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…

Pick 6 (2/27/15)

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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!

1.) The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’ (The Guardian)

In an exclusive, Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian describes the horrific treatment of detainees at a secretive, off-the-books interrogation”black site” known as Homan Square. Homan Square is a “nondescript warehouse,” but it isn’t located at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib . . . it’s located on the west side of Chicago and is operated by the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Among the alleged atrocities committed by CPD are: keeping arrestees out of official booking databases, shackling and beating arrestees for extended periods of time, denying attorneys access to the “secure facility,” and holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours. At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.

2.) Free state ID cards proposed for newly released prisoners (Seattle Times)

Not having proper identification can be a major hurdle for newly released prisoners. Identification is required to get housing, to get a job, to cash a check, and even to get a library card. In Washington, getting a new driver’s license or state identification card usually costs between $45-$54 (not to mention, the time and cost of transportation required to get to a Department of Licensing office). Unfortunately, many Washington prisoners are only released with as little as $40. But a new bill, proposed by state legislator, Cyrus Habib, would issue free temporary identification to all reentering individuals as they are released from jail or prison.

3.) Want to visit an inmate? Increasingly, you’ll have to log on (San Fransisco Chronicle)

Hamed Aleaziz reports that several California counties, notably; Napa, Solano, and San Mateo are moving away from allowing prisoners to have in-person visits, and are instead replacing them with Skype-like digital video-chats. Supporters argue that using video-chat technology saves money and strengthens security. Supporters are quick to note that families can now video-chat with their incarcerated loved ones from home, without having to make a trip to jail. But as Bernadette Rabuy of the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative notes, “Inmates and their families find video visits to be more impersonal.They talk about being able to hold their hand on the piece of glass and the other incarcerated person holding their hand up. Moments like that feel impossible with video visits.” A 2011 Minnesota Department of Corrections study concluded in-person prison visits “establish a continuum of social support,” and that visited inmates were 13% less likely to be convicted of a new felony after release. According to Keramet Reiter, an assistant professor of criminology at UC Irvine, “The data is pretty good. The more in-person visits prisoners have, the better off they are likely to be when they get out.” Also problematic is the fact that the video-chats are expensive. The companies providing video-chat technologies for prisons and jails charge families up to $20 for as little as 20 minutes of talk time. These companies then split profits with the county (Napa receives 20% of fees obtained from video chats to its inmates).

4.) Santa Clara County increases oversight of cases of youths being charged as adults (Santa Cruz Sentinel)

California prosecutors have wide discretion in deciding whether to charge juvenile suspects as juveniles or as adults. A 2013 internal review by Santa Clara County’s District Attorney’s Office revealed that a higher percentage of Latino kids face adult charges than other ethnicities. In response to this finding, Santa Clara’s DA has teamed up with Santa Clara’s Public Defender’s office and several Bay Area youth advocacy groups to examine these cases more stringently. Specifically, the DA has asked youth advocates who favor rehabilitation over prison to review and critique the DA’s decision to charge juveniles as adults. The committee of advocates is currently reviewing every 2014 Santa Clara case where a juvenile was charged as an adult.

5.) Eric Holder’s parting shot: It’s too hard to bring civil rights cases (Politico)

Last Saturday (2/21) marked the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination. In a recent exit interview, Politico asked outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder what book he would recommend to a young person coming to Washington, D.C. Holder’s answer–“The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”Holder also stated that before leaves office, he will call for a lower standard of proof for civil rights crimes (see # 6, below). “I think some serious consideration needs to be given to the standard of proof that has to be met before federal involvement is appropriate, and that’s something I am going to be talking about before I leave office.” Holder’s remarks come days after the Department of Justice announced that it has closed its investigation in the shooting death of unarmed African American teenager Trayvon Martin. DOJ will not be filing federal hate-crime charges against Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman.

6.) Why Is It So Hard to Prove a Civil Rights Crime? (The New Republic)

Cristian Farias discusses the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision not file federal hate-crime charges against George Zimmerman and the limits of federal hate crimes laws. Farias writes, “Willfulness, in civil rights cases or otherwise, is by far the most difficult thing to prove in criminal law. And absent a damning confession from Zimmerman or a mountain of circumstantial evidence showing that he harbors resentment toward black teenagers, making that showing is hardso hard, DOJ determined, it couldn’t risk pressing charges and losing later.”

Bonus: Tomorrow, 2/28, marks the end of Black History Month. If you have some spare time this weekend, cozy up with your loved ones and take 2 hours to watch “Freedom Riders,” the beautifully directed, 2010 documentary by Stanley Nelson Jr. “Freedom Riders” is the powerful, harrowing, and inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever. From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives—and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Jim Crow South. The Freedom Riders challenged the status quo by riding interstate buses and trains in the South to challenge local laws or customs that enforced illegal segregation in seating. They called national attention to the blatant disregard for federal laws and the local mob violence used to enforce segregation in the South. You can watch Freedom Riders for free online courtesy of PBS. Here’s a link to the film.