Latino Communidad, February 1st, 2002
The following five-part series published in Latino Comunidad Newspaper over the course of the 2002-2003 academic year. Download the PDF here.
Criminal Justice Series Part 1 Weakened communities, outdated judicial guidelines and the war on drugs do more to fill prisons than to protect the public, according to university researchers and professors in the field of criminal justice and racial discrimination. Resources put into small crimes and swollen prison populations would be better spent on remedial programs and community building, they say.
Perhaps the most corrupting factor in the current legal system is discrimination against minorities and the poor. Specifically, Hispanics and Blacks suffer through racial biases inherent to today’s legal ethics code, while their families experience the downward spiral of a degraded community.
Hispanics are the fastest growing group imprisoned, with numbers increasing from 10.9 percent of all state and federal inmates in 1985, to 15.6 percent in 2001, according to a report in the “Bureau of Justice Statistics.” Just over 15 percent of the total inmate population, about 283,000 people, is identified Hispanic.
In Wisconsin, Hispanic statistics vary, according to Pamela Oliver, a UW professor who specializes in statistical research of racial disparities in criminal justice. “This [variance] is usually a sign of a measurement error.”
A person may be labeled as Hispanic at the time of arrest based on an officer’s judgment of the person’s appearance or accent, Oliver said. However, this is not a uniform part of the Madison Police Department crime report, and many Hispanics may be on record as Caucasian. Oliver’s research suggests that most racial discrimination occurs during the interaction between the officer and the accused. Bias can then accumulate at every stage in the legal process, depending on the district.
“Madison police are culturally sensitive,” said Elizabeth Edwards, a local attorney who works closely with the Hispanic population. In contrast, Edwards said, Sauk County police circulated written instructions last summer on how to identify Mexicans. Edwards obtained a copy of this document, which would not be a part of national data.
Since national statistics are only recorded for imprisonment, researchers tabulate proceedings that occur before sentencing in isolated studies across the country. Therefore, although statistics are available across the nation, they are inconsistent. And for this reason, researchers have trouble tracking discrimination, a problem that is now best illustrated by the legal system itself.
“The justice system is like a big funnel,” said Meredith Ross, a clinical professor at the UW Madison Law School. “At the top, you have all of these people who may or may not get caught. And at every point in the funnel, seemingly objective decisions may have racially disproportionate effects.”
The most common crime among the Hispanic population is drug offense, according to Oliver’s statistics. Drug offenders, who work in groups in openly poor neighborhoods, tend to enter the system in greater numbers. If a person is caught, he or she may be freed on bail and exit the system almost immediately. According to numerous studies, however, Caucasians have a better chance for freedom at this stage. The prosecutor may decide to pursue a prison sentence if the offender lacks resources for drug treatment outside of the system.
In 1983, Ted Kennedy and Strom Thurman – in response to right wing and left wing complaints that judges were extremely lenient or strict – revised the federal sentencing law. They decided sentencing should depend on the crime and the past record of the accused and modeled the law after what were deemed successful past actions by judges. This revision, Ross believes, locked regulations in the past, keeping lawmakers from progressive action.
In Wisconsin, the mandatory minimum sentence for possessing drugs – with the intent to deliver – within a 1000-foot range of a school, park or any other designated area, is a three-year sentence. If the accused is unable to bargain with the prosecuting attorney, the mandatory minimum rule applies. For other federal drug charges, judges base their decision on a grid system resembling a spreadsheet with columns and rows of crime and past-record values.
“They basically find the charge on a chart, figure out a score for a persons [criminal] record and offense and calculate a sentence. In this case, there is almost no discretion,” Edwards said. She pulled a chart from her desk and pointed to the numbers a judge would match to determine a sentence.
Interestingly, over the last two decades, prosecutors have gained the power to rival judges. In fact, prosecuting attorneys may have more say in a sentence than a judge due to mandatory minimum sentencing. With the exception of a minimum one-year prison term for first-degree murder, mandatory minimum sentencing applies only to federal drug charges.
Wisconsin judges may decide not to apply the mandatory minimum. Yet as an elected official, they risk being labeled “soft on drugs” by the voter.
Because drug sentences are generally longer than those for violent crimes, Ross said, drug offenders tend to pool in the prisons and, when released, find themselves back in the same environment with less social support than before.
Nearly one in three, 31.7 percent, persons held in federal prison is Hispanic, according to The Sentencing Project’s Web site. And “Hispanics are disproportionately locked up for drug offenses,” according to Marc Mauer, the assistant director of the Sentencing Project based in Washington D.C.
In many cases, prison time extends beyond the individual to damage the family network – the prominent thread of Latino culture. Overall, 98 percent of prison inmates are male. And fatherless children and broken families, no matter what race, are predisposed to crime. “The lack of male family role models has a dysfunctional effect on kids,” Ross said.
Nearly 4 out of every 10 children are raised without fathers, according to a study posted on the National Center for Policy Analysis’ Web site. And among long-term prison inmates, 70 percent grew up without fathers, as did 60 percent of rapists and 75 percent of adolescents charged with murder, the site stated.
After the age of 29, the crime rate in men drops, Ross said. So if a male in his early 20s serves a prison sentence of more than 10 years, he may be past the point of committing crime but rendered unable to cope in society without a social network.
"It’s that growing-through-phases process that everyone faces — it just appears different in the disadvantaged,” she said.
Although officers make the initial decision to address crime, change at this level of the system does little to address the real problems faced by crime-ridden communities.
Increased patrolling may result in a residents feeling that they are facing continuous raids on their community, Ross said, while lack of enforcement may leave a community in chaos. “It’s not so much the drug problem that disproportionately affects the poor, but the criminal justice response to the drug problem,” she said. “ Poor people live in neighborhoods with a larger police presence, and they are more involved in open-air drug dealing.”
And then there’s an issue of trust. Minorities, in general, are less likely than whites to trust and confide in our justice system. Yet when asked if Hispanics resent the legal system, Edwards said it was not a matter of mistrust so much as a misunderstanding of how the system works.
Defendants and the public may restore a more human element to the system if empowered by education. When a single mom with one offense on her record sells drugs and gets the same sentence as another drug dealer with a long hidden record, one must ask if a chart is enough to decide a sentence.
Drugs are a health problem to be handled through individual rehabilitation and social reintegration programs, Ross said. “I don’t think an exclusively criminal-justice approach to this has been a success.”
Justice Series Part 2 As he stands in a courtroom run mostly by the descendants of European settlers, attorney Frank Medina will sometimes ask, “is anyone here prejudice against the Irish?” Through the laughter, the judge may ask him to cut out the jokes. But Medina, who is of Irish and Puerto Rican descent, says his words are not a one-liner so much as his own private experiment in ethics.
“I can’t wait until the day I can say ‘is anyone prejudice against Latinos?’ and everyone will laugh,” he said. Medina realizes that while a lot of people in the system are now of Irish descent, that wasn’t always the case. “I want to wake up that part of their minds,” he said.
Since he served as the Madison’s first bilingual probations officer more than 20 years ago, Medina says things have improved, but he believes the system is “still limited by policy and procedure.” Indeed, many experts in the field of criminal justice agree that Latinos are underrepresented in the court system.
Improvements in the level of cultural sensitivity and the translation of documents are among the changes Medina pushes for. “The system wants sameness; it’s like a bureaucracy – no room for individual casework. What’s the difference between John and Jose? There’s an ocean of difference between John and Jose.”
Since becoming a lawyer in 95, Medina has worked in many areas of criminal justice including inmate classification. He also served as jail liason and as an instructor the Wisconsin corrections academy teaching classes to officers. And while he believes interpretation starts on the street, he sees the courts deal with perhaps the most evasive cultural difference, the Latino language barrier.
“The courts are wrestling with an octopus – so many Latino languages and so many dialects,” he said.
To address the technical side of the language difference, Wisconsin joined 24 other states last year in a consortium of court interpreters, which shares training and certification materials.
During Wisconsin’s first year in the program, state interpreters attended six training sessions and took a standard exam. “We hope this gives judges the confidence that interpreters are knowledgeable of the words and concepts they convey so people have a fair trial, said Gail Richardson, District Five’s court administrator. “We want the defendants to have the confidence that what they say is correctly interpreted to lawyer. That’s important.”
The training is an obvious improvement on the past since Richardson said court used to take volunteers who varied in skill level. “We get a whole gamut of experience,” she said referring to the applicants she still sees.
Beginning in August, Madison interpreters will attend four more trainings. In addition, materials help them to improve their skills on their own. “We give them a big fat binder with glossaries, proceedings and a bibliography of other books for reference,” Richardson said.
However, Madison interpreters need experience as well as training for the level of diversity this community promotes. Right now, according to various sources, Mexico is the most heavily represented Spanish-speaking country in Madison. It’s followed closely by Puerto Rico and Cuba. And all South American countries are represented in Madison as well, said to Fred Svensson, a Madison interpreter who grew up in Venezuela, Columbia and Mexico and spent time after college in Guatemala.
Many Madison interpreters have good backgrounds, Svensson said. They’ve interpreted for a long time, and since they’ve been involved in the Latino community for a long time as well, they’ve grown to learn the differences in language.
However, Svensson said more funding is needed for the Latino community for good Spanish-speaking public defenders – lawyers who are not out for money or to take advantage. A Spanish-speaking attorney with a good reputation may demand a lot of money up front, he said. And the lack of competition from other reputable Spanish-speaking lawyers may allow them to charge more money than many Latinos can afford.
The challenges of a language barrier are compounded by the fact that many Latinos may not yet know basic rules and rights of the U.S. legal system. For instance, Medina said in Mexico, corrupt law enforcement leaves citizens in fear and under the absolute control of police officers. And court proceedings, which many citizens learn through school and popular-media courtroom dramas, may be confusing to Latinos.
“We are a legal culture,” Medina said.
And, many court officials who watch Latinos enter the courtrooms each day witness a dangerous truth: many Latinos don’t realize the importance or availability of an attorney.
“A lot of Latinos try to do it on their own because it would be too much money or too much work [to hire a lawyer]. They don’t always realize what their options are or how difficult it is to face the system without the help of an attorney,” said Victor Delgado, a Madison court interpreter. “Get legal advice if you don’t know what to do,” Delgado said referring to services that can range in price from $20 to $50. “It’s worth it for the advice,” he said.
Delgado then repeated what he most likely says many times each day. “As translators, it’s not our job to give advice. Attorneys, that is their job … our job is to translate,” he said emphatically with his palms forward, raised at head level.
Unfortunately, many Latinos are not aware of their right to free or low-cost representation through the State Public Defender’s Office.
“They should be aware that it’s a constitutional right,” said Jose Perez, chief information officer and acting deputy for the office. “We have a lot of Latinos across the country, who are not aware of what the constitution provides, who are not here legally and who do not speak the language. They may be arrested and may not know of their rights…it’s hard to get the word out.”
Sergio Gonzalez Martinez learned the value of an attorney when he tried to represent himself in court and was sentenced to a rehabilitation program. While he was completing the program, he went to court a second time. He was then removed from the rehabilitation program until Elizabeth Edwards, a local Spanish-speaking attorney, defended him and proved that he was not involved. He is now finishing his rehabilitation program.
While Martinez believes his first court experience was free from discrimination, he thinks he would have had an easier time with a lawyer.
“[During] the second case, I felt more comfortable with the interpreter and the help of Elizabeth. I felt better, of course,” Martinez said.*
He added he was not aware that he could receive free legal representation until he saw the Spanish information leaflets in the courtroom during his first case. He used the information to contact the Public Defender’s Office and locate Edwards for his second case.
To those who doubt the need for additional legal resources in the Latino Community, Medina explains that it’s more about a way of treating people. It’s not about special treatment so much as equal treatment and sensitivity to cultural background, he said.
“When you get stopped by a police officer in Mexico, you don’t know what is going to happen.” Medina tells his clients that they have a right to say nothing at all. And while he said he empathizes with the hardships of the police officers, he insists that his clients carry two copies of his business card and he tells them to hand the officer the card if they are threatened or questioned.
Once in the system, Latinos may watch their small cases mount to arrest warrants because of simple misunderstandings. A missed court date can mean disaster. Medina requests pardons for many court dates and, although he says other counties are not always as forgiving, he receives them from Dane county judges.
Since entire villages may immigrate together, some Latinos may still be on a kind of village time, Medina said. “They don’t carry calendars. They don’t have palm pilots,” Medina said. Imagine yourself in another country like Russia where you don’t know how to read a ticket, he suggested.
More common is the cultural difference in driver’s license etiquette. In Mexico, a person can easily improve their driving skills without a license and wait to get one when it is convenient. This shows in the high number of Latinos involved in traffic ticket and driver’s license cases.
“The whole legal process … they don’t understand things are different in Mexico,” Delgado said.
Amidst this tangled web of differences, records are scarred. Even in a case where a Latino accepts responsibility and completes a rehabilitation program, the offense stays on the record. This, Medina says, is an “effected double penalty” that creates difficulties down the road when “immigration radar picks up on it.”
“What affects does this have on the community?” Medina asked. “If a woman wants to report domestic abuse, she won’t because she doesn’t want him to get deported.”
“It’s very important to us to have fairness in the justice system – it’s been a long slow process but we want to do it right,” Richardson said. “Sometimes you wish you could just snap your fingers and make it all right, but you can’t, and we’re working on that.”
So how did the Irish handle all of this, and what have we learned?
“We look at Mexico like it’s something new,” Medina said. “It’s not something new…every ethnicity has faced this. Yet, while it’s not new, it’s no excuse for indifference in this situation. Let’s at least open our minds that our ancestors went through the same thing. And if you are judging someone by race, you’re missing a lot.”
- This interview was a three-way conversation translated by Yaelys Tejeda.
Criminal Justice Series Part 3 More than any other race, the Hispanic* juvenile population will increase 59 percent between 1995 and 2015,” according to a U.S. Department of Justice Report on juvenile defenders and victims. Poverty rates for Hispanic and black juveniles were far greater than the rates for white and Asian juveniles, the study also reported.
“Many minorities don’t have money for counseling, insurance or drug rehab,” according to Stephanie Bush-Baskette, Director of Government Relations and Senior Researcher at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
Without these resources a disproportionate number of minority juveniles lack support during their development, especially if they are treated as adults in the justice system.
Adolescence is a transitional developmental period between childhood and adulthood that is characterized by more biological, psychological, and social role changes than any other stage of life except infancy, according to Dr. Grayson Holmbeck, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Loyola University in Chicago.
In a recent publication, Working with Adolescents: Guides from Developmental Psychology, Grayson and his colleagues write that adolescence is a critical period when a child's growth can be dramatically altered in positive or negative directions.**
For this reason, juvenile corrections officials may speak about support more than punishment when discussing delinquent teens.
“The number one factor to prevent delinquency or promote healthy children is having one positive adult role model that will guide that child to adulthood,” according to Silvia Jackson, Assistant Administrator for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Division of Juvenile Corrections. “A consistent reliable and positive adult who will guide that child to adulthood; it can be a parent, a friend, a mentor or a minister.”
Without that role model, children face a future of delinquent – the term “delinquent” is used in place of the term “criminal,” to describe anyone under the age of 18 – and possibly criminal behavior.
“A number of factors correlate to delinquency: school failure, poverty, negative peers, substance abuse, history of violence or aggression in the family, and child abuse and neglect,” Jackson said.
As these factors come together, she said, juveniles have a greater likelihood of moving into the justice system.
“If I just have one factor, that doesn’t mean I will become a delinquent but if I am poor and have negative peers, the probability is much higher,” Jackson said. Once a juvenile enters the system, their path may wind in two drastically different directions – depending on their legal standing as an adult or a juvenile. When juveniles are displaying adult-like behavior and their acts are premeditated, they should face adult consequences, Jackson said. Yet, some juveniles are less mature and juveniles are impulsive and sometimes kids make mistakes, she added.
A report issued by Amnesty International in 1998, based on data from the Department of Justice and from individual states, estimates that, annually, as many as 200,000 youth under the age of eighteen are prosecuted as adults in the United States.***
In Wisconsin at the age of 17, if you commit a crime you are automatically put in adult court, however you may be entered in at 14. Wisconsin lowered the automatic adult-sentencing age from 18 to 17 to move with a national trend, Jackson said admitting some disagreement with this policy.
“I personally would rather see juveniles stay in the delinquency system until age 18. You have much more resources in juvenile system.”
As a parent, Jackson sees a greater likelihood of saving a juvenile, and while she implements the state statute, she thinks the policy is worth looking at again.
“There is a greater likelihood that we could make a difference in the lives of these 17 year-olds,” she said.
Indeed, juvenile corrections facilities incorporate programs like cognitive therapy, a service that encourages the adolescent to analyze their thought patterns and learn how their thoughts and attitudes impact their behavior. In addition, Jackson says all youths are full time in school and are tested in reading and math.
“Typically a juveniles will move a grade level every semester,” she said. “They can make major academic strides. Every juvenile goes to school every day and they have no distractions like clothes because we provide uniforms. We control their environment and peer group.”
Juveniles in adult facilities, by contrast, miss opportunities to mature and, in many cases, they regress. Children in adult correctional facilities suffer higher rates of physical and sexual abuse and suicide, according to the January 2000 Sentencing Project Study. And compared to those held in juvenile detention centers, youth held in adult jails are: 7.7 times more likely to commit suicide, 5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted, twice as likely to be beaten by staff and 50 percent more likely to be attacked with a weapon, the study stated.
The study also showed that 77 percent of juveniles sent to adult prison are minorities (60% black, 15% Hispanic, 1% American Indian, 1% Asian) leaving the disadvantaged at a continuous loss.
- According to the study, “Hispanic” can represent any race but are primarily classified racially as white.
** Working with Adolescents: Guides from Developmental Psychology, Dr. Grayson Holmbeck et.al.
*** From January 2002 Sentencing Project Study
Criminal Justice Series Part 4 The average price of keeping one prisoner in a Wisconsin correctional facility is just over $27,000 per year, according to The January 2003 Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau Report. Yet in the latest census, 15 percent of Wisconsin families claimed less than this amount as their total household income.
Advocacy groups, state corrections employees and lobbyists focus on Wisconsin’s prison system for different reasons. Yet the hard-line cost of harboring criminals is forcing government officials to invest in prevention.
Numerous statistics show that since 1980, the number of inmates in Wisconsin prisons skyrocketed from 4,500 to just over 20,000. Wisconsin’s prisoner population rose in the late 90s, toward the end of a nationwide wave of crime, which some relate to drug and drug-related offenses, said Bill Clausius, public information director at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
“Until the last few years, there was a national trend of increased incarceration,” he said.
This explosion not only spurred a series of prison buildings but also a formation of various interest groups – organizations ranging from communities and lobbyists interested in the profitability of prison development to social justice advocates who saw the ensuing system as a monster with strong jaws and a taste for members of impoverished and minority groups.
As Wisconsin prisons reached their capacities in the 90s, prison building became a lucrative enterprise. New facilities were necessary, Clausius said.
“You can’t keep packing them in – that would be inhumane,” he said.
But advocacy groups contend that this reaction to lead to a vicious cycle.
According to a 1998 campaign finance profile, former governor Tommy Thompson received nearly $700,000 in special interest contributions from private and group construction agencies. This contrasts greatly with the $70,000 in financing Doyle received in 2001 from construction.
“There’s no question about it … the prison industry has supported the individual candidate who supports prison proliferation,” said Robert Miranda, a member of the Milwaukee County Social Development Commission.
And because of an increase in public awareness regarding the rising crime rate, community members around the state viewed prison building as a boost to their local economies and job markets and a safety valve for their neighborhoods.
Wisconsin, according to a recent U.S. Department of Justice System classification study, has a “unique” eight-point prisoner rating process “that allows for broad discretion by the raters.” Raters assess the inmate as low, medium or high risk using eight scoring categories. And if the prisoner scores a medium or high risk in any one area, they are excluded from the low risk category.
Thompson’s call for a facility to hold “high-risk” criminals was the climax of Wisconsin’s crackdown on crime. In 1999, Grant County celebrated the opening of the Supermax Correctional Facility in Boscobel.
“Children came in school busses. Ten thousand people came and they were selling hot dogs and t-shirts under tents to celebrate,” said Ed Steichen, treasurer of Money, Education and Prisons, a non-profit organization for the public awareness of the criminal justice and prison systems in Wisconsin.
Supermax was recently renamed Wisconsin Secure Program Facility after pressure from Amnesty International, numerous activists and the press forced a change in several of its policies.
“Issues of temperature in the summer and maybe some outstanding issues in terms of how to handle that … all of these issues have been addressed including an increase in out of cell time and changes in face-to-face time with visitors,” Clausius said, noting also the increase in public communication with the facility’s inmates.
Overall, the Department of Corrections remains as just one component in the prison system. Clausius said the department exists to help change criminal behavior and try to resolve personal issues through treatment programs. In some cases, he said, prisoners see a dentist for the first time or learn how to read under the department’s guidance.
“The department’s mission is not to penalize offenders,” he said. “We see ourselves as result of a decision made in the criminal justice system – police who arrest, prosecutors who charge and judges who convict.”
During the 2000-01 fiscal year, the Department of Corrections was responsible for 21,025 adults. In light of the overwhelming number of prisoners, advocates see the justice system as more of a holding tank for lost souls.
“The reform model that Thompson put out was not a model of reform, it was a deform model to meet the economic needs around the state. It shifted public dollars away from creative and innovative ways of reeducating Wisconsin criminals and fed the economy all of these public dollars,” said Miranda.
Miranda, who is also the editor-in-chief of “The Spanish Journal” in Milwaukee, joins a chorus of advocates who herald the lack of resources available to communities as a precursor for crime. The fact is, these deprived communities generally support more minority individuals.
According to the latest census, 3.6 percent of Wisconsinites are Hispanic or Latino (any race), and 5.7 percent are Black. However, Hispanic males make up 7.6 percent of the male prison population while Hispanic females make up 5 percent of the female population, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau Report. Black men make up 41.6 percent of the male prison population, while Black women make up 45.6 percent of the female population, the report states.
“I don’t see any hope for big change in the prison system because, to me, it’s so racist and people don’t admit it,” Steichen said.
Yet under the strapped budget and fresh government, some changes will likely occur. In the context of a $3.2 billion budget deficit, the governor has already taken steps toward rehabilitation, said Dan Leistikow, Governor Doyle’s press secretary.
“It’s been Gov. Doyle’s focus to prevent crime and not just punishing it.”
Overall, Doyle knows that the budget is not going to handle the Thompsonlike management, Miranda said.
Criminal Justice Series Part 5 As the United States fights for freedom abroad, national prison numbers soar. According to an April 7, 2003, release on the CBS news website, prison populations have topped 2 million for the first time. The release, based on the latest Federal Justice Department Report, also stated that the total inmate population on June 30, 2002, was 2.1 million, an increase of 2.8 percent from the year before. Two-thirds were in federal or state prisons, with the other third held in jails, the report said.
Report numbers based on race showed about 4 percent of Hispanic men, 12 percent of black men and 1.6 percent of white men between the ages of 20 and 39 were incarcerated. This consistent rise in prison populations results from a get-tough policy that pushes long sentences for drug offenders and other criminals, according to many experts. In theory, this approach forces individuals to face the consequences of their actions.
As these incarceration numbers climb, however, leaders in the justice system also face consequences – the real costs of a stringent policy. And because of the cost of criminal rehabilitation care, professionals like Frank Medina, a Madison bilingual and bicultural attorney, are wondering why effective prison programs are not available to those outside of the prison system.
Probation, specifically, is a strategy that local attorney Frank Medina calls “social work with teeth.”
“There’s a certain point that a person who gets in trouble reaches when they find out this is the way it is,” he said.
However, before facing the strong bite of an actual sentence like those on probation, the accused may qualify for the Deferred Prosecution Program, sometimes called First Offenders Program or FOP. Under state statutes, the district attorney in Dane County may enter the accused into the program with the consent of the court.
“[It’s] an opportunity for many persons who may have committed a crime and who are willing to declare themselves guilty,” said Fred Svensson, a professional court interpreter in Madison who has seen many people complete the program.
The participants take part in a range of programs from anger management to community service and they also have time to reflect on their actions, Svensson said. “Many times the services are very much needed and welcome in their lives,” he said, reflecting on his experience with the Latino community. “Sometimes, they are not, and participants complain that they have to talk to ‘gringos’ who may not have the cultural sensitivity to work with them in the best capacity.”
Throughout the Deferred Prosecution Program, participants work with staff members who guide them as they complete a contract designed to redirect their behavior.
“I supervise a group of social workers who monitor defendants,” said Nancy Gustaf, director of Dane County’s Deferred Prosecution Program. “I believe we are mentors and we plant seeds. If the person wants to water their seeds, they’ll grow.”
In the Madison office, four mentors handle all cases, about 600 at a given time, Gustaf said. The casework is largely an exchange between those who monitor the offenders and a range of connections at certified abuse or alcohol treatment programs. The fee is $15 per month, which goes into a county fund.
“We collect about $100,000 per year. It doesn’t really fund us, but it goes to the county,” Gustaf said.
While money is undoubtedly tight for this program and other state and county-funded rehabilitation programs, Medina points to the prioritization of fiscal resources as a cause for some of the inflated prison numbers. In particular, he sites a clustering of resources around the most severe crimes.
The Department of Corrections only funds rehabilitation for felonies – cases usually involving more than one year in prison – while those charged with a misdemeanor, a case involving less than a year in jail, are required to pay for their own treatment. “I wonder how many people would be in jail if we had more [rehabilitation] programs for misdemeanors,” Medina said.
In addition, the same crime can translate into a range of situations for the accused. If a shoplifter receives a felony charge, they are eligible for free treatment, Medina said. Yet, if a shoplifter receives a misdemeanor charge and they lack funds for treatment, the prosecution may decide to send them to jail.
“Felons check into a program, while we pay $60 or $70 a day to keep the misdemeanor in jail,” Medina said.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has pushed for tougher prison sentences, including a recent order barring many white-collar and nonviolent criminals from doing time in halfway houses, the Justice Department report stated. As more people enter the prisons, Medina asks how they will improve their behavior without treatment.
Indeed, the goal of psychotherapy in prison is to change inmates' attitudes and behaviors "so that their internal and external conflicts are resolved in constructive rather than antisocial ways," according to a study done at Oklahoma State University.* This sentiment echoes through those working in rehabilitation.
“I want to open doors for people; it’s really important to breakdown the isolation, which may contribute to criminal behavior,” Gustaf said. “Sometimes people have had problems for a while and we try to work with them to address their issues so they can move on.”
*This study was published in the December 1999 edition of The Journal of Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 30 (6).