Minnesota's mass incarceration problem 

While the national prison population is on the decline, Minnesota's numbers are rising. A May 2017 Vera Institute of Justice study found that Minnesota was one of just 15 states (out of 45 reporting) that saw both increased prison populations and rising costs between 2010 and 2015. In fact, Minnesota's prison population increased 4.1 percent during that five-year period, while costs increased 3.2 percent to $403.7 million.

Mass incarceration in Minnesota is also disproportionately impacting people of color. While whites represent 83 percent of Minnesota’s population, they make up 47 percent of the state’s prison population, according to the most recent data from Prison Policy. By contrast, African Americans represent only 5 percent of the state’s population, but 31 percent of the state’s prison or jail population. These systemic, racial disparities represent a troublesome, growing trend in our state.

What's more, Minnesota has one of the highest recidivism rates in the country. Nearly 40 percent return to prison, a startling figure shedding light on a costly system that is ineffective.

According to a recent story in Minnesota Lawyer ("Tom Roy Looks to Data in Push to Cut Recidivism"), Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy is seeking new models—such as "cognitive restructuring" and work programs-—to help reduce the number of men who return to prison and stem the tide of the revolving door that is leading to mass incarceration in Minnesota.

For Roy, it's important to look at the data to discover a cost-benefit analysis that shows a real social impact. In other words, when it comes to looking at the prison population, data is driving the best next steps.

From the story:

[Numbers] can be useful in Roy’s legislative messaging—and he is more than willing to trot them out. But DOC digs deeper than many other states by ferreting out cost-benefit ratios on various inmate programs and services.

Some of those programs, the state says, have proven recidivism reduction rates and positive cost benefits per dollar spent, as measured through such factors as lowered medical expenses, decreased property damage and reduced victimization.

In December, Minnesota Management and Budget published a cost-benefit analysis using data supplied by the DOC. It indicates that a number of prison programs are “proven effective” at reducing recidivism, either through the use of randomized control trials or high-quality local evaluation.

At Better Futures Minnesota, numbers are important to us, too. We want our men to be successful, and we want to create real change to a costly system that is ineffective and keeps men out of opportunities to become productive citizens, fathers, employees, and neighbors. We believe in addressing core traumas and providing men with the immediate supports they need—like housing, workforce training, health and wellness engagement, and life coaching—to begin a new life.

While numbers don't show the whole story—the personal, human transformation of men we see every day—they do tell one story: Our integrated-care model works to reduce recidivism and help men walk on a path to success.

Our social impact: giving men a second chance while reducing costs 

In Minnesota, the cost of incarceration per prisoner annually greatly exceeds the cost of education per student. According to the most recent report from the Vera Institute, the government/taxpayer cost to educate an elementary/secondary student per year is close to $10,000. Yet the government/taxpayer cost to keep one inmate imprisoned in Minnesota for one year is $40,000.

By contrast, the annual cost for each participant at Better Futures is $17,388—more than half less of incarceration—and it provides the essential wrap-around services, such as housing, job training, health and wellness engagement and services, life coaching, and additional mental and physical health support that men need to transform their lives and begin building their own success stories.

The social return on investment at Better Futures Minnesota has been phenomenal. Each dollar investment per participant has resulted in $2.31 return on investment.

What’s more, the $17,388 investment in one participant results in $39,929 in benefits to local municipalities, the state, the federal government, taxpayers, and society at large.

These positive social and financial impacts are seen in wages earned, taxes and child support paid, and victims, prison, and Medicaid costs avoided.

Through this unique public-health intervention model, we can address the root causes of chronic poverty and homelessness, dependency on public assistance programs, racial disparities in physical and mental health outcomes, and the high rates of untreated trauma and illnesses that often lead to incarceration and increased recidivism.

Learn more about our model and how you can support the men we serve and change the costly system of mass incarceration.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union released its report on the successes of corporate policies geared to giving formerly incarcerated Americans a fair chance at re-entry. The results show what we at Better Futures have known all along: Second chances are good for people, good for communities, and good for businesses.

Today, 70 million Americans—one in three adults—have a criminal record. These are people who have or will reenter their communities and need gainful employment to build stability and find success after incarceration. The report shows that when companies reduce barriers to employment and implement fair hiring practices for people who have been incarcerated, it's a benefit to companies, communities, and society as a whole.

By denying employment opportunities and advancement, businesses hurt their bottom line and play a role in perpetuating the cycle of poverty and mass incarceration.

From the report:

A lack of stable employment increases the likelihood that an individual will return to jail or prison; research has found that joblessness is the single most important predictor of recidivism. The impact on black and Latino communities has been particularly destructive.Pervasive racial disparities in the criminal justice system exacerbate bias in the employment arena. For African Americans, the adverse effect of a criminal record on getting a job interview is 40 percent greater than for whites with similar histories.

What's more, the report finds, business leaders are in a strong position to make a positive difference for these individuals and their communities. By expanding the hiring pool to include people with criminal histories, companies can improve their bottom line, reduce recidivism and incarceration costs, avoid discriminatory practices, and increase public safety.

At Better Futures Minnesota, we work hard to be an example of a model that provides formerly incarcerated men with the job preparation, skills, and confidence needed to excel in the workforce. We know that poor communities have a disproportionate number of its members incarcerated, and that one significant strategy to reducing poverty in this country is to develop practices that are aimed at full employment for every community. For us, that includes strategies to target formerly incarcerated individuals.

What's more—access to a job, to supports like life coaching, health and wellness engagement, and support from people in the community who believe in second chances—has shown to have a dramatic impact on reducing the likelihood the men we serve will return to prison for re-offending. In fact, more than 90 percent of our participants of the last two years remain out of prison--a number higher than the 40 percent average for a similar population who doesn't receive the same supports.

We are buoyed by this report, and by the forward-thinking businesses and organizations working to reduce barriers to employment.

Learn more about how you can support Better Futures Minnesota and hire the men we serve who are building their own success stories!

In Minnesota, nearly 100,000 people are under probation—a form of supervised release that often includes strict daily check-ins with supervising officers. In fact, Minnesota has one of the highest probation rates in the country, leaving some people under supervised probation for 10, even 20 years. According to a recent Star Tribune story, Minnesota is tied with Alabama at the 14th-highest rate per 100,000 residents who are under some form of correctional control, including prison, jail, probation, and supervised release.

What does that mean for people who have served their time? It often means that they’re sent back to prison for “technical violations,” things that include missing meetings, showing up late, or failing drug tests. It means that people have long periods of supervised release that often lead to failure—which is why 64 percent of Minnesota’s prison population incarcerated in 2016 was there not for a new crime, but for violating conditions of probation.

“The criteria for successfully completing probation can be very subjective and in being so, it essentially just prolongs incarceration,” says Dr. Thomas Adams, CEO and President of Better Futures Minnesota. “Accountability is important. But it doesn’t mean we continue to employ a strategy that has proven to be costly and ineffective.”

Additional time for small infractions 

At Better Futures Minnesota, the revolving door of incarceration plays out in real-time, where men who are committed to the work required at Better Futures Minnesota are sent back to jail or prison for small technical violations.

Anthony* was becoming a mentor of sorts at Better Futures Minnesota. He was dedicated—showing up every day and devoting himself to the emotional, physical, and mental work he needed and wanted to do to grow and succeed. He was living at the guest house, and had recently surprised the other men with a home-cooked fish dinner. He had just completed Phase 1 of Better Futures, and was about to start the 16-week job-training program.

Anthony was under ISR (intensive supervised release), which meant he was required to send his supervising officer his weekly schedule, which is used to check-in on people under probation at anytime. A few Sundays ago, Anthony left the guest house 20 minutes early for church. When his supervising officer showed up to check in, he wasn’t there, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Anthony was scared to turn himself in to authorities. When he did, the supervising officer suggested he go back to prison for 120 days for not being where he said he would be. Anthony is now serving an additional four months.

At the "discretion" of agents 

Anthony’s experience isn’t isolated. While the men at Better Futures Minnesota have low recidivism rates (more than 90 percent remain in the community, as compared to 60 percent on average for same population in Hennepin County), 12 percent still have their sentencing restructured due to technical violations. What’s more, there are huge areas for discretion when applying sentencing guidelines for technical violations—a discrepancy that leads to inconsistent sentencing and outcomes.

For the men who are sent back to prison for not committing a new crime, that can alter his path for a lifetime.

“We know that the more time someone spends incarcerated, the greater their chance is for committing another crime,” says Adams, whose work at Better Futures is centered on a coordinated response, trauma-informed, integrated-care model. In 2016, 146 men received outreach services—including housing, health services, and job placement—through Better Futures Minnesota’s model.

“Sending them back to prison for these technical violations, when they are working so hard, doesn’t make sense. It damages his self-esteem, further hardening his outlook. We need to look at new ways that help keep men productive members in the community while ensuring community safety.  It is not an either/or scenario, it’s a both/and solution.”

Across the world, forward-thinking cities, municipalities, and lawmakers are thinking about landfill waste in new ways. In July, for example, Portland, Ore. became the first city in the country to ensure that valuable materials from demolished houses are salvaged for reuse instead of crushed and landfilled.

Here in the Twin Cities, landfilling is becoming a growing problem, according to a recent story in the Star Tribune. "While landfilling has been on the decline locally since a peak in 2006, the Twin Cities still sent more than twice as much trash to landfills in 2015 by weight than it did a quarter century ago, data show....That 774,000 tons weighs more than two Empire State Buildings. After being compacted, that's still about a Metrodome-sized mass of leftover food, product packaging, and other garbage entering the ground every two years."

In addition, that's also a lot of construction and demolition waste entering the ground. In Minnesota, more than 80 percent of the 1.6 million tons of construction and demolition waste was landfilled in 2013, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The MPCA is increasingly concerned about construction and demolition waste, which now exceeds more than traditional household and commercial waste. Yet much of this waste can be recycled or reused, not only reducing waste in the landfill, but greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2016, through deconstruction services, Better Futures Minnesota helped recycle or reuse more than 1,571 tons of building materials. In fact, for each deconstruction job, skilled crews worked to recycle and reuse 85 percent of all building materials. The end result: 750.5 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions were avoided, according to Ecotone Analytics Environmental Impact Analysis.

Greenhouse gas emissions include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential to creating healthy, strong communities in Minnesota.

At Better Futures Minnesota, we're committed to transforming the lives of men, creating good, green jobs, and helping Minnesota get to net-zero waste. Learn more about how you can support our mission!

Better Futures Minnesota seeks to disrupt this growing public health crisis through effective, compassionate practices and services that work to avoid victimization costs and provide men with the opportunities they need to become productive citizens, fathers, employees, and neighbors.
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