Author: chicagobeyond

The Land of the Free Leads the World in Incarceration. Why? – Capital B News

Reform advocates say there are other ways to respond to crimes, from rehabilitation to trauma treatment.

This article was written by Christina Carrega and was published on Capital B News on June 15, 2022.

When Sylvester Shockley was 9 years old, he says he was arrested for breaking into businesses and sent to an “all-boys reform school” — what he later realized was a detention center for “juvenile delinquents.”

It was 1959, and his career as a defendant in the criminal justice system was just beginning. By the time Shockley was 14, he had been placed in a juvenile detention center for a second time, for another break-in. Shortly after he returned home, he says, he was back in the system again following a physical altercation with a white student who called him the n-word.

But it was during his time in an adult facility — at age 15 — that Shockley says he “entered the world of violence.” He was placed in a facility with men who were accused or convicted of violent crimes, forcing him to quickly toughen up to protect himself.

“I acquired a reputation there, and I liked the attention I was getting with that reputation,” Shockley says. “By the time I got out and turned 17, I thought that I was a bona fide hustler, so to speak. I made the decision that doing wrong was better than doing right.”

Shockley was eventually convicted in the manslaughter death of a store clerk and received a second felony conviction for rape at age 31.

America’s detention centers — rife with violence and inhumane conditions — have created a system that worsens prisoners’ mental health and perpetuates crime, even outside of their walls, prison reform advocates say. Federal investigations have revealed patterns of constitutional violations and civil rights offenses across the country that undermine the correctional system’s professed goal of rehabilitation.

In Georgia, federal officials are investigating state prisons where dozens of homicides and suicides have been reported since 2020. In Texas, the Department of Justice has launched an investigation into five juvenile facilities amid allegations of physical and sexual abuse as well as excessive use of chemical restraints and isolation. In Alabama, the DOJ’s civil rights division has filed a lawsuit against the state, saying it “fails to provide safe and sanitary conditions, and subjects prisoners to excessive force at the hands of prison staff,” violations that have led to “homicides, rapes, and serious injuries.”

The US incarceration rate has been declining for more than a decade, but the land of the free continues to lead the world in putting its residents behind bars. Black Americans are most affected, funneled into state prisons at five times the rate of white Americans. Near the nation’s peak level of incarceration in 2008, one in every nine young Black men was locked up.

Incarceration is one of the most glaring examples of how fragile freedom can be for Black Americans. The 13th Amendment made America’s brand of mass incarceration possible by abolishing slavery “except as a punishment for crime.” That loophole has allowed correctional institutions to dehumanize those in their custody, often crowding them into heavily guarded facilities where they live in 6-by-8-foot cell blocks and work for pennies.

“It wasn’t until we started to criminalize Blackness more that we started to see more of a dehumanization take place within these correctional facilities,” says Nneka Jones Tapia, former executive director of the Cook County Department of Corrections. “That 13th Amendment clause, I think, is an articulation of the fear that we in America have always had of Black and brown people.”

For those like Shockley — whose 1982 life sentence for rape left room to reclaim his freedom with the possibility of parole — correctional institutions need to reframe their approach to be rehabilitative rather than punitive, reform advocates say. That means focusing on the trauma that often underlies criminal behavior and treating it, while finding ways to keep nonviolent people out of prison altogether.

“Prisons aren’t working,” says Fritzi Horstman, founder of Compassion Prison Project, a nonprofit organization focused on humanizing incarcerated individuals. “Prisons should not be for punishment, they should be for healing, because if you realize that everyone in a prison is traumatized, why would you continue to traumatize them?”

Horstman created a short program series called “Trauma Talks,” in which incarcerated people fill out a questionnaire that identifies their types of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as emotional or sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, and mental illness. The program provides tools that encourage healing through breathing, writing, meditation exercises, and group discussions.

The talks are not considered therapy, Horstman says, but rather an awareness campaign to help those in correctional settings recognize and understand the root causes of their violent behavior and adjust to avoid recidivism.

Awareness of one’s childhood traumas isn’t meant to excuse bad behavior, she said. It’s an opportunity to take responsibility for one’s actions and develop coping mechanisms to better control them.

“A lot of people in prison don’t want to take accountability because it makes them feel like they’re wrong, and it brings up their shame,” Horstman says. “But accountability is courage. Accountability is saying, ‘Look, I’m human, I did something wrong.’”
The program launched in September at Valley State Prison in California and Horstman hopes to expand across the country.

Shockley, like many participants in Trauma Talks, said he has experienced at least one form of adverse childhood experience. Growing up Black with a record during Jim Crow meant that society put him in a box that labeled him a criminal, he says. He was given no tools for a second chance through rehabilitation.

“They were thinking that I was a person who was out of control, not realizing the trauma that’s involved with my acting out. They really deemed me as inhumane and not worth being rehabilitated,” Shockley says, adding that he was sent to a mental health professional whose questions weren’t helpful.

“Instead, they should have asked, ‘Did anybody molest you?’” he says. “That would have been a fair question to ask.”

Not only have most incarcerated people experienced traumatic events in their lifetimes, Tapia says, most correctional officers have, too. But the “us-versus-them” culture indoctrinated in prisons for generations prevents cooperation toward a shared goal of community safety.

“Even though these two groups — correctional officers and people incarcerated — have these experiences that are very common and rooted in trauma, the system teaches them to see each other as different,” she says, noting that correctional officers are trained in military-style tactics. “When we see people as ‘the other,’ that’s really the foundation for the dehumanization that we see happening in correctional facilities.”

Tapia serves as the managing director of justice initiatives for Chicago Beyond, an organization that funds and coordinates with grassroots organizations that target various inequities in communities of color, including education, health, and youth safety.

Horstman acknowledges that the rehabilitative approach she advocates isn’t a panacea. She believes “probably about 3 to 5 percent of people” in prison can’t be helped because of conditions that limit their ability to “see people as human.”

But advocates say that in most cases, criminal behavior isn’t innate — it’s learned, and the prevalence of juvenile detention has something to do with it.

Like Shockley, 68 percent of people in state prisons were first arrested before their 18th birthday, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics 2016 report — long before one’s cerebral cortex is fully developed. The numbers are worse for Black Americans: 76 percent of incarcerated individuals’ first arrest was before the age of 18.

Some advocates say that any amount of time that a young person is held in detention is unjustifiable. CPP’s Trauma Talks workbook states that “when the brain is developing, it is adjusting to the world and acquiring new skills for survival and adaptation. If growth is taking place in an unstable, stressful and traumatizing environment it affects a child’s ability to think, learn, decision-make, play and build healthy relationships.”

Through accountability, compassion, and healing, Horstman and Tapia say that rehabilitation is possible for a large majority of those who are incarcerated and will make safer work environments for staff. But the commitment of correctional facility administrators to operating under the status quo is preventing progress, they say.

“We have to look beyond those military-style practices to think about recruiting people with expertise in mental health, with expertise in social work and education, so that they come into the job with a different mindset, one that’s rooted in healing and helping individuals and not one that’s rooted in control,” says Tapia, whose father was in and out of jail and prison during her childhood. “We must humanize those who are incarcerated. They’re not just what they’re charged with. They are mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons who have whole life experiences, good and bad, just like all of us.”

Three years after Shockley’s release from prison, the now 71-year-old says he is gainfully employed, owns a home, purchased a car, and received the “Achiever of the Year” award on May 20 from Goodwill of Delaware and Delaware County.

With support from relatives and Compassion Prison Project, Shockley says he is using his golden years to “explore all the possibilities life has to offer.”

Chicago Beyond Partners with TasselTurn to Increase Education Equity for Foster-Involved Youth

Chicago Beyond, an impact investor that works to ensure all young people have the opportunity to live a free and full life, today announced its partnership with TasselTurn. TasselTurn is an edtech nonprofit providing foster-involved and housing insecure youth with tailored plans, developed in consultation with high school and undergraduate school programs, to graduate from high school and attend college. Their virtual platform aims to fill in gaps for foster-involved youth, with a particular focus on long-term planning, cognitive and non-cognitive skills-building, and social-emotional support – areas not typically addressed through standard foster case management.

In 2018, one-third of all children entering foster care were young people of color, with 23 percent identifying as Black – almost twice the percentage of Black children in the total US population, according to data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Today, there are nearly 440,000 children in the foster care system nationwide, a disproportionate number of whom are children of color.

“There is a gap between the aspirations of young people and the support that is accessible to them. Today’s foster-care system is overburdened and falls short of sufficiently preparing our young people to thrive in college, career, and life,” said Liz Dozier, Founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond. “It is important to invest in ways that support our young people and fills those gaps.”  

This is the first investment Chicago Beyond has made in nonprofit-tech. Within tech spaces, accessing support from funders has been historically difficult. According to Crunchbase data, about 1.3 percent of U.S. venture capital dollars went to Black-founded businesses in 2021. Chicago Beyond’s investment in TasselTurn signals the importance of investing in organizations with deep proximity to human experiences and in products that are designed by, for, and with the communities most impacted by them.

Highlights of the partnership include:

  • $400K in unrestricted financial support for staffing, coaches and tutor stipends, and data certification; and

  • Strategic thought partnership in model iteration and impact assessment.

“Historically, interventions to support foster-involved youth have been delivered through traditional practices: residential programming and care packages to aid infrequent home placements. While no intervention is too small, it is time for innovation and intentionality in the foster care system.” said Shanté Elliott, Founder and CEO of TasselTurn. “Education remains the greatest weapon to avoid social ills like poverty, homelessness, and incarceration in America, which is why our focus on education attainment is intentional. This investment from Chicago Beyond affirms the need for our work to be delivered at scale. We look forward to providing youth experiencing housing insecurity and foster care an opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their families.”

Elliott, whose story intersects with foster care, was inspired on her journey to healing and launched TasselTurn to support other youth in care to realize their potential. TasselTurn started as an in-person educational support program for foster-involved youth in grades 9-12 at Curie High School on Chicago’s Southside. But, TasselTurn learned that due to the instability of the foster care system, young people’s housing and school locations could change, requiring them to leave the network of support. To address these issues, TasselTurn changed its approach so students could access the program and connect with a trusted adult wherever students were by launching an online version of their platform.

Since its founding, TasselTurn has expanded from meeting with 10 young people weekly in a school cafeteria to having 27 students in their first online cohort to supporting 245 users enrolled over the past two years. Today, TasselTurn works with youth in three states – Illinois, North Carolina, and Michigan. 163 students are located in Illinois.

TasselTurn works by building the ecosystems of support each young person needs.  Here’s how educational institutions, policymakers, foster care parents and funders can help:

  • High school counselors: Help connect foster-involved young people and their families with TasselTurn;

  • College admissions counselors: Connect with housing insecure and foster-involved youth who have college aspirations, early in the journey;

  • Elected officials and policymakers: Recognize the potential in foster-involved youth and make it easier for caseworkers to sign young people up;

  • Foster care parents: Get support, tools and answers to your most pressing questions through the new TasselTurn parent portal; and

  • Individuals and Institutional Funders: Invest in TasselTurn.

“We are proud to help Shanté grow a strong and sustainable team behind her vision and ultimately provide consistent support for all foster-involved and housing insecure youth to achieve their college and life aspirations,” said Dozier. “We look forward to making more partnerships like this in the future so that all young people have the tools to learn, grow, and thrive not only at the community level but across all systems.” 

To learn more about TasselTurn and to support housing insecure and foster-involved youth achieve their aspirations, click here.

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About TasselTurn

TasselTurn is an edtech nonprofit working to provide foster-involved and housing insecure youth with tailored plans for a collective bright future. We create personalized and accessible post-secondary educational opportunities powered by 1:1 coaching and technology to ensure that the hand foster-involved youths are dealt with as children do not decide the future they get to create as adults.



Former Cook County Jail Warden Advocates for More Holistic Criminal Justice System – WTTW

Our Managing Director of Justice Initiatives Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia spoke with Paris Schutz on WTTW Chicago Tonight on May 19, 2022.

Do inmates in Illinois prisons and jails have a right to safety?

That’s the central question raised in a new publication written by former Cook County Department of Corrections Warden Nneka Jones Tapia.

In it, Jones Tapia makes the case for a more holistic health and safety vision for those in custody. The work comes after COVID ravaged through corrections facilities across the country.

Chicago Beyond released the “Do I Have the Right to Feel Safe” to provide guidance to criminal justice system stakeholders. Read the full report.

Answers have been edited for length. 

How did your experience as a clinical psychologist and warden at Cook County Jail inform your vision of what a holistic criminal justice system could look like?

Nneka Jones Tapia: I think when I started in corrections and through my 10 years as warden, I really realized and saw firsthand the impact that the system had on people who were incarcerated, their families, as well as the staff. I mean I think I saw the overwhelming negative and damaging impact that the system had in the reverberating impact throughout the community.

America incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. It seems to be a system that’s premised more on punishment than the possibility of rehabilitation. Do you think it’s fair to say that at this point, that approach has failed?         

Jones Tapia: I think we’re long overdue to say that this approach to crime has failed. I think if we want to ensure the safety of everyone, we have to focus on creating the conditions that are going to actually produce positive behavior — and that’s not punishment and control.

What kind of toll does the current mass incarceration approach to crime take on both the incarcerated and those who work in correctional facilities? Particularly those inmates who may wait years simply to get to trial?              

Jones Tapia: I would say that really the toll begins from the moment a person enters into the facility. There is a darkness that exists in correctional facilities and you feel that darkness as soon as you walk in, whether you’re a person incarcerated or a staff member. And so the longer that you are required to sit in that darkness, the more negative impact that it has.

What I saw during my tenure at Cook County was the longer that people awaited trial, the more likely they were to engage in negative behavior, again as an impact of sitting in this darkness. It’s not because they were a bad person, but because we had them in a horrendous environment and that’s not unique to the Cook County Jail. I don’t want to paint Cook County as being the only institution that holds people for a longer period of time or that is wrought with darkness — that’s every correctional institution. And because people sitting in there for longer periods of time are more likely to act out that impacts the staff.

We know that the American criminal justice system treats Black and white defendants differently. Talk to me a little bit about the racial aspect of this?           

Jones Tapia: I think that what we see happening in jails and prisons is a reflection of how we in America have historically engaged with race. America tends to fear Black and Brown people and we have responded to that fear by trying to control Black and Brown bodies and trying to punish Black and Brown bodies.

We don’t have a Black criminality problem, (we have) a black exclusion problem. Black and Brown people have been excluded from the very resources and supports that we all know everyone needs in order to thrive. Employment, education, housing opportunities, mental health and physical health services. And so we have to think about our answer to this exclusion problem is not a system that will further exclude people, which is what jails and prisons do, but to think about how we can really nurture the innate positive attributes that exist within people. And we can only do that through connecting them with positive supports, through realizing and investing in the inherent strengths and the humanity that exists in all of us.                

At this moment in time, do you think there is an appetite to change what the American correctional system looks like? Do you think there’s the appetite at this point to actually make fundamental change?                 

Jones Tapia: I think there is an appetite for change for the people who work in, and are confined by, these systems. I believe that the voices of those two groups in particular have to be put on a broader platform because there is also the

voices of people who believe that we should be tougher on crime. And they believe that jails and prisons are the antidote to the rise in crime that we see happening across the country. And so what Chicago Beyond has tried to do is just amplify the voices of people who are impacted by the system to say that while some people think that these systems work to create safety, they actually erode safety.

Give me a sense of how folks who actually work within the correctional system feel about the possibility of reform? 

Jones Tapia: Almost everyone who works in the system has been exposed directly and indirectly to trauma and that trauma sits with them. It doesn’t come off when they take off their uniform when they get home to their families. They interact with people differently, their families, community members. And I think many people working in the system see that. One study found that almost a third of correctional officers have some PTSD and meet criteria for depression. Whereas in the general population, about 3-6% of people meet criteria for those diagnoses. And so the impact is real. You know, and I think the more that we give people who work in the system, the platform to really talk about the impact … the more that they want to be a part of that change. People who work in corrections have a life expectancy that’s 20 years lower than the general population. So they are literally dying because they work in these systems. And so they know that something has to change.

Tell me a little bit about the impact you see on the families of both those incarcerated and those working in correctional facilities?               

Jones Tapia: I experienced it.  I experienced that impact as a young girl visiting my father in the prison. It was something that without the appropriate support from my family and my community could have caused long-lasting negative impact. I saw it as an employee working in this system where families of people incarcerated would call me concerned about the welfare of their loved ones.

That anxiety that families experience when their loved one has been incarcerated impacts them in every area of life. The impact of these institutions, it doesn’t just occur for people who walk into those institutions or who sit in those institutions. One study recently found that close to 113 million Americans have an immediate family member or have had an immediate family member who has been incarcerated. I mean, you think about the impact of that in the grocery stores in our churches and our schools and our communities. People are sitting with that anxiety and have little space to talk about or to be a part of changing system that’s causing that anxiety.                

What does a re-envisioned American justice system and correctional system look like?                 

Jones Tapia: It looks like empowerment of people who have been most impacted by the system. That’s the staff, that’s the people who are and have been incarcerated. That’s the families of these groups, that’s survivors of crime, that’s community organizations that are most impacted by incarceration. And it doesn’t look like control and punishment, instead it looks like centering the conditions that are going to help people to thrive. And leaving space for continuous iterations of what that could be. It’s not a check the box exercise. It is something that we have to continuously work towards.                

What kind of response have you had to your new holistic vision for the correctional system from people who work within it?                 

Jones Tapia: We created this vision in partnership with people who work in the system, people who have been incarcerated in the system, as well as survivors of crime and current and former correctional administrators. Almost 100 people have lent their voice to this vision. And while we have divergent pathways of how we have gotten here, we all agree that what we are doing through mass incarceration and through divestment in communities is not working and that we collectively have to think about universal healing and supports for our whole communities. If we truly want to experience safety, we have to invest in the people and the communities that they come from.

WBEZ: Chicago Beyond’s vision for holistic safety in corrections

Next week, Chicago Beyond will unveil a new publication and initiative to forge a path toward holistic safety for people impacted by incarceration. The group will bring together current and former correctional officers, formerly incarcerated people and their families for an event May 24.

Reset learns more about what’s needed to keep people safe inside and outside of correctional walls.

GUESTS: Nneka Jones Tapia, managing director of justice initiatives for Chicago Beyond; former warden of Cook County JailAndy Potter, founder of One Voice United; retired corrections officer

Ronald Simpson-Bey, executive vice president of JustLeadershipUSA

Chicago Beyond Announces New Leadership Venture to Transform Black Maternal Health Outcomes 

The venture partners with Jeanine Valrie Logan, certified nurse midwife, and advocate for birth equity to accelerate her work in opening the first free-standing birth center on Chicago’s South Side 

Chicago Beyond, an impact investor that works to ensure all young people have the opportunity to live a free and full life in Chicago’s communities, today announced its newest endeavor to support Jeanine Valrie Logan, a birth equity champion who works to address inequities in Black maternal health. Valrie Logan is currently working on the development of the Chicago South Side Birth Center, a nonprofit, Black midwife-led, culturally concordant, community-focused birth center to be located on Chicago’s South Side. Jeanine Valrie Logan joins Chicago Beyond as part of the organization’s Leadership Venture. 

Launched in 2018, the Leadership Venture program provides fellowship for extraordinary individuals poised to make a significant impact on young people in Chicago and beyond. Their inaugural venture with Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia to holistically support those in the criminal legal system proved how investing in those with lived experience can lead to deep systemic impact.  

“This partnership with Jeanine not only has the potential for tremendous impact for birthing people, families, and communities served by the Chicago South Side Birth Center, but also will set the standard for what holistic Black maternal health can look like across the nation,” said Liz Dozier, founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond. “It’s vital that we support leaders like Jeanine, empower their lived experience, and lower the barrier to entry for those who are wanting and willing to make an impact.” 

Over the next two years, Chicago Beyond will support Valrie Logan with funding and professional support to successfully launch the Chicago South Side Birth Center – a freestanding maternal health center which will provide holistic, community-based care to birthing people and families before, during, and after birth, as well as create a liberatory space that affirms the experience, autonomy, identity, healing, self-determination, and liberation of Black birthing people, their families, and communities. The lack of supportive birthing options available to pregnant Black women and people on the South Side has created what the Chicago Tribune has called a birthing desert, forcing them to travel far beyond where they live to seek adequate prenatal care, and to deliver. In August of 2021, Valrie Logan’s work was influential in pushing through Illinois House Bill 738, which aims to expand access to birth centers across the City of Chicago. 

“I’m so honored to be partnering with Chicago Beyond to make Black maternal health a priority in the South Side and across the city of Chicago,” said Jeanine Valrie Logan, Chicago Beyond’s newest Leadership Venture recipient. “It’s empowering to feel trusted with my vision and ideas so that I can support the community that I love.” 

Between 2019 and 2020, the number of hospitals serving the southeast corridor of the South Side offering maternity services dropped from seven to three. Mercy Hospital, one of the three remaining facilities offering labor and delivery services, recently announced it would close permanently, leaving South Side women and birthing people with even fewer birthing options in their community.  

The Black maternal health crisis is a critical systemic challenge, with staggering impacts on young people, children, and families throughout the South and West Sides of Chicago and across the country. The Center for Disease Control has noted the stark disparities in prenatal and postnatal care between white patients and patients of color, particularly Black patients, result in higher child and mother mortality rates. Racially biased pre-judgements about pain threshold, consent, care, and communication lead Black patients to often being denied needed medical treatments and support.  

Valrie Logan plans to rectify these disparities and support Black mothers, birthing people, and children in the South Side community through holistic care and equitable birthing practices. Chicago Beyond believes that it is these types of unrestricted, trust-based investments that will make the most outstanding impact across communities.  

To learn more about Chicago Beyond’s work in ensuring all young people are free to live up to their fullest potential, click here. To learn more about the Chicago South Side Birth Center and support the ongoing work of the initiative, click here. 

About Jeanine Valrie Logan

Jeanine Valrie Logan, is a Certified Nurse Midwife, certified lactation specialist, and has a strong background in public health and reproductive health policy. She is a birth justice activist and often speaks publicly on breastfeeding, birth justice, doulas, and midwifery in the Black community. She is the co-editor of the book Free to Breastfeed: Voices of Black Mothers. Jeanine works collectively with birth workers of color and allies to address birth inequity – including most recently on the writing and passing of HB738 which expands birth centers in the state of Illinois. She is a wife and mother of three, all of whom were born out-of-hospital.