Colorado Ends Solitary Confinement for People with Mental Illness

Colorado’s decision to prohibit the placement of people with mental illness in solitary confinement lends hope to those suffering in the criminal justice system. The horrific stories that reach the headlines (such as Evan Ebel who murdered former Colorado DOC Director Tom Clements, or the mass shooting that took place at the Aurora Mall) undermine the need to treat the underlining mental illness, and lead to the labeling of such individuals as evil.  Treating people with mentally illnesses requires knowledge, insight, experience and compassion, not blind retribution. Without diminishing or trivializing the suffering of those afflicted by an individual’s action, it should be understood that punishing people with mental illnesses with solitary confinement hinders rehabilitation. It amplifies and exacerbates the underlying issues and thus produces a greater risk to the individual and greater society when released.

It should be of concern to all communities that jails and prisons have become repositories for the mentally ill.  It is projected that as many as 40% of all jail inmates are Axis I (those with the serious mentally illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5) and would actually be housed in a state mental health facility if they still existed.

Today, valuable tax dollars are wasted to punish and incarcerate people who need treatment. Those who recognize this reality also understand the many social issues that can be addressed by treating mental illness appropriately: gun violence, homelessness, children in foster care, et cetera. The saddest part of all is that we incarcerate non-criminals who languish in their cells without treatment and often without even their medication.

Colorado’s decision to end solitary confinement for the mentally ill is progressive. As the Colorado’s Department of Corrections begins to address the mentally ill in correctional facilities, other municipals and people outside of the state should follow in their lead. Although ending solitary confinement for individuals with mental illness is only one step, it’s a giant step in the right direction. Communities across the nation need to begin to support legislature and urge enforcement to end the criminalization of people with mental illnesses.

 

To read the original article from the Denver Post click on the link below:

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_24712664/colorado-wont-put-mentally-ill-prisoners-solitary-confinement

To learn more about solitary confinement and people with mental illness read Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons by Jeffrey L. Metzner, MD and Jamie Fellner, Esq.

 

Rebuilding Our Community

FOCUS Reentry is reaching out to churches and people in the community as we expand our program. We have an increasing need for mentors as ex-offenders from Boulder County Jail seek support to get their lives on a new path to refrain from returning to jail. The community of adults which we serve often struggle with re-entry and need a mentor’s guidance to get through this difficult time. The mentoring relationships improve lives by developing skills and positive social networks that empower people to be self-sufficient.

Groups and individuals are discovering that FOCUS Reentry offers them a great opportunity to bring their expertise and passion to create encouraging influences for ex-offenders. One mentor expressed that, “the training is of as much help to me in my daily interactions as it is when I am working as a mentor.”

Although FOCUS Reentry is not a religious organization, many faith communities find that serving people who are reentering society and looking for resources to guide them to a new future align with their values.

As we constantly seek new mentors to serve the ever growing need from ex-offenders, FOCUS Reentry is also actively in search of new applicants for our board. As terms end and we seek to expand the board we want the community to be fully represented. We are particularly looking for board members from Longmont and members with experience in building donor support or committees. People who want to learn more about opportunities to serve on our board, become a mentor, or would like to schedule a presentation should contact our office at 720-304-6446 or email info@focusreentry.org. Our staff or board president will contact you to answer questions and provide information on the endless opportunities to support FOCUS Reentry.

FOCUS REENTRY NAMES NEW DIRECTOR

FOCUS Reentry has named Nicky Marone as Executive Director.

Marone’s career is all about helping individuals overcome learned helplessness in order to achieve resilience. She is the author of four books on the topic, published in nine languages worldwide. Marone and her work have been featured in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and USA Today. She has also appeared on Oprah and CNN. The Boulder Chamber recognized Marone as one of the “Women Who Light The Community”. Her YWCA program to graduate teen mothers from high school won the NOVA Award for Innovations In Education from The Community Foundation of Boulder County.

“FOCUS Reentry is already a highly effective organization saving Boulder County tax payers significant revenue while transforming lives.” said Marone. “My goal is to take this state of the art program to the next level for the benefit of our community.”

Join us for A Fun of Evening of Dinner and Film!

FOCUS is always looking for new ways to connect issues of incarceration and reentry to the public and to that end we’re hosting a movie night. On September 25th FOCUS will be screening the film The Dhamma Brothers about a unique meditation retreat that was held in an Alabama Prison. This week long retreat showed the inmates, some of them “lifers,” compassion and care and empowered them in startling ways.

There will also be dinner served, delicious Indian cuisine provided by The TAJ Restaraunt, long time friends of the FOCUS program.

All of the proceeds of this event will go to support FOCUS and our work with Boulder County Jail inmates. The money will pay to support our mentors and to help our clients with their basic and emergency needs. Please go and buy your tickets now!

Executive Director Tania Leontov Resigns

The Collaborative Community (parent organization of FOCUS Offender Reentry Mentoring) is sad to announce the departure of its long-time Executive Director, Tania Leontov.  Ms. Leontov is the founder of the organization which began in 2005.  The Board of Directors and staff are all deeply grateful for her many years of service at the helm.  It is her passion, energy, wisdom and vision that have made the organization the success that it is today.  Everyone who has ever met Tania in her role at The Collaborative Community will attest to her deep concern and abiding compassion for the welfare of our clients.  We wish her wonderful outcomes as she moves into the next chapter of her life.

The Staff and Board of Directors want to assure all of our clients and volunteers that we will not be allowing any gaps in services or programs in this transition. We remain committed to community safety and reducing recidivism in Boulder County and will maintain our same high standards. By Summer of 2013 we plan to have evaluated our organizational needs and hired a new Executive Director. Questions about this transition or the FOCUS program can be sent to info@focusreentry.org

FOCUS Featured in the Daily Camera

FOCUS was featured in the Daily Camera, Boulder’s local paper, on Sunday February 17th. You can read the article on their website.

 

We’re very, very grateful to the Daily Camera for featuring us and show casing the success of all our mentors and mentees. However, Federal funding cuts mean that FOCUS is facing a $30,000 shortfall for the year. FOCUS will be going forward and will continue to support people who are looking to leave a life of incarceration behind but with your financial help, we will be able to maintain the level of support and services we offer now.

For more on the success of FOCUS, visit our Impact page. To become a financial supporter of FOCUS, and help make a brighter, safer future for Boulder County, go to our Donate page.

Voting Rights for Offenders

The stigma of criminal conviction can follow an ex-offender for the rest of their life. Even those who are able to successfully complete their probation, find work and a home and reintegrate as “normal, responsible, ordinary people” are often still be barred from full citizenship. Felons in 12 states can permanently lose their right to vote and in 36 other states the right to vote can be suspended for an extended period of time.

This chart shows a very good break down of when and how felons can have their right to vote restored. The difficulties in this are immense in some states; for example, in Mississippi a special bill to restore a felon’s  voting rights has to be authored by their state representative and then passed by both houses of the state legislature. In others, it becomes more simple. Iowa allows for an application to be filed after the felon has completed their sentence, including parole and probation, and they have  paid any outstanding costs to the judicial system.

The inspiration for this post comes from an article published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Give back Virginia Citizen’s right to vote.” In it they make the argument that denying a felon the right to vote is denying them full citizenship. According to them, nearly 2.6 million Americans can’t vote because of a prior felony, regardless of how well they have re-entered society or how much they contribute to our society. That number is backed up by a study from the Sentencing Project.

I’ll close this blog-post with a quote from that article which I found very inspiring both for the work of FOCUS and for the future of our country:

“As we get closer to November’s presidential election, in which the two candidates have vastly different visions for the future of our country, it is shameful that hundreds of thousands [of felons in Virginia] will be silenced. The outcome of the race will have major implications for everything from the economy to health care to education — issues that affect ex-offenders as much as anyone else — and they ought to be allowed to participate.”

Justice for Juvenile Lifers

Justice is starting to trickle down for thousands of prisoners in the United States who were sentence to life without parole while a juvenile. In June of this year the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Miller v. Alabama that a mandatory life sentence without parole fit the description of ”cruel and unusual punishment” that is outlined in the 8th Amendment. This decision gives hope to the nearly 500 juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania who have until Friday to file for a reconsideration of their sentence and a bill to allow the same to happen is going to the governor in California soon.

Here in Colorado, there are still 50 person serving life sentences without hope of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles. Under the Miller decision they could all be entitled to a re-consideration of their sentence but so far no action has been taken to make that happen. However the process by which juveniles end up in adult courts and jails, called “Direct File”, has been amended by House Bill 1271, passed just this year. This  bill gives juveniles the chance to ask a judge to reconsider a direct file made by a prosecuting attorney and possibly return the case to a juvenile court. This bill strengthens due process for juvenile defendants in Colorado and is a huge step forward for the criminal justice system in this state.

Upcoming forum: What Drives Kids to the Streets?

Why is there an increase in homeless youth? What programs are out there to support youth? What can we do to help prevent at-risk youth from turning to the streets? When: Thursday, June 28th, 11:30 a.m.- 1 p.m. Where: Congregation Har HaShem, 3950 Baseline Road, Boulder, CO 80303

■“Behind the face of every homeless youth is another heart-breaking story: A 15-year boy abused by his alcoholic parent; or a pregnant girl rejected by her guardian; or a teenager trying to escape gang membership or a life of prostitution. In case after case, the main cause of youth homelessness is physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse from parents or guardians.” Read more here.

■What are some of the preventative measures being taken to prevent homeless youth? Open Sky Wilderness assist teens, young adults and families struggling with difficult challenges and life circumstances. They provide a life-changing opportunities to help teens discover and create a healthy life that is an intelligent and authentic expression of one’s true nature as capable, worthy, honorable people. Check them out here!

■“Tumbleweed: Shadow Children,’ is a released documentary about the lives of homeless youth. Click here to watch this short film!

■“Tammy came to our program at the tender age of 14. She was not attending to school, addicted to several illegal drugs and found herself homeless due to the fact that her mother was a drug abuser as well. It was then she entered our Open Hands and was referred to our Tumbleweed Regional Learning Center school where she began to test out of the eighth grade to complete junior high. From then she started high school here and registered for our workforce development program where she received training to become work ready and completed several internships after that. She now sits on the Tumbleweed Youth Advisory Board, created and presented a workshop on “Adultism”, traveled to San Francisco for Community Youth Development Learning Resource Team Workshop, and is helping raise money to travel to Washington to attend The National Network for Youth. She currently has a stable living situation as she is on the waiting list to join the Tumbleweed Young Adult Program, still attending The Tumbleweed Regional High School and now that she just turned 16 she will be looking for employment opportunities.” Click here to read more success stories!

Important Daily Camera Article focuses on repeat offenders!

 

BOULDER — Seated in a barren break room in the Boulder County Jail with the
acrid smell of burning coffee permeating the air, Madonna Mooney doesn’t mince
words.

Looking at her situation through sober eyes, she sees it. Mooney has been
arrested at least 31 times since Jan. 1, 2010. According to Boulder County Jail
records, she has been booked 112 times since 2002. Her stays are typically short
because her offenses are typically minor — open container, trespassing,
disorderly conduct, sometimes theft. CLICK HERE to be redirected to the Daily                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Camera website to read more!