New Book Explores Troubling Treatment of Mental Illness in Jails

In her new book, “Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness,” journalist Alisa Roth explores the incarceration of mentally ill individuals in the United States. She exposes a world in which correctional officers are substituted for mental health professionals without adequate training, and are left to manage a widespread mental health crisis in prisons and jails. Roth estimates that as many as half of all inmates suffer from a psychiatric condition. While some correctional institutions refused her requests to enter their facilities to investigate, others allowed her to see firsthand what was happening in their facilities. As a result, Roth is able to share some especially poignant stories about the inadequacy of psychiatric treatment in correctional institutions. Learn more here.

Mecklenberg County Commissioner Advocates for Hiring of Individuals with Criminal Records

Mecklenburg County commissioner Pat Cotham recently urged three health care CEOs to consider hiring people with criminal records as a way to give them a second chance. Her request occurred as part of a Charlotte Chamber health care summit, during a conversation about fighting local poverty. She was speaking to the chief executives of Atrium Health, Novant Health, and Premier. Cotham was involved in helping people with criminal records find jobs before she became commissioner. Learn more here.

Prison Employees Get Minimal Punishment for Crimes on the Job

In a series of articles published last year, the News and Observer exposed rampant corruption in North Carolina prisons. In response, state lawmakers asked DPS to provide information about crimes committed by prison employees while on the job. A review of these crimes shows a pattern of employees receiving minimal punishment. In one case, an officer was accused of having relations with a convicted murderer and helping him escape from Brown Creek Correctional Institution. Two and a half years later, prosecutors dropped the officer’s felony charges, allowed her to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, and sentenced her to six months probation. In general, crimes range from inappropriate intimate relations with inmates to smuggling contraband to helping inmates to escape. Smuggling contraband was the most common crime.  According to the Department of Public Safety’s review, 57 prison employees were charged with crimes while on duty. Only four received prison time. Thirty received probation. Most of the criminal charges, about 60 percent, were dismissed. The News and Observer later uncovered several more incidents that were not listed in the DPS report. Reece Saunders, the District Attorney for Richmond and Anson counties, said that a major challenge in prosecuting these cases is that they often rely on the cooperation of inmates, who often change their stories or refuse to testify. Learn more here.

Fee Waiver Limitation Plan Details Emerge

Do you think judges should be shamed for refusing to criminalize poverty? As CJPC has reported before, the state legislature has enacted a plan to discourage judges from waiving court fines and fees. The legislature has required noticed to be mailed to every state or local entity that gets a portion of court fines and fees so they could potentially contest the waiver in a hearing. Details are now emerging about how this plan is to be carried out. The Administrative Office of the Courts plans to mail a standard letter to the 615 groups requiring notice one a month. That letter will include the internet address of the state’s online court calendar and inform officials that fee waivers could be waived at any criminal hearing. Local jurisdictions can send additional notices if they like. As a voter, you have the power to assure that judges’ brave decisions to stand up for poor justice-involved individuals are celebrated rather than vilified. Learn more here.

Greene and Lenoir Counties Launch School-Justice Partnership

Greene and Lenoir Counties are working towards keeping children in schools and out of jails. By launching a School-Justice Partnership, they seek to reduce law enforcement involvement in school misconduct. As part of the partnership, schools have signed an agreement outlining strategies for addressing misconduct. Currently, students of color and students with disabilities are overrepresented among suspended and expelled students. The partnership will aim to reduce some of these disparities. Successes in other counties have been encouraging. In New Hanover County, a similar School-Justice Partnership resulted in a 47 percent decrease in referrals to the juvenile justice system in its first year. School-Justice Partnerships are becoming more common throughout North Carolina since the passage of the Raise the Age legislation, which raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction for nonviolent crimes to 18. As schools and communities take a much-needed look at the impact of the justice system on youth, North Carolina stands to benefit from a more rehabilitative, more equitable justice system. Learn more here.