Pick 6 (3/27/15)

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Hi friends. It’s Friday. And Friday=time for our weekly Pick 6! Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) Haunted by the Past: A Criminal Record Shouldn’t Ruin a Career (The Atlantic)

“Too many applicants, particularly people of color, are being denied jobs based on background checks that are irrelevant or even inaccurate,” argue Sarah Crowley and Alex Bender of the Berkeley, California-based East Bay Community Law Center. “Does it even make sense for employers to give criminal background checks such a central role in the hiring process? Even if private and fingerprint-based background checks are presumed to be 100 percent accurate [which they aren’t even close to being], employers should still think hard about what conclusions to draw from an applicant’s criminal history. The reason is straightforward: Background checks are both over-inclusive and under-inclusive in flagging applicants as a hiring risk . . . In the words of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” In the rush to screen out a few dangerous individuals, companies might be unfairly slamming the door on millions of hardworking people who are qualified and deserve access to job opportunities.”

2.) Too Old to Commit Crime (The Marshall Project)

According to criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon, “Lots of people, as they age, they are no longer a risk. We are keeping people in prison who are physically unable to represent a threat to anybody.” In fact, as Dana Goldstein of The Marshall Project writes, “Homicide and drug-arrest rates peak at age 19, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, while arrest rates for forcible rape peak at 18. Some crimes, such as vandalism, crest even earlier, at age 16, while arrest rates for forgery, fraud and embezzlement peak in the early 20s. For most of the crimes the F.B.I. tracks, more than half of all offenders will be arrested by the time they are 30 . . . Neuroscience suggests that the parts of the brain that govern risk and reward are not fully developed until age 25, after which lawbreaking drops off.” These sorts of statistics have led Mark Mauer of The Sentencing Project and many other sentencing reform advocates to a simple, unescapable conclusion–“a sentence that outlasts an offender’s desire or ability to break the law is a drain on taxpayers, with little upside in protecting public safety or improving an inmate’s chances for success after release.”

3.) Flint city councilman convicted of 1991 homicide says murderer registry would be ‘discrimination’ (MLive)

As Michigan legislators weigh whether or not to create a “murderer registry” (similar to sex offender registries), Flint City councilperson Wantwaz Davis argues that a murderer registry would serve as a form of discrimination against people who have already paid the price for their crimes. Davis knows firsthand about the societal stigma that being an ex-offender has. Davis served 19 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in 1991. He was paroled in 2010 and he was elected to Flint’s city council in 2013 (he fully disclosed his conviction to voters). A murderer registry would allow anyone to search for the current address of any person convicted of a homicide in Michigan, while also allowing anyone to search for ex-offenders by geographic area. Davis argues that a murderer registry is counterproductive, as it will stigmatize ex-offenders, leaving them with “something that hangs over [their] heads,” preventing them form having a “second chance” opportunity to assimilate and become productive, “law-abiding citizens.”

4.) Mississippi Goddam: Lynching of Otis Byrd Adds To State’s 21st Century List (Voice of Detroit)

Last week, 54 year old African American Otis Byrd was found hanging from a tree, dead, with a white sheet tied around his neck. The FBI and Mississippi Bureau of Investigation are currently investigating whether Byrd’s death was a homicide or a suicide. Byrd is the fourth African American man found dead, hanging from a tree in Mississippi since 2000. The U.S. Department of Justice ruled the three previous cases to be suicides. But as Diane Bukowski of The Voice of Detroit, an independent newspaper, notes, “The likelihood of Black men committing suicide in the U.S. is extremely low. From 1999 through 2013, 70 percent of suicides were committed by white males, with only 5 percent by Black males, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control.” The Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative recently reported that from 1877-1950, 576 African Americans were lynched in Mississippi. Byrd was found hanging 500 feet from his house in Port Gibson, Mississippi. Port Gibson is 90% black and has a high poverty rate. According to a 2002 piece by the New York Times, Port Gibson also has “an entrenched population of whites, many of whom are related and have some historical connection to cotton.” While it is currently unknown whether Byrd was lynched or committed suicide, it is important to note that America (especially in places like Mississippi) has a long, complicated history full of violent lynchings and racially-motivated terrorism. For this reason, it is important to take note whenever an African American man is found hanging from a tree. You can read more about Byrd’s death here. And here is a December 2014 story about a 17 year old African American boy who was found dead, hanging from a tree in North Carolina, possibly due to his relationship with an older white woman.

5.) Cory Booker and Newt Gingrich Want to Redefine What Is Considered a “Violent” Crime (Slate)

On Thursday, Cory Booker (D-NJ) and New Gingrich spoke at a Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform (co-sponsored by the ACLU and Koch Industries). Their point was simple: “Unless policymakers who have championed leniency toward nonviolent offenders start thinking about violent offenders as well, the country will not be able to achieve any significant reduction in the prison population.” Which leads us to our last Pick this week . . .

6.) What would you decide in these cases if you were on Alabama’s parole board? (al.com)

Our last news item this week, isn’t actually a news item. It’s an interactive quiz that allows you to read about ten recent cases that have come before the Alabama Parole Board. Given the facts of each of these cases, which of these ten people would you parole? Take the quiz to see if your decision aligns with that of the Alabama Parole Board. When deciding who to parole, don’t forget to take into consideration this week’s second pick, Too Old to Commit Crime, and our fifth pick, Cory Booker and Newt Gingrich Want to Redefine What Is Considered a “Violent” Crime.

Video of the Week) A Conversation with President Obama and The Wire Creator David Simon (The White House)

President Barack Obama and David Simon, the creator of HBO’s The Wire, recently sat down to talk honestly about the challenges law enforcement face and the consequences communities bear from the war on drugs. Check out this 12 minute video of their conversation.

POLICY SPOTLIGHT: A past mistake shouldn’t be a life sentence to joblessness.

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ROOT & REBOUND POLICY SPOTLIGHT: “A past mistake shouldn’t be a life sentence to joblessness.”

** Root & Rebound is extremely proud to join National Employment Law Project, PICO National Network, All of Us or None & the nearly 200 additional leading groups that signed a letter urging President Obama and the White House to “ban the box” for federal agency and contractor jobs, so that people with past convictions can have a fair chance at employment and work for a better life for them, their families & communities. **

SHOW YOUR SUPPORT!

Nearly 200 Groups Urge President Obama to Take Executive Action Adopting Fair-Chance Hiring Reforms for People with Records

Criminal Justice Reform Emerges as Leading Bipartisan and Economic Issue 

 Washington, D.C.—In a letter to be presented to the White House today, nearly 200 civil rights, faith-based organizing, criminal justice, and social justice reform groups are calling on President Obama to take immediate executive action to ensure that federal agencies and contractors remove unnecessary barriers to employment for qualified job candidates who have an arrest or conviction in their past.

“Now is the time to take executive action to open employment opportunities for the growing numbers of Americans who have been unfairly locked out of the job market because of a record,” urges the letter, which is part of an initiative organized by All of Us or None, a membership organization of the formerly incarcerated; the PICO National Network, the nation’s largest faith-based organizing network; and the National Employment Law Project (NELP), an advocacy group for low-wage workers and the unemployed.

The letter builds on growing bipartisan momentum around the country for fair-chance hiring reforms.  Fourteen states, the District of Columbia, and 100 cities and counties have embraced so-called “ban the box” hiring policies, as documented in a recent NELP report (the “box” refers to the check-box that asks about conviction history on job applications).  The initiative was endorsed in a recent New York Times editorial, which concluded, “These measures would bring the federal government much closer to becoming a ‘model employer.’”

In addition to presenting the letter today, representatives of NELP, PICO, All of Us or None, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice will meet with White House and Labor Department officials to urge the President to use his executive authority to take immediate action to adopt fair-chance hiring policies.  On Thursday, criminal justice reformers from around the country, including lawmakers, elected officials, academics, and advocates, will convene in the nation’s capital for the Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform.  The conference will feature a diverse slate of speakers, including Pastor Mike McBride, director of PICO’s LIVE FREE campaign to stop gun violence and mass incarceration of young people of color, and Georgia Republican Governor Nathan Deal, who recently signed an executive order applying ban-the-box to the state’s hiring process.

Among the early supporters of the initiative were the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights—two organizations with a deep commitment to criminal justice and racial justice issues.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, stated, “Decades of over-criminalization have disproportionately harmed communities of color, leaving millions of Americans with lifelong barriers to economic security.  In fact, a young Black man is more likely to be incarcerated than employed.  A fair-chance hiring executive order would allow qualified, rehabilitated job-seekers with records a fair shot at federal jobs and the opportunity to contribute to our communities.”

Ruthie Epstein, legislative policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union said, “Hiring practices that severely limit people with criminal records from consideration for employment make it that much harder for them to get back on their feet, and often result in them entering a revolving door back into the criminal justice system. It’s time for the federal government to step up as a model employer by expanding access to federal jobs for qualified workers who have past arrests or convictions.”
Currently, 181 groups, representing a broad cross-section of organizations and individuals committed to fair hiring of people with arrest and conviction histories, have signed in support of the initiative and are urging immediate executive action.  The signers include groups that represent formerly incarcerated people, multi-racial and multi-religious faith-based communities, the labor and business communities, and model reentry programs, as well as civil rights leaders, criminal and social justice reform experts, and leading activists and scholars.

Nearly one in three adults in the United States has a criminal record that will show up on a routine criminal background check, creating a serious employment barrier for communities of color hit hardest by decades of over-criminalization.  A federal-level fair-chance hiring policy would have far-reaching impact, as nearly one in four U.S. workers is employed by a federal contractor, a subcontractor, or the federal government.  Major national corporations, such as Walmart, Target, and Home Depot, have already adopted fair-chance hiring policies.  President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force also endorsed fair-chance hiring policies.

Pick 6 (3/20/2015)

Views from 6

Hello friends. We’re back with our weekly feature–Pick 6. Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week.

As you may have noticed, our Pick 6 now has a new logo!!! The new Pick 6 logo features a hand picking a fruit off a tree, while another fruit is inscribed with a “6.” This new logo is ripe with symbolism (pun intended): the tree represents knowledge; the fruit represents a sweet reward; and the upward-reaching hand represents all of us who continue to simultaneously reach for both greater knowledge and justice. Here’s to hoping that we can continually educate ourselves about and work to eradicate the problems within our criminal justice system, so that we may be rewarded with justice for all…

Our new logo was created by Amira Taylor, a very creative and talented Mass Communications major at Old Dominion University [she’s also R&R Legal Fellow Dominik Taylor’s little sister]. You can follow Amira on Twitter @ataylor28

As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) US lawmakers introduce bill to restore voting rights to ex-convicts (Al Jazeera America)

On Wednesday, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Representative (John Conyers (D-MI) introduced a new bill in both houses of Congress. If enacted, the bill, The Democracy Restoration Act, will restore voting rights in federal elections to nearly 4.4 million U.S. citizens with criminal convictions. Deborah J. Vagins of the ACLU stated, “Millions of American citizens are without a political voice in federal elections because the current patchwork of laws that disenfranchise people with criminal records has created an inconsistent and unfair electoral process.” As we told you last week, largely because of racial disparities in the criminal justice system, 1 in 13 African Americans in the country are barred from voting. Of the 5.85 million Americans barred from voting, only 25% are currently in prison. 35 states currently have laws that bar people from voting if they are on parole. 31 states have laws that disenfranchise people on felony probation. In 11 states, a felony conviction results in life-time disenfranchisement. As a federal law, the Democracy Restoration Act, if enacted, will preempt state disenfranchisement laws, ending felony disenfranchisement as we know it. Here’s more information on felony disenfranchisement.

2.) Racial tensions flare at U-Va. after arrest of black student (Washington Post)

Racial tensions flared and over 1000 students marched in protest at the University of Virginia, after white Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) officers violently arrested a black UVA student outside of a popular pub early Thursday morning. 20 year old Martese Johnson–an honors student and elected member of UVA’s prestigious Honor Committee–was battered, bloodied, and arrested by ABC officers after Johnson was denied admission into a local pub for allegedly showing a fake ID. UVA president Teresa A. Sullivan told the Washington Post that, “Getting arrested shouldn’t involve getting stitches.” Cellphone videos of the incident show Johnson laying facedown on the ground with a stream of blood running down his face as numerous officers aggressively place his hands in cuffs. Johnson is heard repeatedly crying out, “How could this happen?” Johnson required ten stitches for his injuries. The UVA protests mark the latest protests in the growing #BlackLivesMatter movement. For more on this story, you can go here or here.

3.) I Was Alabama’s Top Judge. I’m Ashamed by What I Had to Do to Get There: How Money is ruining America’s courts (Politico Magazine)

In a piece for Politico Magazine, Sue Bell Cobb, former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court speaks out against judicial elections. Cobb writes, “In Alabama, you don’t get to mete out justice without spending millions of dollars. I had my money; my opponent had his . . . The amounts are utterly obscene. In Alabama, would-be judges are allowed to ask for money directly. We can make calls not just to the usual friends and family but to lawyers who have appeared before us, lawyers who are likely to appear before us, officials with companies who may very well have interests before the court. And I did. Where do you draw the line? . . . When a judge asks a lawyer who appears in his or her court for a campaign check, it’s about as close as you can get to legalized extortion.”

4.) Missouri executes Cecil Clayton, state’s oldest death-row inmate (The Guardian)

On Tuesday, Missouri executed mentally impaired Cecil Clayton, who due to a 1972 work accident, was missing 20% of the frontal lobe of his brain. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that, under the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, it is unconstitutional to put to death an intellectually disabled person. Medical experts found that Clayton was intellectually disabled with an IQ of 71. Despite this, the U.S. Supreme Court denied to hear his case.

5.) Did the US Prison Boom Lead to the Crime Drop? New Study Says No. (The Intercept)

In Louisiana, 1 in 75 adults is incarcerated. This is twice the national average. This statistic has lead to Louisiana’s reputation as “the world’s prison capital.” A new study from the Brennan Center for Justice shows that Louisiana’s high incarceration rate results from harsh sentencing, brutal mandatory minimums, and a large percentage of inmates servicing sentences of life without parole. But as Lauren-Brooke Eisen of the Brennan Center notes, mass incarceration in Louisiana (and elsewhere) can be counterproductive. Eisen states, “There is no evidence that locking more people up makes America safer.”

6.) The Untold Narrative of Black Men in the United States (Center for American Progress)

A new study by the Center for American Progress finds that, “While the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow continue to plague black men and the black community as a whole, there has been great improvement in terms of education, employment, and income, among other areas.”

The report concludes that of fathers who live with their children, black fathers are more likely to be intimately involved in their children’s lives. Black men are more likely to bathe, dress, diaper, and assist their children in the bathroom than fathers in all other demographic groups. The study also shows that black fathers living with their children are more likely to help them with homework on a daily basis than fathers of other demographic groups. As this study demonstrates, it is time for negative stereotypes of black males as absent fathers to end.

Report of the week: Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition (Center for Community Alternatives)

The Center for Community Alternatives and Education From The Inside Out Coalition recently published a new case study that, “makes clear how the criminal history box on college applications and the supplemental requirements and procedures that follow create barriers to higher education for otherwise qualified applicants.” While the report focuses on the State University of New York system, the report has national implications, as the procedures and requirements of the SUNY system are reflective of procedures followed by colleges and universities nationwide.

Update: UN panel to consider US ‘failure’ to clear up racial murders of the civil rights era (The Guardian)

Last month, we told you about a report by the Equal Justice Initiative that argued that the lynching of African Americans was terrorism and a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation. On Thursday (3/19), the United Nations human rights council held a special meeting where the United States Department of Justice was accused of failing to account for hundreds of African Americans who disappeared or were lynched in the deep south during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Ed Pilkington writes that, “The UN spotlight falls at a time of rising concern about the unresolved nature of America’s sordid history of race killings. It follows the recent publication of a study by the Equal Justice Initiative that identified almost 4,000 lynchings in the country between 1877 and 1950 – vastly more than previously reported.”

Update: Audit: SDPD flaws led to misconduct (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Last month we told you about a report by San Diego County’s District Attorney’s Office that analyzed and detailed police officer-involved shootings in San Diego County from 1993-2012. On Tuesday, the Police Executive Research Forum (overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice) released the findings of a year-long review of the San Diego Police Department. The auditors offered 40 policy-based recommendations to correct the systematic flaws within SDPD. This independent audit found “serious gaps in supervision and discipline that allowed officer sexual misconduct and other offenses to go undetected for months and even years.”

Pick 6 (3/13/15)

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Hello friends. It’s Friday the 13th…so you know what that means…it’s time for our weekly Pick 6! Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We always welcome thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) In response to Ferguson probe, Cleaver to introduce bill to curb policing for revenue (Washington Post)

Last week we told you about the recently released U.S. Department of Justice report into the policing and court practices in Ferguson, Missouri. DOJ investigators determined that “in nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law enforcement system,” African Americans are disparately impacted. On Wednesday, 3/11/15, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson resigned, seven months after Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown. Early Thursday morning, two St. Louis area police officers were shot in Ferguson by an unknown gunman, as protesters peacefully gathered outside police headquarters. Peaceful protests continued in Ferguson on Thursday night and a candlelight vigil was held for the two officers, who have been released from the hospital.

Amidst the continued tension in Ferguson, Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO) announced his plans to propose a bill called The Fair Justice Act. While the bill will likely face steep opposition from House Republicans, if enacted, The Fair Justice Act would make it a federal civil rights violation punishable by up to five years in prison for a police officer, chief, or department to enforce criminal or traffic laws for the purpose of raising revenue. Clever and Representative Lacy Clay (D-MO) also announced that they are offering a cash reward to anyone with information that leads to the arrest of “those responsible” for Thursday’s shooting.

2.) 3 Unarmed Black Men Killed By Police Officers In 4 Days (Think Progress)

As peaceful protests continue in Ferguson, Missouri, 3 unarmed African American men have been killed by police officers in a 4 day span. Unarmed Naeschylus Vinzant was shot and killed in Aurora, Colorado last Friday. In Madison, Wisconsin, unarmed Tony Robinson was also shot and killed by a police officer last Friday. And on Monday, outside Atlanta, Georgia, unarmed Anthony Hill was shot and killed by a police officer. As Carimah Townes of Think Progress notes, “research suggests that bias may inform officers’ split-second decisions to use lethal force. Furthermore, officers associate black faces with criminal behavior and are more likely to view African Americans as threatening.”

3.) UN expert slams US as only nation to imprison kids for life without parole (Al Jazeera America)

As Natasja Sheriff reports, the United States was singled out Monday by a United Nations expert on torture for being the only country in the world that continues to sentence children to life in prison without parole. The usage of life sentences without parole on children is banned by several international laws, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the U.N. Convention Against Torture, and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Child. The U.S. and South Sudan are the only two U.N. countries that have signed, but not ratified, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Child. In 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger convicted of homicide are unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

4.) Fix felon voting law, Washington County attorney says (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

In Minnesota, state law currently forbids convicted felons from voting while on probation, parole, or any other form of community supervision. This will all change if a recently proposed bill passes. The bill, which has bipartisan support, would grant voting rights to convicted felons who are on probation, parole, or community supervision. If enacted, the bill will restore the right to vote in the 47,000 Minnesotans under probation or parole. 18 states currently allow people on probation or parole to vote. Here’s more information on felony disenfranchisement, which has resulted in 1 of every 13 African Americans, nationwide, being unable to vote.

5.) Barred from Church (The Marshall Project)

Last month, Graham County, North Carolina sheriff announced that registered sex offenders could not attend church services in his county. Graham County consists of 9000 people and has 20 registered sex offenders. As noted by Maurice Chammah of The Marshall Project, this “policy taps into a much larger issue faced by states, counties, and churches throughout the country as they implement often sweeping and strict laws meant to prevent sex crimes: Can sex offenders attend church? And is denying them the ability to do so a violation of their rights?” North Carolina’s ACLU is currently reviewing Graham County’s policy.

6.) Why Was An FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force Tracking A Black Lives Matter Protest? (The Intercept)

The Intercept recently obtained an email confirming that members of an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force tracked the time and location of a Black Lives Matter protest last December at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to the FBI’s website, the FBI Joint Terrorism Taskforce operates in 104 cities nationwide and serves as “our nation’s front line to terrorism.” A spokesperson for the FBI told The Intercept that the FBI has no interest in the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite the FBI spokesperson’s denial, this news sounds eerily similar to J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI’s efforts to track the personal lives of  Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and other prominent members of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

#blacklivesmatter

(+1) Jennifer Lobato’s Jail Death: Sheriff Admits She Didn’t Need To Die (Westword)

Last week, R&R’s blog featured a story about the dangers (and horrors) of the for-profit prison healthcare industry. In this week’s final Pick, we bring you the story of Jennifer Lobato, a 38-year-old mother of seven who recently died in a Jefferson County, Colorado Jail. Lobato was booked into the Jefferson County jail on March 1. At the time of her booking, Lobato was going through heroin withdrawals. Lobato denied using drugs during her intake screening and the jail’s medical team did not realize that Lobato was going through withdrawals. The next morning, as her withdrawals worsened, Lobato informed a jail deputy that she was going through heroin withdrawals. The deputy informed the medical staff. But the medical staff did nothing. As Lobato’s condition grew worse and worse, fellow inmates informed the deputies that Lobato was vomiting “virtually nonstop.” Still, Lobato received no medical attention and she died in her cell that night. In a local t.v. interview following Lobato’s death, Jefferson County Sheriff, Jeff Shrader, responded, “No, no,” when asked whether Lobato needed to die in jail. Shrader also replied, “That is correct,” when asked whether it was true that Lobato was left in her cell for 10 hours despite numerous inmate complaints about her condition. Last December, a jury awarded  former Jefferson County inmate, Ken McGill, $11 million in a lawsuit stemming from the substandard provision of care after McGill suffered a stroke. Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc. provides healthcare in Jefferson County.

Thanks for reading!

The R&R Team

Pick 6 (3/6/2015)

pick 6

Hello friends. Friday=time for our weekly Pick 6! Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy! And Happy Women’s History Month, by the way!

1.) 50 years after Bloody Sunday, Voting Rights Are under Attack (The Nation)

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. But even as President Obama and former President George W. Bush travel to Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the marches that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, voting rights are still under attack in 2015. As Ari Berman writes, from 2011 to 2015, 395 new voting restrictions have been introduced in 49 states (Idaho being the lone exception). 25 states have adopted measures making it harder to vote. And due to the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder, the states with the worst histories of voter discrimination (such as Alabama), no longer have to obtain “federal preclearance” before implementing changes to their voting laws or practices. With the anniversary of Bloody Sunday nearing, Berman reports that Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Selma recently told him, “My hope is that . . . people will recommit themselves to restore the teeth back into the Voting Rights Act . . . the biggest tribute that we can give to those [Bloody Sunday marchers] is fully restoring the Voting Rights Act.”

2.) The 12 key highlights from the DOJ’s scathing Ferguson report (Washington Post)

Seven months after Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown, the U.S. Department of Justice has released a report into policing and court practices in Ferguson. DOJ investigators determined that “in nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law enforcement system,” African Americans are disparately impacted. DOJ’s report details frequent Fourth Amendment violations, stunning racial disparities in police traffic stops and use of force, and a law enforcement system that is shaped by “revenue rather than by public safety needs.” Despite only making up 67% of Ferguson’s population, African Americans accounted for 85% of police stop, 90% of traffic citations, and 93% of arrests from 2012-2014. The DOJ report states that “our investigation has revealed that these disparities occur, at least in part, because of unlawful bias against and stereotypes about African Americans.” You can read the full DOJ report here.

3.) Out of Trouble, but Criminal Records Keep Me Out of Work (New York Times)

Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times chronicles the story of Michael Hugh Mirsky, a formerly incarcerated New Jersey resident, whose story is representative of the plight faced by millions of formerly incarcerated Americans. Appelbaum writes that, “The reluctance of employers to hire people with criminal records combined with laws that place broad categories of jobs off-limits, is not just a frustration for men [and women] like Mr. Mirsky; it is also taking a toll on the broader economy. It is preventing millions of American men from becoming, in that old phrase, productive members of society.”

4.) WH Task Force: All police shootings should be independently review (Washington Post)

A report by a White House Task Force charged with investigating and probing the strained and deteriorated relationship between police and the communities that they ostensibly protect was delivered to President Obama on Monday. The report calls for independent review of all police shootings, more body cameras on police officers, re-training for most officers, greater transparency by police departments (including better record keeping about police use of force), and an acknowledgement by law enforcement of “the role of policing in past and present injustice and discrimination and how it is a hurdle to the promotion of community trust.”

5.) Dying inmates may appeal court decisions against early release (Los Angeles Times)

On Thursday, the California Supreme Court unanimously decided that dying prisoners may appeal a judge’s decision refusing them an early release (known as a “compassionate release”). This ruling by California’s high court overturns an appellate court decision that held that only the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation or the parole board could challenge a trial court’s decision to deny compassionate release to an inmate. California requires that any inmate requesting compassionate release have a doctor’s report stating that the inmate has fewer than six months to live (amongst other requirements).

6.) NYU Launches Prison Education Program Backed by Ford Foundation Grant (Newswise)

New York University has recently launched an initiative to bring college education to incarcerated individuals at Wallkill Correctional Facility in Ulster County, New York. Through a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, NYU’s Prison Education Program (PEP) will allow incarcerated students to earn credits towards an Associate of Arts degree from NYU. Once released, the students will be able continue their education at NYU or transfer their credits to another institution. This spring, the PEP program has 36 students enrolled. These students will have an option of taking five courses that “offer both intensive liberal arts study and introductory courses from NYU’s professional schools.”

Audio of the week: High Hurdle to College for Ex-Offenders (WNYC & The Marshall Project)

Check out this short podcast and the accompanying article. This joint effort by WNYC and The Marshall Project details a “Ban the Box” campaign to prevent colleges from asking applicants whether they have a criminal record. Currently, over half of the nation’s colleges ask applicants whether or not they have ever been convicted of a crime. This podcast/article describes the work of the non-profit Center for Community Alternatives, which argues that asking applicants about their criminal history “discourage[s] would-be applicants who feel stigmatized, and is often the precursor to an applicant process full of extra hurdles for people with records.”

Bonus: Selma still struggling with social segregation, unemployment & crime 50 years after Bloody Sunday (al.com)

50 years after Bloody Sunday, the fight against segregation and discrimination is still not over in Selma, Alabama. As one Selma native puts it, “There’s still a residue of segregation, or a ‘my side of town, your side of town,” [the population of west Selma remains almost entirely white, while the east side’s population is almost entirely black] . . . The events that happened in Selma (on Bloody Sunday) make it more of a contradiction because this should be more of a utopian society for blacks and whites.” As Conner Sheets of al.com reports, “not only is the populace of Selma effectively segregated geographically, but the city’s residents still mostly segregate themselves in social settings as well.” White flight and the exodus of once booming industry have “left most of the city’s remaining black population struggling to achieve upward mobility and start businesses and families . . . many residents are still suffering from the wounds inflicted during the Jim Crow era, which are still visible today in the sorry state of Selma’s public schools, crime rate and economic vitality.”

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, let us not forget that we still have so much more work to do . . .

For Selma (by Langston Hughes)

In places like
Selma, Alabama,
Kids say,
In places like
Chicago and New York…
In places like
Chicago and New York
Kids say,
In places like
London and Paris…
In places like
London and Paris
Kids say,
In places like
Chicago and New York…

Profiting from Failure: Corizon Health, Inc., Martin Harrison and the deadly consequences of for-profit prison healthcare

Santa Rita jail where Martin Harrison died. Copyright: The Wall Street Journal

Santa Rita jail where Martin Harrison died. Copyright: The Wall Street Journal

By: Dominik Taylor

“Martin Harrison’s legacy will be safer care for jail and prison inmates around the country. His family . . . was committed to making sure that Martin’s death was not in vain. They have succeeded completely.”[1] – Julia Sherwin, attorney for the Harrison family

On Tuesday, February 10th, 2015, the largest wrongful death settlement in a civil rights case in the history of California was reached. The parties to this settlement were the family of Martin Harrison (the plaintiffs) and Alameda County, California and Corizon Health, Inc. (the co-defendants).[2]

Defendant Alameda County is the San Francisco Bay Area county that includes Oakland, Berkeley, and Hayward, amongst several other cities. Alameda is home to over 1.5 million residents.

But who was Martin Harrison? Who or what is Alameda’s co-defendant, Corizon Health, Inc.?

Martin Harrison died on August 2010 at the age of 50. Harrison died two days after he was severely beaten and tased by ten Santa Rita Jail deputies in Alameda County.[3]

Corizon is one of the largest for-profit prison healthcare providers in the United States.[4] Corizon, a privately held corporation, operates in 27 states and services more than 345,000 inmates.[5]

Among the jails that Corizon services is Alameda’s Santa Rita Jail. In February 2013, Alameda County awarded Corizon a three-year contract extension worth $210 million.[6] Corizon and its predecessors have operated within Alameda County for last 27 years, and Corizon is responsible for overseeing the 3400 inmates in Alameda’s two jails, Santa Rita and Glenn Dyer.[7]

Harrison was held at Santa Rita Jail following an August 13, 2010 arrest for jaywalking and for having an outstanding warrant stemming from a failure to appear in court on a prior DUI charge.[8]

The State of California requires prison healthcare contractors to provide Registered Nurses (RNs) to assess inmates upon intake. However, instead of an RN, an unsupervised licensed vocational nurse (LVN) conducted Harrison’s intake screening.[9] While RNs hold professional nursing degrees, LVNs only hold a “practical” degree to provide basic nursing care. LVNs usually work under the supervision of an RN or physician. Healthcare providers, such as Corizon, can pay LVNs substantially less money than RNs, as LVNS do not have as much educational experience or training.

According to the Harrison family’s attorneys, Harrison told the LVN that he drank everyday and that he had a history of alcohol withdrawal.[10] Despite his repeated requests for treatment, the LVN decided that Harrison was not at risk of alcohol withdrawal. Instead of receiving medical treatment, the LVN sent Harrison to a jail cell.

While in his cell at Santa Rita, Harrison began hallucinating due to a severe form of alcohol poisoning, known as delirium tremens.[11] According to the National Health Institute, medical attention and immediate hospitalization is required for someone suffering from delirium tremens.[12] No treatment was provided for Harrison, however. He remained in his cell. For three days, he was frequently heard screaming. He was left in his cell screaming and going through withdrawals until August 16, 2010.[13] On that day, at around 6:30 p.m., deputies attempted to move Harrison to another cell.[14]

Harrison resisted as a deputy tried to usher him out of the cell. In response, the deputy Tased Harrison. The deputy then called for backup. Several other deputies—ten in total—rushed over to Harrison and repeatedly kicked, punched, and Tased him.[15] After severely beating Harrison, the officers placed Harrison in leg shackles and handcuffs.

Shortly after the beating, while a nurse was examining Harrison, he became unresponsive.[16] Harrison never regained consciousness. Two days later, Harrison died. Cause of death: “cardiac arrest following excessive exertion, multiple blunt injuries and Tasering.”[17]

As part of the settlement with the Harrison family, Corizon announced that it will stop employing LVNs to complete tasks that California law mandates that RNs perform. According the Harrison family’s attorneys, Corizon saved 35% in costs for every LVN Corizon enlisted to perform duties that RNs should be performing.[18]

Corizon also agreed to employ RNs to perform inmate screenings at all of the other California facilities that it operates it. Corizon currently has contracts in four California counties (Alameda, Fresno, Santa Barbara, Tulare).[19] Lastly, Corizon expressed a desire to ensure that it provides a better standard of care to inmates. U.S. District Court Judge Jon S. Tiger will monitor Corizon and Alameda for at least the next four years to ensure that they are complying with the terms of the settlement.

Harrison’s case is an archetype of why our nation’s prisons and jails need to provide better healthcare. Harrison never should have been sent to a jail cell. He should have, instead, received immediate medical attention for alcohol withdrawal. Mr. Harrison’s death was not in vain though, as prison reform will ostensibly be implemented in the four California counties where Corizon operates.

Unfortunately, news of a settlement in this case in is no way the end of the battle for better quality—and simply put, more humane—prisoner healthcare. The Harrison family settlement is just the latest battle in long war to reform America’s prisons and to obtain the adequate healthcare that all prisoners are constitutionally guaranteed.

In Estelle v. Gamble, a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case, the Court affirmed that prisoners have a constitutional right to adequate medical attention, and that the Eighth Amendment is violated when prisons and jails display “deliberate indifference” to an inmate’s medical needs.[20]

Writing for the Court in Estelle, Justice Thurgood Marshall stated: “An inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs; if authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met. In the worst cases, such a failure may actually produce physical ‘torture or a lingering death’ . . . In less serious cases, denial of medical care may result in pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose . . . The infliction of such unnecessary suffering is inconsistent with contemporary standards of decency as manifested in modern legislation.”

After the Harrison family settlement was reached, Alameda County Sherriff Greg Ahern was quoted as saying, “Things could have been done better and we are very sad it resulted in an inmate death.”[21] But Ahern also said that Corizon has done “a fantastic job” at Santa Rita.[22] Again, this was right after a Santa Rita inmate named Martin Harrison died… and the county sheriff publicly stated that Corizon has done a “fantastic job?” Really?

A man had just died and the county was protecting its corporate friend, not human beings. This response points to why the close relationships between corporations like Corizon and state and local governments must be stopped. To understand the depth to which the bottom-line and profit driven Corizon has no business running the healthcare system in our jails, let’s take a look at another state. A state where Corizon has a heavy presence as the holder of a lucrative contract to provide healthcare to prisons and jails. That state is Alabama.

For the last two and a half years, the Alabama Department of Corrections has contracted with Corizon. Prior to that, Alabama contracted with Corizon’s predecessor, Correctional Medical Services, from 2007-2012. On February 9, 2015, Corizon announced that Alabama’s Department of Corrections (ADOC) approved a renewal of Corizon’s $224 million contract.[23] This contract extension brings the contract’s total cost up to $405 million, a staggering amount.[24] Despite the re-upping of the contract between Alabama’s DOC and Corizon, it cannot be said that Corizon has done anything close to a “fantastic job” in Alabama, where Corizon is responsible for providing healthcare to the State’s 25,100 inmates.

As revealed in May 2013, Alabama actually gave Corizon failing marks on an internal audit of the healthcare provider’s job in Alabama facilities.[25] Despite the failing grades, Alabama still extended Corizon’s contract through September 2017. And Alabama isn’t the only state where Corizon has failed internal audits. In 2014, the Secretary of Florida’s Department of Corrections threatened to withhold payment of a five-year, $1.2 billion contract, because Corizon “continues to fall below the contractually required standard.”[26] Audits of Corizon in Florida showed that Corizon was providing deficient medical care, nursing, and administration.[27] Corizon has also been subject to lawsuits in Georgia, New York, New Mexico, Minnesota, Washington D.C., and has been accused of providing deficient healthcare in Mississippi and Maine.

On June 17, 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a federal lawsuit against Alabama’s Department of Corrections (ADOC), alleging that ADOC is violating federal laws by ignoring the medical and mental health needs of prisoners.[28] The class action lawsuit contains 40 named plaintiffs who allege that ADOC failed to provide adequate health care, and that this failure constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.[29] Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that, due to ADOC’s “deliberate indifference,” Alabama prisoners oftentimes go for months without appropriate diagnoses, and that prisoners have died because they were not treated for condition such as diabetes and cancer.[30]

The SPLC lawsuit isn’t for the faint of heart. SPLC has reported that numerous Alabama prisoners have had toes, feet, and legs amputated as a result of receiving poor diabetes treatment.[31] SPLC also reported staph outbreaks, scabies outbreaks, raw sewage being allowed to leak into a facility, and that a prison guard was allowed to continue working, despite the fact that he had TB.[32] The case is scheduled to go to trial in 2016.

Corizon is not a named defendant in the SPLC lawsuit. But Corizon is paying for prominent Alabama-based law firm Maynard Cooper & Gale to defend the State of Alabama in the lawsuit.[33] Under the terms of Corizon’s contract with the State, Corizon must pay for any litigation resulting from Corizon’s provision of healthcare in Alabama prisons and jails.[34] Of course, both ADOC and Corizon dispute the claims made in SPLC’s lawsuit. [On an interesting yet seemingly unrelated note, Maynard Cooper & Gale announced in August 2014 that it was opening its first office outside of Alabama. That office is in San Francisco.[35]]

In California, Corizon saved 35% costs by tasking LVNs—instead of RNs—to conduct inmate intakes. Corizon’s cost-saving policy led to Martin Harrison being placed in a jail cell, instead of in a hospital bed. After being trapped in his cell for three days and suffering from alcohol withdrawals, Santa Rita deputies literally beat Harrison to death. Despite Harrison’s death, Alameda renewed its contract with Corizon in 2013.

Through continuing it relationship with Corizon—despite the Harrison family lawsuit—Alameda County, just like the state of Alabama, is placing inmates at risk of pain and suffering in arguably unconstitutional conditions. Simply put, Corizon is placing profits over people. Yes, private corporations place profits over people on a daily basis. But if a private corporation makes hundreds of millions of dollars off government contracts, as Corizon does, isn’t it fair to expect that the company do a “fantastic job?” Certainly, corporations like Corizon must at least be expected to pass internal audits, right? Apparently not.

Over the last two decades, private for-profit healthcare providers, such as Corizon, have continually struck lucrative deals with state and local governments.[36] This is as, prison healthcare has become increasingly privatized by state and local governments in an effort to cut costs while meeting the requirements of Estelle. Corizon makes over $1.5 billion annually from its revenue and contracts with state and local governments.[37] Corizon frequently employs cost-cutting measures to ensure that it maximizes its potential revenue. Corizon’s cost-cutting is partially responsible for the death of Martin Harrison. Corizon’s cost-cutting and lack of responsiveness are part of the reason Alabama’s Department of Corrections is being sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

As noted in a 2014 report by the non-profit Prison Legal News, “When Corizon compromises medical care to save money, such as curtailing the use of ambulances for emergency transports, reducing the number of on-site doctors or sending fewer prisoners to outside hospitals for needed treatment, government officials typically fail to take corrective action and deny responsibility for the resultant deaths and injuries.”[38]

Alameda County and Alabama DOC’s continued relationships with Corizon serve as perfect examples of state and local governments denying responsibility and failing to take corrective action for the deaths and injuries that have resulted from Corizon’s substandard, shoddy, and frankly unacceptable healthcare services.

Julia Sherwin, attorney for the Harrison family, stated, “Martin Harrison’s legacy will be safer care for jail and prison inmates around the country. His family . . . was committed to making sure that Martin’s death was not in vain. They have succeeded completely.”

The Harrison family’s settlement cannot be deemed a complete success. The Harrison family settlement is just the latest battle in long war to reform America’s prisons and to obtain the adequate healthcare that all prisoners are constitutionally guaranteed.

A record-breaking settlement in the Harrison case and SPLC’s lawsuit against ADOC should be used as a springboards for concerned tax-paying citizens and prison reform advocates to start a more serious, focused discussion on the provision of healthcare in prisons and on the lack of responsibility demonstrated by state and local governments in doling out prison healthcare contracts. Serious questions need to be asked and state and local governments must be held accountable. Private for-profit prison healthcare providers must be held accountable.

It all boils down to this: As the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in Estelle, prisoners have a constitutional right to adequate healthcare. If state and local governments are going to contract with for-profit private corporations to provide prisoner healthcare, then it is absolutely imperative that those corporations deliver the care that prisoners are constitutionally entitled to. If providers, such as Corizon, continuously fail time after time, in county after county, and state after state, then state and local governments must end their relationships with these corporations.

Alameda County and Corizon are splitting the cost of the $8.3 million settlement with the Harrison family. That’s $4.15 million a piece. Martin Harrison is dead as the result of Corizon’s cost-cutting measures and a lack of oversight or responsibility by Alameda County. Instead of splitting the cost of a settlement, it’s fair to wonder whether a better solution would be for Alameda County to ditch Corizon completely. Alameda County is responsible for ensuring that its prisoners receive the adequate healthcare that they are constitutionally entitled to. If Alameda County and counties like it across the county do not take this responsibility seriously, then it is up to us to demand they do so.

[1] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[2] According to the Contra Costa Times, in a separate 2013 lawsuit, Alameda County and Corizon Health, Inc. settled with Martin Harrison’s fifth child (a minor).

[3] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/11/usa-prison-settlement-idUSL1N0VK2H620150211

[5] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/11/usa-prison-settlement-idUSL1N0VK2H620150211

[6] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[7] http://www.corizonhealth.com/Corizon-News/corizon-awarded-alameda-county-contract-extension

[8] http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/8-3-million-settlement-in-death-of-Alameda-6073319.php

[9] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[10] http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/8-3-million-settlement-in-death-of-Alameda-6073319.php

[11] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[12] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000766.htm

[13] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[14] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[15] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[16] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[17] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[18] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[19] http://www.corizonhealth.com/About-Corizon/Locations

[20] 429 U.S. 97

[21] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[22] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[23] http://www.corizonhealth.com/Corizon-News/alabama-department-of-corrections-renews-contract-with-corizon-health

[24] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2015/02/alabama_department_of_correcti_1.html

[26] http://www.northescambia.com/2014/09/florida-dept-of-corrections-targets-problems-with-inmate-health-care

[27] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/09/alabamas_inmate_health_care_su.html

[28] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/06/splc_story_on_inmate_health_ca.html

[29] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/06/splc_story_on_inmate_health_ca.html

[30] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/06/splc_story_on_inmate_health_ca.html

[31] http://media.al.com/news_impact/other/Alabama%20Prison%20Report_final.pdf

[32] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/06/cruel_confinement_report_packe.html

[33] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/08/powerful_law_firm_to_defend_al.html

[34] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/08/powerful_law_firm_to_defend_al.html

[35] http://www.bizjournals.com/birmingham/news/2014/08/13/four-questions-with-maynard-cooper-s-managing.html?page=all

[36] http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/Assets/2014/07/StatePrisonHealthCareSpendingReport.pdf

[37] https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2014/mar/15/corizon-needs-a-checkup-problems-with-privatized-correctional-healthcare/

[38] https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2014/mar/15/corizon-needs-a-checkup-problems-with-privatized-correctional-healthcare/