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.”

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)

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. 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 (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.”

Weekly Pick 6 (2/20/15)

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Hello friends. It’s Friday, 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.) Holder backs death penalty moratorium (Politico)

As John Gerstein reports, Attorney General Eric Holder is endorsing a halt to all executions nationwide while the Supreme Court considers whether some lethal injection methods are unconstitutional. Speaking in a personal capacity on Tuesday, AG Holder stated, “I think fundamental questions about the death penalty need to be asked. And among them, the Supreme Court’s determination as to whether or not lethal injection is consistent with our Constitution is one that ought to occur. From my perspective, I think a moratorium until the Supreme Court made that determination would be appropriate.”

2.) A look at 20 years of shootings by cops (San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego County, California’s District Attorney’s Office recently released a report detailing and analyzing police officer-involved shootings that occurred between 1993 and 2012 in San Diego, California’s second most populous county. Over half of the shootings taking place during this 20 year span resulted in death. Nearly half of the shootings happened immediately upon the officer arriving on scene. As Pauline Repard reports,19% of people shot by officers were black, a significantly higher percentage than the County’s overall black population, which is just 4.8%. Of the 367 people shot, 81% had mental heath issues or had drugs in their system. 56% of people shot were were 18-32-years old. From 1993 to 2012, San Diego prosecutors only filed charges against two officers, once in 2005 and once in 2009. Juries found both officers not guilty.

3.) How communities are keeping kids out of crime (Christian Science Monitor)

In this feature, Stacy Teicher Khadaroo takes a look at how Lucas County, Ohio and other state and local governments are at the forefront of a movement to stop incarcerating so many youths. As Khadaroo writes, “Driven by the high cost of incarceration and a growing understanding of adolescent behaviors, states and localities are launching initiatives to provide counseling, drug treatment, and other support for young offenders rather than locking them up. The idea is to save money – and try to keep them from committing more crimes by addressing their problems at the roots.”

4.) Making Overseers into Advocates: A social worker’s take on the misery of probation (The Marshall Project)

In a commentary, Philadelphia social worker, Jeff Deeney, describes life working inside of Philadelphia’s probation office. Deeney describes the probation office as a “gloomy, misery-inducing dump absolutely nobody enjoys coming to, POs or probationers.” Deeney further writes that, “Probationers continually complain about what they feel are probation officers who are abusive, disrespectful, racist or petty power trippers out to wreck your life just to show you they can. Conversely, POs feel underpaid, underappreciated and under constant assault by criminals who would just as soon stab them in the back if they thought they could get away with it . . . Authority and the anti-authoritarian become locked in a bitter embrace that, based on what I’ve seen over the years, is mutually destructive.” Deeney’s takeaway message is that probation offices must be changed from “places of control and enforcement to places of support and encouragement . . . Not just because the studies all show social support reduces recidivism, but because we believe in treating people with dignity and respect.”

5.) Prison banker eliminates fees for money order deposits in Kansas (Center for Public Integrity)

JPay Inc., the biggest provider of money transfers to prisoners, has stopped charging fees to families sending money orders to inmates in Kansas. The change that means inmates’ families can now send money for free in every state where JPay operates (other than holdout Kentucky). JPay is credited with popularizing electronic payments to prisons, while also creating a multi-billion dollar industry (here’s more info. on the prison-industrial complex). Prior to the advent of JPay and similar companies, inmates’ families typically mailed money orders directly to the facility where their relative was locked up.

6.) 50 Years After His Assassination, Malcolm X’s Message Still Calls Us to Seek Justice (The Root)

Malcolm X was assassinated 50 years ago tomorrow (February 21st). Prominent historian, author, and Tufts University Professor, Peniel Joseph takes a look at why, even 50 years after his death, Malcolm X remains one of the most important intellectuals, organizers and revolutionaries that America has ever produced. Professor Joseph writes, “Fifty years after his death, the struggle for black liberation continues with nationwide protests that recall the tumultuous 1960s, when Malcolm’s message of uncompromising struggle frightened white and black political leaders alike. Today’s rising activists, who boldly demand an end to racial and economic injustice beyond token political reforms, are channeling the best part of Malcolm’s legacy—one that, even in the face of death, cries out for justice by any means necessary.”

Bonus: If you have a moment to spare, take some time out of your weekend and listen to one of Malcolm X’s most famous and powerful speeches, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” given on April 3, 1964 in Cleveland, Ohio. A transcript of the speech is available here. And audio of the speech is available here. #BlackLivesMatter

Have a good weekend everyone, and we will see you soon.

Reading Roundup: Criminal Justice Making Headlines

This image is part of photographer Amy Elkins' project "Parting Words." It portrays Franklin Alix, who was executed in Texas on March 30, 2010 at age 34.

This image is part of photographer Amy Elkins’ project “Parting Words.” It portrays Franklin Alix, a man on Texas’ death row who was executed on March 30, 2010 at age 34.

Here at Root & Rebound, we could not be happier to see criminal justice reform and reentry issues making top national headlines. We feel it is important to share the writing and work of others in this field. Please check out some of the amazing things happening around our country—in art, politics, and journalism—all centered on fixing our broken criminal justice system and the barriers that face people coming out.

California-based photographer Amy Elkins has launched an incredible and haunting online visual archive of the more than 500 people on Texas’ death row who have been executed since the state’s death penalty was reinstated in 1976. These portraits overlap executed individuals’ mug shots with their last words as provided on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Web page. On the Department’s “Executed Offenders” page, members of the public can scroll through the names, ages, prison IDs, race, convictions and last statements of the people in prison sent to death, in chronological order. At the time Elkins stumbled upon the website, it listed 440 men and women. Today, it lists 510.

Kristof’s op-ed in the New York Times this weeks describes how jails and prisons have become “de facto mental health hospitals,” calling this “inhumane” and “deluded.” Root & Rebound agrees. Many people struggling with mental illness and disorders have nowhere to go, can’t afford medicine outside of jail or prison, and are arrested and criminalized for behaviors and acts that often flow from their mental illness. When people facing mental health challenges are released, we do not have a social or legal system built up to support them; instead we funnel money back to incarceration instead of dealing with the problem from a fiscally and socially responsible services-based standpoint.

Last month, Root & Rebound shared the exciting news that the deputy attorney general, James Cole, of the Department of Justice, was searching for suitable candidates for clemency, specifically people with nonviolent, low-level drug offenses who are serving “life or near-life” sentences that are considered excessive under current law. (R&R has also written about excessive sentencing laws here and here.) In tandem with changes to federal drug sentencing laws, we applaud the Justice Department’s renewed interest in the President’s clemency powers, “designed so that the President could commute unjust sentences or pardon deserving petitioners who had served their time.” These signals from the federal government are important–there is new recognition that our system of incarceration in this country is seriously flawed and that mercy for people behind bars and people coming out of incarceration is a concept deserving of our country’s attention.

At Root & Rebound, we are working hard to create useful information on reentry to be shared with the public, with practitioners and advocates, and with people living behind bars. So to learn that the incredible talent of Bill Keller, a columnist at The New York Times and its former executive editor, is building and directing The Marshall Project, a nonprofit startup journalism and news source dedicated entirely to issues of criminal justice, is nothing short of fantastic!! In addition to Keller’s talent, the Marshall Project has a projected budget of $5 million a year, paying for a staff of about 30. Keller said the site would include “strong original journalism” as well as an “aggregation of interesting research and interesting voices, including voices from inside prison.” It is intended to be, he said, “a bit of a wake-up call to a public that has gotten a little numbed to the scandal that our criminal justice system is.” We are so excited for this upcoming project to take flight and to see the great resources going into criminal justice reform and news. Maybe one day, R&R and The Marshall Project can collaborate!

During a speech at a criminal justice reform symposium hosted by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights at Georgetown University Law Center, Attorney General Eric Holder called laws taking away the right to vote from people with felony records “unnecessary and unjust” and rooted in “centuries-old conceptions of justice that were too often based on exclusion, animus, and fear.”  Such laws disenfranchise millions of Americans, disproportionately impacting Black and Latino men. Voter disenfranchisement laws are one of the many political tools used to keep people locked out of society after coming out of prison. We believe that all people, including those with felony convictions, deserve to have a voice in the political process and are extremely proud to see Attorney General Holder acknowledging this on a public platform.

Happy reading! Please free to share other interesting news stories on reentry and criminal justice as well as your comments and feedback with us below….

—The R&R Team

Honoring Our Veterans

Today we are taking the day off from work for Veteran’s Day, but it doesn’t seem right to let the day go by without posting, to honor and thank all who have served our country, especially the many veterans who live behind bars in our country or with criminal records. This is not a topic often discussed on a day like today, but if we really want to honor all who have served our country, and all who have experienced the horrors and trauma of war, then we must honor those who, struggling with physical and mental health conditions related to their service, all too often find themselves struggling with the criminal justice system as well.

There is a significant correlation between incarceration and the mental health conditions faced by veterans: 40% of veterans with PTSD symptoms commit a crime after discharge from wartime service.[1] As a result, veterans are severely overrepresented in the criminal justice system: nationwide, 10%—1 in 10—of prison and jail inmates once served in the military, the majority in wartime.[2]

As many of you know, mental illness often worsens in prison. There is a lack of adequate treatment in many prisons and jails. Even those veterans without mental illness face significant obstacles reentering society. As we have discussed here on the blog, having a criminal record can make it very difficult to find either housing or employment, and lacking either makes it difficult to find the other, creating a vicious circle. Lack of housing and employment for those recently released from incarceration dramatically increases their chances of recidivism and return to incarceration.[3]

For those veterans whose mental illness needs are never addressed, homelessness may well be the result. One quarter (25%) of the people who are homeless in the United States are veterans. One-third (33%) of homeless men are veterans. Almost all of them (89%) received an honorable discharge, and over two-thirds (76%) experience problems with mental health or addiction.[4]

So today, on Veterans Day, we ask that you take a moment to think about all Veterans—in all corners of our communities, and honor them by thinking about the ways we can better support our incredibly brave men and women when they come home.

To learn more about these issues and to find resources, please visit:

Happy Veterans Day. Thank you to all who have served, and let us hope to be of better service to you when you return home.

—The R & R Team