Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Metro invests $4.8M to teach men how to be dads

The theory is simple: Give kids a stable father, and they’ll stay in school and out of jail.

But building fathers isn’t cheap. In North and East Nashville — neighborhoods with the highest rates of single parenting in the city — it’s going to cost $4.8 million over three years.

Federal grant money will help men become better fathers through job training, plus workshops on building relationships, managing anger and going back to school, Metro health officials say. They’ll find the participants through charities and government agencies, men trying to overcome unemployment, conflicts with their children’s mothers or their own lack of parenting as children.

After last week’s grant announcement about the New Life Project, some wondered whether an investment in fatherhood could work. It hasn’t everywhere — a Milwaukee nonprofit has a tough time keeping men in its 13-week Fatherhood Initiative program, its director said, because they lack transportation and don’t understand the benefits.

But local counselors say such education can make a difference. A similar, 11-year-old program in Philadelphia boasts a track record of keeping fathers out of family court and jail.

North Nashville father of four Joshua Talley said he found his own support network to become a better dad but thinks a government program to do the same thing could work. He married at 20 and worked two jobs to support his now ex-wife and infant daughter. Tensions ran high.

He didn’t want to make the same mistake in his second marriage, so he lined up mentors, attended a Metro Health Department boot camp for new dads, earned his GED and began attending Volunteer State Community College’s physical therapy program.

“I’ve learned to show my kids so much more love,” said Talley, whose children are now 14, 11, 6 and 1. “This new program will give men the tools they need to be a better father and will improve our communities. I would have learned so much if I knew of something like this when I was growing up.”

Single-parent rates
City officials targeted North and East Nashville because nearly 60 percent of the households in the neighborhoods are headed by single parents, compared to 39 percent in the rest of the county. Nashville is one of 120 recipients sharing $119 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children & Families.

The effort is based on grim statistics that prove the lack of parental involvement can bring drastic consequences, health officials say. Seventy-one percent of all high school dropouts are raised without a father, national data show. About 85 percent of incarcerated youth are reared in a single-parent household.

But experts say children with active fathers and a healthy family life have better educational outcomes, emotional security and fewer behavioral problems. Most fathers want to have a relationship with their children, said Dr. Kimberlee Wyche-Etheridge, director of the Youth and Infants Bureau for Metro Health, and mothers want that, too.

A better road map
David Thomas, a local therapist and director of counseling for men and boys at Daystar Counseling, said educating fathers is key to strengthening families.

“If dads were more informed and had more information, the process of parenting wouldn’t be so overwhelming,” said Thomas, who authored six books on relationships and parenting. He is not involved with the New Life Project.

“A lot of men didn’t have a great road map and were parented by men who were not involved in the day-to-day parenting.”

Several large cities offer programs similar to the one opening here. In Philadelphia, the Fatherhood Initiative Program launched 11 years ago and has served about 5,000 men. A recent analysis shows that of the 276 fathers who were enrolled in 2009, all completed the 12-week program.

“Most men build a better relationship with their children within the first 60 to 90 days,” said Gilbert Coleman, the program’s director. “If we keep our guys out of incarceration from not paying child support, we save the city about $28,000 a man per year.

“Most social services have always been for the mother and the child, but when you look at the statistics, we are leaving the men out of the picture.”

Metro Health is recruiting participants now and will start the program in January.

The Martha O’Bryan Center, the McGruder Family Resource Center, Hadley Park, Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center and the PENCIL Foundation will cooperate on grant administration. Many of the classes will be held at Martha O’Bryan and the McGruder Center, while the health center will offer counseling. The participants will also be paired with mentors who can further their parenting skills.

Teen fathers will attend classes at Hadley Park, and the PENCIL Foundation will help identify young fathers to participate.

“We want to help change the stigma and move it away from deadbeat dads to show there are a lot of dedicated fathers out there,” said Robert Taylor, project director for the New Life Project. “This program is for all fathers. The guys like the camaraderie of being around guys that are going through the same things.”

Contact Nancy DeVille at 615-259-8304 or ndeville@tennessean.com or follow on Twitter @devillenews.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

After Prison, a Squeaky-Clean Return to Reality

“Ain’t I been to jail enough times for you to know how to treat me when I come home?” the rapper T.I. asks his wife, Tameka, better known as Tiny, on the first episode of “T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle,” which has its premiere with back-to-back episodes Monday night on VH1, about two months after his most recent incarceration.

Maybe, maybe not. But T.I. has been to jail enough times to know how to recover quickly. He’s a great rapper, but he’s an even better quick-change artist who has come to understand and rely upon the forgiving powers of short memories.

What was T.I. behind bars for, again? No rapper — no celebrity in any genre, really — has more assiduously created an alternate persona through reality television than T.I. He gives a brief tour of his recent indiscretions (a drug-related probation violation) at the outset of this show, but he knows not to dwell. Unlike his previous use of reality television as image manipulation, on “T.I.’s Road to Redemption” in 2009 on MTV, in which he intervened in the lives of troubled young people, he skips right to the spit and polish this time.

There’s Ward Cleaver, Mike Brady and now T.I., a family patriarch and provider, loving husband, and charming father of six attention-seeking children. T.I. is handsome, wears a shawl-collar cardigan well and has phenomenal teeth — teeth that could get you out of some sticky situations by shine alone.

Seeing those teeth on camera as often as possible is certainly part of the T.I. public makeover process. It certainly works. In October, a few days after his release from a halfway house, he made an appearance with the squeaky-clean country princess Taylor Swift during a concert in Atlanta; in other cities she was joined by such chronic recidivists as James Taylor, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber.

“T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle” is a calm rejoinder to “Basketball Wives,” “Love & Hip Hop,” “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and other top-volume tales of black celebrity life that dominate reality television. It’s purposefully neutered, in the style of “Run’s House,” which ran for six seasons on MTV chronicling the world of Rev Run, formerly Run of Run-DMC, who is now known as a jolly pushover dad. (See also: “Snoop Dogg’s Father Hood.”)

Filming began before T.I. was released; he appears in about one-third of the first episode, which focuses on Tiny’s preparations for his homecoming. (She too has become a reality TV regular in recent years thanks to “Tiny & Toya,” which she filmed largely during an earlier prison stint of T.I.’s.)

Not much tension follows his return, maybe because the spells apart have become routine. Tiny still looks at T.I. lustily, he at her maybe a little less so. “I been out of practice for a while,” he says about having sex, more because it’s a funny thing to say than because of any apparent insecurity. He frets over preserving the all-white room in his house in the face of rambunctious kids (“Get off my white couch!”) and over the distribution of toiletries in the bathroom. “I don’t want smell-goods of a fruity nature on my side of the sink,” he says. “Damn occupying America — we gon’ occupy my bathroom counter. I am taking it back!”

As a rapper T.I. wears hunger better than complacency. He’s been on an impressive run since his release, not unlike the impressive run he had the last time he was released. But where those songs are edgy, boastful and sometimes salacious, this show is sandpapered smooth. There’s a perpetual glint in his eye, but he never really gets up to the mischief he appears to really want to make — at least not anywhere the cameras might catch him.

Should that happen, though, and if it goes wrong and T.I. happens to be in need of yet another televised rebirth, here are some recommended image-cleansing options: vegan cuisine expert on the Food Network, producer of a hip-hop yoga show with Russell Simmons, Sunday morning televangelist, host of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

Friday, September 23, 2011

Texas prisons end special last meals in executions

(AP) HOUSTON — Texas inmates who are set to be executed will no longer get their choice of last meals, a change prison officials made Thursday after a prominent state senator became miffed over an expansive request from a man condemned for a notorious dragging death.

Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was executed Wednesday for the hate crime slaying of James Byrd Jr. more than a decade ago, asked for two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbecue, three fajitas, a meat lover's pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. Prison officials said Brewer didn't eat any of it.

"It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege," Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, wrote in a letter Thursday to Brad Livingston, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Within hours, Livingston said the senator's concerns were valid and the practice of allowing death row offenders to choose their final meal was history.

"Effective immediately, no such accommodations will be made," Livingston said. "They will receive the same meal served to other offenders on the unit."

That had been the suggestion from Whitmire, who called the traditional request "ridiculous."

"It's long overdue," the Houston Democrat told The Associated Press. "This old boy last night, enough is enough. We're fixing to execute the guy and maybe it makes the system feel good about what they're fixing to do. Kind of hypocritical, you reckon?

"Mr. Byrd didn't get to choose his last meal. The whole deal is so illogical."

Brewer, a white supremacist gang member, was convicted of chaining Byrd, 49, to the back of a pickup truck and dragging him to his death along a bumpy road in a case shocked the nation for its brutality.

Whitmire warned in his letter that if the "last meal of choice" practice wasn't stopped immediately, he'd seek a state statute to end it when lawmakers convene in the next legislative session.

It was not immediately clear whether other states have made similar moves. Some limit the final meal cost — Florida's ceiling is $40, according to the Department of Corrections website, with food to be purchased locally. Others, like Texas, which never had a designated dollar limit, mandate meals be prison-made. Some states don't acknowledge final meals, and others will disclose the information only if the inmate agrees, said K. William Hayes, a Florida-based death penalty historian.

Some states require the meal within a specific time period, allow multiple "final" meals, restrict it to one or impose "a vast number of conditions," he said.

Historical references to a condemned person's last meal go as far back as ancient Greece, China and Rome, Hayes said. Some of it is apparently rooted in superstition about meals warding off possible haunting by condemned people once they are put to death.

The Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based anti-capital punishment organization that collects execution statistics, said it had no data on final meals.

Since Texas resumed carrying out executions in 1982, the state correction agency's practice has been to fill a condemned inmate's request as long as the items, or food similar to what was requested, were readily available from the prison kitchen supplies.

While extensive, Brewer's request was far from the largest or most bizarre among the 475 Texas inmates put to death.

On Tuesday, prisoner Cleve Foster's request included two fried chickens, French fries and a five-gallon bucket of peaches. He received a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court but none of his requested meal. He was on his way back to death row, at a prison about 45 miles east of Huntsville, at the time when his feast would have been served.

Last week, inmate Steven Woods' request included two pounds of bacon, a large four-meat pizza, four fried chicken breasts, two drinks each of Mountain Dew, Pepsi, root beer and sweet tea, two pints of ice cream, five chicken fried steaks, two hamburgers with bacon, fries and a dozen garlic bread sticks with marinara on the side. Two hours later, he was executed.

Years ago, a Texas inmate even requested dirt for his final meal.

Until 2003, the Texas prison system listed final meals of each prisoner as part of its death row website. That stopped at 313 final meals after officials said they received complaints from people who found it offensive.

A former inmate cook who made the last meals for prisoners at the Huntsville Unit, where Texas executions are carried out, wrote a cookbook several years ago after he was released. Among his recipes were Gallows Gravy, Rice Rigor Mortis and Old Sparky's Genuine Convict Chili, a nod to the electric chair that once served as the execution method. The book was called "Meals to Die For."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Break prison recidivism

Stephen Polifka Jr. showed up recently at City Hall in New Haven desperate to find work.

"Where should I hang myself?," he said as he sat down to meet with Tirzah Kemp, a city official who helps former prisoners. "I get so frustrated I want to give up."

"I want you to take a deep breath," Kemp said.

Polifka, 46, a carpenter released from prison in 2009, is struggling to find work in a poor economy with a felony criminal record for drug possession. He's staying at a 90-day shelter, surviving on food stamps; he fears returning to drug-ridden streets.

New Haven shares his fears and is among a growing number of cities, states and community groups stepping up efforts to reintegrate newly released prisoners before they commit new crimes. The 2008 federal Second Chance Act has helped fund about 250 prison re-entry programs around the country aimed at reducing recidivism by helping former prisoners.

"Corrections has really come to a crisis," said Leann Duran, director of the New York-based National Re-Entry Resource Center. "We're seeing roughly half the people leaving our prison system and coming back. That's an unacceptably high rate of failure."

The Second Chance Act has provided $198 million nationally so far, officials said. New Haven's program gets about $225,000 a year from a different federal grant, said Amy Meek, who runs the city's program.

While many programs are new and have not been evaluated, research shows the efforts can have promising results, experts say. Studies of re-entry programs in Boston and Baltimore found they were effective in reducing re-arrests, according to Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

"We can now state, with considerable confidence, that we can intervene in the lives of returning prisoners and reduce their rates of failure, particularly their rates of re-arrest for new crimes," Travis told Congress in 2009.

Participants in the Boston re-entry program had a 30 percent lower rate of recidivism compared to other former prisoners, according to a 2008 evaluation.

In Baltimore, prisoners released between 2001 and 2005, 72 percent of those in the program committed new crimes, compared to nearly 78 percent of other prisoners.

More than 700,000 inmates leave prison annually and many return to hard-hit urban neighborhoods where jobs are scarce and drugs and violence are plentiful. In Connecticut, it costs an average of about $33,000 annually to house a prisoner, according to the Department of Correction.

Nationally, more than 40 percent of ex-cons commit crimes within three years and wind up back behind bars, according to a study by the Pew Center on the States released in April. The study found that 41 states that provided data could save $635 million in one year if they could slash their recidivism rates by 10 percent.

New Haven, home to Yale University, receives 100 to 125 prisoners each month. It has long struggled with crime fueled by repeat offenders who commit an alarming number of shootings and other crimes. About half the people arrested for shootings and homicides in New Haven -- as well as the victims -- have prior felony records, city officials said.

Until a decade ago, little was done to smooth an offender's transition from prison back to the community, experts say. Now cities such as New Haven, where 20 people have been killed so far this year compared to 24 homicides for all of last year, help them with everything from resumes to finding inexpensive clothing.

Kemp and two volunteers recently began visiting a New Haven jail every other week to tell prisoners about agencies that can help them with housing, job skills, and drug treatment. Ten inmates in khaki uniforms sat on bleachers in a stark prison gym last month while the women explained the services, emphasizing the difficult economy.

"This has got to be your hustle," Kemp said, encouraging the prisoners to meet with multiple job agencies and to step up and bolster their resume, self-esteem and get work experience.

State officials say 54 percent of 874 New Haven residents placed on probation in 2009 were rearrested within two years, down slightly from 56 percent of 2,029 residents placed on probation in 2006 and followed for two years. The statewide rate dropped slightly more, from 46 percent to 42 percent over the same period.

Some local activists are skeptical that New Haven's program is making much of a difference.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Kids With Incarcerated Parents

CHARLOTTE (MCT) -- Jarrisha Rorie of Charlotte says she married a good man, but his past caught up with him.

Now he's in prison and she's raising three boys who can't understand what happened to dad and why mom works all the time.

Rorie thought it would all work out, until her 7-year-old began having problems in school and was diagnosed with a stress disorder.

That's when she discovered a little-known, school-based program that helps kids deal with the stress and embarrassment of having a parent in jail or prison.

Unfortunately, it's also one of a handful of local initiatives that will suffer significant cuts on July 1, due to a loss of government money.

Rorie says it would be devastating to see a program shrink that offers training for both families and school staff.

"My children thought their dad was Superman, and they don't have a full understanding of how to cope with the separation," she says. "There's really nowhere else children can feel comfortable talking about their dads being locked up, and not feel shame."

The program, called Empowering Kids With Incarcerated Parents, is offered by the Center for Community Transitions at a time when the county has 5,000 kids with parents behind bars.

Statistics show those children are at greater risk of dropping out, and up to 70 percent will end up in trouble with the law.

The county provided $25,000 for the program last year but has since changed its priorities for nonprofit support. As a result, the money will be refocused on other initiatives at the center for transitions.

Meanwhile, the program is also losing another $80,000 because of state budget cuts.

The result: Instead of running programs for inmates' kids in up to seven schools a year, the center will cut back to no more than three schools. That means helping only 35 to 40 students, a third the number of the current school year.

The result could be more discipline problems in schools, including children acting violently, says Adeola Fearon, the family care coordinator with the program.

"We've had situations where one parent was incarcerated, and then the other parent became incarcerated," Fearon says.

"The siblings end up being taken in by different relatives, which means new school, new neighborhood and new home with new rules. These children end up feeling everyone is against them."

Michael Searcy of Charlotte can attest to what happens as a result: Two of his children went to prison while he was incarcerated for 17 years.

Searcy, 62, is volunteering for the program while waiting to be released from a federal halfway house on July 26.

"When you go to prison, you think it's not going to affect anybody but you, but it affects the entire family," he says.

"My two sons ended up incarcerated because of me not being there to help them make better choices."

Jarrisha Rorie says she believes the program will help keep her three boys in line until her husband is released next March.

In the meantime, the family has already taken the first step.

"My boys know their dad made a mistake, and we can forgive him."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Support for reforms that benefit the public and prisoners

Solitary confinement in prison can be a harrowing, punishing experience, which can be the point. For almost every hour of the day, seven days a week, often for more than a year, inmates in solitary have no human contact at all.

Unfortunately, a significant portion of the state`s inmate population being held in solitary confinement suffers from mental illness. On Friday, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a new law that will hopefully increase the chances that an inmate will get the mental health services he needs, while reducing the costs and overall number of inmates in what is appropriately nicknamed "the hole."

There are about 1,400 people in solitary confinement in Colorado today. They will spend 23 hours a day there, for an average of 16 months, according to the department.

According to the Colorado Department of Corrections, in 1999, 15 percent of inmates in solitary were mentally ill or developmentally disabled. In 2008, it was 37 percent.

The new law requires regular mental health evaluations for inmates in solitary confinement, and allows inmates to receive "earned time" for good behavior after 90 days in solitary. It also restricts the practice of releasing prisoners directly from long-term solitary confinement right into the community, instead of transitioning to the general prison population.

Currently, 41 percent of prisoners released from solitary confinement are really released: Their entire prison time has been served.

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, and Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora sponsored the bill, which garnered support from a coalition including state branches of the ACLU, Mental Health America and the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

"Solitary confinement of mentally ill inmates isn`t useful or productive for the safety of the inmate or the prison. This legislation will increase prison and prisoner safety," said Rep. Levy.

The most important thing is that the new law is just, and humane. The upshot is that it could potentially save taxpayers` money. A single prisoner in solitary confinement costs a conservatively estimated $15,000 more than a prisoner in the general population.

Speaking of prisoners and money, a conference held this week holds out some promise. A national conference regarding pre-trial release was held in Washington D.C. to review laws set almost 50 years ago regarding non-violent offenders filling up local jails. An estimated 500,000 people, charged with non-violent offenses, are jailed each day in the United States because they can`t afford the bail.

The cost to the public is $9 billion a year. And these aren`t criminals a judge wouldn`t want to risk losing sight of: These are non-violent offenders for whom bail has already been set. They just can`t afford it.

Earlier this year, Boulder County Chief Judge Roxanne Bailin, with support from the district attorney`s office and the sheriff`s department, rolled out a reduced bond schedules for our local suspects to address this very issue. Talking about it at the national level is smart.

Read more: Prison and jail reforms - Boulder Daily Camera http://www.dailycamera.com/ci_18201206#ixzz1OShbnJYC