Sunday, January 24, 2010

Incarceration of the Mentally Ill.

In 1837, social reformer Dorothea Dix recognized that mentally ill individuals should not be imprisoned but cared for in public institutions. During her lifetime, she led a campaign to remove mentally ill people from U.S. prisons and successfully helped to establish mental hospitals throughout the United States and Europe.

In the 1960s, there was a trend to move patients out of those mental hospitals and back into the community. But the vision of replacing mental hospitals with community-based treatment never happened.

A lack of funding along with poorly organized community health services makes it difficult for people with mental illness to get help. As a result, many are homeless, poor, and struggling with substance abuse or behavior problems. These difficulties often lead to criminal behaviors which result in incarceration.

Currently there are three times more mentally ill individuals in U.S. prisons and jails than in mental hospitals. These inmates suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and psychotic disorders and our justice system is ill-equipped to care for them.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

One in 100

One in 100. That's the number of Americans who were behind bars in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Statistics, a staggering 2.3 million. (This number does not include juvenile offenders).

That same year, the total number of people under the umbrella of the U.S. correctional system (locked up, on probation or on parole) was 7.3 million. That is one in every 31 adults.

According to the International Center for Prison Statistics, the U.S. leads the world in incarceration of its people:

U.S. 756 out of every 100,000
Russia 629 out of every 100,000
China 119 out of every 100,000

These are shameful statistics that unfairly target minorities and the mentally ill. According to research by The Sentencing Project, 1 out of 8 black males ages 25-29 is currently locked up in the United States. And, some figures estimate that 300,000 U.S. prisoners are mentally ill.

Our costly "Get Tough On Crime" policies have not reduced the rate of recidivism or made our cities safer. Americans need to look at alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders.

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Coming Soon. The Women Of Block 12: Voices From A Jail Ministry

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Proposition 36

In 2000, California voters passed Proposition 36 (The Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act), a law aimed at providing outpatient treatment to first and second time, non-violent drug offenders.

Since 2001, California reports a reduction in prison populations from 27 per cent to 21 percent. Money is now being diverted to outpatient treatment instead of prison at a savings to taxpayers.

Proposition 36 was designed to preserve jail and prison cells for violent and serious offenders, improve public safety by reducing drug related crime and to improve public health by reducing drug abuse through proven and effective methods.

The program is not without problems and criticism. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is critical of Proposition 36 because many in the program fail to complete treatment. He is attempting to initiate reforms in this area.

A UCLA study released in April 2006 showed Proposition 36 is saving taxpayers $2.50 for every $1 invested. For a complete report by UCLA see:

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I invite you to visit:

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Will You Pray For Me?

Sometimes I take a small spiral notebook to the jail and pass it around the table. I tell the women they can write down their prayer requests and I will pray for them during the coming week. Each woman uses a page for her desired prayers, then turns the page over and passes the book on. They are very respectful of each other's privacy and no one sneaks a peek at another person's page.

One by one the pages are filled with the most heart-breaking stories.
"Pray for my mom who is getting chemotherapy."
"Please take care of my children while I'm away."
"Pray that the judge will be fair when I go to trial."
"Let there be peace in Block 12."
"Pray that my boyfriend doesn't give away all my possessions."
"My teenage daughter ran away. Pray she will come home."
"My son is having trouble in school and I'm not there to help him."
"Pray that my children will not forget me."
"I'm 60 years old. I'm afraid I will die in prison."

Those of us in prison and jail ministry often feel powerless because we can't change the circumstances of the people we serve. Corrie ten Boom once said, "A man is powerful on his knees."

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More about the women of Block 12 at:

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