“Roadmap to Reentry Guide & Interactive Hub” are Live!

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Root & Rebound is proud to introduce “Roadmap to Reentry: A California Legal Guide,” which will help to educate, support, and empower the 50,000 Californians leaving prison and jail each year, and the tens of thousands of people across the state who support them–family and loved ones, educators, social workers, legal advocates, and community supervision agencies.

Visit www.rootandrebound.org/roadmap to find out more!

THANK YOU TO ALL WHO WORKED ON THE GUIDE & HUB!

WE COULDN”T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU.

The “Roadmap to Reentry” guide is the first of its kind in the United States, an in-depth legal resource for people struggling through reentry. It is comprehensive in scope and length (1,200 pages!), covering nine areas of law and civic life: housing, public benefits, parole & probation, education, understanding & cleaning up your criminal record, ID & voting, family & children, court-ordered debt, and employment. With a California focus, the guide is written in simple language and meant to be used as a resource that people can turn to (rather than read cover-to-cover!) whenever they encounter challenges along the way. The guide is available free of charge to people in reentry and their loved ones, while professionals at community-based organizations, government agencies, and the like will be asked to make a sliding scale donation of $20-$50. On Root & Rebound’s “Roadmap to Reentry” Interactive Hub, you can download copies of the guide, request a hard copy, ask the Root & Rebound team a question, or request a training for your organization.

In conjunction with the guide, Root & Rebound will begin to conduct trainings across the state of California for communities in need: people in reentry, those preparing for release, and the people who support them in the community, including legal and social service providers, community supervision officers, and friends and family. Our first training on May 29th in the Bayview area of San Francisco is full, but many more will come soon! Email roadmap@rootandrebound.org to request a training, or do so through the hub.

Launch Event
We welcome you to our “Roadmap to Reentry” launch event at Root & Rebound’s downtown Oakland office (1730 Franklin Street, Suite 300, Oakland, CA 94612) on Thursday, June 4, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m, where you can learn more about the guide, get hard copies, and ask questions to the R&R team.

Media are invited, interviews are available, and all are welcome.

Please spread the word @ROOTandREBOUND and on Facebook! #roadmaptoreentry

Pick 6 (4/17/15)

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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

5 Criminal Justice and Reentry Documentaries You MUST See

This week, Root & Rebound’s Spring Law Clerk Chandra Peterson reviews five must-watch criminal justice/reentry related documentaries. Be Informed and Take Action! What’s better than snuggling up on your couch with some popcorn and a great criminal justice documentary? Probably … Continue reading

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.

Faith through Adversity: Reflections on Parole, Spirituality & Difficult Times

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Charles “Talib” Brooks and the Root & Rebound team!

Charles “Talib” Brooks, has been a volunteer with Root & Rebound since June 2014. Today, we share a guest blog post from this amazing volunteer with our readers.

In the news today, we often see cases of African American men and boys who died at the hands of police or whose cases never found justice in court—Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, brothers Henry McCollum & Leon Brown, Bobby McClelland. The public—especially those in African American communities—has grown wary of the very people entrusted to uphold the law and our constitutional liberty, losing faith in police, lawyers, courts, and the criminal justice system at large. Like so many others, my own trust in the system has been tested. In fact, my spiritual and personal faith has been strengthened by my experiences with the law and my sense of distrust and isolation—When I felt alone in prison or on parole, I looked to God.

My name is Charles “Talib” Brooks. I served twenty years in state prison for second-degree murder. Although my criminal case was later deemed a “miscarriage of justice,” in 1994 I lost out on my chance to appeal because of a late filing in court. I first went into prison in 1989 as a troubled and drug-addicted 22-year-old, and I stayed there until I was released onto parole in 2009. While serving time, I quickly learned that the “justice” system wasn’t built to support people like me: black, poor, illiterate, and suffering from addiction.

In May 2010, my mentally impaired daughter went missing and was trafficked through sex slavery. Despite years without using drugs, the trauma my daughter had experienced was too much for me, and I relapsed. Immediately, my parole officer ordered me to a six-month sentence at a residential drug treatment program. But after successfully completing one month of drug treatment, I was abruptly removed from the program and re-incarcerated. Consequently, I lost my publishing business, my home, my new wife, and my struggling child to the streets.

I paroled again in June 2011. Soon after, I was accused of turning in a second dirty drug test. Parole sent me before the Board of Parole Hearings for a “parole revocation proceeding,” and the presiding Commissioner offered me a deal—avoid prison and instead get “Credit for Time Served, plus six months residential drug treatment.” I accepted the plea deal and gave up my rights to challenge the charge. Unexpectedly, at the next hearing, I was sent back to state prison instead of the residential drug treatment promised to me, without a chance to challenge the allegations.

From that day forward, I spent an additional two and a half years in San Quentin State Prison’s Reception Center. At that time, I was assaulted and shot in the face with tear gas during a “chow hall” (cafeteria) riot between a group of Whites and a group of Mexican Americans. Others and I were also “gassed”—which, in prison terms, means that a mixture of urine and feces were thrown in our faces; I was “gassed” daily, for around 2 months. Racial divisions in prison are harsh and often encouraged. I brought complaints to the Corrections Officers and Counselor, but these were met only with retaliation (including a false report and write-up). By this time, I had completely lost faith in our legal system.

Despite the embittered feelings I had about how my initial criminal case and parole revocations cases were handled, my time in prison was not all bad. I spent years on the inside working to better myself—attending therapy, parenting classes, and teaching myself how to read and write. By 2010, through the grace of God, I went from a formerly illiterate prisoner to a Congressional award-winning author and self-publisher of a set of coloring books: Mr. President (Barack Obama): Educational Coloring Books. It was in prison that I had my spiritual re-awakening.

It was also in prison that I met “Al,” who, after spending 30 plus years on death row, had a successful appeal that overturned his death sentence and capital conviction; he was re-sentenced to 25-30 years time served, and is likely to get out on parole soon. Al told me, “Brother, I had the best attorney ever. His name is Michael W. Clough.” At the time Al told me about his great lawyer, I had no idea that a few years later I would be paroled and having coffee with this same attorney.

How My Faith in Attorneys was Restored

For the past few years, I have continued to pursue my legal case “pro per” (without an attorney), seeking relief for how my parole revocation was mishandled. I sought legal advice or an attorney who could help represent me. That’s when my friend, a fellow “ex-lifer,” recommended that I “check out Root & Rebound. Their attorneys are always trying to help people like us with parole issues.”

When I entered the Root & Rebound office in Berkeley, I was greeted with warm smiles and introduced to the Founder and Executive Director, Katherine, and the Deputy Director, Sonja. All the staff and interns listened intently to my story. When I was finished, Vanessa, the summer law clerk, patiently sat down with me and arranged over 500 pages in all my legal files.

Katherine and Sonja informed me: “Charles, we have a wait list right now for new clients. We need more attorneys to do this kind of work. We can’t guarantee anything, but we’ll review your papers to see if we can help in any way. You are welcome to use our resources here, and we can devote a few hours to help you with legal research at the very least.” They honestly informed me: “We don’t feel that we could provide the attention this case needs with the filing due date so fast approaching, and with one of our only two attorneys going on leave soon. However, what we can and will do, with your approval, is make calls and write emails to see if other attorneys may be able to help.”

I remembered the serenity prayer that I learned long ago, quietly said it to myself, and smiled. “Win or lose, thanks to you, I have gained hope and trust in attorneys again,” I said. “For many years, I have been misrepresented by lawyers;” I sighed aloud, “However, today my spirit rejoices because I know there are some good lawyers who really give a damn about the people they serve.”

Even though they couldn’t take on my case, Root & Rebound was relentless in helping me shop my case to others. They ultimately connected me with my attorney, Michael W. Clough, who is looking over case materials for me—the same attorney who helped my friend Al, the man I met back at San Quentin after he was released from Death Row. Through the help of these attorneys, the U.S. District Court issued me an Order to Show Cause.

That night, I thought about all the men still stuck behind prison walls: Good men of various faiths, gay and straight, with whom I sat and shared the same love and compassion I found in Root & Rebound. It’s the same spiritual love and compassion I found throughout Oakland Masjids and Options Recovery Services. I used to care so much about proving my legal case, righting the wrongs I felt had been done to me by lawyers, prison, and “the system.” But through my faith, I have arrived at a different place.

Regardless of the outcome for my legal battles and parole challenges, I have peace within. Finally, I can move forward with my life by continuing to commit myself to God and recovery, and sharing my story of faith lost and found.

— Charles “Talib” Brooks

Thank you for sharing your story, Charles! — The R&R Team

Victory! Alameda Superior Court Judge Orders Restoration of Voting Rights for Tens of Thousands Disenfranchised Californians.

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Michael Scott, one of the plaintiffs in the case, Michael Scott et al. v. Debra Bowen. Photo from the ACLU website. 

This week we blogged about an important case challenging the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of voters in California. Today we have some exciting news regarding the case – an Alameda County Superior Court Judge ruled that Secretary of State Debra Bowen illegally stripped people on Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS) and Mandatory Supervision under California’s Criminal Justice Realignment Act of their voting rights two years ago, saying they are in fact eligible to vote.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for California’s democracy,” said Michael Risher, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “By following the plain language of our state’s voting laws, the court’s ruling will help ensure that in California, one of the nation’s most fundamental rights – the right to vote – will be protected and not restricted.”

”Our democracy belongs to everyone who lives in America, not just a select few,” said Dorsey Nunn, executive director of All of Us or None, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Democracy functions best when the largest number of citizens possible participate, including formerly incarcerated people.”

We at Root & Rebound applaud all the individuals and organizations that brought this lawsuit: the League of Women Voters of California, All of Us or None, The ACLU of California and the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights. This is an amazing victory for returning citizens in the state. It is also an encouraging sign for all of us who work to protect the rights of people in reentry – as a state and a nation, we are moving in the right direction – away from legal barriers and exclusion – to upholding the worth, dignity and contributions of all of our citizens.

See here and here for more details on the case.

Happy Friday!

– The R & R Team

Important Case Challenging the Disenfranchisement of Tens of Thousands of Voters in California

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Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

On February 14, 2014, The ACLU of California and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR) filed a lawsuit charging the state of California with unconstitutionally stripping tens of thousands of people of their right to vote.

Since 1974, when California voters approved Proposition 10, state law has been clear that the only people ineligible to vote in California are those who are in state prison or on parole. However, in December of 2011, the secretary of state issued a directive to local elections officials asserting that people are ineligible to vote if they are on post-release community supervision or mandatory supervision. These two categories of supervision were created under California’s Criminal Justice Realignment Act for people recently incarcerated for low-level, non-violent, non-serious crimes. Are these really people that we want to strip the right to vote from? And who makes the decision to do so?

The problem here was that this decision was made unilaterally by the secretary of state through a directive, without the input of millions of California voters. Since December 2011, more than 58,000 have been in local post-release programs according to Michael Risher at the ACLU – this decision will affect each and every one of them. This is something that all California voters should be up in arms about, “The law [in California] clearly establishes a presumption in favor of the right to vote, with only limited and specific exceptions,” said Meredith Desautels, staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “The Secretary of State unilaterally expanded these exceptions, without any public comment or input, disenfranchising thousands of members of our community and creating confusion around the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people. This unconstitutional disenfranchisement particularly impacts communities of color, who are too often excluded from the democratic process.

Executive Director of All of Us or None, Dorsey Nunn said, “Society is much more secure when all people feel they are fully part of it. If we want formerly incarcerated Californians to be good citizens, we need to convince them that they are a part of society too. I have never met a graffiti artist who spray paints his own home or business.” We agree: if the goal of the realignment law is to reintegrate people back into the community, then disenfranchising those individuals is not only unconstitutional, but goes against the spirit of realignment.

We applaud the efforts of these groups and will be following this case closely on the blog. For those of you who want to read more about the case, a copy of the complaint is available here.