Pick 6 (07/12/2015)

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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. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!

PS. Don’t forget this week only (July 11th-July 18th), Root & Rebound is running its first-ever online auction to raise money for our work across California, drawing thousands of people from across the country and world to bid on incredible prizes—everything from hotel stays to wine country hot air balloon rides, from photographs and paintings to consultations with wedding and home designers.

Visit the site and bid today!

http://events.lite.readysetauction.com/rootrebound/summerfundraiser2015 

I. READ IT: Obama to become first sitting president to visit a prison (LA Times)

President Obama will become the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, part of a push he plans next week for reforming the criminal justice system.

On Thursday, the president will visit with inmates and officials at the Federal Correctional Institution El Reno near Oklahoma City, the White House announced Friday, and will be interviewed for the HBO newsmagazine series “Vice” on the issue.

II. HEAR IT: LA Police Unit Intervenes To Get Mentally Ill Treatment, Not Jail Time (NPR)

“The goal is to make sure that people who are mentally ill, who are not a danger to the community, are moved towards getting treatment and services as opposed to getting booked and taken into the jail.”

III. READ IT: Prison Born (The Atlantic)

“The officer who handcuffed Mayer in the motel didn’t seem to care when she told him she was pregnant. Neither did the parole judge, who charged her with fraternizing with another parolee and skipping curfew and ordered her back to prison. As she stripped down at the intake facility and stepped forward to be searched, she faced the question that thousands of American women do each year: What happens to a baby born in detention?”

IV. HEAR IT: Georgia Leads A Push To Help Ex-Prisoners Get Jobs (NPR)

“In Georgia, Jay Neal thinks it won’t be hard to persuade more businesses to take some risk, because here, one in 13 adults is under some kind of state supervision. ‘Just about everybody knows somebody who’s been in the prison system and knows enough about them to know that they’re not a real threat — that they need help more than they need to be locked away,’ he says. And that they’re no longer ex-offenders, but returning citizens.”

V. WATCH IT: Inside the Shadowy Business of Prison Phone Calls (International Business Times)

Over the last decade, the prison phone business has become a scandalous industry, characterized by lawsuits, exorbitant fees, high phone rates and monopolistic relationships between public jails and private companies that openly offer kickbacks to local sheriffs. In May 2015, Foster Campbell, the Louisana Public Service commissioner, described the prison phone business in his state as “worse than any payday loan scheme.”

“Regardless of what they’re using the money for, this is about shifting the cost of the police state onto the backs of the poor people being policed,” says Paul Wright, executive director of Human Rights Defense Center and a longtime advocate for more affordable prison phone rates.

VI. READ IT: Reading Aloud to My Daughter, From Prison (New York Times)

“After my daughter received her books, I learned that the books I sent to her went beyond her in many ways. My entire family was touched and helped through these books. When my son missed me he too would listen to my voice on the tape. When my mom and dad had a rough day taking care of my many responsibilities, they found forgiveness and hope in the sound of my voice.”

#BanTheBox: Take Action for Federal Fair-Chance Hiring!

Fair-Chance-Federal-NELP-TW

Join the National Employment Law Project (NELP) and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights today for a National Day of Action calling on President Obama to give people with records a fair chance to work at federal agencies and contractors.

Here’s how to help:

  • Sign this letter to President Obama urging his administration to ‘Ban the Box’ on federal job applications and to adopt other fair chance hiring reforms for all job seekers, including those with records!
  • Send a tweet to President Obama (@POTUS)
    • It’s time for the U.S. to adopt a federal #FairChance hiring policy! Tell @POTUS to #BantheBox pic.twitter.com/73sQk8oixo
    • @POTUS can help open up employment opportunities for qualified job-seekers with records #BanTheBox #FairChance pic.twitter.com/73sQk8oixo
    • #FairChance reforms restore hope & opportunity to qualified job-seekers with an arrest or conviction record. @POTUS, it’s time to #BanTheBox

Nationwide, over 100 cities and counties have adopted what is widely known as “ban the box” so that employers consider a job candidate’s qualifications first, without the stigma of a conviction record. These initiatives provide applicants a fair chance by removing the conviction history question on the job application and delaying the background check inquiry until later in the hiring.

17 states and over 100 cities and counties have taken steps to remove barriers to employment for qualified workers with records. Six states, the District of Columbia, and eleven cities and counties extend their fair chance hiring policies to local private employers. It’s time for President Obama to take executive action on federal fair chance hiring.

Here’s the bottom line: Fair chance hiring policies should extend to federal contractors and agents. Formerly incarcerated people deserve equitable opportunities to success.


“Ban the box” initiatives help individuals, families, and local communities by reducing the stigma attached to having a criminal record. These policies are based on fairness, inclusion, and community improvement. Citizens going through the reentry process face myriad barriers to their access to housing, social services, education, and employment. Fair chance hiring policies help alleviate boundaries to formerly incarcerated people’s success.

Stable and secure employment is critical if we hope to give meaningful second chances to people coming home from prison and jail. Formerly incarcerated people should not be denied the ability to succeed. The federal government has the opportunity to send a message that people in the reentry process are valuable—and valued—members of society.

Pick 6 (5/1/15)

Views from 6

Hello friends. Happy May Day (a.k.a. International Workers’ Day). 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. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) Freddie Gray death ruled homicide; officers charged (CNN)

“Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby told reporters Friday that her office’s investigation, coupled with a medical examiner’s determination that Freddie Gray’s death was a homicide, led her to determine there is probable cause to file criminal charges. Six police officers have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray.”

1a.) Rioting rocks Baltimore: Hogan declares emergency, activates Guard (Washington Post)

“Violence swept through pockets of a low-income section of West Baltimore on Monday afternoon as scores of rioters heaved bottles and rocks at riot-gear-clad police, set police cars on fire, and looted a pharmacy, a mall and other businesses. At least 15 officers were injured. Images of the violence were broadcast nationwide just hours after Freddie Gray was eulogized at his funeral, and Gray’s family and clergy members called for calm. Gray died of an injury he suffered while in police custody. The rioting did not appear to stem from any organized protests over Gray’s death.”

2.) Baltimore Been Burning (Ebony)

“Referring to protestors as “thugs” who are “destroying the city in a senseless way” speaks to the inability of so many of us to really do the emotional and intellectual labor of getting past the good/bad binary, and recognizing how hurt and righteously indignant our people really are. If the sight of a burning drugstore can do so much to change the perception of people who claimed to be “down for the cause” beforehand, then one can be pretty sure you haven’t done that work. If your assumption is that anyone who riots or destroys property is a “thug” and on the same plane as a violent police officer who’d beat someone ultimately to death for no other reason but “he ran from me,” then you’re still missing a few things here…If the events of the last 400 years have not left you with, at the absolute least, a sense of “it’s not right, but I understand” as it relates to the utter despair that leads one to go into the streets with destruction on their mind, then you may want to reconsider the levels to which you actually understand what is taking place in Baltimore and beyond…This is not a case for riots, but acknowledgment that they aren’t the work of thugs and ne’er-do-wells, but an SOS call. The question is, are we willing to listen? We should, because our people have finally changed their mind.”

3.) Since 2011, Baltimore has lost or settled more than 100 cases related to police brutality (Vox)

“Since 2011, Baltimore has lost or settled more than 100 cases relate to police brutality…Baltimore has paid out more than $5.7 million in jury awards and settlements, and and spent $5.8 million more on outside law firms.” (Related: Undue Force)

4.) Activist: Baltimore shows poverty costs (Charlotte Observer)

“Attorney Bryan Stevenson brought his campaign against racial injustice to Charlotte on Wednesday night, saying the eruption of violence in Baltimore this week should be understood as a “health crisis” involving poor inner-city black youths who have grown up surrounded by violence, deprived of opportunity and menaced by police.They’re left, he said, with symptoms of hyper-vigilance and hopelessness that suggest post-traumatic stress disorder. “If you’re a young kid growing up in West Baltimore, you are going to be threatened and harassed by police throughout your life,” he said. “We’re so focused on a burning store or a burning car that we’re not looking at the lives that have been burning in pain and anguish for years.”

5.) Nonviolence as Compliance (The Atlantic)

In a thought-provoking piece, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.”

6.) Toward a ‘New Broken Windows Theory’ (The Nation)

“Whenever there is an uprising in an American city, as we’ve seen in Baltimore over the past few days in response to the police-involved death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, there always emerges a chorus of elected officials, pundits, and other public figures that forcefully condemn “violent protests.” They offer their unconditional support for “legitimate” or “peaceful” protests, but describe those who break windows and set fires as thugs, criminals, or animals. And eventually someone invokes the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil-rights movement, reminding us that nonviolence brought down Jim Crow segregation and won voting rights. There’s something that needs to be cleared up: the civil-rights movement was not successful because the quiet dignity of nonviolent protests appealed to the morality of the white public. Nonviolent direct action, a staple employed by many organizations during the civil-rights movement, was and is a much more sophisticated tactic. Organizers found success when nonviolent protests were able to provoke white violence, either by ordinary citizens or police, and images of that brutality were transmitted across the country and the rest of the world. The pictures of bloodied bodies standing in nonviolent defiance of the law horrified people at home and proved embarrassing for the country in a global context. So anyone who calls for protestors to remain “peaceful,” like the civil-rights activists of old, must answer this question: What actions should be taken when America refuses to be ashamed? Images of black death are proliferating beyond our capacity to tell each story, yet there remains no tipping point in sight—no moment when white people in America will say, “Enough.” And no amount of international outrage diminishes the US’s reputation to the point of challenging its status as a hegemonic superpower.”

+1) Today Alabama officially observes Confederate Memorial Day: Shame on us (al.com)

“[Monday April 27th was] Confederate Memorial Day across Alabama and Mississippi…Georgia observed the holiday Sunday. It’s an officially recognized holiday in all three states and throughout much of the old confederacy. And shame on us that it is. Some 150 years after the South’s bloody effort to break apart the union in order to maintain an economic system dependent on slavery was defeated, why are we still officially honoring those who engaged in treason against our nation? Please spare us the “they-didn’t-fight-to-defend-slavery” bull. History teaches us that the South was fully aware of why it fought and why so many of its white sons joined to defend a way of life no matter if they had slaves or not, no matter how poor they may have been. Most white southern men who fought knew one thing about their region: no matter their status, they knew they were better than any black. And that would remain the case in the new Confederate States of America. Alabama and Georgia today – and other southern states at other dates – will spend millions of dollars paying state employees who will have
the day off. It’s offensive.”

Video of the week) Gangs call for calm in Baltimore (Baltimore Sun)

“Amid mounting unrest in Baltimore, an unexpected alliance—members of the Bloods and Crips—emerged yesterday to call for protection of local residents. At an event in a local church shown in a Baltimore Sun video, a man named Charles, who said he was a member of the Crips, wrapped his arm around a self-described Bloods member named Jamal to call for an end to riots over the death of Freddie Gray. “We not here for nobody to get hurt,” Charles told the Sun reporter. “We don’t want nobody to get hurt. All that about the police getting hurt by certain gangs, that’s false. We not here for that. We here to protect our community, and that’s it. We don’t want no trouble. We’re doing this because we don’t want trouble.”

Audio of the week) Crime Pays (This American Life)

“Reporter Joe Richman visits a program in Richmond, CA that is trying a controversial method of reducing gun violence in their city: paying criminals to not commit crimes. Sounds crazy, but the even crazier part is…it works. To figure out how, Joe speaks to guys participating in the program, and to Sam Vaugn, a man whose job it is to monitor the criminals’ progress and keep them on track.”

Report of the week) Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out On Criminal Justice (Brennan Center for Justice)

“Mass incarceration. In recent years it’s become clear that the size of America’s prison population is unsustainable – and isn’t needed to protect public safety. In this remarkable bipartisan collaboration, the country’s most prominent public figures and experts join together to propose ideas for change. In these original essays, many authors speak out for the first time on the issue…From using federal funding to bolster police best practices to allowing for the release of low-level offenders while they wait for trial, from eliminating prison for low-level drug crimes to increasing drug and mental health treatment, the ideas in this book pave a way forward. Solutions promises to further the intellectual and political momentum to reform our justice system…In a remarkable cross-ideological effort, this book includes essays by public figures and experts who will play a leading role in the nation’s debate over the coming year. The book contains original essays by Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Cory Booker, Chris Christie, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Cathy L. Lanier, Martin O’Malley, Janet Napolitano, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Bryan Stevenson, Scott Walker, and Jim Webb, among others.”

Image of the week) 

Jim Bourg/Reuters

Quote of the week) “To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.”- W.E.B. Du Bois

#BlackLivesMatter

Pick 6 (4/24/15)

Views from 6

Hello friends. We’re back again 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. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) ‘Release cards’ turn inmates and families into profit streams (Al Jazeera America)

“Correctional facilities across the country are increasingly sending former inmates home with their funds returned on pre-paid debit cards, known in the industry as release cards. In addition to adoption by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 17 state prison agencies reported using them…Prison reform advocates like Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative say that their use is even more widespread among the nation’s nearly 3,300 jails. With almost 12 million people admitted to county and city jails each year, these local facilities provide a steady source of cardholders subject to high fees…Unlike consumer debit cards, prison-issued cards are completely unregulated when it comes to the fees that can be charged. The result is high transaction and maintenance fees that bear little relation to the actual costs of the services provided…A review of bids and contracts in several states and counties found ATM withdrawal fees of nearly $3 per transaction. A simple balance inquiry typically incurs a charge of $1.50. Account maintenance fees, deducted even if no transactions are made, can be as much as $2.50 per week. Cardholders who opt to transfer their balances to a bank account can be charged closing fees of $30. These cards are designed to generate income for the private vendors that furnish them…The cost of issuing and managing the cards is paid for solely by the exorbitant fees former inmates must pay, fees that quickly deplete their already meager balances…The vendors aren’t the only ones making a profit from these fees. It’s common practice for these companies to send a cut of the collected fees directly to the prison agencies and jails. These “commissions,” essentially legalized kickbacks, make money transfers and other fee-generating services a reliable profit engine for the corrections agencies themselves.”

2.) 40,000 Maryland Ex-Cons May Soon Get Their Voting Rights Back (Mother Jones)

“A national, bipartisan effort to roll back restrictions on felon voting rights could soon take a big step forward in Maryland. Earlier this month, the Maryland legislature passed a bill that would restore the right to vote to felons immediately after release from prison. Currently, Maryland is one of 20 states that bars felons from voting until they have completed prison time, parole, and probation. The bill currently sits on the desk of Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican who has backed criminal justice reform. If enacted, the law would make it easier for 40,000 Maryland residents with past convictions to exercise their voting rights.”

3.) American Outcasts: US Prisons and Modern Day Banishment (The Intercept)

“In ancient times, communities would often rid themselves of convicted criminals and other undesirables through the practice of banishment: casting unwanted people out into the wilderness. The Romans often employed banishment as an alternative to capital punishment, and indeed, considered it a fate nearly as terrible as death. Later, the British Empire liberally employed the punishment of banishment and transportation to colonies such as Australia, while the Soviet Union became known for its use of internal banishment to Siberia. The terms exile, outlaw and outcast all owe their origin to this once widespread practice. As the world grew smaller, banishment, as a practical matter, virtually ceased to exist. Though it still remains on the books in a few Southern states, it is generally thought of as an archaic form of punishment, and one that cannot function effectively in the modern world. Yet the impetus behind banishment — to permanently remove individuals from society, and subject them to a kind of “social death” — flourishes today in the American criminal justice system, where prisons and jails are the settings for a new kind of internal exile…According to the Sentencing Project, nearly 50,000 Americans are currently serving life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), a punishment that has been called “the other death sentence,” and which, like capital punishment, is unknown in Europe. In excess of 100,000 more are serving life sentences…It is here, and not just in the popular areas of low level drug offenses or other easy reforms, that we must look for true change in our criminal justice system.”

4.) Public defenders: The fast food workers of justice? (The Southern Illinoisan)

“Although applauding the skill and dedication of public defenders, Larry Lauterjung was ready to do about anything else after serving as an assistant public defender for nearly 10 years…He describes being a public defender as a cross between an air-traffic controller and working at a fast-food restaurant. There are a lot of moving parts that have to be dealt with quickly and with people’s lives hanging in the balance. “Other public defenders that I have known, I have seen the toll that the stress takes on them. I have seen some who lasted to the point that they retired and they are some of the strongest people I have ever known in my life,” [Lauterjung says].”

5.) New York City Just Outlawed Running Credit Checks on Job Applicants (Truthout)

 New York’s City Council just voted overwhelmingly to outlaw the common practice of letting employers prejudge people based on their credit history—passing an unprecedented ban against employers use of workers’ credit background data…The rationale behind the ban is simple: it’s unfair and useless to use a person’s credit history, which is often inaccurate or misleading, when assessing their job qualifications…[A] negative credit record is associated with many of the disadvantages of being poor, jobless, not white, or in poor health—and not with how trustworthy you are or how well you write computer code or repair a car. But since employers can generally pull up credit data…this information can easily be misinterpreted or manipulated. By providing convenient proxies for race and class, data can become a tool to simultaneously affirm and perpetuate negative stereotypes of workers based on arbitrary factors…”It’s a huge civil rights issue along racial lines, but it’s also a huge privacy issue,” [Sarah Ludwig of the New Economic Project] says. “Because if you are applying for a job, why should your prospective employer know that you lost your house…or that you broke up with your spouse and that created financial distress.” Of the new ban, Ludwig states,  “It’s a strong law…and it’s going to cover most New Yorkers [and] most jobs by far and away. It’s a real civil rights victory.”

6.) Justice Department opens probe into death of Freddie Gray (Baltimore Sun)

“The Department of Justice has been monitoring the developments in Baltimore, Md., regarding the death of Freddie Gray,” spokeswoman Dena Iverson said in a statement. “Based on preliminary information, the Department of Justice has officially opened this matter and is gathering information to determine whether any prosecutable civil rights violation occurred.” (Related: The Mysterious Death of Freddie Gray)

+1) Confederate History Month: An embarrassing Abomination (Huffington Post)

“Seven state governments have designated April as Confederate History Month. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia all participate in this misguided paean to a troubling past…Southerners today seem incapable of understanding that the South started and then lost a war that nearly destroyed the United States. The South lost decisively. The rebel cause was unjust, immoral and treasonous. The economic justification was unseemly; the actions were treasonous. There is no part of the Confederate cause of which to be proud. There is no moral high ground here…Now is a good time to close this chapter of hypocrisy and inconsistency. A southern loyalist cannot be a patriot; the two ideals are mutually incompatible. You cannot simultaneously love the United States and love the idea of dissolving the bond between states that constitute the country.”

Report of the week) Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses in California (Drug Policy Alliance)

“Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses in California is a multi-year, comprehensive look at asset forfeiture abuses in California that reveals the troubling extent to which law enforcement agencies have violated state and federal law. Civil asset forfeiture law allows the government to seize and keep cash, cars, real estate, and any other property – even from citizens never charged with or convicted of a crime.

Graphic of the week) FBI admits flaws in hair analysis over decades (Washington Post)

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000. Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence. The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.

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(courtesy of the Washington Post)

Extra graphic of the week) 1.5 Million Black Men Are Missing (New York Times)

“In New York, almost 120,000 black men between the ages of 25 and 54 are missing from everyday life. In Chicago, 45,000 are, and more than 30,000 are missing in Philadelphia. Across the South — from North Charleston, S.C., through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and up into Ferguson, Mo. — hundreds of thousands more are missing. They are missing, largely because of early deaths or because they are behind bars. Remarkably, black women who are 25 to 54 and not in jail outnumber black men in that category by 1.5 million, according to anUpshot analysis. For every 100 black women in this age group living outside of jail, there are only 83 black men…African-American men have long been more likely to be locked up and more likely to die young, but the scale of the combined toll is nonetheless jarring. It is a measure of the deep disparities that continue to afflict black men — disparities being debated after a recent spate of killings by the police — and the gender gap is itself a further cause of social ills, leaving many communities without enough men to be fathers and husbands.”

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(courtesy of the New York Times)

Pick 6 (4/17/15)

Views from 6

Hi friends. Again it is Friday, so again it is 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 any and all thoughts or feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) John Legend Launches Campaign to End Mass Incarceration (AP)

From the AP: “John Legend has launched a campaign to end mass incarceration. The Grammy-winning singer announced the multiyear initiative, FREE AMERICA, on Monday…”We have a serious problem with incarceration in this country,” Legend said in an interview. “It’s destroying families, it’s destroying communities and we’re the most incarcerated country in the world, and when you look deeper and look at the reasons we got to this place, we as a society made some choices politically and legislatively, culturally to deal with poverty, deal with mental illness in a certain way and that way usually involves using incarceration…I’m just trying to create some more awareness to this issue and trying to make some real change legislatively.”

2.) Are you running for President? Please answer these questions about the criminal justice system. (Washington Post)

Thus far, Hilary Clinton (D), Ted Cruz (R), Marco Rubio (R), and Rand Paul (R) have announced their candidacies for President of the United States. Radley Balko, author of the book “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” has strung together a “quick and dirty list of [criminal justice related] questions” that he’d like to see 2016 Presidential candidates answer.

3.) Federal Prosecutor Tries a Radical Tactic in the Drug War: Not Throwing People in Prison (Huffington Post)

“[South Carolina’s top] U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles is testing out a novel approach to dealing with drug-related crime, one that aims to clean up the streets by looking beyond mass arrests and incarceration…If the program’s success continues in South Carolina, it could become a model for law enforcement across the country…Nettles’ plan is surprisingly straightforward. First, federal and local prosecutors identify local drug dealers with the help of the police, probation officers and community members. Next, they build criminal cases against them by reviewing records for outstanding warrants and conducting undercover drug buys. In most cases, arresting all the dealers would be the next order of business, but Nettles has a different idea. While high-level dealers are still arrested and prosecuted, some low-level offenders are given another option. For them, Nettles stages something of an intervention. Together with the police, family members, religious leaders and other members of the community, prosecutors present the dealers with the evidence against them and give them a choice: Face the prospect of prison or participate in the pilot project. The program, officially known as the Drug Market Intervention Initiative, helps the dealers find legitimate jobs and offers them help with drug treatment, education and transportation. The hope is that it provides them with the support and the motivation they need to turn their lives around.”

4.) Driver’s License Suspension Create Cycle of Debt (New York Times)

“The last time Kenneth Seay lost his job, at an industrial bakery that offered health insurance and Christmas bonuses, it was because he had been thrown in jail for legal issues stemming from a revoked driver’s license. Same with the three jobs before that. In fact, Mr. Seay said, when it comes to gainful employment, it is not his criminal record that is holding him back — he did time for dealing drugs — but the $4,509.22 in fines, court costs and reinstatement fees he must pay to recover his license. Mr. Seay’s inability to pay those costs has trapped him in a cycle that thousands of other low-income Tennesseans are struggling to escape. Going through the legal system, even for people charged with nonviolent misdemeanors, can be expensive, with fines, public defender fees, probation fees and other costs running into hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Many people cannot pay. As a result, some states have begun suspending driver’s licenses for unsatisfied debts stemming from any criminal case, from misdemeanors like marijuana possession to felonies in which court costs can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars. In Tennessee, almost 90,000 driver’s licenses have been suspended since its law was enacted in 2011…Many defendants are forced to choose between paying court debt or essentials like utility bills and child support. Mr. Seay said his tax refund this year went toward child support debt accumulated during his time in prison and periods of unemployment. For even low-level offenders, debt can make a valid license unattainable…In Tennessee, judges have the discretion to waive court fees and fines for indigent defendants, but they do not have to, and some routinely refuse. Judges also have wide discretion over how much time to allow defendants to pay traffic tickets before suspending a license.”

5.) The Legal Right to Videotape Police Isn’t Actually All that Clear (City Lab)

From The Atlantic’s City Lab: “Last Saturday, a Dominican immigrant named Feidin Santana used his phone to record video of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager firing his gun eight times and killing Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was running away. Slager has been charged with murder. Santana, who is being celebrated as a hero, has since said that he was terrified and thought about erasing the video. He had reason to be afraid. What if police had assaulted or arrested Santana, or destroyed his phone?…[T]he truth is that courts have not uniformly recognized that a right to record police actually exists. Though the U.S. Department of Justice has expressed its support for the right to record, only four federal appeals courts have ruled that such a right exists; others have either not ruled at all or narrowly ruled that no right had been “clearly established.” Until a right to record police is in fact clearly established, some officers will continue to act against bystanders who record them with impunity.” (Related: California Senate seeks to clarify right to video police conduct)

6.) D.C. Council rejects Corizon Health contract after lobbying battle (Washington Post)

Last month, R&R Legal Fellow Dominik Taylor blogged about the deadly consequences of for-profit prison healthcare. Dominik specifically mentioned Corizon Health’s failings in Alabama and in Alameda County, California. Our last Pick this week is an update on Corizon Health and the movement to improve healthcare for incarcerated people. From the Washington Post: “The D.C. Council on Tuesday rejected a controversial health-care contract proposed for the city’s jail after weeks of fierce arguments and heavy lobbying by supporters and opponents. The council’s 6-to-5 vote against a $66 million proposal by Corizon Health marked a high-profile defeat for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who had supported the contract….Contract opponents cast the decision as a victory for inmate care and a rejection of a company mired in legal troubles in other states, including several high-profile wrongful-death lawsuits. David Grosso (I) said that if getting the best possible care for the city’s inmates is the objective, then “contracting with a for-profit, scandal-prone company is not the way for us to get there.” 

Report of the week) Stop and Frisk in Chicago (ACLU of Illinois)

From the executive summary of our report of the week: “Chicago has failed to train, supervise and monitor law enforcement in minority communities for decades, resulting in a failure to ensure that officers’ use of stop and frisk is lawful. This report contains troubling signs that the Chicago Police Department has a current practice of unlawfully using stop and frisk: Although officers are required to write down the reason for stops, in nearly half of the stops we reviewed, officers either gave an unlawful reason for the stop or failed to provide enough information to justify the stop. Stop and frisk is disproportionately concentrated in the black community. Black Chicagoans were subjected to 72% of all stops, yet constitute just 32% of the city’s population. And, even in majority white police districts, minorities were stopped disproportionately to the number of minority people living in those districts. Chicago stops a shocking number of people. Last summer, there were more than 250,000 stops that did not lead to an arrest. Comparing stops to population, Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as New Yorkers at the height of New York City’s stop and frisk practice. In the face of a systemic abuse of this law enforcement practice, Chicago refuses to keep adequate data about its officers’ stops…This failure to record data makes it impossible for police supervisors, or the public, to identify bad practices and make policy changes to address them.”

Extra of the week) Letter from Birmingham Jail (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

52 years ago this week (4/16/1963) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.The letter defends his strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism. King declares that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws, and to take direct action rather than waiting potentially forever for justice to come through the courts. King famously wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (Related: What if MLK’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” Had Been a Facebook Post?)

Take a few moments this weekend to read King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Or if your prefer, here is audio of King reading the letter. Enjoy. #BlackLivesMatter

Pick 6 (4/10/15)

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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. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) South Carolina Officer is Charged With Murder of Walter Scott (New York Times)

“A white police officer in North Charleston, S.C., was charged with murder on Tuesday after a video surfaced showing him shooting in the back and killing an apparently unarmed black man while the man ran away. The officer, Michael T. Slager, 33, said he had feared for his life because the man [Walter Scott] had taken his stun gun in a scuffle after a traffic stop on Saturday. A video, however, shows the officer firing eight times as the man, Walter L. Scott, 50, fled. The North Charleston mayor announced the state charges at a news conference Tuesday evening…[T]he video, which was taken by a bystander and provided to The New York Times by the Scott family’s lawyer, presents a different account [than Officer Slager’s]. The video begins in the vacant lot, apparently moments after Officer Slager fired his Taser. Wires, which carry the electrical current from the stun gun, appear to be extending from Mr. Scott’s body as the two men tussle and Mr. Scott turns to run. Something — it is not clear whether it is the stun gun — is either tossed or knocked to the ground behind the two men, and Officer Slager draws his gun, the video shows. When the officer fires, Mr. Scott appears to be 15 to 20 feet away and fleeing. He falls after the last of eight shots. The officer then runs back toward where the initial scuffle occurred and picks something up off the ground. Moments later, he drops an object near Mr. Scott’s body, the video shows.”

2.) Felons barred from constructing Apple’s campus (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Apple is known for being secretive and picky about who works on its popular devices, but now, union officials say, that thinking also applies to the construction workers pouring the concrete for the tech giant’s new offices. Several construction workers who were hired to build the exterior of Apple’s new campus in Cupertino were ordered to leave the site in January due to prior felony convictions, several union officials and workers told The Chronicle. The ban is unusual for construction work, a field in which employers typically do not perform criminal background checks…For work on the Apple site, anyone with a felony conviction or facing felony charges “does not meet owner standards,” according to documents from construction companies acquired by The Chronicle…Banning felons could bring about legal ramifications for Apple, said Lisa Klerman, a law professor at the University of Southern California. “If they are just disqualifying people with felony convictions with no connection to the job, they could be challenged legally,” Klerman said. People who have served prison or jail time, or have a felony conviction on their record, are 20 percent less likely to find work, compared with people in the same demographic who don’t have criminal records…There are at least 12 million people in the United States in this category…“When people get an opportunity to get a job and make a living, their likelihood of returning to crime goes down dramatically,” said John Schmitt, a senior economist with the [Center for Economic and Policy Research]. “There is a strong association with people not finding a job and people ending up back behind bars.”

3.) Sprinklers Out, Still Homeless (Truthout)

“In my own town of Berkeley, just across the bay from San Francisco, the city council, rallied by our Downtown Business Association, is working to pass a set of ordinances that would prohibit sleeping on public sidewalks, asking for spare change, using blankets and setting down belongings in our downtown area. In a city with significantly more homeless people than shelter beds available, this amounts to criminalizing behaviors that people engage in to survive…As more and more wealthy tech workers move to San Francisco, people are being forced from their communities, from their cities, to places they can afford. For those who can no longer afford rent, this means moving into a car or onto the street. For those on the streets, gentrification means intensified policing and a rising threat of incarceration. UC Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Center recently reported a dramatic increase in “anti­-vagrancy” laws that further criminalize the already marginalized homeless population, pushing people into jails, out of sight and out of mind. San Francisco is currently pushing to build a new jail in the city – I guess to provide housing for people displaced by these measures.” (related: Five Reasons Why San Francisco Needs to Use Public Lands for Public Benefit, Not Luxury Housing)

4.) Judge: Parts of state’s sex offender law unconstitutional (Detroit Free Press)

“Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry law is so vague that parts of it are unconstitutional, including the requirement that offenders stay at least 1,000 feet from schools, a federal judge has ruled. U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland, in a 72 page ruling, struck down several reporting requirements of the 1994 law, which has been amended several times by state lawmakers to make requirements stricter. And he struck down several other requirements, including a mandate that offenders report in person new e-mail and instant messaging addresses and notify authorities of all telephone numbers “routinely used by the individual.” The vagueness of the law “leaves law enforcement without adequate guidance to enforce the law and leaves registrants of ordinary intelligence unable to determine when the reporting requirements are triggered,” Cleland wrote in his ruling.”

5.) Unfair gang laws in California discriminate (The Muslim Observer)

San Jose native and Public Defender Sajid A Khan writes, “In 1988, the state of California passed the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) Act in order to “seek the eradication of criminal activity by street gangs.” In enacting the STEP Act, the legislature declared that California was in “a state of crisis” caused by “violent street gangs whose members threaten, terrorize, and commit a multitude of crimes against the peaceful citizens of their neighborhoods” and sought to impose increased penalties on suspected street gang activity. In doing so, our lawmakers sanctioned stereotyping. In my practice handling gang cases, it has become abundantly clear that If someone looks a certain way, has certain tattoos, was raised in a certain neighborhood, and hangs out with certain people, law enforcement and school administrators will brand them as gang members…Yet, because of these factors that are usually beyond their control, my clients are labeled and demonized as gang members from a young age, a tag that they rarely can ever shake or remove. This stereotyping preys primarily upon impoverished minority males, namely young blacks and Latinos. In San Jose, my hometown, police commonly create field identification (FI) cards and place Latino youth in gang databases merely because of where they live, who their family members are, what colors they might been seen wearing, because they have a childhood nickname or because they are seen congregating on a street corner with friends. Once an individual is placed in a gang database or has a set of FI cards, there’s no way out. His friends are also likely to find themselves in the database because of their association with a “known” gang member.  A house of gang cards with a foundation built upon baseless stereotyping. Surely, there are some crimes that are gang motivated and should be prosecuted accordingly.  However, for every one of those, there are countless other prosecutions that are not based on actual gang related evidence and instead grounded in assumptions and prejudice.  Black and Latino young men are not all gang members, nor is every crime they commit gang related.”

6.) Exonerees are failed twice by the justice system (Los Angeles Times)

In an opinion piece for the LA Times, Scott Martelle writes, “Anthony Ray Hinton, a 58-year-old former warehouse worker, walked out of an Alabama prison late last week nearly 30 years after being sentenced to death for two murders he didn’t commit…”They took something from him that they don’t have the power to give back, but I think that they ought to, one, to initiate anything they can do to pay for some of the outrageous injustice this case creates. But I think if there’s really going to be any kind of meaningful response to this, not only should he be compensated, but people should be held accountable. People should apologize. People should do some soul-searching. We should create some procedures that mandate that when there is evidence that suggests the person is wrongly convicted, that that evidence has to be reviewed,” [stated Hinton’s attorney, Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative]…Only five states provide exonerees with mental health services or medical treatment — and, after years of substandard care, many former inmates have health problems. Only four offer job-placement assistance. So first the lives are ruined, and then once the error is corrected, the wrongfully convicted generally are just pushed back out into society, without a way to make a living, and without support from other than family or nonprofits. The injustice committed in our names is compounded, and often without proper compensation by the parties – police, prosecutors and witnesses – who stole years from the lives of the innocent, and left them, in many cases, ill-equipped to deal with a much faster paced society than the one from which they were plucked 10, 30, 30 or more years ago. In the end, we, as a society, fail.” (related: Talking to the man who just got exonerated after 30 years on death row)

Report of the week: The Process and Treatment of Mentally Ill Persons In the Criminal Justice System (The Urban Institute)

“Mentally ill offenders possess a unique set of circumstances and needs. However, all too often, they cycle through the criminal justice system without appropriate care to address their mental health. Their recurring involvement in the criminal justice system is a pressing concern. This report provides a national landscape on the processing and treatment of mentally ill individuals in the criminal justice system. It also highlights challenges involved in the reintegration of mentally ill offenders into society, the diversity of policies and protocols in state statutes to address such challenges, and promising criminal justice interventions for mentally ill offenders.”

Audio of the week: Strange Fruit (Billie Holiday)

Tuesday April 7th would have been legendary singer Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday. Take a few minutes out of your weekend to listen to “Strange Fruit,” Holiday’s most famous song. Holiday first sang and performed “Strange Fruit” in 1939. “Strange Fruit” originated as a poem written by American writer, teacher and songwriter Abel Meeropol under the pseudonym Lewis Allan, as a protest against lynchings. In the poem, Meeropol expressed his horror at lynchings, inspired by Lawrence Beitler’s photograph of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. In Yahoo News Reverend Shawn Amos writes, “Holiday should live forever as a reminder of what is best about America, and the magical music it has given the world. It is the music of freedom and defiance. It is the music of comfort and change. It is the music of revolution and the soundtrack of protest.” Read more here.

Info-graphic of the week: Not Just a Ferguson Problem: How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California (Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area)

“In California, a driver who commits offenses as minor as driving without a seatbelt or littering faces a $490 fine, according to a new report…Worse, if the driver, who may not be able to afford to pay such a fine, does not pay it off quickly enough or fails to appear in court, the consequence is a suspended license – a consequence that prevents them from driving to work to earn the money they need to pay off their fine. The result is a Catch-22, where the only way to raise the money to gain back their license to drive is to drive without a license and risk even more fines for doing so.” Read the full report here. And check out the accompanying infographic here.

Pick 6 (3/27/15)

Views from 6

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.

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…

“A Plan to Cut Costs and Crime: End Hurdle to Job After Prison” – NY Times

"Marilyn Scales, 52, of New York, who spent time in prison for selling drugs in the 1990s, said that telling the truth on job applications had made her virtually unemployable. 'When I answer that question honestly,' she said, 'I never get a call back.'" Photo taken from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/24/us/a-plan-to-cut-costs-and-crime-curb-bias-against-ex-convicts.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

Photo taken from: NY Times

“When I answer that question honestly, I never get a call back,” she said. “I feel like I’m still paying for my crimes 20 years later.”

Marilyn Scales, 52, a New York City resident convicted of selling drugs in the 1990s, says that telling the truth on job forms had made her virtually unemployable, even though she was released from prison 17 years ago.

On Thursday, October 23rd, an article called “A Plan to Cut Costs and Crime: End Hurdle to Job After Prison,” was published by the New York Times.  This article discussed the barriers within employment after being released from prison and the goals of the Ban the Box laws.  The article focuses on the personal experiences of several people with criminal records that are prevented from moving on with their lives after serving their sentences and even after decades of being back in society. They describe James White – a man who was turned down for a job as a hospital janitor, immediately after checking the box to mark that he had been convicted of a crime–despite the fact that he had only been convicted of possessing a handgun without a license, 10 years earlier, and had never served jail time.

This summer, Washington’s city council took a step towards positive change by approving the Ban the Box laws, legislation that will forbid public (and some private) employers from asking about criminal history on a job application and running criminal background checks until after the initial steps.  This legislation will also include movements to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, to expunge the criminal records of nonviolent offenders, and to reassess parole and probation rules.  Washington; Illinois; Nebraska; New Jersey; Indianapolis; Louisville, Kentucky; New Orleans; Minnesota; Massachusetts; and San Francisco are all states and cities that have adopted the Ban the Box laws within the past four years.  Legislation like Ban the Box is vital in easing the re-entry process and will help to de-marginalize people, especially disproportionate numbers of African-Americans.  This legislation will also aid the cut of corrections costs being forced in many cities and states across the country.

Finding a solution to the lack of opportunity for people with a criminal conviction history and to the increased recidivism rates has become an urgent issue, as one in three American adults have been arrested throughout their lives and the United States has the largest prison population in the world. People who are forced to check the box, admitting that they have a criminal conviction history, are far more likely to be turned down for jobs; although, past research has shown that people with a criminal record are no more likely to commit a crime in their workplace than people without a criminal record.  Early research surveys conducted show that fewer job applicants with a criminal history have been rejected in cities that have passed Ban the Box legislation.

 “If we are going to block their path and not give them options to reintegrate — if they can’t get a job and the opportunity to earn a livelihood — what alternative do they have?” said Jim Scheer, a Republican state senator from Nebraska who describes himself as tough on crime but was still an outspoken advocate of the state’s Ban the Box law, approved 46-to-0 in April.

Root & Rebound has spoken about Ban the Box in earlier posts, celebrating the passing of AB 109 which now prevents public employers in CA from asking questions about a person’s convictions from their initial job applications and companies like Target which are also ‘banning the box’ on their application forms. We are excited to see more cities and states take legal action to reduce employment barriers for people with criminal records, to ensure they can become productive, fulfilled members of society upon release.

*See Root & Rebound’s Guide for Employers to find out more about the legal shift that is taking place to promote the hiring of people with records and all of the laws and best practices that employers should follow to protect every job applicant’s civil rights and privacy rights. The guide also provides useful advice for employers on how to take care of their companies by mitigating general risk and purchasing insurance, and how to utilize the benefits and incentives offered to employers who hire people with criminal records.

Support SB 1384! Help people access stable jobs as certified nursing assistants.

We urge you to support Senate Bill 1384! SB 1384 (Mitchell) reforms the stringent conviction barriers to becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) by eliminating  the automatic denial of certified nursing assistant (CNA) applicants that have one of a long list of specific convictions, regardless of how much time has passed or a person’s significant efforts to transform. It provides all CNA applicants discretionary review of their criminal record and recognizes that certain conditions–like the passage of time and no subsequent convictions–is actual evidence of rehabilitation. SB 1384 expands opportunities for qualified, rehabilitated individuals to access this growing industry of living-wage jobs. In Root & Rebound’s conversations with formerly incarcerated people and service providers, this is a barrier that we have heard time and time again. Certified nursing assistants make a living wage and it is a good, stable job that should be open to people who have shown their rehabilitation and commitment to working.

Mandatory rejection of prospective CNAs—even for decades-old convictions and low-level offenses like petty theft—disregards studies showing that the passage of time substantially reduces the likelihood of recidivism to a level equal to those who have never been arrested. Such blanket prohibitions against employment opportunities defy California’s commitment to evidence-based policies that reduce recidivism and encourage reintegration. Studies show that stable employment decreases the likelihood of recidivism by as much as 62%. Yet, California continues to impose stringent barriers on the hundreds of licensed occupations that would provide stability and increased mobility for persons who most need it.

SB 1384 protects public safety by preserving the discretion to deny a CNA application where there is evidence that the individual has not rehabilitated. This commonsense revision models the current provisions that apply to Registered Nurses and thus gives CNA applicants with a criminal record a chance to be evaluated on the basis of their record and all evidence of rehabilitation.

Persons with a criminal record–estimated at one in four adults–urgently need access to stable jobs that pay more than the minimum wage. This is particularly the case for justice-involved women, many of whom are the primary caregiver for dependent children. These women seek employment as a CNA so that they can get off public assistance and provide food, housing and other necessities for their family. CNA opportunities are expected to increase by more than 22-percent from 2010-2020. To ban individuals from this growing industry of living-wage jobs on the sole basis of a past conviction not only denies opportunities to rehabilitated individuals; it denies many families a real chance to climb out of poverty.

California’s commitment to reducing recidivism–which remains high at 63.5%–must include measures that increase opportunities to growing industries of living-wage jobs. SB 1384 would pave the way for such reform, while also ensuring that public safety remains paramount.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Health Committee. We encourage you and your organizations to write letters of support no later than Tuesday, April 16.*** The proposed bill language can be accessed here: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/postquery?bill_number=sb_1384&sess=CUR&house=B&author=mitchell_<mitchell>. For more information or questions about SB 1384 and to request a sample letter of support, you can direct questions to Natalie Lyons at Equal Rights Advocates at nlyons@equalrights.org or (415) 575-2394.

Help people get back to work!

– The R & R Team