Tagged: rehabilitation

Is America Becoming a Nation of Ex-Cons?

POST WRITTEN BY: John Humbach, Professor of Law at Pace Law School.

graphMuch has been written about the extraordinary rates of incarceration as a pressing criminal justice problem. Mass incarceration is, however, only part of the challenge posed by the American criminal justice system. Already, an estimated 25% of U.S. adults have a criminal record and, with a million new felony convictions per year—one every 30 seconds—America’s ex-offender population is growing exponentially (see chart to the right). Our country is well on its way to becoming a nation of ex-cons.

The effects of being a “criminal” do not, moreover, end with release from prison. Newly released inmates are immediately met by a growing assortment of law-prescribed “collateral consequences” that now number in the tens of thousands. In their cumulative impact, these legal disabilities greatly reduce the ability of ex-offenders to find housing, make a living, get an education, obtain bank loans, support their children or, generally, to enjoy the usual rights and amenities of citizenship that are essential for a reasonable quality of life.  As a result, our nation’s criminal-justice policy is literally re-making America into a legally divided multi-stratum society with an entrenched system of law-sanctioned discrimination against a large and growing underclass with a legally-prescribed inferior civic status.

Already, the ex-offender class is the nation’s largest legally discriminated-against minority group, and it is growing. The adverse social implications of this trend remain unclear and the critical demographic tipping point is still uncertain. But whatever the details, this is surely not good path for the nation to be on.

Graph Source: 

Related Readings: 

  • John Humbach, Is America Becoming a Nation of Ex-Cons?, 12 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 605 (2015) (SSRN) (Pace Digital Commons).  

Student Perspective: The Disparate Care of Women in New York State Prisons

POST WRITTEN BY: Brad Landau (‘16), Pace Law School & Natalie Felsenfeld (’16), Pace Law School

Women in New York State prisons face many challenges. Women’s rights to reproductive health care and obstetrics and gynecology (OBGYN) treatment are often not protected and even violated. The Correctional Association of New York (CA), an independent, non-profit criminal justice advocacy organization, aims to create fair and humane criminal justice system in New York, and as such a safer and more just society for all. Created in 1991, the CA’s Women in Prison Project (WIPP) works to reduce the overuse of incarceration for women, ensures that prison conditions for women are as humane as possible, and aims to create a criminal justice system that treats all people and their families with fairness and dignity.

On April 1, 2015, we attended the Pace CJI event on the Rights of Incarcerated Women in New York State Prisons, which focused on the recently published report by the WIPP of the CA titled Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons. This report focuses on the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) that oversees the operation of all state prisons in New York. The report highlights and outlines the challenges incarcerated women face as a result of mistreatment by medical personnel and correctional officials as well as the inadequacy of policy-making in New York State. The report concludes that incarcerated women receive substandard OBGYN care, including the fact that pregnant women are still being shackled pre-, during and post- labor, even though the N.Y. Correc. Law § 611 (McKinney 2015) (also known as the NYS 2009 Anti-Shackling Law) prohibits the use of restrains of any kind when a “woman is in labor, admitted to a hospital, institution or clinic for delivery, or recovering after giving birth.”

WIPP is currently working to amend the 2009 Anti-Shackling Law to incorporate mechanisms that would ensure compliance with the laws by correctional officers. Among these mechanisms are:

  • Continually publishing information about the law;
  • Publicly reporting shackling practices and other violations;
  • Offering regular and effective training of all correction officers and medical personnel about the relevant statutory and regulatory provisions; and
  • Ensuring that incarcerated pregnant women are informed about their rights under the law.

One of the panelists shared a story about a woman who gave birth in a correctional facility:  the woman was in pain for 25 hours before the correctional officers believed that she was in labor.   She also described her personal experience of giving birth while incarcerated. During her childbirth, she was told to “shut up” by correctional officers on the way to the hospital while her contractions were 2 minutes apart.  Additionally, most incarcerated mothers are separated from their newborns immediately after birth unless they are fortunate enough to get into the nursery program.

Moreover, many women in prison have been victims of sexual abuse or assault; thus, being subjected to substandard OBGYN care often re-traumatizes them.  One of the panelists described how she was a victim of sexual abuse, and how having male correctional officers present during her OBGYN visits made her feel re-victimized. The CA’s report confirms that DOCCS does not provide medical care that is “trauma informed,” meaning that medical personnel in prisons are not trained in how to recognize and understand the impact of trauma on incarcerated women and how to provide care without re-traumatizing their patients. This is an issue that should be addressed in the future because incarcerated women should not have to re-live their psychological and physical harms of their past.

Another panelist also shared her experience with NYS’s unequal approach to offering plea bargains at arraignments to men compared to women.  According to her,  men are more likely to receive plea bargains at arraignment than are women: in fact,  she had never met a woman who was offered a plea during the arraignment stage.  Her personal experience, if proven true, raises the question of inequality and gender bias during the criminal process, which should be addressed.

Although a difficult topic to talk about, the CA panel was a great success in making all attendees think critically about the disparate treatment of incarcerated women in NYS prisons. The CA panel raised two key issues that need to be addressed:

  1. Whether the criminal justice system treats women the same as men in terms of opportunities for early dispositions?
  2. Whether women in prison receive competent and trauma-sensitive OBGYN care while incarcerated? If not, what can be done so incarcerated women are not re-living the psychological and physical harms of their past.

The CA panel was important because it appeared that some attendees were made aware of these issues for the first time. Holding panels such was this one is an integral and valuable part of a law school education because continuous discussion and education about such issues is the first step to effecting change.

Event: Rights of Incarcerated Women in New York State Prisons

RJ-Report-Cover-JPEG-231x300A recently published report by the Correctional Association of New York, Reproductive Injustice, addresses the reproductive health care for women in New York State prisons.  The Report was commented on here by Pace Prof. Michael Mushlin and  has sparked debates across the state. Please join PILSO (Public Interest Law Student Organization at Pace)and the CJS (Criminal Justice Society at Pace) on Wednesday, April 1, 2015 at 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm in Tudor Room of Preston Hall at Pace Law School for a panel discussion on the rights of women in NYS prisons.

The event features an exciting line-up of panelists including:

Join us for a thought-provoking discussion and learn how to get involved. Refreshments will be served!

Related Readings:

Focus on Collateral Consequences of Conviction

BY: Lissa Griffin & Lucie Olejnikova

As attention is drawn to the social impact of excessive sentences, supermax detention, and overcriminalization, it makes sense to look at the same time at the social impact of collateral consequences. What purposes do collateral consequences actually serve? Not allowing someone who has served a sentence or fulfilled a punishment for criminal conduct to vote, drive, get benefits, get work without revealing a conviction, work in human services or other select industries, live in an affordable area, and the like not only holds the convict back from successful reintegration, but also prevents communities from moving on.

NICCCThe ABA has created and launched the NICCC database (National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Convictions) that collects the law on collateral consequences in the Federal system and each of the fifty states. For review of the database, click here.

Related Readings:



Governmental Publication

Conditions of Confinement in New York State Corrections

The public is interested in prison life. Television shows such as “Oz” and “Orange is the New Black” purport to depict life behind walls.   Maybe these shows will alert the public to the scale of  the correctional system, but they will do little to sensitize viewers to the hardships to families imposed by a prison sentence.  Right now, there are 70 correctional facilities across New York state, housing approximately 70,000 offenders.  Many prisoners are parents.   The New York State Department of Corrections publishes a handbook for visitors to encourage families to stay connected.

The hope is that family support will help prisoners transition upon release.  But, in reality most correctional facilities are located in upstate counties – ensuring a difficult and expensive trip for families who live downstate.   Prisoners become more isolated and removed from society without community connection.   Children of inmates also suffer being separated from their parents.  Organizations to support children of incarcerated parents try to assist.  See: the Children of  Prisoners Library.

This year Assembly Bill A-02308-2013, if enacted, would establish a pilot project in which inmates who are parents of minor children would be placed in the correctional facility located closest to the residence of their children.  A small step in the right direction.