Chairperson Sen. Lathrop and Judiciary Committee Board Members
District #12, Room 1103 State Capitol
PO Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
January 27, 2022
Dear Senator Lathrop and Judiciary Committee Board Members,
My name is Jasmine L. Harris. I am the Director of Public Policy & Advocacy for RISE. I request that this testimony be included as part of the public hearing record that shows RISE is in support of LB831.
RISE is the largest nonprofit organization in Nebraska focused solely on habilitative programming in prisons and reentry support. At RISE, transformation starts pre-release and continues post-release. Our inside/out model bridges incarceration to the community and considers all the critical steps in that journey. We prepare and train people for each phase through intensive character development, employment readiness, job creation through entrepreneurship, family programming and case management. We transform people in the community by building awareness and empathy that leads to support and opportunity. These connections heal families, create employment pathways and lower recidivism. The mission of RISE is to break generational cycles of incarceration.
We thank Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh for introducing LB831. This Caregiver Diversion bill is important for many reasons. It will help with the alleviation of the overcrowding in our correctional facilities, allow parents to continue to be providers for their children, and decrease the risk of familial cycles of incarceration.
As you all know, we have been faced with the dilemma of how do we decrease the populations in our prisons. Jails are feeders into the prison system. We must begin to look at alternatives to incarceration to alleviate the stress caused on our correctional facilities and the lives of people who are faced with incarceration. LB831 takes a step in the right direction to begin this process of finding other solutions. This bill would offer an alternative to incarceration for individuals with low level felony and
misdemeanor convictions to enroll in a program that addresses many of the issues that people who are currently incarcerated are required to receive programming for. These programs like mental health screening and treatment, drug and alcohol treatment, anger management, job training and placement, and parenting classes can be offered in the community for people who qualify for this program. They would be under supervision for this program and would be able to continue working and providing for their children while receiving the necessary services to help them move forward in life.
The Bureau of Justice and Statistics had reported at one point that over 77% of mothers and 26% of fathers in state prisons were the primary caregivers for their children.1 The Prison Policy Initiative reported in 2019, that 80% of women in jails are mothers and most are the primary caregiver. They also reported there are about 114,000 women held in jails across the United States, with 61,000, not yet being convicted. Majority of their charges are property, drug or public order offenses.2 The numbers grow even more once you add state prisons. When a primary caregiver is arrested, a child is now faced with uncertainty of being provided for. Many children are placed in the foster care system. More than 20% are placed in kinship care, where the majority of these caregivers are elderly grandparents. The effects on children of having an incarcerated parent include antisocial behavior, suspension/expulsion from school, criminal activity and more. Children with a parent who is incarcerated is 70% more likely to end up incarcerated as well.
There has been success with diversion programs across the U.S. with many counties and cities implementing them. There are alternatives such as mental health courts and reentry courts that Nebraska counties are implementing. With a look at these staggering numbers and the effects that primary caregivers going to jail or prison have on their children, LB831 could have a great impact in our communities in Nebraska which would be a win-win; not just to alleviate the overcrowding, but for the parents and children involved as well.
Section 11 of LB831 introduces another alternative to incarceration that would specifically impact pregnant individuals. I have included with my testimony an article from The Sentencing Project titled Parents in Prison which discusses the impact incarceration has on families, interventions and reforms. One of the reforms that this article discusses is the Healthy Start Act (a fact sheet is included as well) enacted this past year in Minnesota. The goal of this program is to allow qualified pregnant individuals to serve their sentence in a setting in the community that is an alternative to incarceration. This setting
in the community would be more conducive to providing services to pregnant individuals and preparing them to be successful individuals and parents once they have completed their programming.
This idea may seem out of the box, but in order for us to address an ever growing prison population we have to start thinking outside of the box. These alternatives to incarceration can be implemented with community partnerships with organizations like RISE who can provide family and individual programming and Bethlehem House in Omaha which serves pregnant and parenting women in crisis by providing housing and programming. Majority of their participants have been justice involved and have seen great success. Their apartment project for graduates of their program is underway.
Supporting this legislation to create this program goes back to our mission to break generational cycles of incarceration. Let’s start by not having babies birthed into incarceration and helping their mothers with an alternative that can be life changing. We ask that you all support LB831 and vote to advance it out of committee to general file.
1 Bureau of Justice Statistics, (2000) Incarcerated Parents and Their Children
2 Prison Policy Initiative (2019) Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019
Jasmine L. Harris, MPH, CHES
Director of Public Policy & Advocacy, RISE