Families Before Profits: Research & Action

Research demonstrates that regular contact is crucial to an incarcerated person’s mental health during confinement, as well as their ability to successfully reintegrate upon release. Providing free telephone calls is not a solution to over-incarceration, but is a key to maintaining contact with families and friends. (Learn more: The Hill: Importance of ongoing contact for prisoners). 


Free telephone and video calls


Current costs of telephone calls and projected costs for video calls set by Securus Technologies, a multi-billion dollar for-profit corporation, are unfair and prohibitive for families. Locally and nationally, the high costs of prison and jail phone calls drives families and friends into debt. (Learn more: When Phone Calls Send Families Into Debt). 

Monthly call volume records obtained by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting show Securus collected $1.6 million in revenue from phone calls in the Louisville jail during 2020. (Learn more: Phone Calls Still Won’t Be Free When Louisville Jail Gives Up Profit)


No digitizing mail for surveillance


A new money-making mode now being proposed by Securus is the digitization of mail to confined people. Letters and photos sent to prisoners would be converted to email for surveillance purposes. Written correspondence is more important now than ever with the cessation of all visiting, and the only alternative for families and friends who cannot afford the cost of phone calls. Moreover, a large percentage of people in the Louisville Jail are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of any charge, so should not be subject to surveillance.



In-person visiting as soon as safely possible


From 2008 through March 2020, LFJA’s Special Project Team created art with families in the video lobby in the main jail complex each week. During that time, with no in-person visiting opportunities available, families often waited 2-3 hours for a 20 minute video monitor session. The Special Project Team witnessed 50-100 (and sometimes more) caregivers and children enduring long waits in the basement of the Hall of Justice to see their loved ones during the weekly two-hour artmaking activities.

Families and friends want and deserve in-person contact with their incarcerated loved ones. Research shows that strong family and social connections are important keys to successful re-entry for the person who is incarcerated, and makes a difference for the well-being of their loved ones, especially children.

Be The Change You Want to See! 

Metro Council took a big step forward in June by approving the 2021-22 Metro Budget with the requirement that the LMDC discontinue generating revenue from phone calls after December 31st. Now, LMDC and Metro Council can go beyond banning revenue from phone calls and begin creating system changes in communications that recognize the health and well-being of people and families impacted by incarceration.


Now is the time to break the silence, change the narrative, and engage your neighbors, friends, faith and justice communities, and elected officials in re-thinking incarceration in our city. The conditions in our jail can be changed because it is under local jurisdictions. Here’s how:

  • LMDC’s contract with Securus can be renegotiated.
  • Community partners can play roles as peer mentors and supporters for incarcerated persons and their families.
  • You can contact your elected Metro Council member. Let them know you support families over profit and safe and healthy communications between incarcerated people and their loved ones.

Louisville Family Justice Advocates

familyjusticeadvocates@gmail.com

Family Connections = Keys to Reentry

Free Phone Calls & Visiting:

National data shows that women make up almost 90% of family members paying for phone fees and visiting.

More than a third of the families are in debt because of
those costs.

The above community mural, named “The Passage,” in the Exit Lobby of the Louisville Metro Jail portrays a bridge to the outside, images of loved ones, connections with nature, winds of change, prayers and peace.


In Louisville, charges for phone fees are racially inequitable because of disparities in who is arrested, released pre-trial, or can afford cash bail. This means Black families are disproportionately burdened and indebted by the costs of phone calls On May 28th, for example, the Jail reports 711 Black people being held, 52% of the total 1373.


As a minimum health standard, all incarcerated people and their loved ones
deserve at least one free phone call per day in a clean, safe, and private space
.


The final Budget is now under consideration by the Metro Council. For the most current information on phone fees, contact your District Council member today.

We call on @louisvillekygov to remove the $700,700 in revenues collected from
telephone fees in the Mayor’s proposed Budget for Louisville Metro Department of
Corrections for 2021-22.

We call on Louisville Metro Department of Corrections @KYCorrections to establish minimum
health standards and open in-person visiting so that incarcerated individuals and
their loved ones can build social connectedness.

National studies show that visiting with incarcerated parents provides emotional
support for children and reduces the risk of recidivism after parents are released.
Minimum health standards include in-person visiting available to all families two
or more times each week, in a clean, safe well-lit space that accommodates children’s
schedules and prioritizes the physical, emotional and safety of children.

We call on Louisville Metro Department of Corrections to accept and implement
these essential changes immediately to improve the health & wellbeing of all people
in our community.

Louisville Family Justice Work Team,

Annette Bridges, Leslie Clements, Judi Jennings, Shelton McElroy, LaTonya McNeal, Tony Newberry, Julia Richerson, Savvy Shabazz, All Of Us Or None

References
On May 28, Black people numbered 711 52% of the 1373 people being held in the
Louisville Metro jail.

Minnesota Department of Corrections. (2011).


Saneta, d-V., Schweidler, C., Walters, A., & Zohrabi, A. (2017).

Who pays? The true
cost of incarceration on families
. Oakland, CA: Ella Baker Center, Forward Together

“We Are Not Collateral Consequences”

Children of incarcerated parents are some of the most resilient children, profoundly impacted by a justice system that hardly acknowledges us.

It is time to share our voices and experiences of the consequences of our unjust system, so that we can lead the way to meaningful reform. Isabel Coronado, Next100 Policy Leader

Because “children are often thought of as collateral consequences to our parents’ incarceration,” Coronado and her Next100 cohort created this chart with children at the center.



Here in Kentucky, according to the most recent report,  88% of child maltreatment cases are identified as neglect or deprivation of necessities. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/cb/cm2019.pdf

Louisville forensic pediatrician Dr. Melissa Currie points to “substance use, domestic violence and one of the highest parental incarceration rates in the country” as contributing factors. Kentucky is 3rd in the nation with its 12% rate of parental incarceration.

Similar rates in other states have led some national child welfare leaders to question whether neglect is being confused with poverty. These leaders maintain that a strength-based public-health response to poverty is more universal and would offer broad eligibility for health-oriented services. https://imprintnews.org/child-welfare-2/america-must-change-its-view-of-poverty-and-neglect/51659


Removal of children from their families due to neglect is especially concerning in Kentucky because of racial inequities in youth and adult incarceration.

As youth advocate Danielle Hempel points out, where “Black children are much more likely to be removed from their homes than their White peers.

The disproportionate representation of children of color in the foster care system is driven by a number of factors, including socioeconomic status and family structure, as well as bias and structural inequities. Poverty in and of itself does not account for the racial disparities in foster care.”

Putting children with incarcerated parents in the center of systemic change to end child abuse in Kentucky calls for racial and economic equity in all policies.

Ten Reasons Why Phone Calls From Jail Should Be Free

1. Recognizing and honoring our collective humanity is the right thing to do.

2. Maintaining family connections supports health and wellbeing for both children and their incarcerated loved ones.

3. Strong family connections support successful re-entry when loved ones return home.

4. Staying connected with loved ones reduces children’s stress levels.

5.  It is a basic human right. Children have the right to connect with their parent by phone or video.” -Dr. Julia Richerson

6. “The members of the National Council of Jewish Women-Louisville Section through our Court Watch Program have seen first hand the impact on children when they are separated from a parent.” -From the letter of support from National Council of Jewish Women-Louisville

7. Putting families first creates stronger communities.

8. Louisville Metro Department of Corrections should not profiteer from phone calls to families.

The Louisville Metro Budget for 2020-21 approved LMDC to collect $633,600 from “Inmate Telephone Fees.” These fees come from the $9.99 LMDC charges for a 15-minute collect call per person inside the jail.

(Source: https://louisvilleky.gov/sites/default/files/management_budget/fy21/2020-2021_louisville_metro_approved_detail_budget.pdf)

9. Louisville Metro taxpayers deserve full disclosure of LMDC’s recent contract with for-profit international company, Global Tel Link.

10. Our children are our future.

Humanity, Transparency, and Accountability

Demanding action from Louisville Metro Department of Corrections

On October 5th, LFJA Board members, Special Project art activity leaders and community advocates wrote a letter to the Director and Assistant Director of Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC). With video visiting suspended since March 13th and no consistent public information concerning COVID-19 cases inside the jail, we called on LMDC to take three simple and humane actions for families with incarcerated loved ones in Louisville’s Main Jail Complex:

  1. Provide at least two (2) free phone calls per week to people inside the Jail until visiting is reinstated. The current cost of collect calls to cellular phones from the Jail is an exorbitant amount of $9.99 for a 15-minute call. This fee includes a commission for LMDC.
  2. Post weekly information about the number of cases and health protocols for COVID-19 cases inside the Jail.
  3. Establish public guidelines for timing and conditions to resume video visiting, or create a new alternative.

The letter called for LMDC leaders to respond by October 13th, the date marking seven months with no video contact options for families. The Jail leaders chose not to acknowledge or reply to these common sense calls for action, adding lack of transparency and public accountability to the lack of basic humanity in the face of the pain and suffering especially affecting poor Black and Brown people disproportionately confined in the Jail.

SO NOW WE NEED YOU TO JOIN OUR CALL TO ACTION!

Here are four ways you can support our work:

  1. Watch our virtual forum on Prison Phone Justice and hear the voices of directly impacted community members, including:
    • Chef Nikkia Rhodes points out how the high cost of phone calls unfairly punishes children and families who committed no crimes.
    • LaTonya MacNeal, a recovery worker, says, “a phone call can be a matter of life or death.”
    • Aaron Bentley, a civil rights attorney, explains how a person being held Pre-Trial and cannot pay cash bail are is less likely to be able to access a free attorney call.
  2. Learn how Prison Phone calls are part of the global for-profit Prison Industrial Complex now dominated by two international corporations. Research how local jails, including LMDC, get “commissions” on each call. 
  3. Sign your name and circulate this petition to engage more people in this important call to action for humanity, transparency, and accountability by Louisville Metro Department of Corrections.
  4. Email LFJA at louisvillefamilyjusticeadvocates@gmail.com if you or a group would like to create an additional separate letter of support like this one that focuses on children’s health.

Why Prison Phone Justice? Why Now?

There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives…Our struggles are particular, but we are not alone.

-Audre Lorde

For more than a decade, advocates for Prison Phone Justice across our country have called for the abolition of for-profit exorbitant rates for phone calls made from prisons and jails. 

Now, the intertwined pandemics in public health and racial injustice reveal how Prison Phone Justice is embedded in racial justice and health equity as an important component of public safety and wellness in our community.     

Prison Phone Justice sees and affirms the full humanity of incarcerated people. People don’t stop being parents, siblings, grandparents or friends because they are incarcerated. Because of systemic racial disparities in who is incarcerated in Louisville, denying video visiting and charging high costs for phone calls inflicts more harm on Black, Brown and poor people, and their families, friends and advocates.

Prison Phone Justice respects people directly impacted by incarceration and learns from their knowledge and stories. Personal stories, like Chef Nikkia Rhodes’ loving memories of her father, challenge unspoken assumptions that incarcerated people do not have caring connections. Denying access to free visual and spoken contact with families, friends and legal advisors is racially unjust, economically unfair and harmful to the health and wellbeing of our community. 

Addressing the immediate needs of currently incarcerated community members connects Prison Phone Justice to the transformative work of challenging injustice and creating safer and healthier systems for our whole community. The presence of COVID-19 inside the jail makes free and accessible communication to friends and loved ones more urgent and necessary now. In this important time of change, every individual and collective action to enact justice makes a difference because, as Audre Lorde points out, we are all connected.  

Please join the call and participate in the LFJA Virtual Forum on Wednesday, October 7th from 5:30 – 6:00pm to learn more about Prison Phone Justice, hear from folks directly impacted, and what you can do about it!

LFJA always welcomes and depends on your suggestions, ideas, concerns, questions, and needs. 

Family Justice is More Important Now Than Ever

In mid-March, the video visiting lobby at the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections closed, understandably, because of COVID-19. Yet, now five months later, there is still no alternative for families to visually see their incarcerated loved ones and no information about when video visiting can resume.

On August 6th the Courier-Journal reported 124 incarcerated persons tested positive for COVID-19. If you have not had an incarcerated loved one, imagine how families would feel hearing this news and knowing that social distancing is impossible in the jail. All families in Louisville should have access to vital health information concerning their loved ones, especially now and especially for those being detained by Louisville Metro Government.

And it is more important now than ever to recognize that racial disparities in policing and judging mean significant and now life threatening health disparities in those who are in danger in jail.

Kentucky now has the 3rd highest rate in the nation (12%) of children experiencing incarceration. LFJA recently joined with Partners for Education, at Berea College, and Hasan Davis, performance artist and former KY Commissioner of Juvenile Justice, in an Urban and Rural Learning Exchange about the impact of parental incarceration on children and families in our communities. One thing we learned is Family justice,  including visiting and phone calls, are more important now than ever!

Photography by Layfierre Mitchell

On May 29th, when people in Louisville and across the nation marched in protest of the most recent police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, LFJA community photographer Layfierre Mitchell knew it was a historic moment. He “stands behind the movement,” he says, because “he is living the movement” and “some people have to be involved.” On June 23rd, he returned to downtown Louisville to photograph “Injustice Square,” at 6th and Jefferson Street, still being occupied by people demanding justice for Breonna Taylor.

“My pictures are a platform for me to influence how people feel. Pictures are a visual representation of the world.”

May 29th: Downtown Louisville, KY
May 29th: Downtown Louisville, KY

“Having a camera is sharing your experience. When I take pictures I want the camera to show what I saw.”

“When I do photography, I have to think about how my pictures are going to look after I take them. I think that taking my pictures is like giving a gift.”

June 23rd: Injustice Square, Louisville, KY
In commemoration of Breonna Taylor
June 23rd: Injustice Square, Louisville, KY

“When I take pictures of people, I am always thinking about the people seeing the pictures and what they will think of them. That means you have to empathize and put yourself in the place of the viewer.”

Reimagining Family Justice

By EB Saldana and Judi Jennings

On June 17th,  Louisville Family Justice Advocates, ACLU-KY and The Bail Project-Louisville created a Virtual Forum centering on author and journalist, Sylvia A. Harvey’s important new book: The Shadow System: Mass Incarceration and the American Family. The Forum, linked here and below, integrated a keynote from Harvey, first-hand stories from Christina Walker and LeTonya McNeal, two courageous mothers featured in the book, State Representative Attica Scott, and Amanda Hall, ACLU-KY Policy Strategist. This powerful combination inspired participants to reimagine family justice and consider what it means in our community.

 As Harvey demonstrates, the shadow side of mass incarceration is its impact on families, especially children. As incarceration increases, child welfare programs in states across the nation become shadow systems of the criminal legal system.  Family Justice policies and practices operate in the intermediary spaces between these two systems, often filled with barriers and blind spots.  

Harvey explains, “These systems are not communicating because they have distinct missions.” The criminal legal system’s mission is not the safety or well-being of the family, but to punish individuals. In the process of punishing one person, whole families are thrown into disarray. At the same time, what should be the safety net for the family — the child welfare system — hasn’t yet figured out how to truly protect children and does not take into account the challenges of parents and caregivers who want to reunite with their families after incarceration. 

Harvey’s research for her book brought her to Kentucky. Here, as in many states, the “child welfare system” includes Child Protective Services, mental health services, foster care, adoption, care by extended family members, psychiatric hospitals, and an array of residential programs and group homes.  When a parent is charged with a crime, judges, social workers, and court staff also make decisions about removing children from caretakers deemed inadequate. 

Kentuckian Christina Walker shares her story of how her children were removed from her custody 3 days after she was arrested for failure to appear before a judge for nonsupport. After her release from jail eighteen days later, she spiraled into substance abuse, drew more serious charges and was adjudicated into a recovery program in another city. Being distant from her children prevented her from visiting them weekly and meeting other requirements of child welfare programs. Finally, faced with termination of her rights to custody of her two children, she agreed to their adoption.

Disparities in incarceration, sentencing, recovery and reentry of African American parents are inextricably linked to disparities in the welfare of children.

Harvey’s book highlights families in two other states, Mississippi and Florida, and in all 3 locations, she points to stark racial disparities in both the carceral and child welfare systems. LaTonya McNeal shares her story as an African American woman about the racial and economic inequities she experienced in both the criminal legal and child welfare systems.. Growing up in the housing projects of Chicago during the War on Drugs, she witnessed disparities in policing and sentencing for poor African Americans. Like Christina, she was incarcerated and lost her children. After being adjudicated into a recovery program in Louisville, she saw visible racial disparities in community access to medical services and educational programs. She also witnessed harsher penalties for African Americans when they relapsed, inevitable in recovery. Disparities in incarceration, sentencing, recovery and reentry of African American parents are inextricably linked to disparities in the welfare of children.   

Harvey’s book is a wake up call not only to reimagine but also to remake Family Justice in Louisville. Mass incarceration and its shadow system of child welfare hits Kentucky’s children hard. Currently fifteen percent experience the incarceration of a parent. Since 2014, the state has seen massive increases in child removals and currently has the highest rate of child neglect and abuse in the country. The number of safe and healthy foster homes has not kept pace with the rapid increase in the number of children removed by the state. Until recently, Kentucky has relied on residential facilities and group homes, the least safe and healthy alternative for the children. 

What does remaking Family Justice look like? During and after the Forum, participants identified key policy changes for remaking Family Justice in our community: 

  • State Representative Attica Scott supports requiring the Kentucky State Legislature to create Racial Impact Statements for all pending legislation to eliminate disparities.
  • Kentucky Youth Advocates asks for prioritizing investments for children who have experienced abuse and neglect by supporting kinship caregivers.  
  • ACLU-KY promotes Increased support and resources for community-based recovery & reentry across the state.

You can watch the Forum in its entirety here:

Putting Community Health First

Lessons Learned From COVID-19 and Criminal Justice

COVID-19 brutally demonstrates that local incarceration is not only about criminal justice; it is also about community health. Even before the pandemic, national health experts and the American Bar Association connected incarceration and public health with calls for holistic actions to address the root causes of both.

COVID-19 now proves indisputably how the criminal justice system itself is a root cause of individual and community health outcomes. The positive tests of incarcerated persons and staff at Louisville Metro Department of Corrections and deaths at Kentucky’s Green River Correctional Facility and the Federal Medical Center prison in Lexington are both public health concerns and human rights issues.

The massive challenges of COVID-19 call for powerful and caring responses. The convergence of COVID-19 and our criminal justice system reveals fundamental inequities, demanding strong and corrective actions. The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness Center for Health Equity originated a simple yet powerful image of a tree to guide actions for improving community health

This Health Equity Tree below, created by graphic designer Daphne Walker for LFJA, illustrates how individual health conditions are linked to root causes including criminal justice, and both are fed by current and historic systems of power.

The Health Equity Tree links the root causes of COVID-19 to individual health outcomes depicted as leaves, which indicate wellness or illness.  Like a tree, individual leaves are linked to root causes like employment, income and local criminal justice systems.  Employment and income, for example, are root causes of the health of individuals who are incarcerated in our local jail.  When any of us are unable to pay bail and must await trial, even though the courts cannot operate in a timely manner, the health of everyone in our community is affected.

The Health Equity Tree also asks us to consider the soil that feeds the roots, essential to the growth and development of the trunk and its leaves. COVID-19 shines a brutal light on racial inequities in the soil shaping our individual and community’s health.  At a recent forum, Louisville leaders spoke publicly about how historic systems of power like segregation and redlining are causing significant racial disparities in illness and deaths due to COVID-19.

Like COVID-19, criminal justice policies and practices are unequally punishing Black community members. More than 1200 men and women are currently incarcerated in our jail even as positive cases among corrections staff are increasing, endangering everyone inside. Of the 1213 people confined in the Main Jail Complex on April 27th, for example, 614, over 50%, are identified as Black. This is 2.5 times the 20% rate of our Black population, a significant racial disparity.

The Health Equity Tree also teaches us how our community can recover from COVID-19 through more healthy and just local actions. Nurturing the health of all individuals require immediate caring and equitable actions. For example, when treating individual health, the root causes of access to health services, neighborhood development, income, employment and the criminal justice system must also be addressed to be fully effective. Most importantly, we must put community first and examine and address systems of power, the soil in which our trees of health are planted, that create disparities in the root causes that feed our collective health outcomes.