Conformity involves developing attitudes, opinions, and behaviors to match the attitudes of a specific group. Most people conform to the standard values,also called norms, of many groups without stress and often without even knowing that they are doing so. By itself conformity is neither good nor bad.
Some degree of conformity is necessary for societies to function. For example, when you stop at a red light, you are conforming to the law and to the general agreement that for the good and safety of society, a red light means stop. You stop, even though most of the time there is not a police officer on the scene to enforce the law.
Different societies and different organizations put higher or lower values on conformity. The United States is often said to have been settled by non-conformists. Many of the early colonists were people who did not fit in, for religious, philosophical, economic, or social reasons, with the expectations of society in their native countries. They sought a place to live where the levelof conformity and norms of society were more comfortable for them. In the United States often some degree of non-conformity is still admired today. The ideal of the “rugged individualist” who does things his or her own way is partof American culture.
Other societies put a higher value on fitting in or conforming. There is a Japanese proverb that roughly translates into the saying, “The nail that sticksup gets hammered down,” meaning that it is better not to stand out in a group but to conform. Military organizations are an example of a group that expects a high level of conformity in the behavior of their members and punishes those who do not conform.
All people balance the need to conform and fit in with the need to express their individuality throughout their lives. Some research into birth order suggests that the oldest child in a family is more likely to conform, while laterchildren are more likely to become non-conformists. However, these studies are open to different interpretations and, although interesting, should not beconsidered conclusively true.
Young children tend to be the least aware of the group and society values andare the least influenced by the need to conform. However, with more social interactions and more awareness of others, the need to conform grows. Pre-teens and teenagers face many issues related to conformity. They are pulled between the desire to be seen as individuals of unique value and the desire to belong to a group where they feel secure and accepted. The result is that oftenteens reject conforming to family or general society values, while conformingrigidly to the norms or values of their peer group. An example of this phenomenon is seen when young people join gangs. In joining the gang they are rejecting the community’s way of dressing and behaving. Yet to belong to the gang, they must conform to the gang’s own style of dress, behavior, and speech.
Conformity is tied closely to the issue of peer pressure. Although people feel peer pressure their entire lives, young people who are seeking to define themselves are generally most influenced by the values and attitudes of their peers. Adolescents often encourage friends to do or try things that they themselves are doing in order to fit into to a group. The encouragement can be positive (studying hard to get good grades) or negative (drinking beer after thefootball game).
Deciding how much and which group’s values to conform to are one of the majorstresses of adolescence. Trying to conform to the behaviors of a group thatgo against one’s own beliefs in order to be accepted creates a great deal ofinternal conflict and sometimes external conflict with family members and friends from an earlier time. Defining oneself as an individual and developing aconstant value system forces young people to confront issues of conformity and non-conformity. This is a major challenge of adolescence.
Many studies of young people show that if a person’s friends engage in a behavior – everything from cigarette smoking to drinking alcohol to shoplifting to sexual activity – an adolescent is highly likely to conform to his or her friends’ behaviors and try these activities. The alternative is for the youngperson to seek different friends with values more in line with his own. Often, however, the desire to be part of a group and the fear of social isolationmakes it more appealing to change behaviors than to seek other friends.
Attitudes toward conformity are of particular interest in community health, where conformity may influence the willingness of people to engage in activities such as illicit drug use or high-risk sexual activities, or prompt them toavoid drug rehabilitation programs.
The tendency to conform to a group’s values is of interest to outreach workers because social networks may provide a link to reaching and influencing thebehavior of a wide range of people involved in drug abuse and high-risk sexual activity. If key members of a group accept messages about how to change behavior to reduce risky activities such as needle sharing, drinking and driving, and unsafe sexual behavior, other group members often follow their lead andchange their behavior also.
Although society tends to focus on teenagers’ needs to conform and follow fads, and many parents worry about how the desire to conform will influence thedecisions their children must make, issues surrounding conformity continue into adult life. They may be as trivial as choosing the proper clothes to wearto the office so as not to stand out or as serious as choosing whether to have one’s children vaccinated against diseases. Finding a rational balance between belonging and being an individual is a challenge for everyone. Many people who feel as if this area of their lives is out of balance benefit from seeking professional counseling to help them find a level of conformity that is more comfortable for them.
In an attempt to improve ourselves and our calling to perform ministry May & I have embarked upon volunteering three days a week at a local church/substance abuse center. We are also performing phase 2 of peer-counseling to enhance our adapting skills to the mission we have been called to perform in our community. Association with many groups has opened our eyes to Social Psychology and how it is used to fashion and shape peoples behavior.
We have ceased to think theologically about the ministry. Instead, we characterize it almost exclusively in functional or institutional terms. There are at least two reasons for this shift in emphasis. On the one hand there are the new developments in clinical psychology and counseling procedures, and on the other the requests of parishioners, the denominational programs, and the culture of the local community.
How is it that so many people started saying “Awesome!”, or started wearing Uggs?
These are examples of how individuals’ behavior is shaped by what people around them consider appropriate, correct or desirable. Researchers are investigating how human behavioral norms are established in groups and how they evolve over time, in hopes of learning how to exert more influence when it comes to promoting health, marketing products or reducing prejudice.
Psychologists are studying how social norms, the often-unspoken rules of a group, shape not just our behavior but also our attitudes. Social norms influence even those preferences considered private, such as what music we like or what policies we support or even what beliefs we entertain as it relates to denominational choices of churchs. Interventions that take advantage of already-existing group pressures, the thinking goes, should be able to shift attitudes and change behaviors at less cost in effort and resources.
Norms serve a basic human social function, helping us distinguish who is in the group and who is an outsider. Behaving in ways the group considers appropriate is a way of demonstrating to others, and to oneself, that one belongs to the group.
But surprisingly little is known about how attitudinal norms are established in groups. Why do some people in a group become trendsetters when it comes to ideas and objects?
“The questions are among the most challenging” in the field, said H. Peyton Young, a professor at the University of Oxford in the U.K. and at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Dr. Young studies how norms influence economic behavior. “It’s definitely a big open research area where there’s a certain amount of dispute.”
One question is whether there is always a leader that sets or changes the norm, or whether norm change occurs organically over time, even in the absence of a strong leader.
What is Christian Counseling?
Christian counseling focuses on intertwining the disciplines of faith and psychology to provide an approach to mental and emotional health that pulls from biblical teachings. Practitioners of this style of counseling incorporate religious scripture and teachings to guide you through challenging life issues. When facing turbulent life events, incorporating and strengthening your faith may be the missing piece in finding proper treatment.
Origins of Christian Counseling
Rooted deep within biblical accounts, this form of therapy places an emphasis on fundamental values and beliefs that comprise the framework of modern Christianity. Ministers, Reverends, and other religious figures must seek licensed training and accreditation to provide this service to you, much like a secular clinician. In 1968, Christian counselors officially formed the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation to provide a model for current and future counselors. These counselors are bound not only to religious code, but secular standards of ethical practice as well.
Social psychology is “the study of the ways in which the imagined, implied or actual presence of others affects our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. As an African American growing up in Washington D.C. (at the time one of most diverse cities in America), My first brush with social psychology was on my neighborhood streets. “On my block alone, there were nine different nationalities represented. “I was used to growing up with all sorts of different kids, dealing with cultural conflicts, celebrating everyone’s different holidays and special occasions—that was the norm for me.”
When I was in third grade, My mom took us to a multiethnic church comprising four equally proportioned groups: African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and whites. There, I listened to songs and prayers in languages far beyond English. We also had racial slurs hurled at us in a local church’s Vacation Bible School. These and other experiences piqued my interest early on about fundamental questions of social psychology, such as, “Why don’t groups get along?” and “Why do they perceive each other inaccurately?”
Much has been written about various aspects of pastoral theology, but there is a remarkable scarcity of literature that explores the theological issues that lie behind it. The doyen of modern pastoral methods, Seward Hiltner, has said:
Most American ministers—scholars though they may be—are functionalists at heart… . We think and feel or work our way into even the most recondite of theoretical matters only by first exploring them in relation to our functions of ministry.
Much of modern pastoral psychology is an abandonment to this American pragmatism. It is an aping of American scholarship as it demonstrates its pragmatic motivation. There seems to be a disdain for a careful study of the biblical view of the ministry.
Such is the minister’s dilemma. He is faced on the one hand with the traditional biblical definitions (though often poorly developed and frequently caricatured) and on the other with the set of functional expectations by which his service is judged. In addition he is strongly influenced by the attractiveness of new developments in clinical psychology and counseling procedures. Therefore he faces basic ambiguities in performing his task.
The minister serving in today’s secular culture is also confronted with an eroded image of the pastor. He is no longer the most educated man in the community or the one who elicits the mental image of a paragon of virtue. One is more likely to think about Elmer Gantry(Elmer Gantry is a novel written by Sinclair Lewis in 1926 that satirically represents aspects of the religious activity of America within fundamentalist and evangelistic circles and the attitudes of the 1920s public toward it) or to recognize that a recent Gallup poll showed that only eight percent of the population recommended the role of the clergyman as the preferred profession, far behind the doctor, engineer-builder.
Today , May and I are diligently looking for the reconciling benefits of social psychology, working with groups to raise our awareness of their social mis-perceptions and bringing conflicting groups together to find ways to collaborate. We are reading( Disunity in Christ) Christena Cleveland, a social psychologist, is helping churches and faith-based groups transcend deep-seated divisions. it explores how social psychology reveals fragmentation in the body of Christ. Filled with many personal stories, the book highlights, among other things, how differences become divisions, and how the prevailing marketing culture feeds unhealthy competition between groups.
“The cognitive processes that drive categorization are most powerful when they are hidden from sight we have found this to be true within various church communities we frequent. “Once individuals become consciously aware of these processes . . . the processes begin to lose their power.” May and I had the opportunity to witness another facet of cognitive processes helping groups to recognize those assumptions. It was practiced while working with a Young Life group in a, low-income, mostly African American neighborhood in Riverside Ca., after noticing the divisive ways that the group (8 to 10 African American girls) talked about Somali girls at their school. The facilitator began asking the girls questions that helped them see their assumptions. “When you give people the opportunity to see how others misperceive them, “it makes them more interested in seeing how they misperceive others.”
More Than ‘Unity Events’
As May and I launched our campaign to perform outreach we scheduled several meetings to obtain buy in from various denominations. The joint venture began well, we had gained support to utilize one pastors 501c3 to obtain the needed resources and another pastor support to allow us the use of his church to process the recipients. “The joint venture began well but soon ended quite poorly, leaving behind a trail of distrust, negative emotions, and bruised egos.”
We shifted our focus of work with the pastors to explore what happened:
After hearing each pastor’s side of the story, it became clear to me that . . . each pastor had very different ideals about what a leader does and does not do, and each pastor projected his ideals onto the other pastor and negatively evaluated him based on criteria that pertained to those ideals. Essentially, each pastor gave the other a failing grade on leadership because they had very different criteria for evaluating leadership.
By working with us, the pastors uncovered their differing concepts of leadership and how that had led to misunderstanding and failed collaboration.
These are the ten books we plan to read along with an intense daily devotional for 2015.
Cleveland’s work awakens us to the language we use, particularly the ways in which we draw boundaries between us and them. “We must take active steps to expand our category of us, “so that they are now included in us. We’ve learned that the mere act of categorizing Christian groups into smaller, homogeneous groups leads us to devalue, misperceive, and distance ourselves from them.”
Once a divide goes up between groups, they tend to exaggerate each other’s differences—and cause further division in the body of Christ. Churches, “tend to rely most on our smaller, cultural identities and ignore our larger, common identity as members of the body of Christ. . . . Christianity has been turned into a marketplace in which you can make money off your brand.” Pastors and churches are pressured to distinguish themselves from others, as we compete for the loyalty of members and seemingly scarce resources. We need a theology, deeply rooted in our essential unity in Christ that acts and speaks accordingly, seeking commonality and emphasizing shared characteristics between groups.
Instead of deepening the chasms between groups, we need sustained conversation. I would like to go one one step further, noting that one-time cross-cultural unity events are “not the way to go.” Although well-intentioned, such events tend to squeeze minority groups into the majority culture. Rather, healing and witness to unity in Christ comes from the long, messy work of naming issues of power and privilege. What we need are “long-term, ongoing partnerships that are proximal and mutually engaging.”
Alongside sustained conversations, we need ministries on which our groups can collaborate. I recall how many churches in Washington D.C. ran VBS programs with the exact same curriculum at different times. “It’s our empire approach to doing church,” that fuels such redundant behavior. I also maintain that it’s better for a church to pick a single church of a differing social group (race, ethnicity, or even political inclination) and to deeply partner with that church rather than to host sporadic events with many churches. My experience has shown that churches who immerse themselves in this kind of cross-cultural partnerships never regret it. “Yes, it’s hard,” “but it’s so much richer.”
The call to follow Jesus, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us, is a costly one. The way of Christ is undoubtedly difficult as we lose ourselves, but as we follow in it, we find the abundant shared riches of God’s kingdom. Cleveland’s work rouses us from the patterns of speech and action that we mindlessly fall into within the confines of a homogenous social group. It points us toward healing: the healing of the church, the healing of our neighborhoods, and ultimately the healing of our own fragmented souls. May we have the courage to follow her lead.
My cable company sent a postcard inviting me to check out its latest improvements in TV channels. The card indicated that I needed to contact the company to get the necessary new digital equipment and explained how to hook it up and activate it. After that, the ad said I was just to “sit back and enjoy the World of More.”
The card made me think of the “World of More” that Christians are privileged to live in. When God transports people from the darkness of sin “into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9), a whole new life opens up.
Romans 5 tells us some of the more that we have in Christ: We have been “reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (v.10) and therefore have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.1). We have access to God and His grace (v.2). Rejoicing in trouble is now possible because we understand that it’s an opportunity to grow in our character through trusting Him (vv.3-4). Additionally, the Holy Spirit, who has been given to live in us, pours the love of God into our hearts (v.5). And sin no longer has the same hold on us (6:18).
As Christians, we have unlimited access to a real “World of More.” Wouldn’t it be selfish not to invite others to join us in that special world?
The world seeks fulfillment in The pleasures they adore; But those who follow Jesus Christ Are given so much more.
While serving my country in a hostile land I saw God answer my prayers. Held against my will after being in pursuit of the ”mad dog of the Middle East” in 1987, Muammar el-Qaddafi and his family I prayed for a blessing to make it home. I saw God work while serving several prison terms on level four yards and being the focus of antagonism due to the color of my skin, I’ve seen God work in my life when death was not just a scene, but a smell, I’ve seen God heal and work when I lost my kids and I wanted to give up on Him.
As I have reflected over the events of the past few days and months and years of my life I was drawn to the first chapter of James. In the first 13 verses we are given some understanding of the purpose of trials that come our way.
No one has suffered more than our Father in heaven. No one has paid more dearly for the allowance of sin into the world. No one has so continuously grieved over the pain of a race gone bad. No one has suffered like the One who paid for our sin in the crucified body of His own Son. No one has suffered more than the One who, when He stretched out His arms and died, showed us how much He loved us. It is this God who, in drawing us to Himself, asks us to trust Him when we are suffering and when our own loved ones cry out in our presence ( 1 Peter 2:21; 3:18; 4:1 ).
The apostle Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away an unidentified source of suffering. But the Lord declined saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” “Therefore,” said Paul, “most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul learned that he would rather be with Christ in suffering than without Christ in good health and pleasant circumstances.
Natural disasters. Terrorist acts. Injustice. Incurable disease. All these experiences point to suffering, and can cause people to question the love and goodness of a God who would let such things occur. In this publication, we seek to consider who God is, and why we can trust Him even when life hurts—and we don’t know why.
Loving parents long to protect their children from unnecessary pain. But wise parents know the danger of over-protection. They know that the freedom to choose is at the heart of what it means to be human, and that a world without choice would be worse than a world without pain. Worse yet would be a world populated by people who could make wrong choices without feeling any pain. No one is more dangerous than the liar, thief, or killer who doesn’t feel the harm he is doing to himself and to others (Genesis 2:15-17).
We hate pain, especially in those we love. Yet without discomfort, the sick wouldn’t go to a doctor. Worn-out bodies would get no rest. Criminals wouldn’t fear the law. Children would laugh at correction. Without pangs of conscience, the daily dissatisfaction of boredom, or the empty longing for significance, people who are made to find satisfaction in an eternal Father would settle for far less. The example of Solomon, lured by pleasure and taught by his pain, shows us that even the wisest among us tend to drift from good and from God until arrested by the resulting pain of their own shortsighted choices (Ecclesiastes 1-12; Psalms 78:34-35; Romans 3:10-18).
Suffering often occurs at the hand of others. But it has a way of revealing what is in our own hearts. Capacities for love, mercy, anger, envy, and pride can lie dormant until awakened by circumstances. Strength and weakness of heart is found not when everything is going our way but when flames of suffering and temptation test the mettle of our character. As gold and silver are refined by fire, and as coal needs time and pressure to become a diamond, the human heart is revealed and developed by enduring the pressure and heat of time and circumstance. Strength of character is shown not when all is well with our world but in the presence of human pain and suffering (Job 42:1-17; Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-5; 1 Peter 1:6-8).
If death is the end of everything, then a life filled with suffering isn’t fair. But if the end of this life brings us to the threshold of eternity, then the most fortunate people in the universe are those who discover, through suffering, that this life is not all we have to live for. Those who find themselves and their eternal God through suffering have not wasted their pain. They have let their poverty, grief, and hunger drive them to the Lord of eternity. They are the ones who will discover to their own unending joy why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1-12; Romans 8:18-19).
BESIDES choosing lawmakers, on November 4th voters in three American states and the District of Columbia considered measures to liberalise the cannabis trade. Alaska and Oregon, where it is legal to provide “medical marijuana” to registered patients, voted to go further and let the drug be sold and taken for recreational purposes, as Colorado and Washington state already allow. In DC, a measure to legalise the possession of small amounts for personal use was passed. A majority of voters in Florida opted to join the lengthening list of places where people can seek a doctor’s note that lets them take the drug. However, the measure fell just short of the 60% needed to change the state constitution. Even so, that such a big state in the conservative South came so close to liberalising shows how America’s attitude to criminalising pot has changed.
All that imprisoning millions of people for nonviolent drug offenses has done is bankrupt us financially and morally, turning people with debilitating addictions into people with debilitating convictions.
The United States imprisons more people than any other nation in the world, largely due to misguided drug laws and mandatory sentencing requirements. Since the 1970s, drug war practices have led to the conviction and marginalization of millions of Americans – disproportionately poor people and people of color – while failing utterly to reduce problematic drug use, drug-related disease transmission or overdose deaths. The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to identifying and promoting health-centered alternatives to harmful, punitive drug laws. We are working to stem the tide of low-level drug arrests, to reverse draconian sentencing practices that cultivate discrimination, and to eliminate life-long barriers faced by people with even a minor drug conviction.
If we want to solve our nation’s drug problems, we need to focus less on obtaining convictions and more on preventing addictions. We should be treating people with addictions, not handcuffing them.
The United States is home to less than 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners, in part because of the overly harsh consequences of a drug conviction. Many of the 2.3 million people behind bars (and 5 million under criminal justice supervision) in this country are being punished for a drug offense. If every American who has ever possessed illicit drugs were punished for it, nearly half of the U.S. population would have drug violations on their records.
Over 1.6 million people are arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated, placed under criminal justice supervision and/or deported each year for a drug law violation. Yet instead of reducing problematic drug use, drug-related disease transmission or overdose deaths, the drug war has actually done more harm than problematic drug use itself, by breaking up families, putting millions of people behind bars, burdening even more people with a life-long criminal record, worsening the health prospects for people who use drugs and significantly compromising public health.
The consequences of any drug conviction are life-long and severe, and are not experienced equally. Despite comparable drug use and selling rates across racial groups, African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately punished for drug law violations. Drug violations are an easy solution for police officers pressed for high arrest quotas, resulting in thousands of wrongful arrests that overwhelmingly victimize communities of color.
The Drug Policy Alliance is focused on reducing the number of people swept into the criminal justice system (or deported) for drug law violations, while promoting policies that improve individual and public health. We are guided by the principle that no one should be punished for what they put in their own body, absent harm to others.
Exposing and combating the racism of the drug war is an important part of DPA’s agenda. We work with civil rights and social justice organizations, formerly incarcerated people and other allies to end discriminatory policies and practices that unjustly target and penalize people of color and to advance an equitable health-centered approach to drugs.
The drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, manifested through racial discrimination by law enforcement and disproportionate drug war misery suffered by communities of color. Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug law violations than are whites. Higher arrest and incarceration rates for African Americans and Latinos are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use or sales in these communities, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, on lower-income communities and on communities of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system. We believe that the mass criminalization of people of color, particularly young African American men, is as profound a system of racial control as the Jim Crow laws were in this country until the mid-1960s.
The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to exposing disproportionate arrest rates and the systems that perpetuate them. We work to eliminate policies that result in disproportionate incarceration rates by rolling back harsh mandatory minimum sentences that unfairly affect urban populations and by repealing sentencing disparities. Crack cocaine sentencing presents a particularly egregious case. Since the 1980s, federal penalties for crack were 100 times harsher than those for powder cocaine, with African Americans disproportionately sentenced to much lengthier terms. But, in 2010, DPA played a key role in reducing the crack/powder sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, and we are committed to passing legislation that would eliminate the disparity entirely.
The life-long penalties and exclusions that follow a drug conviction have created a permanent second-class status for millions of Americans, who may be prohibited from voting, being licensed, accessing public assistance and any number of other activities and opportunities. The drug war’s racist enforcement means that all of these exclusions fall more heavily on people and communities of color. DPA is committed to ending these highly discriminatory policies and to combating the stigma attached to drug use and drug convictions.
Two-thirds of women doing time in federal prison are behind bars for nonviolent drug offenses, and the vast majority of them have children they can’t even see. That’s not family values.
The perceived targets of drug law enforcement are men, but many of its victims are women. Women, and particularly women of color, are disproportionately affected by social stigma, by laws that punish those unable or unwilling to inform on others, by regulations that bar people with a drug conviction from obtaining (or that require a drug test to receive) public assistance, and by a drug treatment system designed for men.
Largely as a result of draconian drug laws, women are now a fast growing segment of the U.S. prison population. More than three quarters of women behind bars are mothers, many of them sole caregivers.
Conspiracy offenses represent one of the most egregious examples of the drug war’s inequitable treatment of women. Although conspiracy laws were designed to target members of illicit drug organizations, they have swept up many women for being guilty of nothing more than living with a husband or boyfriend involved in some level of drug sales. Harsh mandatory minimum sentencing may keep them behind bars for 20 years, 30 years, or even life.
The drug war punishes women, particularly mothers, not just for drug law violations but also, it appears, for failing to be “good” women. This translates into a system whereby women who are responsible for childrearing are too readily separated from their children, temporarily or permanently. Even women who do not use drugs may be punished, for example, by welfare regulations that require recipients to submit to invasive and embarrassing monitored drug testing in order to obtain public assistance.
Removing a parent (perhaps the only parent) from the household is immediately destabilizing, and over the long-term it’s devastating. Parents, once released from prison, may be barred from public assistance and housing and face significantly diminished employment opportunities. Children with a parent in prison are several times more likely than other children to end up in foster care, to drop out of school and to become involved in the criminal justice system.
Pregnant women are uniquely vulnerable to criminal justice involvement. Prosecutors across the country have targeted pregnant women accused of drug use, supposedly in the interest of protecting their fetuses. The criminalization of pregnant women is not only an affront to women’s rights; it puts both mother and fetus at greater risk by erecting barriers to drug treatment and prenatal care.
The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to safeguarding a woman’s right to sovereignty over her own body, and we have been involved in several legal challenges in cases in which women were charged with child abuse, assault, homicide or other offenses because they allegedly used drugs while pregnant. We are also working to increase opportunities for families to remain together while parents (or children) address problematic drug use and to reform draconian conspiracy laws that result in harsh prison sentences for women.
Lately, there has been a passage of scripture that has been echoing in my mind. I can’t think of any reason at all for this except to say that perhaps God is wanting me to focus on it. The passage of scripture is Phil. 1:1-6 which says, “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 3I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 5For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 6Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (KJV). I am drawn to the final verse; and as I think about it, I am encouraged.
We need the confidence of knowing that the Lord is working in us, that He has not left us alone, and that He is very concerned about us. Sometimes we experience that stale and dry season where we seem to have reached a stone wall in our spiritual development. Of course, this could be true for many due to sin or rebellion of some sort. But, for those who simply seek God and desire to experience Him more and more and yet find themselves wondering and waiting, this verse is for you. It has three main parts:
First, the work that was begun in you was regeneration. When you trusted in Christ and were born again, you were changed. This is the beginning of the work of God in your hearts. God saves us as we are, but He does not leave us as we are. He changes us. Initially, when we are saved, we are justified; that is, we are declared righteous in God’s eyes. That is the easy part because it is all done by the Lord. The hard part is the changing part. It is called sanctification and is the process God puts us through to conform us more and more into the image of His Son, Jesus. It is this second part, this sanctification, that is hidden in the phrase of Phil. 1:6 where it says, ” . . . will perform it . . . ” In other words, the Lord is “performing” (KJV), “perfecting” (NASB) us. This perfecting will proceed until ” . . . the day of Jesus Christ.” This is a reference to the return of Christ. By design, the Bible leaves us with the impression that the return of Jesus can be accomplished at any time. This work will continue in all Christians in all places and in all times until the return of Jesus. Once He has been revealed, we will all be with Him (1 Thess. 4:16-5:2); and we will no longer as a whole church or as individuals need to be perfected since the full manifestation of our salvation has been realized in the resurrection and/or change of our bodies to the incorruptible state.
So, Phil. 1:6 carries with it the past, present, and future work of God in us and for us because of what Jesus has done on the cross. Remember, it is because of Jesus and only because of Jesus that the Lord will and is working in us. If you are having problems of some sort, doubting your salvation, unsure about your growth, let the Lord speak to your heart by spending time in prayer and reading His word. He uses these things to “perfect” the work that He has begun in you. Remember that the Lord will never forsake you or leave you. He cannot be unfaithful, and His love for you cannot fail. To the Lord be the glory.
As California Releases Prisoners, It Must Confront the Public Health Consequences
The confluence of three events has dramatically broadened the public health implications of prisoner reentry into California communities. First, the state is in the midst of a deep and persistent recession, which has severely strained the resources available for the health care safety net upon which ex-prisoners rely. Second, the state is implementing its 2011 public safety realignment plan, which shifts responsibility for low-level offenders from the state to counties; this will aid the state’s efforts to abide by a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce the prison population. Third, federal health care reform will expand Medicaid eligibility and coverage for some important services, removing a key access-to-care barrier for the prisoner reentry population.
These events argue for assessing the health needs of California’s reentry population, the related public health challenges, and the policy options for improving access to safety net services. In a study sponsored by The California Endowment, a research team at RAND conducted such an assessment and concluded the following:
The health care needs of California prisoners are high, but their mental health and drug treatment needs are even higher.
Certain California counties and communities are particularly affected by reentry.
Ex-prisoners’ access to California’s health care safety net varies across counties, within counties, and by race and ethnicity.
Public safety realignment and federal health care reform present challenges and opportunities for improving access to services for this population, all requiring the state and counties to coordinate their efforts.
Numerous Unmet Needs Reported
With respect to physical health conditions, California state prisoners reported a high burden of chronic diseases, such as asthma and hypertension, and infectious diseases, such as hepatitis and tuberculosis. Ex-prisoners face a number of barriers to accessing health care, including lack of health insurance. As a result, ex-prisoners returning to communities will largely have to rely on counties’ health care safety nets for the uninsured to meet their health needs.
Self-reported mental health and drug treatment needs are especially high. More than half of California inmates reported a recent mental health problem, but only about half of those reported having received treatment in prison. Nearly 60 percent of California inmates reported having a drug abuse or dependence problem. Given the high prevalence of these reported conditions, the need for county mental health services may be particularly high.
When we interviewed health care providers who deal with the reentry population, their observations confirmed that this population has substantial mental health and drug treatment needs and other health problems — needs exacerbated by neglect or reduced access to care. Providers also noted a range of social services needs — such as transportation, employment, housing, and family reunification — that make treating ex-prisoners for such health conditions even more resource-intensive. For example, if an individual has a wound that requires periodic cleaning and dressing, would there be a hygienic place to do it?
Inadequate discharge planning for prisoners can be another major barrier to continuity of care. Upon release, many ex-prisoners lack medical records to give health care providers; thus, providers have little information about their medical history. For individuals with infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, providers felt it was critical to know what kind of care and education a patient had received while incarcerated. Ex-prisoners without health insurance have limited treatment options. Difficulties navigating the health care and social services systems complicate referrals. Discharge planning needs to take such factors into account.
Budget cuts present further barriers to care. Providers report that they have had to eliminate or curtail HIV, dental, mental health, or alcohol and drug treatment programs. Because of state-level cuts in funding for community-based treatment programs, one provider we interviewed had to close a sober living facility.
Parolees Are Concentrated in 11 Counties, Mostly in the South
SOURCE: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation parolee data, 2005–2006.
Ex-Prisoners Concentrated Primarily in 11 Counties
To understand where ex-prisoners go upon release and which counties and communities are especially affected by reentry, we used parolee data to examine their geographic distribution following release, illustrated here in the map of California. The map shows that certain counties are particularly affected by reentry. Tiny dots represent each of the nearly 140,000 parolees released in 2005 and 2006, with major clusters shown as yellow ellipses. Darker shades of blue indicate counties with higher numbers of returnees per 1,000 residents; lighter shades indicate lower numbers of returnees. As shown, parolees tend to cluster in certain communities and neighborhoods, with implications for targeting resources.
Eleven counties, concentrated around the Bay Area and in the southern part of the state, had the highest rates of return. By far the highest rates were in Southern California, especially Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. Also, African-American and Latino parolees tended to return to disadvantaged neighborhoods and communities, defined by high poverty rates, high unemployment rates, and low educational attainment.
We focused on four counties — Alameda, Kern, Los Angeles, and San Diego — that received a third of the state’s total parolees. In Alameda County, almost 45 percent of the returning population was concentrated in five clusters, primarily around Oakland and the northern section of the county. Four clusters within Kern County accounted for almost 58 percent of its parolees, while in San Diego County there were eight clusters accounting for nearly half the parolee population, with the largest in downtown and Southeast San Diego. Unlike the other counties, Los Angeles County had 23 clusters covering a large geographic area but accounting for only 35 percent of the total number of returnees.
Unequal Access to Care
We also wanted to know where ex-prisoners were located relative to communities’ health care safety nets: the hospitals, clinics, and mental health and substance abuse treatment providers that would serve the reentry population. So we overlaid such facilities on our county-level maps and found that the capacity of the health care safety net varies within counties. Many ex-prisoners in the three large urban counties — Alameda, Los Angeles, and San Diego — returned to areas with lower levels of accessibility to safety net facilities than found elsewhere in those counties.
In Los Angeles County, for example, some county supervisorial districts with high concentrations of ex-prisoners tended to have fewer hospital and primary care clinics than did other districts. In District 2, which covers South Los Angeles and has a relatively high concentration of ex-prisoners, there are relatively few clinics. And there is only one hospital affiliated with the Medically Indigent Services Program, which is the county-provided program of last resort for those who are not eligible for Medicare, Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California), or private health insurance and who meet socioeconomic eligibility standards.
To understand how much access ex-prisoners had to these facilities, we created accessibility measures for each facility based on its capacity, demand, and travel distance. In Los Angeles County, more than half of parolees (53 percent) returned to areas with lower levels of accessibility to hospitals. More African-American parolees (60 percent) lived in areas with lower accessibility than did Latino or white parolees (51 percent and 47 percent, respectively). Alameda County had a similar pattern, but in Kern and San Diego counties, more Latino parolees lived in areas with lower accessibility to hospitals than did white and African-American parolees.
Realignment and Reform
California’s public safety realignment plan and the U.S. federal health care reform represent important opportunities to improve services to the reentry population, and the stakeholders involved in preparing for both policy measures overlap. For realignment, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation must coordinate with counties to shift responsibility for low-level offenders; for health care reform, California’s Department of Health Care Services must coordinate with counties to prepare for full implementation and for expanding Medicaid.
Both policy measures present opportunities and challenges for addressing ex-prisoners’ health care and reentry needs. As an opportunity, realignment focuses attention on the need to improve pre release planning for the transition of care from correctional health to safety net providers. As a challenge, realignment dramatically changes how low-level offenders will obtain health care and social services, shifting attention from state parole to county-level supervision.
As an opportunity, health care reform opens up the possibility for many ex-prisoners and others in the criminal justice system to become eligible for Medicaid and to have drug treatment services, prevention services, and wellness programs covered more fully. As a challenge, expanding Medicaid eligibility could lead to increased demand for health care safety net services that are already stretched thin.
There are many steps the state and counties can take. They can develop better estimates of the percentage of the Medicaid expansion population that the reentry population represents. Because the Medicaid expansion population is expected to include individuals with multiple comorbidities and a high demand for mental health care and alcohol and drug treatment, investing in “health homes” (teams of providers) and other integrated case management systems for this population will be an important way to manage their complex care needs. Expanding pre release planning to more fully include those with chronic medical, mental health, and substance abuse problems makes sense, as does having the state assess options, such as electronic medical records, for easing the transition of care to community health care systems. Also important will be developing strategies to enroll the reentry population in Medicaid or reinstate their Medicaid benefits and to improve the needed expertise and capacity of treatment providers, especially in localities with higher numbers of ex-prisoners, so providers can better meet the expected increase in demand for services.
Both public safety realignment and federal health reform come with funding streams. Some of this money could leverage existing investments in planning for health care reform for the reentry population. For example, some funds could be used to develop “health homes” or other case management systems. Investing in treatment for this population now may help offset criminal justice costs later on, and expanding access to primary care and integrated care may help avoid more expensive and intensive care down the road.