Pick 6 (4/3/15)

Views from 6

Hi 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!

1.) Sixteen states have more people in prison cells than college dorms (The Grio)

David A. Love of The Grio writes, “As was reported in MetricMaps, there are 16 states where there are more bodies filling up the prisons than there are students living in college dormitories.  What is truly fascinating, maybe even disturbing, is that nearly all of these 16 states are located in the South, the bottom portion of the country…Let than sink in for a minute.  More people behind bars than in the dorms. What could it be about the South that would explain this?  Could it be a tradition of slavery, racial violence and Jim Crow segregation, a legacy of criminalizing and dehumanizing people and of just not treating folks very well?…It is no accident that the states which imprison the most – including the Deep South — are among the poorest and find themselves at the bottom of the barrel in terms of life expectancy, health standards and education. After all, Dixie has a great deal of experience with depriving people of educational opportunity when it forbade blacks to read and write, in favor of imprisoning them against their will on slave plantations. In addition, the Slave Codes created a police state that criminalized black people and singled them out for punishment. And the era of Jim Crow segregation only continued the racial oppression and the forced labor and imprisonment, even up until the present day.”

Corrections vs. College

2.) Woman who killed man she said abused her can’t escape felony past (Washington Post)

Fredrick Kunkle of the Washington Post reports, “Shari L. Thomas went to prison more than 25 years ago for killing the man who she said had abused her as a child. She used her time there to remake herself, becoming the first woman in Virginia to obtain a college degree behind bars. She earned a master’s degree in biotechnology after her release. She has kept her record clean since, managing research laboratories for major hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. In the past few years, perhaps because of the nation’s abiding fear of crime, its litigiousness, or the Internet’s ease at churning up background information that may not have surfaced before, Thomas has been rejected or terminated from several high-paying jobs. She had been making $150,000 six years ago. Now she is on food stamps…She could lose her Cecil County, Md., home. “I came home and got my
master’s degree,” said Thomas, 50. “I’d been working 18 years with no problem. When is enough enough?… And yet even now, her criminal record has the power to reach through time, upending her life…“I just feel like the punishment never ends,” 

3.) California’s Death Row has just about run out of room (KCRW-Los Angeles)

Darrell Satzman reports, “More than 750 inmates in California have been condemned to death. But no one in this state has been executed in nearly a decade – and with new inmates arriving every month, Death Row has just about run out of space. Gov. Jerry Brown is asking the Legislature for more than $3 million to open 100 new cells for condemned men at San Quentin Prison. The request is included in Brown’s $113 billion budget proposal…There are currently 731 men and 20 women on Death Row in California. Almost all of the men are at San Quentin, while the women are housed at a prison in Chowchilla.”

4.) Poverty Shrinks Brains from Birth (Scientific American)

According to new studies conducted by a team led by neuroscientists Kimberly Noble from Columbia University in New York City and Elizabeth Sowell from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, California, The stress of growing up poor can hurt a child’s brain development starting before birth, research suggests—and even very small differences in income can have major effects on the brain. Researchers have long suspected that children’s behavior and cognitive abilities are linked to their socioeconomic status, particularly for those who are very poor. The reasons have never been clear, although stressful home environments, poor nutrition, exposure to industrial chemicals such as lead and lack of access to good education are often cited as possible factors…Still, the researchers are hopeful that the impacts could be reversible through interventions such as providing better child care and nutrition. Research in humans and in other animals suggests that is the case: a study in Mexico, for instance, showed that supplementing poor families’ income improved their children’s cognitive and language skills within 18 months. “It’s important for the message not to be that if you’re poor your brain is smaller and will be smaller forever,” Sowell says.”

5.) The rise of the working poor and the non-working rich (Baltimore Sun)

In an opinion piece for the Baltimore Sun, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, Robert Reich writes, “Many believe that poor people deserve to be poor because they’re lazy…In reality, a large and growing share of the nation’s poor work full time — sometimes 60 or more hours a week — yet still don’t earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. It’s also commonly believed, especially among Republicans, that the rich deserve their wealth because they work harder than others. In reality, a large and growing portion of the super-rich have never broken a sweat. Their wealth has been handed to them. The rise of these two groups — the working poor and non-working rich — is relatively new. Both are challenging the core American assumptions that people are paid what they’re worth, and work is justly rewarded. Six of today’s 10 wealthiest Americans are heirs to prominent fortunes. The Walmart heirs alone have more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans combined…Americans who became enormously wealthy over the last three decades are now busily transferring that wealth to their children and grandchildren. The nation is on the cusp of the largest inter-generational transfer of wealth in history. A study by the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy projects a total of $59 trillion passed down to heirs between 2007 and 2061. As the French economist Thomas Piketty reminds us, this is the kind of dynastic wealth that’s kept Europe’s aristocracy going for centuries. It’s about to become the major source of income for a new American aristocracy…That widening inequality — combined with the increasing numbers of people who work full time but are still impoverished and of others who have never worked and are fabulously wealthy — is undermining the moral foundations of American capitalism.”

6.) The poor are treated like criminals everywhere, even at the grocery store (Washington Post)

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Jeanine Grant Lister writes, “Anger toward those living below the poverty line seems to only be increasing. Maine and Missouri have proposed bills limiting residents’ food choices if they use SNAP. Missouri House Bill 813 would bar the state’s 930,000 food stamp recipients from using their benefits to buy cookies, chips, soda, energy drinks, steak and seafood. (The legislature also implemented mandatory drug testing for TANF applicants in 2011.) If the bill becomes law, a Missourian can’t buy a can of tuna with an EBT card. Tortilla chips to go with salsa? Nope. Flank steak — tough, stringy and the only cut of beef I can afford — is off limits, too. Who are these people, and what makes them think that what we eat is their business? And given that the average food stamp allotment in my state in 2013 came out to just $1.41 per person per meal, I wonder if they understand that recipients couldn’t buy lobster if they wanted to. In America today, being poor is tantamount to a criminal offense, one that costs you a number of rights and untold dignities, including, apparently, the ability to determine what foods you can put on the dinner table. It’s as if middle-class and wealthy Americans think poor people live under the poverty line by choice, as if a sensible person would choose to subsist on so little. We’re barely getting by. Don’t tell us what to buy at the grocery store.”

+1) Does barbaric Georgia prison cell photo depict an American Abu Ghraib? (Christian Science Monitor)

Patrik Jonsson reports, “A shocking prison photo of inmates taken at a Georgia correctional facility could intensify a halting effort in the United States to alleviate poor prison conditions that can lead to unchecked barbarism likened to an American Abu Ghraib. The picture from Burruss Correctional Training Center in Forsyth, Ga., shows three young and shirtless African-American male prisoners. One of them is pointing at the camera as though holding a gun, another is holding a makeshift leash, and the third, an 18-year-old, is on his knees, his left eye closed from a beating, and the leash lashed around his neck…“I think this picture can go a long way toward galvanizing a discussion about what prisons are for – particularly, does anybody believe that these men are deterred by prison?” says Jonathan Simon, a University of California, Berkeley law professor and author of “Mass Incarceration on Trial.” “You have to ask yourself: If the basic story that we tell ourselves is that it’s all about laws and sending people to prison because they violated laws and harmed other people, how can we possibly justify sending them to a place where that is happening to them?” Professor Simon says.”

+2) Obama Commutes 22 Drug Sentences, Instantly Doubling The Number of Commutations He’s Issued (Huffington Post)

“President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 22 individuals on Tuesday, more than doubling the number of commutations he has issued in the six-plus years he’s been in office. The men and women granted the reprieves had been imprisoned under an “outdated sentencing regime,” the administration concluded. Eight of the 22 inmates had been sentenced to life imprisonment and would have died behind bars. “Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement shared in advance with The Huffington Post. “Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years — in some cases more than a decade — longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime.” The president sent a letter to each of the commutation recipients encouraging them to take advantage of their post-prison opportunity. An administration official said that this was the first time Obama has sent such letters during his presidency.”

Infographic of the WeekEconomic Benefits of Closing Academic Achievement Gaps (Center for American Progress)

From the Center for American Progress come this compelling infographic that, “demonstrate[s] the benefits of closing the achievement gap.  Despite the fact that 50.3 percent of students in public K-12 classrooms across America are children of color, black and Hispanic children are still far more likely than non-Hispanic white children to grow up in poverty. And on average, children of color score lower on math and science tests than their non-Hispanic white peers. These two trends are not coincidence; families’ financial security affects children’s ability to reach their academic potential. These children are the future of our workforce, and we need to ensure that they are equipped with the skills our future economy needs.”

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 (3/20/2015)

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)

noun_103075

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

Support the Fair Sentencing Act SB1010!

Dear Readers,

Today we encourage you to support the Fair Sentencing Act SB 1010! SB 1010 would signal the end of the unfair and unjust differences in penalties for possessing for sale of crack and powder cocaine. The Senate is voting next week – please tell your State Senator to vote YES on SB 1010. Take action today!

As a society, we all bear the costs of disproportionately heavy and skewed sentences. Crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug: gram for gram, there is less active drug in crack cocaine than powder cocaine. There is no justifiable reason for the difference in crack and powder cocaine sentencing, and this disparity only serves to enforce racial discrimination, segregation, and the creation of “The New Jim Crow” in our prisons.

According to the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), 98% of people entering a California prison for the possession for sale of crack cocaine are people of color. From 2005 to 2010, Blacks accounted for 77.4% of state prison commitments for possession for sale of crack cocaine (but only 6.6% of the state population), Latinos accounted for 18.1%, “Other” for 2.7%, and Whites for 1.8%.

SB 1010 is an opportunity for us all to right this wrong—to stand for equality and justice. We urge you to click here for the ACLU of Northern California’s website and email or call your state Senator—TELL THEM TO VOTE YES ON SB 1010!

Sentencing Reform from Washington

Photo credit: Richard T. Bryant/WGBH for The New York Times. Pictured above: Clarence Aaron, among the eight to be freed, was sentenced to three life terms for his role in a 1993 drug deal when he was 22.

Photo credit: Richard T. Bryant/WGBH for The New York Times. Pictured above:
Clarence Aaron, among the eight to be freed under President Obama’s sentence commutation, was sentenced to three life terms for his role in a 1993 drug deal when he was 22.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the need for a sea change in sentencing laws after a 15-year-old boy, Traivon, was sentenced to six life sentences without the possibility of parole in prison in Virginia for his participation in an armed robbery. Draconian sentencing laws and mandatory minimum sentences have frequently been cited as one of the major sources for America’s modern-day problem with mass incarceration—a fatal combination of “tough-on-crime” policies and extreme racial bias and prejudice in the criminal justice system.

But yesterday, amazingly, the pendulum in Washington swung farther away from mass incarceration. President Obama commuted the drug sentences for eight individuals in federal prison—two of whom were serving sentences of 15 years or more and six of whom were serving life sentences—for crack cocaine-related offenses. Most of these individuals will be released from prison in the next 120 days.

These eight individuals were sentenced to long prison terms when the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine (more popular among African American users) and powder cocaine (more popular among affluent White users) was 100:1. You did not misread. A person would receive a sentence 100 times longer for a crack cocaine-related offense than a person with a powder cocaine offense. While crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug, this unbelievably unfair disparity in sentencing sent thousands of African Americans into prison, a regime that ballooned our prison population by 800%. According to a report from the ACLU, “under the 100:1 regime, African Americans served virtually as much time in prison for non-violent drug offenses as whites did for violent offenses.”

In 2010, Congress made one of its first bipartisan breakthroughs on this problem with passage of the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA). The FSA reduced the sentencing disparity between offenses for crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. While 18:1 is still unfair and has an impact on the racial makeup of our prisons, it was a huge bipartisan victory to begin changing the political tide on this issue. All eight of the people whose sentences were commuted yesterday would already be out of prison under the newer drug sentencing laws.

At a time like this, Root & Rebound feels incredibly proud to have President Obama as the leader of our Nation, with a political team that supports criminal justice reform at his wings. Since mass incarceration has been a policy and practice sewn by people in power, it can certainly be unwound by those people, as well. We must continue to believe that major shifts like the one that took place yesterday in Washington can and will continue to happen if we show our support.

Also at a time like this, we  take pause as a nonprofit that hopes to serve as a reentry center to our Bay Area community. Out of federal prisons and particularly out of California prisons and jails, more and more people are coming home. Most people in politics now recognize that mass incarceration is a huge problem in our country—expensive, a waste of human and financial capital, and the product of extreme racial bias in our criminal laws and enforcement of those laws. But as more people get out, what will we put in place to support their reentry? Over the past few months and into the New Year, Root & Rebound is devoted to answering that question in our local community. We hope that a sea change to reform our draconian sentencing laws will be coupled with genuine support for reentry and for people returning to the outside.

This is the time. Join us!

—The R & R Team