People directly impacted by incarceration are best situated to identify the shortcomings in Arkansas' criminal justice policy and administration, but are the least likely to be heard.

Over the next several months Seeds will be releasing videos of people directly impacted by incarceration discussing how their personal experiences have given them an appreciation for the areas of Arkansas' criminal justice policy and administration that are in the most need for improvement.  Please take a moment to get a glimpse of the wealth of knowledge that has too often been relegated to the shadows.

Charles

Charles is an entrepreneur, motivational speaker and Seeds of Liberation Fellow. Here, Charles discusses changes he would like to see in Arkansas criminal justice policy and administration as well as his work with Seeds and Team of Neighbors that Love. Here are some of the conclusions we drew from our conversation with Charles:

1.  Police have to be held more accountable for police misconduct (e.g. police brutality) and municipalities and/or the state have to be more diligent in investigating allegations of police misconduct;

2.  The State and/or courts have to prohibit excessive bail bonds that exceed the accused's ability to pay; and

3.  People with demonstrated leadership potential that live in areas that have high incarceration rates should be provided resources to develop and implement independent community improvement programs and initiatives.

As of 2014, 49% of the Little Rock Police Department’s (LRPD) officers had not been trained or certified to use a Taser device including the LRPD training supervisor Cpt. Ken Temple.  The LRPD often uses this lack of training to justify uses of force.  For example, after Lt. David Hudson was captured severely beating a citizen at a bar, Hudson’s former academy-mate testified that Hudson shouldn’t be held liable because of his lack of training---no disciplinary action was taken.  Between 2001 and 2014, 107 LRPD officers participated in police-involved shootings, which resulted in 80 police shootings/in-custody deaths.  Several community leaders have asked the United States Dept. of Justice (DOJ) to open an investigation into the LRPD.  For more see Atty. Mike Laux’s appeal to the DOJ.

The use of secured monetary bail has been declared unlawful and unconstitutional by several municipalities as scores of people are jailed based on their inability to pay alone.  In 2015, the DOJ issued a statement that explained, “Bail practices that create a two-tiered system of justice by treating the indigent and the wealthy differently undermine the fundamental fairness in our nation’s criminal justice system.

In "The Social and Moral Cost of Mass Incarceration in African American Communities," Dorothy Roberts employs “social disorganization theory” to highlight how incarceration disrupts the social order of communities.  Every community develops a set of norms and relations that largely depend upon community members.  High rates of incarceration threaten public safety by removing critical members of beneficial community-based social networks that serve to keep violence in check.  Instead of disrupting the social fabric of impoverished communities, resources should be invested in the leadership within those communities in an effort to aid the community in realizing its full potential.

 

Kenny

Kenny is a budding entrepreneur determined to build a democratic economy.  Here are a few takeaways from our conversation:

1.  The State has to take affirmative steps to empower children who, like Kenny in his youth, have an incarcerated parent;

2.  Many, if not most, of the collateral consequences of criminal convictions (e.g. denial of student loans, suspension of drivers license and heavy fines) should be eliminated as they are nonsensical and only serve to further marginalize impoverished people; and

3.  Poor people have to have quality, fully-funded legal representation instead of the understaffed, overworked, largely absent public defenders available to them.

With a record number of people incarcerated, Arkansas most certainly has a record number of families paying the costs for the poor policy decisions that caused the Arkansas Incarceration Crisis.  It is not uncommon for family members of the incarcerated to suffer from depression, anxiety, shame and isolation.  In Consequences of Family Member Incarceration, Lee Hedwig, Lauren Porter and Megan Comfort examine how a family member’s incarceration can contribute to a sense of political isolation and cynicism.

The poor have borne the brunt of Arkansas’ Incarceration Crisis. While about 20% of all Arkansans are living below the poverty level, an estimated 90 to 95% of all criminal defendants are indigent.  People are being thrown in prison for receiving stolen goods, writing hot checks and not paying child support.  Arkansas is the only state in America in which a person may be criminally prosecuted and incarcerated for nonpayment of rent.  The incarceration crisis has served to further marginalize and impoverish scores of poor people.

The State of Arkansas has a woefully underfunded Public Defender Commission.  As a result, the average public defender represented 537 clients in 2013, more than 350% higher than the American Bar Associations recommendation of no more than 150 felonies per year.  Robert Jeffery, managing public Defender in Arkansas' 13th Judicial District, has noted that sometimes he has to represent as many as 80 client in a single court session.  For more see David Koon's Arkansas Times article profiling the Public Defender Commission.

Jean

Jean, the leader of the Arkansas Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), is a pillar in the fight against Arkansas’ overly punitive, ineffective and disempowering criminal justice system. Watch as Jean discusses her experience in Arkansas’ criminal justice system. Here are some of the most poignant points from our conversation:

1. The poor should be afforded the same quality of legal representation as the well-to-do, whose privately funded attorneys are granted special privileges not afforded to public defenders;

2. Municipal jails have to improve their treatment of the mentally ill as some people intentionally hide their infirmities so as to avoid the harsh treatment meted out to the mentally ill in jail; and

3. The State has to remove the obstacles that make it burdensome for Arkansans to support their incarcerated loved ones.

Jean’s story stands in stark contrast to Kenny’s story. Where Kenny was too poor to afford an attorney and to pay his fine, Jean was able to pay an attorney and her fine. Where Kenny’s public defender had to represent multiple clients in one court session and didn’t provide adequate counsel, Jean’s attorney took priority in the courtroom and was afforded the time to explain her relatively lite plea deal to Jean. Where Kenny is still labeled a “convicted felon,” Jean’s charges are expunged. Both had never been convicted a felony before, both were accused of nonviolent crimes, one had resources, the other didn’t.

Still, Jean had to spend a brief stint in jail before she could bond out. Once she was jailed, Jean noticed the women in jail had a perverse incentive to hide their mental illnesses. There are several negative mental health outcomes amongst the incarcerated population. Prison has become the “institution of last resort...for the confinement of the mentally ill.” There are three times as many seriously mentally ill people in correctional institutions than there are in inpatient mental institutions. Many, if not most, of these mentally ill incarcerated people are given inadequate mental health treatment as they are overmedicated, under-medicated or not medicated at all. However, the non-mentally ill incarcerated population does not fare much better. Prisons are characterized by extreme social isolation due to strict limits on visitation and communication with family and friends at home.

Jean’s husband is currently incarcerated in an Arkansas state prison. The families of people incarcerated during the Arkansas Incarceration Crisis suffer mentally, financially and socially during their loved one’s incarceration. In addition to losing a loved one, families of the incarcerated also lose significant income when their loved one is incarcerated. In fact, expenses increase when a family member is incarcerated. Families have to pay exorbitant phone fees, court fees, restitution fees, outstanding legal fees, money for commissary, costs of travel to secluded correctional facilities, etc. Children often try to earn money to pick up the slack. The lost income combined with the increased expenses places the families at an increased risk of homelessness.

Private corporations see prisons as markets where they can establish a monopoly and engage in price gouging for profit. For example, Securus Technologies, which provides telephone services to people incarcerated in Arkansas prisons, made a $114.6 million in profit in 2014, which is up from their $87 million in profits in 2013. Similar price-gauging behavior can be seen in the price of items in the prison stores known as commissaries. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz describes rent seeking behavior, such as this, as actions taken by corporations in search of private rewards that “do not align with social returns.” Such is the behavior incentivized by the Arkansas Incarceration Crisis.

Ruby

Ruby is a first-rate beautician with a smile and spirit that would light up any room.  Here are just a few of the topics she explored during our conversation:

1.  The need to amend probation and parole laws that eliminate obstacles for people impacted by incarceration to form support groups;

2.  The need for administrative safeguards to protect incarcerated women from corruption amongst correctional staff and medical neglect; and

3.  The need for formerly incarcerated people to have more say in the way the public addresses reentry.

Arkansas' Incarceration Crisis has hit women especially hard.  Women on parole, like Ruby, have seen a 260.9% increase in parole violator admissions to prison  compared to a 133% increase in for men during Arkansas' Incarceration Crisis.  There was also a 73.2% increase in total prison admissions for women in 2014 compared to a 47% increase in total admissions for men.  Like Ruby, many of the women are exposed to sexual harassment or, even worse, abuse.  The U.S. Dept. of Justice has opened an investigation into allegations of rampant sexual abuse in an Arkansas women's prisons in which Ruby was housed.

In From Private Violence to Mass Incarceration, Kimberle Crenshaw notes how criminal justice policies also allow women to continue to be used as objects of social control.  Crenshaw explores the effect incarceration has on women by highlighting the “intersectional vulnerability” of women who face various forms of structural oppression due to a combination of factors such as that race, gender and poverty.

Marginalized communities and people directly impacted by incarceration need to have more of a say in Arkansas’ criminal justice policy and administration in order to realize and sustain a durable decrease of incarceration in Arkansas.  In The Criminal Republic:  Democratic Breakdown as a Cause of Mass Incarceration, Andrew Taslitz notes that most of the people that testify at hearings on criminal justice legislation are pro-incarceration (e.g. law enforcement and victim’s rights groups).  In fact, one study found that “comprehensive, rehabilitation-oriented criminal justice reform groups were woefully underrepresented, constituting...3% of the total number of state legislative witnesses.”

Zack

Zack is a skilled electrician with an unmatched sense of humility and genuineness.  Topics discussed in this excerpt include:

1.  The need for parole policies that are more accommodating to people that have to leave the county periodically for work;

2.  The need for parole policies that encourage, rather than discourage, healthy social settings; and

3.  The need to expand the use of work release in a way that would allow incarcerated people to financially support their loved ones while incarcerated.

The 2013 Arkansas Board of Corrections policy reforms make Zack especially vulnerable to being sent back to prison for a technical violation of parole (e.g. something as little as breaking curfew [10:00p] or leaving the county for his job without permission).   There was an average of 8 revocations to prison for technical violations per month in FY 2012; in the first quarter of 2013 there were an average of 96 revocations to prison for technical violations per month.  In 2012, 1,726 parolees were sent back to prison for violating the terms of their parole, in 2014 this number climbed up to 4,490.

Keyon

Keyon is a man on a mission to ensure that Little Rock's marginalized youth aren't "thrown away" like he was when an Arkansas court sentenced him to adult prison when he was just 15 years old.  Topics discussed in this excerpt include:

1.  The need to take proactive measures to prevent abusive police misconduct;

2.  The need to ban the incarceration of teenagers in adult prison and to divert all children away from incarceration and towards empowering services; and

3.  The need for more educational programs in prison.

Arkansas currently has more children under 18 years old in adult prison than it's had in the last 10 years (the earliest date Seeds has records for).  86% of the children housed in adult prison are Black.  The children that are "fortunate" enough to avoid incarceration don't fare much better.  Despite a growing international consensus that solitary confinement is a form of torture that has potentially psychotic effects on fully grown adults, Arkansas persists in placing children in solitary confinement.  According to the Late European Commission of Human Rights, "Complete sensory isolation coupled with complete social isolation can no doubt ultimately destroy the personality; thus it constitutes a form of inhuman treatment which cannot be justified by the requirements of security, the prohibition on torture and inhuman treatment."  91% of the children placed in solitary confinement since 2005 are Black.

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