How Can America Reduce Mass Incarceration?
I mean, one of the biggest problems with the system as it's functioning now is that we are criminalizing social ills, and we are sending people to a court and telling judges to use a criminal justice approach to a social problem. So if you're going to send all the people with mental illness to courts, give judges tools so that they can deal with the problems as they present.
PRATT: So through - the Center for Court Innovation partnered with the city of Newark and created Newark Community Solutions. And so this is a partnership that they now have with the judiciary in Newark. And so what CCI does is that they come into the communities and say, what does community justice look like for you? They don't come in and impose a model, but they work with the community to say, what do you want justice to look like at a local level for you?
And when they did their surveys amongst the community in Newark, people said, we want these young guys who are on the corner to get jobs. We want the drug addict to get treatment. And so what we have at Newark Municipal Court - we have a team of social workers, case managers, compliance officers who work in the courthouse. So when a person gets picked up and arraigned, they can be sent immediately for services.
And people can walk in off the street and just say, listen, I need to speak to someone. And they can go into this community court clinic and get these services as well. So, again, the court becomes a provider of assistance to the community whether you have a case or not. And for me, what's been really telling, our veterans - as I said, Newark Penn Station is the state's largest unofficial homeless shelter.
And they'll stop, and they'll start listening and looking at this person like, wow, there was so much more to this person than just what was before us - because that's one of the problems of the criminal justice system. They require the judge, the prosecutor and the public - they want us to look at a person and make decisions about their lives based on one incident, based on that one thing that's before us and not the circumstances leading up to that.
GROSS: We're in a time now where there seems to be some bipartisan support for prison reform. Even, like, the Koch brothers, who are known as being, like, very conservative, they're supporting some prison reform projects, right?
ADLER: Yeah. It's an exciting time. We are seeing bipartisan reform. As we point out in the book, though, because at the federal level, particularly under the current administration, it's often a bit opaque in terms of making sense of what the crime policy is and whether the crime policy is moving in a direction that's more reminiscent of tough on crime or not, the good news is that most of the action and the hope around ending the crisis of mass incarceration is at the local level, at the state level, the county level.
You know, one major driver of mass incarceration that has received less attention until the MacArthur Foundation launched the Safety And Justice Challenge and really drew attention to it is the fact that jails, local jails, are the gateway to mass incarceration, that in any year we see 12 million admissions to jails. At any given moment, there are half a million individuals languishing in jails, waiting for their cases to be processed.
It's important to note that these are individuals who are still legally innocent until proven guilty under our constitutional system and are often sitting in jail - returning to the theme at the start of the show - because they couldn't afford to pay money bail. To reduce the jail population is a local issue. It's not driven by federal policy. To reduce the state prison population - these are local issues on the state level, on the county level. And so there is bipartisan support. But even if your listeners are skeptical about bipartisan action at the federal level, you could shutter the federal criminal justice system tomorrow and still have mass incarceration in the United States.
The Year of Hate and Extremism
Prison Population Forecasting Tool
County Jails Struggle To Treat Mentally Ill Inmates
A New Story of the People
According to federal data from 2011 to 2012, more than 40 percent of jail inmates reported having been told by a mental health professional that they had a mental health disorder. And while about 1 in 4 jail inmates met the threshold for having serious psychological distress at the time of the survey, only about a third of those were receiving treatment for it.
In recent years, county jails across the nation have taken steps to try to keep inmates with mental illness, like Jones, from coming back. One approach involves stepping up mental health screening, coupled with efforts to get inmates plugged into community-based treatment after they are released.
Such efforts require often-unprecedented collaboration between those on the front lines of mental health and criminal justice. But research shows such collaboration is key to addressing the problems many jails face when they become their communities' largest psychiatric facilities.