Wednesday, January 18, 2012

MLK Day with the JAC

Martin Luther King Jr. Day with the Joint Appropriations Committee

Our dedicated legislators often work through the holidays and the Joint Appropriations Committee spent the MLK holiday reviewing the Department of Corrections (DOC) and Department of Family Services budgets.

We attended the meeting to monitor the DOC review in order to keep a close eye on possible cuts in the budget and to hear the presentations on funding for a nursery in the Wyoming Women’s Center and the reinstatement of treatment for sex offenders.

The Joint Appropriations Committee has asked agency heads to present budgets based on a 2 percent, 5 percent or 8 percent cut. The DOC Director Robert Lampert stated that the department could continue to function on a 2 percent cut, but that a 5 percent or 8 percent cut would mean cuts in programming.

It is extremely important that this budget contain adequate funding for inmate treatment, rehabilitation, programming and medical and mental health care. Even though twenty-six percent of the inmates in DOC custody are categorized as sex offenders; due to previous budget cuts sex offender treatment programs have been discontinued. Current research shows a combination of best practices treatment and supervision lowers recidivism rates, provides positive outcomes and ensures the highest rate of public safety. The majority of offenders are victims themselves. In many cases offenders receive little or inadequate counseling or support for their victimization. Offenders often come from homes in which multigenerational abuse is the norm. We must strive for being thoroughly educated on the most effective ways to deal with offenders in order to keep our children in Wyoming truly safe.

While many law enforcement officials and prosecutors continue to repeat the arguments that sexual offenders cannot be rehabilitated and have a high recidivism rate, neither argument is true. There is considerable and growing evidence that deviant sexual behavior can be reformed by treatment. Available research indicates that quality treatment can reduce recidivism by more than one-third. (Read further information from the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives)

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy recently released several reports on sentencing and recidivism rates for sex offenders. The overall findings were that sex offenders who got voluntary, appropriate treatment have very low recidivism rates:

--Compared with the full population of felony offenders, sex offenders have the lowest recidivism rates for felony offenses (13 percent) and violent felony offenses (6.7 percent) but the highest recidivism rates for felony sex offense (2.7 percent)

--Sex offenders who victimize children have the lowest felony recidivism rates as well as the lowest sex (2.3 percent) and violent felony (5.7 percent) recidivism rates. Rapists have the highest sex (3.9 percent) and violent felony (9.5 percent) recidivism rates. Some select populations of sex offenders in the state have been found to have much higher recidivism rates.

--Sex offenders, who complete SSOSA, an outpatient treatment sentence, have the lowest recidivism rates in all categories. In contrast, sex offenders sentenced to prison have the highest rates. Those sentenced to jail or community supervision have rates similar to, but slightly below, the recidivism rates of those sentenced to prison.

(Further information can be found here)

WDOC Director Lampbert’s emphasis is on providing rehabilitation and treatment for prisoners and not just incarcerating them. This philosophy provides a long-term gain for both the taxpayer and the offender, and is clearly responsible for Wyoming’s low recidivism rates. Director Lampert stated that prison costs will continue to rise as the legislature creates more crimes and demands longer sentences for crimes that are already on the books. The Department of Correction expects the population to grow if the current trend of sentence enhancement, mandatory minimum sentencing and creation of additional crimes continues.

In the previous legislative session advocates brought forth a request for funding to establish a portion of the Wyoming Women’s Center (WWC) for a nursery. Currently, mothers and infants are separated when the infant is 24 hours old. The infant is then sent either to foster care or to a family member. This nursery would allow for mothers to care for their babies for 18 months and would:

 Foster strong attachment between mother and child
 Improve parenting skills
 Reduce recidivism

In the early years of the twentieth century it was customary for women in prison to have their children with them. It is now common in most countries outside of the U.S. A 1987 study undertaken by the U.N. found that the U.S. was one of the few countries that did not allow women to care for their infants while incarcerated. The U.K. has had mother-child centers in their facilities for over fifty years.

John Bowlby was the first researcher to discuss the attachment theory. This theory suggested that the initial bonds formed by infants with caregivers have a strong impact on their behavior and future success in life. Children forming a secure bond learn they can depend on a parent to be available and respond to their needs. Infants removed from their mothers may not ever be situated to form that secure bond. Children are often transferred either from family member to family member or foster home to foster home. Children who are unable to form a secure attachment are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, oppositional deviance disorder, conduct disorders and post traumatic stress injury. As adults these individuals are more likely to experience low self-esteem and unstable relationships.

In one of the first long-term studies completed in the U.S on prison nursery programs, Mary Byrn, PhD of Columbia University, found that nursery programs can promote the essential attachment bond between mother and child. This longitudinal study conducted from 2000 -2008 in the Taconit and Bedford Hills Correctional facilities (New York has had mother child programs since 1901) established and standardized research methods. Mothers participating in the program had lower recidivism rates and the infants were within normal development ranges for physical growth and social, language and fine motor skills. In addition, these women were more like to maintain custody of their children once they were released from prison.

In a study conducted by the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, parenting skills taught to several different groups of parents including recovering drug/alcohol addicts and low income African American families showed overall improvement of parenting skills in every group participating in the Strengthening Families Program. Best practices parenting programs (a part of the WWC nursery program) are generally found to be successful in most settings and improve parent/child interaction.

In the Washington Corrections Center for Women prisoners are allowed to care for their children 30 months, the general recidivism rate for the institution is 40% and for those in the child care program it is 12%.

In April of 2010 the Decatur Correctional Center celebrated the third anniversary of their mother/infant program with a 0% recidivism rate.