November Issue of BARS Monthly


November Topic: Recidivism

Volume 2, Issue 2                       Tuesday, November 16, 2017

Local/Philly Related News or Perspective:

Meek Mill – A Victim of the Cycle

By Chinaechelum Vincent

meek-mill-60438-jpg..jpegMeek Mill arrives at the criminal justice centre in Philadelphia on 11/26/17. Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP

Recidivism is a serious problem that plagues the formerly-incarcerated nation-wide. In a 2005 report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, it was found that out of “25,400 former inmates who were either released outright from federal prisons or placed on probation…almost half (49.3%)” had been arrested again within the next 8 years.¹

This exemplifies the lack of proper reentry programs or initiatives provided for those leaving jails and prisons and entering back into society. It is of vital importance to establish a proper foundation for the formerly-incarcerated once they get out because if not, the likeliness of them reoffending increases. This includes ensuring that these people have “a place to live/housing, drug treatment/medical care, and employment.”² Without this help, people are more likely to engage in behavior that could lead to their re-incarceration. An additional factor however, takes the form of reforming the criminal justice system itself and taking a new approach to what is punished and for how long.

A very controversial case of recidivism currently being discussed in Philadelphia is that of rapper Meek Mill’s recent arrest on November 6, 2017. In 2008, Mill was charged with drug dealing and possession. He has been on probation since, making it almost 10 years of correctional supervision, a rather extensive time period that rapper Jay-Z described as “unjust and heavy handed.”³  Meek’s current arrest is on the account of parole violations. These violations include leaving Pennsylvania to perform, violating the travel term, being in a physical altercation at St. Louis international airport in March of 2016, as well as popping a wheelie on a dirt bike and speeding, which is considered reckless endangerment. These charges were dropped in court, however Philadelphia judge Genece E. Brinkley, is responsible for the current sentencing to 2-4 years in prison. Brinkley claims that these instances still violated his probation and tells Mill, “I gave you break after break, and you basically just thumbed your nose at this court” which is why she believes this punishment is just. This will be the third time Mill is incarcerated, exemplifying how recidivism can be a commonality after being incarcerated once. Some blame Brinkley for Mill’s current case of recidivism but his lawyer voices the opinion that, “he’s in a system that allows for this to happen.”4  

Mill is one of many Americans who are trapped in the correctional supervision system whether it be in an actual facility or through probation, or even house arrest. Once a person enters the system, they seem to be trapped inside a revolving door, constantly being circled through correctional facilities and their freedom. Action must be taken to ultimately break this cycle and decrease the rate at which individuals are being re-incarcerated. It’s as if those who have entered the system at some point now walk on a thin tightrope and with the slightest wrong step, they’re back to where they started. As policies and programs are implemented to stop recidivism, the formerly incarcerated can look to their freedom as a guarantee and not simply a momentary feeling that can be snatched from them grasp at any point in time.

National Perspective/Impact: 

Wrestling with Recidivism: The Cyclical Nature of Incarceration

By Nia Kaudo

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Too often does the world watch as the criminal justice system grabs hold of an individual during an adolescent stage of their life and keep that person ensnared by a surveilled existence for years, decades and even a lifetime to come. Recidivism may seem like just another painful vessel of America’s cripplingly oppressive criminal justice system, but many citizens are unaware of just how large of role it plays in maintaining America’s carceral society.

According to the National Institute of Justice “recidivism is one of the most fundamental concepts in criminal justice” it is defined by a formerly incarcerated American’s actions that result in “re-arrest, reconviction or return to prison with or without a new sentence” within the first three years after they are released. One of this issues that lies within this seemingly clear-cut definition are the persistent de facto practices in law enforcement and judicial proceedings that are facilitated by structural racism in the United States. The United States has been internationally condemned by the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, its own Representatives, and a plethora of other sources particularly for the disproportionate number of Black Americans it keeps in bondage as well as the legislative and judicial practices and policies that have resulted in this contemporary crisis. Therefore, if it is globally recognized that criminal justice institutions engage in systematic discrimination, profiling, and targeting of Black Americans, then prisoners of color in the United States are already more vulnerable to re-arrest.

Now that a discussion of America’s carceral state has taken hold throughout the world, all global citizens are in need of the facts. The Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted a study from 2005 to 2010, which uncovered that within the possible recidivism period for a group of 404,638 Americans, across 30 states, 67.8 percent were rearrested, and within 5 years that number had grown to 76.6 percent. This information was reported in 2014, when the discourse around mass incarceration was heightening, however preemptive measures to deter recidivism have struggled to be effective. The United States Sentencing Commission, who releases the statistics of federal inmate populations, reinvigorated key arguments within criminal justice discourse with the release of its 2016 report. For example: advocates for the release of elderly inmates can point to the fact that only 16 percent of those over 60 years old in the study recidivated, while 68 percent of people formerly incarcerated in federal facilities beginning before the age of 21 recidivated. Policy-makers have begun invoking reports like these to support their proposals.

In 2015 when the US Department of Education began an initiative to give Pell Grants to incarcerated Americans two years ago, the Department cited a study that found those who participated in educational programs during their incarceration were 43 percent less likely to return to prison and 13 percent less likely to commit another crime within 3 years, compared to those who did not. The Department followed that statement by saying the study also showed for every single dollar invested in education for American inmates 3 dollars are saved on the costs of re-incarceration, for those who needed additional convincing of the value of education across the board.     

In fact, in Pennsylvania’s own proposal for a federal grant for Improved Reentry Education the Department of Corrections asserted that “The program’s target population prioritizes adult offenders aged 25 and younger who are medium to high risk of reoffending”, denoting that recidivism is a central focus in and all prison policy. Pennsylvania’s DOC’s concerns are rightfully placed, considering their 2013 report on recidivism rate, which showed 70.6 percent of formerly incarcerated citizens in Pennsylvania were rearrested within 3 years.

One graph from the report seen here, explains the recidivism flow, and illustrates the role of the often-misunderstood concept of parole. When a person is convicted of a crime their sentence is usually expressed as “__ to __ years”. The first number is one’s minimum sentence, while the second is their maximum sentence. So if an individual is sentenced to 5-10 years, they must serve a minimum of 5 years, before they have the possibility of being released on parole for until the date of the maximum of their sentence. If they are granted release on parole, they must adhere to an extremely strict set of rules and obligations for those remaining 5 years including random searches, drug tests, employment requirements, possibly counseling requirements, payment of outstanding legal fees, housing restrictions, and so on. If the individual is re-arrested they face reincarceration or a new court commitment causing the cycle to continue.

By anyone’s standards, it is extremely difficult for someone to remain in full compliance with the sanctions of parole, but especially difficult for returning citizens, who endure additional obstacles. The Pennsylvania DOC reported that the re-incarceration rate for those on parole was 50.5 percent overall versus a rate of 20.4 percent for those who maxed out their sentences. A recent study by Dr. Lynne Haney revealed that among the formerly incarcerated fathers she interviewed the average amount of child support debt among them was $36,500;  a failure to pay such a debt could constitute a violation of parole. Haney explains that this was precisely the reason Walter Scott fled his car in fear after being pulled over by his killer Michael Slager. Unfortunately, Walter Scott was just one of many tragic examples of the anxiety and panic often produced from a constant fear of recidivating or being reincarcerated. Sociologist Alice Goffman, also recounts the phenomenon of young Black men being transformed into “fugitives” and living under a surveillance state in “the birthplace of liberty”, whose actions are driven by the likelihood of recidivism and constant instigation by authorities. Any discussion of America’s carceral state must include proactive efforts to prevent Americans from recidivating. These actions such as quality education, more consideration to age, and reasonable parole requirements will redevelop American society into a place where keeping human beings in captivity is longer the primary option, or in some cases the de facto goal.

Recent Events & Ways to Get Involved

By Cary Holley

Local Election Results:

On November 7th Civil Rights attorney Larry Krasner was elected the District Attorney of Philadelphia with a decisive victory of 75% of the vote to opponent Beth Grossman’s 25%. Krasner, who stood out even among Democrats for his progressive stances, will officially take office in January of next year. 16 Democrats were also successful in their bids for City Controller and several judgeships. On a national scale, many progressive candidates won prominent elections in Virginia and New Jersey.

Recidivism Developments in PA:

In May of this year, Governor Tom Wolf alongside Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the creation of the Pennsylvania Reentry Council which aims to raise awareness about the importance of promoting successful reentry and to discuss how to promote it. 17Also, as of May non-civil service employment applications for state agencies no longer require an answer to whether a potential employee was convicted of a crime.18 ‘Banning the box,’ which opens up significantly more job opportunities for the recently released, is an important step in facilitating a formerly-incarcerated individual’s transition back into society.


National Legislation to Track:

S.1994, The CORRECTIONS Act, was introduced this past October by Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas. Its main purpose is to “reduce recidivism and increase public safety” and is co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.19 This bill serves as an example of how criminal justice reform can override partisan differences. Similar legislation has circulated in the House.

Organizations to Get Involved With:



First Piece:

¹ Zoukis, Christopher. “Report Documents U.S. Recidivism Rates for Federal Prisoners.” Huffington Post. March 25, 2016. Accessed November 13, 2017.

² Heroux, Paul. “Reducing Recidivism: The Challenge of Successful Prisoner Re-Entry.” Huffington Post. 11 August 2011. Accessed 13 November 2017.

³ Zaru, Deena. “Meek Mill’s prison sentence draws outrage, sparking a criminal justice debate.” CNN Politics. November 10, 2017. Accessed November 13, 2017.

Zaru, Deena. “Meek Mill’s prison sentence draws outrage, sparking a criminal justice debate.”

Second Piece:

“Recidivism.” National Institute of Justice. June 17, 2014. Accessed November 13, 2017.

Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its mission to the United States of America

Durose, Matthew R., Alexia D. Cooper, and Howard N. Snyder, Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010(pdf, 31 pages), Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, April 2014, NCJ 244205.

Hunt, Kim Steven, and Robert Dumville. Recidivism among federal offenders: a comprehensive overview. United States Sentencing Commission, 2016.

Davis, Lois M., Robert Bozick, Jennifer L. Steele, Jessica Saunders, and Jeremy N. V. Miles. “Education and Vocational Training in Prisons Reduces Recidivism, Improves Job Outlook.” RAND Corporation. August 22, 2013. Accessed November 13, 2017.

“U.S. Department of Education Launches Second Chance Pell Pilot Program for Incarcerated Individuals.” U.S. Department of Education Launches Second Chance Pell Pilot Program for Incarcerated Individuals | U.S. Department of Education. July 31, 2015. Accessed November 13, 2017.

“Pennsylvania Department of Corrections”. Improved Reentry Education (IRE) Abstracts: Fiscal Year 2015. U.S. Department of Education. 2015. Accessed November 13, 2017.

Bell, Nicolette, et al. “Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Recidivism Report 2013.” (2013).

Haney, Lynne. “Familial Death and the Penal State”. 2016. pp. 20.

Haney, Lynne. “Familial Death and the Penal State”. 2016. pp. 29.

Piece 3

16 “City Wide Elections Results”

17 “Governor Wolf, Attorney General Shapiro Announce Launch of Reentry Council”

18 “Governor Wolf ‘Bans the Box’ on State Employee Applications”

19 “S.1994 – CORRECTIONS Act”


October Issue of BARS Monthly

BARS BlogsThumbnail for Oct issue

October 2017 Aticles:

Bridging the Gap by Chinaechelum Vincent

The Background and Impact of Family Separation caused by the Carceral State in the U.S by Nia Kaudo

Election Day in Philly, Prison for Women and Girl, and National Legislation to Track By Cary Holley



Coming Up for BARS:

Ways to Get Involved:

    • Volunteer for Krasner for DA! (especially canvassing in West Philly!)
    • As always, call representatives to support bills you support
    • Volunteering: The Center for Returning Citizens 

Things to look out for:

    • BARS film screening next month!

The Background and Impact of Family Separation caused by the U.S Carceral State

Blog by Nia Kaudo

Fathers and Children Together by Ernel Martinez. Photo by Steve Weinik.
Fathers and Children Together by Ernel Martinez. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Over the past decade, awareness has helped put pressure on state and federal law enforcement, legislative officials, and correctional staff to reduce the number of people in bondage in 21st Century America. An under-discussed facet of the carceral state is the merciless damage it inflicts upon black families in the United States. As the American carceral state becomes more of a salient issue in the international community, literature examining its effects on family structures has gained popularity. The strategic assault on black families in America has persisted in different forms for centuries and must be understood as a stratagem to preserve systems of bondage and subordination, as well as the authority of powerful tyrants.

Michelle Alexander famously stated in her book The New Jim Crow that in 1850 fewer black people were enslaved in the United States than are “under correctional control, in prison or jail, on probation or parole” today.1 This fact shocked many citizens, who had yet to conceptualize the scope of the growing carceral state. Since the publication of that groundbreaking text and an accompanying interest in the overwhelmingly complex and issue of mass incarceration, the world has seen more vocal advocates materialize. Alexander uses the example of Ruffin v. Commonwealth, which she claims “put to rest any notion that convicts were legally distinguishable from slaves.2 Mass incarceration as it stands today has become a heavily researched topic, likely resulting from the historical parallels tying its impacts to that of slavery. An aspect of the expansive system that is left relatively unexplored is the effects it has on the black family unit, where the absences and pressures on parents created difficulties in maintaining close relationships.

The role of black men in the carceral state is a complex one. As a result of the disproportionate population of black male inmates the greatest number of incarcerated parents are fathers.3 This particular practice of removing black males from their families and communities was paramount in devastating the family units, restricting the opportunities of mothers tasked with raising children alone, and creating a dependency on the patrimonial American state.

Black women are also subjected to incarceration at rates that exceed any other demographic in the United States. The majority of women incarcerated in the United States are convicted of non-violent offenses such as drug related charges. In cases of violent crime, studies have found the crimes are usually associated with abusive relationships. Since the beginning of the War on Drugs more black women have fallen victim to its reckless systematic oppression than any other group of people. The increased incarceration rates have had such a profound impact on black women that “the War on Drugs has been described as a war against black women”.4 Looking at the War on Drugs from an objective viewpoint presents issues that should concern all ethical American citizens. Covington found that “separation from and concern about the well-being of their children are among the most damaging aspects of prison for women”.5 Incarcerated mothers experience painful emotional and psychological effects behind prison walls having limited to no knowledge of their childrens’ condition.

Many incarcerated mothers also face familial disconnects with their children prior to prison, which is enhanced by the physical separation. The original disconnect can be a result of different things including but not limited to: the mothers’ need to work often to support the family, drug use, the mothers’ neglect of the children stemming from their own abuse during childhood, or even a partner creating a void in the relationship. This is made more difficult for mothers inside of prisons or jail; because there are fewer female jails and prisons it is hard for families to have extensive or frequent visits. Many incarcerated black Americans have extended families to take in their children upon a parent’s arrest. However, in cases when they don’t and a mother in incarcerated there can be devastating effects on the family structure, as some children are sent to foster care. The sad truth is that an estimated 20 to 30 percent of children in the foster care system have incarcerated mothers.6 Even after being released from prison, mothers face challenges with seeing their children, because of strained relationships with caseworkers as child welfare regulations threaten to sever forever the ties of mothers to their children”.7 It would be naïve to not acknowledge the clear correlation between the absence of their mothers and the emotional damage, hardships, and cycles of children in foster care.

Some of the most devastatingly compelling accounts of children implicated in this system arise from the last time they saw their parents are free citizens. Children who witness the apprehension of their parents by police are marred by the experience as 16-year-old Davida’s haunting memory of her father’s arrest illustrates: “he pushed them off and ran through the front door, so I ran behind him…They didn’t see us. My father, they came and pulled my father from under the car and started beating him.”8 These events are ingrained in both the minds of the children and the parent, who are both forced to recognize their powerlessness.

Today the role of surrogate, which is often undertaken by grandmothers, is essential to holding together the fragmented family units left behind. Mothers of incarcerated men and women bear many responsibilities when their children are removed from the family and sent off. They often act as caretakers for their grandchildren, financial and emotional support systems, and a source of hope and motivation. They are also often tasked with facilitating communications between their kids and the outside world. Societies and communities must step up to fill voids left by parents, who have been targeted by a discriminatory criminal justice system.

The weight and ambiguity of loss in a carceral society is striking for those implicated. L. Alex Swan writes in Families of Black Prisoners, that partners experience intense frustration “when they are not given any explanation of the sentence or advance notification as to which prison their husbands will be sent”.9 Incarcerated citizens face difficulties reconnecting or maintaining contact with families they were separated from. . Today most correctional facilities are far from cities, where the majority of arrests take place, so family members are routinely sent far away. These limitations reinforce the powerlessness of families dealing with a member’s incarceration. Families entangled in the carceral state are subjected to the total authority and discretion of those in charge and their benefactors, which effectively distorts familial relationships as well.

According to Prisoners Once Removed “policy makers and public officials have paid little attention to how the annual removal and return of hundreds of thousands of adults ̶ many of whom are parents   ̶ affect the families and communities left behind”.10 The corrections officers who facilitate the carceral state possess a unique opportunity to act as allies to incarcerated people, helping them to contact family members or survive daily in the dangerous environment, but they can also abuse the power of their position to further subjugate incarcerated people. Their roles are directly responsible for preserving the institution of mass incarceration, especially considering the facilities act as a major staple for rural economies. Though these operatives are humans who are cognizant of the important role of familial support, specifically adults’ rights to be joined in marriage, they are silent about the detriments the carceral state has on these relationships. This sad truth is exemplified by the flagrant disregard by the general public about this phenomenon that affects millions of American children and adults every day.

As bondage in the United States has regenerated itself to fit contemporary objectives and societal attitudes, so has the necessity of controlling, limiting, and devastating family ties through forced separation. There is no disguising the strategic methods used to curtail progress for black Americans by means of sustained oppressive mechanisms. Historical tactics such as legally enforced servitude, humiliating and unnecessary brutality, and the separation of families has cemented centuries of oppression driven pain into black communities throughout the country. However, resilience, innovative procedures to preserve familial ties and dedicated advocates have pushed back unremittingly. As Swan accurately surmised nearly 35 years ago, “If the community is powerless in and of itself, there is no way for it to transfer power to its members”.11 Therefore the reclamation of the power and displays of unapologetic autonomy are the first steps in binding the broken black family units and communities throughout America.



1Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2012), 180.

2Alexander, New Jim Crow, 30.

3Jeremy Travis and Michelle Waul, “Prisoners Once Removed: The Children and Families of Prisoners,” in Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, And Communities ed. Jeremy Travis and Michelle Waul (The Urban Institute, 2003), 4.

4Barbara Bloom and Marilyn Brown, “Incarcerated Women: Motherhood on the Margins,” in Jodie Michelle Lawston and Ashley E. Lucus, eds., Razor Wire Women: Prisoners, Activists, and Artist (Albany: S.U.N.Y Press, 2011), 52.

5Stephani S. Covington, “A Woman’s Journey Home: Challenges for Female Offenders,” in Prisoners once removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and Communities, ed. Jeremy Travis and Michelle Waul (Washington DC: The Urban Institute, 2003), 76.

6Brown and Bloom, “Incarcerated Women: Motherhood on the Margins,” 58.

7Brown and Bloom, “Incarcerated Women: Motherhood on the Margins,” 61.

8Donald Braman and Michele Wood, “From One Generation to the Next: How Criminal Sanctions Are Reshaping Family Life in Urban America,” in Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and Communities, ed. Jeremy Travis and Michelle Waul (Washington DC: The Urban Institute, 2003), 157

9Llewelyn Alex Swan, Families of Black Prisoners: Survival and Progress (Boston: GK Hall, 1981), 142.

10Travis and Wall “Prisoners Once Removed: The Children and Families of Prisoners,” 2.

11Swan, Families, 146.

Bridging the Gap

Blog By: Chinaechelum Vincent


A current spotlight organization in Philadelphia is Bridging the Gap LLC, a prison transportation company that connects incarcerated people with their loved ones on the outside. This service provides transportation to various prisons throughout the state for visiting opportunities.  Founded by 28 year old Kristal Bush, a woman from the Northern Philadelphia area, this organization understands that, “inmates who maintain close contact with their family members while incarcerated have better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates.”1 Bush herself grew up without her father present, as he was sentenced to 25 years in prison when she was just 3 years old. This gave her a personal connection to the work she is currently pursuing.

Mass incarceration not only affects the people incarcerated, but their families who are on the outside as well. After 5 years of running her business and driving families statewide to see their loved ones, Kristal’s father, Victor Bush, was released in July of 2017 after spending most of his life behind bars. The world he left in 1992 is not the same world he came back to. For Kristal, all of a sudden, “the man she had only ever known behind bars is a daily part of her life. In many ways, they’ve switched roles as she becomes more parent than daughter.”2 Kristal Bush must now teach her father about technology, new modes of transportation, and update him on how the new world works.

The Bridging the Gap Company does an extraordinary job in battling the effects of mass incarceration and has united over 2,000 families through their work. The separation incarceration causes can be detrimental to all parties involved, but Bush’s company is taking steps towards progress in bridging the gap between loved ones.



1 Bush, Kristal. “Door to Door Service to State Prisons in Pennsylvania.” Bridging the Gap LLC. 2017.

2 Ubiñas, Helena. “Reconnecting with a Father She Had Ever Only Known From Behind Bars.” The Inquirer Daily News. 24 August, 2017.

Current Events & Policy Updates

Blog By Cary Holley


Election Day in Philly!


On Tuesday, November 7th the city of Philadelphia will be holding a general election for District Attorney as well as other judgeships and local positions. The Democratic candidate, Lawrence Krasner, successfully won the competitive Democratic primary through campaigning on ending mass incarceration, stop-and-frisk and civil asset forfeiture abuse. Krasner is expected to beat Republican candidate Beth Grossman in November, but is hoping to receive strong support to demonstrate how supported his progressive policies are to the DA office. BARS is proud to endorse Larry Krasner for District Attorney, and encourages everyone to learn more about his positions on his website: To learn more about Beth Grossman’s positions, her website is:

To find out about all of the seats that will be up for election on November 7th, visit to see an example ballot.


The Marshall Project Teams Up with Teen Vogue and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)


The Marshall Project, established in 2014, is a nonprofit and nonpartisan journalism organization that brings awareness to issues concerning the criminal justice system. On October 10th, mothers and children directly affected by the criminal justice system sat down with Senator Booker to have a powerful discussion on issues such as the particular challenges relevant to women prisoners and the effect that incarceration has on children. Considering that 1/3 of all female prisoners in the world are held here in the U.S., such discussions are necessary first steps in reforming the criminal justice system to better support families.

To watch the video, follow this link:


National Legislation to Track


Earlier this year, bills in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have been introduced that aim to research and mitigate the harmful effects that mass incarceration has had on the family. H.R. 1055: Commission to Study Family Reconstruction Proposals for African-Americans Unjustly Impacted by the “War on Drugs” Act of 2017, introduced in February, was referred to a subcommittee in March. In July, Senator Cory Booker (who appeared in The Marshall Project/Teen Vogue video) introduced S.1524: The Dignity Act. The purpose of this legislation is to improve the treatment of prisoners who are primary caretaker parents. Like the House bill, this bill is still sitting in committee. To find out more about each bill: