Kids Who Face Criminal Charges Are More Likely To Die Young

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform CORE ISSUE:  Reform of the Juvenile Justice System to Identify and Divert At-Risk Youth. 

Young offenders who are transferred to adult court are three times more likely to die early than someone of the same age in the general population, according to a longitudinal study published this month in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. “Any involvement with the criminal justice system increased the chance of mortality,” lead study author Matthew Aalsma, an associate professor of pediatrics at Indiana University, told The Huffington Post.

The more severe the punishment a youth offender faced, the greater the likelihood he would die early, Aalsma explained. Most of the time, he noted, the kids died by homicide.

The study compared electronic criminal justice records and health records of almost 50,000 10- to 18-year-old offenders in Marion County, Indiana, between 1999 and 2011, finding a direct link between involvement in the justice system and early death.

Read the full article by clicking HERE.

 

As city jail deaths rise, will reforms help?

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform CORE ISSUE:  Provision of adequate access to physical and psychiatric health care for current inmates.

According to an article in the Daily News section of www.philly.com:

* Seventeen inmates have died already this year, the most since 2007, when 20 died. This year’s dead included one man murdered allegedly by his cellmate, two men who committed suicide, one man whose cause of death remains undetermined and 13 others whose deaths were ruled “natural,” caused by health problems or addictions. The decade’s toll: 168 inmate deaths since 2005, according to prison records.

*  Meanwhile, the inmate population has fallen from a peak of nearly 10,000 in 2009 to about 8,000 today. Philly still has the highest incarceration rate of the nation’s 10 largest cities.

*  Six inmates who died this year – most charged with misdemeanors – could have gotten out of jail for $500 or less, including Parks and another alleged shoplifter, Erin O’Malley, who was held a week on just $100 cash bail, records show.

“The bad luck of the draw is that some people can’t afford to pay even low bail. So then they stay there not because we think they’re too dangerous to be released or won’t show up at trial, but because they can’t afford to pay even a low bail. For those people to die [in custody] is really problematic,” said attorney David Rudovsky, a leading prison reformer.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20151103_As_city_jail_deaths_rise__will_reforms_help_.html#eJowdpUB1flwXlbC.99

Police Leaders Join Call to Cut Prison Rosters

More than 130 police chiefs, prosecutors and sheriffs — including some of the most prominent law enforcement officials in the country — are adding their clout to the movement to reduce the nation’s incarceration rate.

Asserting that “too many people are behind bars that don’t belong there,” the officials plan to announce on Wednesday that they have formed a group to push for alternatives to arrests, reducing the number of criminal laws and ending mandatory minimum prison sentences. Members of the group are scheduled to meet Thursday with President Obama.

The group includes the police chiefs of the nation’s largest cities, including William J. Bratton of New York, Charlie Beck of Los Angeles and Garry F. McCarthy of Chicago, as well as prosecutors from around the country, including Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney.

Read the entire New York Times article by clicking HERE.

PfCJR Condemns Police Brutality in Hospital

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform, Inc, was launched a little over three months ago. We were formed, in part, in response to the recent videos and reports of police killing unarmed people. We hope to use the platform we have been given as physicians to help bring about the lasting criminal justice reform that we believe can help prevent such tragic occurrences in the future.

While the videos of the killings that have occurred have been emotionally draining and disturbing in many ways, a recent episode has shaken our membership even further, despite the lack of video evidence. Alan Pean, a 26 year old young man, a patient at St Joseph’s Medical Center in Houston, TX, a man who was seeking care, a man who should have been under the protection of physicians, the son of a physician, the brother of a future physician, was shot in the chest by anoff-duty police officer while receiving treatment in the hospital. If there is video of the incident, it has not yet been released. But all we need to know, as physicians, as healers, has already been confirmed.

Whether in medical school, in training or in practice, I am sure we have all encountered patients, in the hospital, who may have threatened us, made us feel uncomfortable. Maybe we thought about calling security, and sometimes, maybe we did. But even if we did need the support of security, in the majority of situations, we were able to use our experience, our desire to help, our training to diffuse the situation so that we could continue to medically manage the patient – even as they were threatening us.

Like us, police officers need training to handle situations like this. This is why PfCJR hopes to partner with police departments to help them do their jobs in the best way possible, to allow them to serve and protect. In order to do that, they need the competence to turn a dangerous situation into a safe one. Courses such as Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) have been specifically developed for training officers to respond to individuals with mental illness. As described in a review article published in Best Practices in Mental Health: An International Journal, CIT training has been demonstrated to result in fewer arrests of individuals with mental illness, less use of force, more reliance on low-lethality measures when force was used and improvements in attitudes and knowledge about mental illness and is considered a best practice in law enforcement.

We believe that our police officers can do better — we believe that they want to do better. But we must demand that they use the tools that are already available — tools that are evidence-based — tools have been proven to work. We cannot continue to accept the terrible events that have been occurring.

The founders of PfCJR have signed a petition written by other concerned physicians that outlines our outrage at this incident at St Joseph’s. The petition echoes Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform’s feelings about this situation by saying the following:

“As doctors and medical students, as nurses and care partners, we are trained in how to safely restrain and tranquilize patients, no matter how aggressive, or irritable, or anxious, or threatening they may be. Never is it appropriate or warranted for a patient to be tazed, never is it appropriate for a patient to be struck, never, never, never is it appropriate for a patient seeking care, to have their life threatened in our arms.”

We ask you all to join Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform in our campaign to ensure that we never have to hear about a situation like this ever again.

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform is seeking physicians to join our Speakers Bureau.  If interested, please contact us through JOIN page at the Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform website.

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform Addresses Sandra Bland’s Death

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Physicians advocating to eliminate the detrimental health consequences that can result from negative interactions with the criminal justice system.”

This is the tagline, and the mission of Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform (PfCJR).  Sadly, Sandra Bland’s death is another in a long line of police-involved altercations that desperately and urgently underscore the need for our organization.

On July 10, Sandra Bland was pulled over by Texas state trooper Brian T. Encinia for failing to use a signal when changing lanes.  As seen in the dashcam video, in response to her refusal to put out her cigarette, he quickly escalates the situation by opening her car door, verbally threatening her, attempting to yank her from the car and physically threatening her with his taser.  In response to his pointing the taser at her, she exits the car.  She is eventually arrested for resisting arrest.  Out of the view of the dashcam, we hear her crying “You just slammed my head into the ground!  I can’t even hear! … All of this for a traffic signal!”   Three days later, authorities reported she was found not breathing and hanged with a trash bag from a metal barrier that separated the bathroom from the rest of her cell.

Upon learning of her death, some erupted with fury and anguish at the death of yet another Black American in police custody while others began to justify her arrest.  Sandra Bland’s death plunged into divisive wounds that are still fresh from Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott and countless others and twisted the knife in those long-lasting injuries that, as a result of continued assault, have not been given a chance to heal.  Social media pages are inundated with videos of police brutality, statistics of racial and socioeconomic inequities of the legal system and posts and tweets demanding justice.  The inundation serves to fuel a feeling of vindication among Black Americans who have long protested the brutality of the criminal system but gone unheard, while at the same time magnifying a sense of hopelessness, helplessness and horror in the same group.

Non-Black sympathizers are in a difficult position of not knowing what to say – wanting to be supportive, but being afraid of being cast out — both a fear of being rejected from the protesters as insincere and a fear that other friends and colleagues will reject their activist stance.  Non-sympathizers are called racists and branded as part of the problem.  The passion and anger is scary, terrifying and necessary — for painfully intense emotional responses compel us to act.  Painfully intense emotional responses force us to stop rationalizing, explaining away and turning a blind eye to the terrible things that are going on around us.  Painfully intense emotional responses remind us that we have to DO SOMETHING.  We have to do more than feel empathy.  We have to recognize that lest we act now, one day Sandra Bland could be us, our colleagues, our patients, our friends or our family.

Death is the ultimate, detrimental health consequence that can result from negative interactions with the criminal justice system.  But as traumatizing as tragic deaths are, they are not the only consequences.  The collective American public is being harmed.  Racial division is increasing.   Individuals who have had traumatic interactions with law enforcement in the past are being triggered and re-traumatized.   Biological fight or flight systems screaming kill or be killed are being activated in both police officers and citizens.  A cancer that has been growing for years and years has declared itself, and threatens to kill us.  As physicians, we have a responsibility to intervene.

It is our responsibility to lead a movement to eliminate not only death, but injuries — both physical and psychological — that can result from negative interactions with the criminal justice system.  So, as physicians, what can we do?    We can promote research.  We can be a source of education and awareness.  We can partner with like-minded organizations and allies to magnify our message.  We can advocate for evidence-based, lasting, meaningful criminal justice reform.  We can use our expertise on individual and population health to effect change.  We have founded Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform to do all of those things.  Will you JOIN US?

Dylann Roof and Assumed Criminality

The recent news of the terrorist attack on the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC, has left many of us reeling. The thought that in 2015, that anyone could be subjected to the sort of domestic terrorism popularized by the Klu Klux Klan is truly sickening. As many of my friends and colleagues have joined me in expressing their grief and outrage at this event, one question has continued to come up, time and time again – what can we do to change our nation? How can we alter the hearts and minds of society, so that we no longer produce Dylann Roofs?

Many of the members of Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform are supporters of gun control, but we at PfCJR do not believe that this is the only solution. Whenever a mass shooting occurs, others call for improvements in our care of the mentally ill. While we are proponents for increased resources to treat our mentally ill patients, we do not feel that this addresses the clear racism that is involved in this case.

Dylann Roof said something that was both chilling and very revealing as he reloaded in the church that night, attempting to justify what it was he was doing – he said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Here he was, a young man who had been welcomed into a place of worship and had now decided to kill 9 innocent people – he attempted to kill more – and he justified his actions partially based on the assumed criminality of those present. Some may not be swayed by just that statement, second hand, but on a website registered to Dylann Roof, he writes a manifesto that explains his thinking on the world, particularly as it pertains to race. By far the largest section is devoted to Blacks. What is truly remarkable is that he attributes his “racial awakening” to the Trayvon Martin case.

Not only did he immediately conclude that Zimmerman must have been in the right, but he further searched the internet for more information on “Black on White crime,” and this led him to the Council of Conservative Citizens. This group is recognized by the Anti-Defamation League as a hate group, and its website showed an impressionable Dylann Roof sensationalized stories that they had hand-picked to attempt to prove that Black people are a significant threat to the lives of White people and White women in particular. This, ultimately, drove Dylann from a posture of looking down upon Black people to deciding that the Black race is a violent threat to White society that needs to be eliminated. In his terrorist plot, he decided to let the world know that Black people needed to be killed in the hopes that others would join his revolution.

And that brings us back to where Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform was founded. The assumed criminality of individuals, often based on race, even when logic and objective evidence would say otherwise, has already led to far too much death and violence that we have all witnessed. In this incident, one hateful, sinister young man, spurred on by communities of White Supremacists, are spreading the misinformation that Black people are criminal-minded by their very nature. And how can you blame them? The rates at which the USA incarcerates Black and Brown human beings are staggering nationwide. These numbers and the media coverage of the interaction between non-whites and the police create the caricature of Black and Brown people as inordinately criminal– this despite the fact that many of them find their way to jail for things that would be better treated by a physician – substance abuse and  untreated attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as examples. Further, studies have shown that while substance abuse rates are remarkably similar across races, arrests for drug use are significantly higher for our minority population.

This is why the Criminal Justice Reform movement is being called “The New Civil Rights Movement.” Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform supports the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol grounds, but we also know that, as a country, we must go beyond symbolism if we are going to alter the minds of those who are determined to hate.

We at PfCJR are focused on ways that we can use our expertise as physicians to create lasting criminal justice reform around our ​core issues​. That said, we firmly believe in the concept of “​Health in All Policies​.” We can and must get involved in discussions around any issue that is large enough that it touches the health of our communities, even if it does so indirectly. We must all fight to change the narrative that nurtures men like Dylann Roof. We must change the path that this country is on. We need criminal justice reform, and the time is now. Will you join us?