Monday, November 05, 2007

More Cards and Letters Comin' In

A couple of very interesting pieces of news sent in by a couple of very interesting people. First, this on mental health/corrections partnerships:

This week U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Pete Domenici (R-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Arlen Specter (R-PA), and U.S. Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Randy Forbes (R-VA) introduced the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Reauthorization and Improvement Act.

This legislation, which has received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, will reauthorize the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act or MIOTCRA (Public Law 108-414). Enacted in 2004, MIOTCRA created the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Grant Program (JMHCP) designed to help states and counties design and implement collaborative efforts between criminal justice and mental health systems. Through appropriated funds, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) within the Department of Justice has awarded 53 communities in 35 states with additional resources to plan and implement collaborative efforts between criminal justice and mental health systems.

"Far too often, mentally ill individuals encounter the criminal justice system when what is really needed is treatment and support..." Senator Kennedy said. "With this bill, Congress can provide significant support to improve and expand cooperation between law enforcement and mental health experts in order to improve our nation's public safety."

This new bill will raise the authorization level of MIOTCRA from $50 million per year to $75 million per year and will extend the authorization through 2013. The bill will also reauthorize the Mental Health Courts grant program (Public Law 106-515), and require that a study be completed on the prevalence of mental illness in prisons and jails. Download the complete bill text (pdf).

"This legislation will impact states across the United States , including Virginia where sixteen percent of all inmates in Virginia jails are estimated to have a mental illness. We have a significant way to go in Virginia to better diagnose and treat mental illnesses in our jails and this legislation is a step in the right direction," said Rep. Forbes. "I am pleased that Congressman Scott and I could join together and introduce legislation that will have a much-needed impact on our criminal justice system and make our communities safer."

The bill, which is scheduled for consideration in the full House Judiciary Committee on November 7, 2007, passed the Crime Subcommittee on November 1. The Senate sponsors intend to move the bill before Congress breaks for recess.

And this on the problems Japan is having with its aging prisoners, including those who have nowhere else to go and know it:

With one of the world’s most rapidly aging societies, Japan is confronting a sharp increase in the number of older criminals and prisoners. Japanese 65 and over now make up the fastest-growing group of criminals.

The prison population is aging in the United States, too, but that is a result mostly of long mandatory sentences and restrictive parole practices. In Japan, by contrast, the rise is being driven by crime, mostly nonviolent.

From 2000 to 2006, the number of older criminals soared by 160 percent, to 46,637, from 17,942, according to Japan’s National Police Agency. Shoplifting accounted for 54 percent of the total in 2006 and petty theft for 23 percent.

As a result, penitentiaries are struggling to adapt environments designed with the young in mind to a lawbreaking population that is fragile physically and often mentally.

If work programs, toilets, cafeteria menus and health services are changing, so are smaller things in the prison landscape. Older convicts are exempted from marching in formation in some prisons. On New Year’s Day, rice cakes are cut into tiny pieces so they won’t become stuck in aging throats.
A recent Justice Ministry report said that older people were increasingly turning to crime out of poverty and isolation, suggesting a breakdown in traditional family and community ties. With nowhere else to go, more of the older inmates serve out their full sentences, instead of being released on parole like younger prisoners. What is more, recidivism is higher among the older inmates.

“There are some elderly who are afraid of going back into society,” said Takashi Hayashi, vice director of Onomichi Prison. “If they stay in prison, everything’s taken care of. There are examples of elderly who’ve left prison, used up what money they had, then were arrested after shoplifting at a convenience store. They’d made up their minds to go back to prison.”
Compounding their difficulties is Japan’s traditionally unforgiving attitude toward ex-convicts, said Hideo Nemoto, an official at Shizuoka Prison west of Tokyo, for first-time offenders. Relatives usually sever ties, so many inmates never receive visitors. In addition, welfare benefits are difficult to obtain; nursing homes are scarce and not a viable option for ex-convicts.

Against that backdrop, prison life — which, in Japan, means spotless surroundings largely free of the violence in American prisons — may seem the lesser of evils. “There are worries that prisons could become a sort of social welfare facility for the elderly,” Mr. Nemoto said.

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