman

| Posted: June 10th, 2014




State, county, and municipal governments are mainly in the business of buying services for their constituents, paying providers to tackle a broad spectrum of social problems: health, education, employment, and justice, among others. But these governments face significant barriers to reducing costs and delivering high-quality services.


  1. Know what they spend, but not what they buy. Governments keep track of their spending, but have few, if any, quality controls to monitor what they’re really buying. Governments have limited knowledge of what services are actually being provided and of the quality of those services.
  2. Prefer small, short-term benefits to larger long-term benefits. Rather than developing and implementing long-term solutions, governments overwhelmingly focus on fixing short-term problems. The emphasis is placed on fixing preventable problems, rather than preventing those problems in the first place. For instance, instead of funding obesity prevention efforts, we pay enormous sums to remediate diabetes. Why? Because the people in power won’t be around when savings from prevention occur.
  1. Apply well-intentioned, intuitive programs with no evidence-base. The research literature is littered with evaluations of programs that sound promising, but don’t work. Take D.A.R.E., for instance. Dozens of studies have shown that the program may be counterproductive, and may actually increase youth drug experimentation by exposing and demystifying drugs for kids who have not yet encountered them.
  2. Are underfunded to the point that effective programs are not scalable. For more than two decades, research has shown that drug-involved offenders receiving drug treatment in the community go on to commit significantly fewer crimes than drug-involved offenders who are incarcerated. Yet recent studies show that less than four percent of drug-involved offenders receive court-monitored treatment. The problem? Drug treatment is more expensive than criminal case processing and the resources to expand simply aren’t there.
  3. Are risk-averse. Governments rarely fund programs that have excellent average effects, but occasional unintended consequences. While drug courts overall lead to less crime, it is inevitable that some drug-involved offenders treated in the community will commit crimes that incarceration would have prevented. While the overall effect is more public safety, the fear of the less-dangerous side effects, like an occasional preventable crime, almost always wins out.
  4. Aren’t designed for innovation. Not only are there substantial cultural barriers to new ideas in government, but the entire procurement and purchasing process makes innovation almost impossible. Nonprofits and commercial vendors cannot bring good ideas to government; government must solicit innovation (and therefore must come up with the innovative ideas for potential service providers to respond to). This reduces conflicts of interests and under-the-table deals, but stifles innovation.
  5. Have a “wrong-pockets” problem. Government budgets are split into department budgets, and split again into agency budgets. So if one agency or department has a winning idea that reduces overall costs to government, that idea will only go forward if that agency is the one that keeps the savings. If those who benefit from savings from successful evidence-based programs do not include the agency covering the bill, that agency or department is unlikely to pursue the idea.
  6. Don’t share data and knowledge. Not only are budgets rigidly separated, but knowledge and data are as well. Each department tends to be isolated from the rest of government, particularly with respect to information sharing and knowledge transfer. For most governments, data systems not only can’t communicate, but are often prohibited from doing so. If a child is in special education and involved in the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system, most places don’t allow those agencies to share case information, much less encourage them to do so. Thus, the response is inefficient—and the conflicting solutions can make problems worse.
  7. Don’t communicate across borders. If the issues with communication and cost-sharing within governments are serious, the issues with sharing across governments are much more severe. Problems cross borders. Homelessness, gang disputes, pollution, poverty, etc. are not confined to particular geographies and the solutions shouldn’t be, either. But intergovernmental cooperation is often almost impossible.

The result is an inefficient system that at best can be made more efficient, and at worst can do more harm than good.

There is a solution, however—one that addresses all of these problems. I will discuss that tomorrow.

City Hall image from Shutterstock. Follow John on Twitter.

Filed under: Children, Crime and Justice, Economic Growth and Productivity, Geographies, Health and Health Policy, Local, Metro |Tags: , , , , ,

The barriers American Indian women face in accessing sexual assault exams and services

Author: Darakshan Raja

| Posted: May 30th, 2014


Native American Doctors

Among American women of all races, American Indian women report the highest rates of sexual violence. According to the Department of Justice, one in three are raped during their lifetime—more than double the rate of American women across all racial groups.

Although a significant number of American Indian women have experienced sexual assault, American Indian victims face a number of unique challenges after the sexual assault has taken place. These go beyond who pays for the sexual assault medical forensic exam, and include accessing the exam, acquiring medical services, and receiving an adequate response from the criminal justice system.

Here’s what our research revealed:

  • Tribal jurisdictions don’t have access to trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs).  For American Indian women, getting access to critical 24-hour emergency services, health clinics, and trained SANEs can be difficult. In one state, we visited multiple tribal reservations and found that only one reservation had a SANE. Even when cases were forwarded to Indian Health Services, facilities lacked these practitioners. As a consequence, victims had to travel off the reservation in order to receive an exam, which presents additional challenges. Victims may not have access to transportation, or familiarity with—or trust in—the local non-Native community. They may not even be aware that free exams and victim services are available to them.
  • Some American Indian victims don’t seek services due to past experiences with racism. All of the direct services providers we spoke with that worked with Native American communities reported witnessing racism from other providers when working with American Indian victims. They described a 911 call that went unanswered by the local counties that had jurisdiction over the tribe, a SANE who told a woman who came to the hospital that it wasn’t a “pill shop,” and several examples of law enforcement agencies’ differential treatment of American Indian victims. Service providers reported that victims are rarely believed by law enforcement agencies, and cases are rarely prosecuted. These experiences make some victims reluctant to seek services, the exam, or assistance from law enforcement.
  • Cultural barriers prevent some victims from seeking services and using the justice system.  Due to cultural norms, the shame and stigma surrounding sexual assault are more prevalent in American Indian communities. These factors, coupled with the fear of retaliation, which can even include excommunication from the tribe, prevent some sexual assault victims from making a report. When the perpetrator and victim belong to the same Native community, there is sometimes a lack of support for victims.  
  • American Indian communities may distrust justice and service systems due to historical trauma and mistreatment. Service providers in these communities said that the historical mistreatment of American Indians is responsible for much of the inherent distrust that victims have of the system. This sad history includes the atrocious nonconsensual sterilization of American Indian women by Indian Health Services from 1970-76, during which an estimated 25 to 50 percent of Native American women were sterilized. This is underscored by current practices that often make victims feel like second-class citizens.

All of these barriers can prevent American Indian victims from accessing important services and using the criminal justice system to hold perpetrators accountable. That’s why it’s critical to make trained examiners and suitable facilities available for victims in tribal and rural jurisdictions, and to train first responders on how to provide culturally competent social services to American Indian communities.

Tuba City, Ariz., in the Navajo Nation, is home to the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corp. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Filed under: Crime and Justice, Forensic science, Health and Health Policy, Health care spending, access, and utilization of care, Race, Ethnicity, and Gender, Racial and ethnic disparities, Victims of crime

Reducing correctional control in America

Author: Brian Elderbroom

| Posted: May 27th, 2014




Much attention has been paid to the issue of mass incarceration in recent weeks, and deservedly so. More than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in American prisons and jails at an enormous cost – both human and financial – and diminishing public safety benefit.

Over the weekend, the New York Times joined the chorus calling for an end to mass incarceration and the policies that have contributed to it. Citing recent reports from the National Academy of Sciences and the Hamilton Project, the editorial board declared our four-decades-long experiment with ever-increasing punishment a “moral, legal, social, and economic disaster.”

But as the board points out—comparing the “overwhelming evidence” on mass incarceration with the science on global warming—it is no longer news that the United States locks up too many people. Far less established is how to go about reducing the prison population and the harms associated with it.

Policymakers and other decisionmakers are seeking reforms that will sustainably reduce correctional control, spending on prisons, and the harmful long-term effects of a felony conviction. The challenge is providing them with research on alternatives to incarceration that will encourage them to pursue more ambitious reductions in prison admissions and time served.

That is why the current momentum on these issues comes at such a critical time. Whether we have reached a tipping point in our experiment with mass incarceration will depend on our ability to measure the impact of existing reforms and provide the evidence base for new and promising ideas. In doing so, it’s important to remember the following:

Correctional control extends beyond the number of people of prison and jail. For every person incarcerated, more than two people are being supervised by probation or parole. These populations are a major driver of the prison population, in particular the population of inmates who have committed non-violent offenses. Crimes that did not merit incarceration at sentencing often result in it after offenders fail to follow the rules of probation and more than 1 in 4 prison admissions is for a violation of parole.

Policymakers need practical solutions. Seven million people did not end up under correctional control overnight, and we’re not going to end mass incarceration by painting policy with a broad brush. Repealing “tough on crime” policies, such as mandatory minimums and truth-in-sentencing, would go a long way toward that goal but are unlikely to occur on a wide scale. There are thousands of criminal offenses, each often with their own penalties and time-served requirements, and state legislators remain skeptical of wholesale changes to sentencing and release laws.

But what about dramatic reductions in sentence lengths for an increase in certainty of time served in prison? What about prohibitions or limits on revocations of probation and parole when a new crime has not been committed? What about making probation the presumptive punishment for more offenses? States have begun to experiment with these types of changes, and we need to understand more about their impact on correctional populations, public budgets, and recidivism.

Incarceration is the end result of many decisions. The criminal justice system is a complicated interplay of many actors and decision points. People enter into the criminal justice system and fall under correctional control due to many factors—law enforcement funding, sentencing laws, prosecutorial practices, court decisions, release guidelines, and revocation policy, just to name a few. State-level policy reforms are a critical first step, but we need to have a greater understanding of what works at the local level to prevent crime and how best to respond when it does happen.

Research is needed on reforms both modest and ambitious. Over the next few months, the Urban Institute will be profiling the points in the criminal justice system that result in correctional control and highlighting promising policies that merit further examination. With the right mix of responses, we can reduce correctional control in America and ultimately end mass incarceration.

Photo: Associated Press/California Department of Corrections.

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Filed under: Corrections, reentry, and community supervision, Courts and sentencing, Crime and Justice, Policing and crime prevention
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