Justice Reform Must Include Mental Health Reforms

Recently there has been an increased awareness of Justice Reforms in America. According to the Brookings Institution, it reports that we are spending $80 billion a year on incarceration. However, according to the U.S. government, we spend on average $3.5 trillion on health care annually. I raise the two separate issues to pinpoint a severe flaw that both systems are broken and in disrepair.

To help find a solution, some lawmakers have introduced policy allowing the privatization of prisons systems suggesting a reduction burdening taxpayers. Yet, these private prisons profit $7.4 billion annually. Let that sink in for a minute. If a private prison can turn a profit, then why isn’t our national corrections system rolling in surplus? Trillions of dollars on health care spending or roughly $10K per person and we should be the most mentally and physically fit people in the world? But that is not even an actuality in comparison to other nations with free health care. But it’s more complicated than that – because we choose to make it complicated.

Some could argue that jails and prisons provide health care, mental health assessments, and medication to inmates. While true, it holds two temporary but critical flaws. First, the inmate must volunteer and often establish a co-pay payment while incarcerated leaving many in additional debt when released. Second, once an inmate has been set free, there is no continuation of health services of any kind. While there may be low-cost municipal services to the formerly incarcerated the stigma of finding a job, housing, transportation, food, and reassimilation into a skeptic and often hostile community serves no real purpose or plan for successful outcomes. A practical reason for high recidivism rates is that the mentally ill are the most likely to return to jail or prison because they will have housing, food, reassimilation of structure, and medicine. However, somewhat like the perception of registered sex offenders is viewed as all-encompassing violent criminals. The same could be said in how we label those in the mental health community as criminals when in the judicial system.

The reality is that for justice reforms to deliver a sustainable solution the legal system it must collaborate and establish a strategy. A part of that strategy is to include health care and free easy to access proven mental health programs. A reason our health care system is broken because of the lack of accessibility and wage to pay for preventative health services. That same argument extends towards mental health both post and preventative. When an individual pleads for help, but no resources are readily available then there begins the problem in how we should be addressing it. However, if that same individual commits a crime because the bureaucracy fails to establish relationships with health care providers, then it will always be a win-win for prisons and recidivism.

Nobody will claim that justice reform is an easy task. Ultimately, it will be an expensive endeavor both politically, financially, and with strong emotional discourse. But if we make an attempt to focus on a long term strategy regulated by nonpartisan individuals its success may be achievable and results driven. If American society can experience sizable shifts in capitalism where factories that once monopolized the world were replaced with higher skilled and improved conditions why can’t we create and collaborate a rational plan to reduce incarcerations and a clogged judicial system with health organizations that understand data proven methods that will deliver immediate results? If we can invest in soldiers to train them to be leaders on a battlefield, train college students to create inventions to change the world then we can certainly change the dynamic of our outdated judicial and prison systems by reinvesting in proven and life-saving methodologies with long-term cost savings visible in the horizon.

Advertisements

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service

Say goodbye to Land of the Free

Growing up I can recall moments where I would often see a sign posted on a business establishment window with the words, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service.” Those words set a standard of particular behaviors expected by society. Fast forward and those signs have been removed, bypassed with the introduction of flip-flops, or completely ignored. There appears to be a standard that implied rules or laws are meant to be broken or perhaps apply to individuals we selectively want to create constructive prejudisms.

Decades ago establishments and Jim Crow laws applied to where an African-American could legally use a restroom, water fountain, eat, shop, and perhaps live. Eventually, those ridiculous laws were overturned, but someone migrated under the table towards the homosexual community as a silent gesture. However, if people look closely, there are continual hints that such laws used in a discriminatory fashion that continually apply restrictions but in discrete methods. Such methods begin when areas wish to gentrify neighborhoods, business districts, or rezoning regulation. Grandfather clauses became a thing of the past to be replaced with loitering, eminent domain, low-cost housing initiatives, immigration reforms, and group home regulations. These issues present an odor of Jim Crow legislation but masked and prepackaged to tailor a politically correct argument with a single vision and directive to make it nearly impossible for people to have an actual say regarding their wishes or wants.

Society claims to be free embracing the rule of law only if it applies to their standard which varies from person to person. In fact, legislation and regulation have been either pedestaled as too extreme or either too weak. There is no middle ground or an act of understanding anymore – at least from my daily observations. Instead of “no shirt, no shoes, no service” we have constructed conditions where people are no longer free to choose where they live. Such choices could be if a person has deemed a registered sex offender or an individual ordered by the courts for domestic violence has restrictions placed upon them. Again, these are hidden versions of Jim Crow styled laws not allowing free people to move freely. But when registrants, parolees, or rehabilitated drug users attempt to find work, housing, and to integrate into society once again, the Bill of Rights, Constitution, the rule of law, human rights, societal behaviors of redemption have been somehow tossed out the window. My argument is that law has become a new form of selective prejudices to create and manufacture how we can hope to keep others to their standard rather than an equitable and equal standard.

A fact is that society continually seeks not justice but an issue it wants to either rid of or kept hidden, invisible, and unnoticed by others for the sake of properly value and supposed safety. Americans do like to pick on the underdog quite often. However, a free nation that enjoys and employs a vast sex registry among a large jail and prison network it won’t even with the best prison reforms be able to hide the fact that supporters of such methods are no different than Jim Crow supporters. In fact, they are enabling the visions of Jim Crow standards no differently by citing freedoms to live, shop, work anywhere as long as it’s not in my neighborhood or community. Say goodbye to Land of the Free based on that assessment.

We Are Pontius Pilate

Since the first of the year, I have been going to the gym 3 to 4 times a week to rediscover how to get my body back in shape and to fit in reasonably sized clothing choices once again. I attend a wellness center filled with many people, usually mature or older, seeking to either get in shape or highlight therapy towards injuries and such. After a vigorous swim, I decided to enter the hot tub. For some reason, the hot tub at this wellness center has jokingly become the informal roundtable pool

Todays topic began with the R.Kelly grand jury indictment. I carefully listed to all the various unscholarly noise and gut assumptions. After nearly five or so minutes of listening I felt as if the conversation had become judge, jury, and executioner well before evidence or trial can present its arugment. 

What ended the conversation quickly is when an older lady looked over and asked me directly, “do you think he is guilty?”  I replied with, “I have no formal opinion on the matter because I don’t know R. Kelly nor do I live in the Chicago metro area.”  The hot tub quickly became quiet. The facial expressions snapped over to glare at me to suggest I am the onion in the soup. She then said in a careful tone, “but there are perverts like him out there harming kids.”   I said, “yes, but R. Kelly’s issues don’t affect me directly. However, what I am most concerned about our citizens that may be called to be potential jurors claiming to not know anything about R. Kelly but do and want to spread bias while affirming an oath to a judge and God then they will be fair an impartial. Now, that does affect all of us.”  Quickly the hot tub emptied. I knew that I hit a raw nerve. But instead of listening there is cult or gang-like atmosphere that people insist that we agree with fears and affirm everyone is out to get us or do harm despite the fact that it is thousands of miles away or next door.

Rather than engaging in an argument I quickly became the advocate of reason. Did I obtain any winners or sway people? Perhaps not. But what I did convey is pushback towards normative behaviors that we must agree or nod to keep the peace when in fact we are just reinforcing a bad behavior. 

I managed to get out of the hot tub and go to the locker room to change ending a workout. In the locker room I saw a few men from the pool area. As I was changing, one leaned over and said, “you know that woman is a preachers wife?”  I looked back with a smile and said, “I could tell with all those virtuous Christian values pouring out.”  Everyone in the locker room laughed with agreement. The men began suggesting I was the only person that ever stood up to disagree with her. I tried to explain that as a Christian my beliefs are to seek justice, then mercy, and forgiveness. I said, “People have a choice to either be more like Jesus or become like Pontius Pilate.”  That alone cemented that we are often quick to adjudicate before weighing evidence.  It is not my intentions to sound overly biblical or born-again. Instead it is important that people claiming to be Christians practice what they preach. 

On that note, there are many people not only entering correctional facilities today but a large number are let out and attempting to reintegrate into society. In my eyes those exiting the legal system in America have paid their price and should be treated as paying that debt to society. If our culture has no planning towards atonement and reentry into society then we have no reason to provide love, worth, or ambition in excelling as life continues by those affected or connected to incarceration or registry requirement.  It is fine to dislike the crime, but our energy shouldn’t be consumed with hating the person. Disappointment should be brief lapses over time. Instead, we live in a world today where we want to lock people up and throw away the key. Eventually that place too will become overcrowded and bursting with no room to reform and teach others because a person influenced others to think like them. It’s not gangs we should be worried about. It is the ganglike mentality that fails to separate between the street gang and the hypocrites that appear ganglike we should worry about. 

Sex Offender Score

If you have a credit card, then you have a FICO score. A FICO score is something that measures an individuals credit rating and gives an ability to establish credit or trust between parties. At least with a credit rating, there are various programs to assist people such as counseling, programs, Fair Credit Act laws and a statue of limitations that allow people to rebuild their lives. However, when it comes to the sex offender registry, there are no robust programs, free counseling, fair laws, and the loom of civil commitment issues hangs over the heads of many offenders.

I was trying to form some primary rationale as to why there should be any form of a sex offender registry. Sure, there may be a level that registries pose a deterrent. However, that logic is somewhat dismissive because we are witnessing an increase in registry offenses due in part to the #metoo movement. But what would happen if police were privy in access to sex registries? Would that make things any better for those affected? I would argue specific cases in the State of Colorado where low-level offenders are not required to be listed on public registries. It is the local police that prints a comprehensive or a complete listing of all registrants for anyone that asks. Regardless of what state law mandates, it is an abuse of certain police powers when leaders take upon themselves to create a hole in the system. Therefore leaving that specific power to law enforcement doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of having a hidden registry if it is currently being abused.

Another problem with the sex offender registry is the tier system. At least with a credit report, you are provided a number or score. Perhaps if the offender registry had a FICO styled number that could indicate the seriousness of an individual. After all, the registry is a lump sum deal. Maybe it is time to sort out the violent offenders from the fraternity house field streakers. Let’s say there is a calculation score of 320 for a person with multiple sex offenses, fails to register when required to do so, and the age of the most recent crime is less than a year old. Then there is the best rating of 850 for an offender with a misdemeanor conviction of an offense that is over fifteen years old. If there were a numbering pattern the registry tier system would get small very quickly. However, for the FICO styled registry to work states must allow a measure for offenders to be unconditionally released to allow ratings to increase.

Additionally, if the scoring system is high for certain registrants, then that could allow offenders to be removed from GPS monitoring as long as he/she remains compliant or maintains a specific score level. Is revamping the tier system a good idea? I cannot say. What I do suggest is that while I am for a complete dismantling of the registry system in America. I am willing to compromise and reform the current registry standard into something a bit reasonable and fair across the board. The current lump sum registry system is antiquated and doesn’t serve a purpose to educate or protect the public.

The fair credit act in America protects consumers from predatory styled tactics by lenders, creditors, and third-party agencies. Perhaps our criminal justice system should embrace necessary forms of this method and implement a fair sentencing act that doesn’t create conditions that harm families concerning offenders. Offenders and families shouldn’t be forced to move because a school, park or daycare is so many feet from an individual. If a crime occurs, then there are laws on the books to handle that particular issue. Perhaps introducing a sex offender score could alleviate parts of the current tier program that appears ambiguous and in most cases unfounded. But to overlap code with another law is nothing more than a bizarre method of assumption and defeats the purpose of a registry altogether. To address civil commitment issues, there may be a clause to structure a fair scoring system where a threat is a score that matches a blatant disregard for the law or yields mental health instabilities. At least these individuals would be allowed immediate sex offender treatment at a mental health facility rather than a prison.

The bottom line is that fear drives the sex offender registry and where there is a political motive or business drive there will some forms of corruption and ethical violations. People experience similar instances when reviewing his/her credit report when errors or blemishes impact the overall score. At least with a credit report, there are ways to repair it while offender registries fail to address or allow reasonable forms of rehabilitation. If rehabilitation is to become effective, then there must be a discussion as to how to create a workable solution so that offenders are allowed to return to some normalcy of society. Perhaps a scoring system may be an idea or suggestion of how to separate those violent offenders from non-violent offenders. Additionally, it may create a useful dialog as to if the registry is still valid and relevant in today’s society?

Out of Control Immigration

If you asked me a year ago about immigration reform, I would probably shrug my shoulders as if immigration issues don’t really affect me. Ask me today, and my answer will demonstrate an out of control point. A close friend of mine recently had a car accident where another motorist ran a red light t-boning his car. He was injured, and both cars were totaled. What makes this interesting is the person that was at fault was in the United States illegally driving someone else’s driver license with expired license plates under a fictitious company name and no insurance. Needless to say, it is a messy situation. The driver was arrested but released on bond and never showed up to court leaving the insurance company to sort it all out. The police officer that arrived at the court said he has dozens of similar cases mounting to frustrations, but his department is prohibited from making minor traffic infraction stops for fear of profiling.

 

I am mindful that this case could be a small portion of issues versus an entire migrant population that does obey the law. However, I am surrounded by illegal pop-up businesses in my neighborhood. It is so bad that county inspectors come to cite improper business operations without a license or permit only to have the inspector be greeted by someone that doesn’t speak English or a different person on each visit. The homeowner who doesn’t exist receives unanswered mail. The county inspector I recently spoke with said, “I have thousands of such infractions that have overwhelmed our department. All we can do is flag the property tax records to collect.” Many of the homes with illegal businesses have children born in the United States making them immediate citizens while the parents are the ones here more than likely illegally. It is a huge dilemma that places innocent children and parenting at risk begging the question of how to remedy the immigration problem?

 

Another issue in our neighborhood is Hispanic gang activity. To be honest, I was unaware of this activity until police began hinting at organized crimes where innocent people are gunned down to clear neighborhoods to make them Hispanic or Latino only. A recent violent parking lot robbery only blocks from my home have put my community on high alert. I fear that because there is a division between Hispanics, African Americans, and Caucasians. The tension is growing because of hit and run accidents, graffiti on homes or stop signs, break-ins, and violent crime. It seems that when an arrest is made and a deportation order is rendered that the person disappears into the system only to reappear later under another false pretense of an assumed name. Our town has seen too many repeat offenders that were deported only to return within the year. To me, this is nothing more than a form of organized crime.

 

Personally, I want everyone to have a chance at the American Dream. But I do have an expectation and prioritization that those that applied and provided due diligence in the official application process be granted priority. Those that bypassed the process should, in my opinion, go straight to an immigration jail. There are rules and procedures for a reason. I think it is time to revamp our naturalization laws with regards to birthing rights. Your parents must be American if you are born in the United States. If the laws are good enough for our allies, then it should be good enough for us. I am not trying to close the door on immigration. Instead, I suggest that we have a door that opens and closes. The current immigration door appears to be propped open with no guard at the door checking to make sure that those that meet our basic immigration standard are allowed into the United States.

Student Conduct is Dangerous

If you ever attended a college or university, you may have heard of student conduct or an office at the college that regulates conduct and conflict resolution. These organizations became a part of the school to mainly deal with arguments in housing, cheating in the classroom and to help reduce underage binge drinking. Over time student conduct offices have morphed into a significant oversight from criminal charges to mental health regulatory affairs. This is where I think there should be a line drawn for such organizations like campus student conduct.

The first problem is Title IX. Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination by sex in any federally funded education program or activity. But like any good law, there is flaws and room for critical error. Title IX allows any student to bypass law enforcement authorities to bring a claim of sexual assault to student conduct. This means that law enforcement is completely out of the picture with no investigation either in process and evidence is not professionally captured or preserved. Instead the Respondent or accused must appear before a student conduct committee, usually run by students, with no lawyers present to defend his/her accusations. This is like somewhat like calling you boss at work to claim that you were sexually assaulted at your desk. The boss will immediately inform the police, human resources, corporate security and other agencies to secure a potential crime scene. Most disturbing about campus student conduct boards is that due process is completely thrown out the window. If the board “believes” the story of the accuser then that’s all it takes to expel a student. That’s right folks, you will have an expelled labeled “sex offender” on campus that is not a sex offender because police were never called or informed about the situation. Another disturbing fact is that if the accuser loses his/her case before student conduct, then they under Title IX be charged with filing a false report. There is a small clause in the title that prohibits this because there no police report was filed. It is an internal matter controlled by inexperienced faculty with no training in law or law certified to practice in a capacity of an administrative judge.

imgres.png

All I can think about is the Rolling Stone article about Virginia Tech or the Duke Lacross scandal. In each of these scenarios, lives were destroyed because student conduct initially took the lead and police were either not called, or police botched the crime scene because the campus stood in the way of a proper criminal investigation. While Title IX is essential to the protections of fairness, it lacks balance when it comes to sexual violence claims. Instead, universities should immediately engage professional law enforcement authorities at the first indication of sexual assault. A band of self-appointed academics that label themselves as the morality police of student conduct should not be engaged in any serious criminal allegations.

0624-student-conduct-staff-22-cropped.jpg

I have no problems with student conduct providing life examples of proper social conduct on campus. But student conduct should not be involved in slapping wrists over illegal drug activity on campus while people not enrolled or living on campus experience the heavy hand of the law and police. It is nothing more than a double standard of protections and provides a level of inequality and prejudice. Student conduct should only be involved in conflict negotiations, academic cheating, and concern notifications. Student conduct should not be in the business of determining what is criminal versus its ability to pick and choose what it deems it can handle. This opens up universities to massive liabilities and loses the credibility of overall safety and the spirit of the effective due process. A campus cannot be judge, jury, and executioner. But as long as student conduct remains, then that is what it will continue to be.