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

Root & Rebound’s panel at Stanford’s Shaking the Foundations Legal Conference

“When you get released and you have nothing–who do you turn to?” Eric Borchert.

Eric was recently released from state prison after decades in prison and he knows all to well the barriers in reentry and the sense of frustration and fear in navigating them. We have written about Eric’s story in a previous Root & Rebound newsletter that you can read here. Although Borchert was lucky to have the support of family, friends and Root & Rebound, many individuals who have been incarcerated do not have access to these support systems and can find themselves in cycles of poverty, homelessness and incarceration. That’s why Eric agreed to be on the recent panel hosted by Root & Rebound at Stanford’s Shaking the Foundations Legal Conference on Overcoming Legal Barriers After Incarceration – so he could spread the word to lawyers, law students, policy makers and the wider public – on the legal and social barriers people face in reentry.

The Panelists were: Elie Miller, R&R Senior Advisor, Eric Borchert, R&R Client, and Katherine Katcher, R&R Founder and Executive Director. The panel discussed the various collateral consequences that individuals confront upon returning to the community from prison or jail and the legal advocacy tools that we utilize to give people a meaningful second chance in society.

Please watch, and ask any questions you might have here about the work, our model, or larger systemic issues! We would love the opportunity to interact with you through Q&A!

Root & Rebound: Join us at two Reentry Events this Fall!

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Michelle Alexander, civil rights attorney, advocate, and legal scholar. Keynote Speaker at the 2014 ‘Shaking the Foundations’ Conference at Stanford Law School.

Dear Readers,

Happy Friday! Today, we wanted to share information about two reentry events that Root & Rebound is co-hosting this Fall. We encourage you to join us there!

  • Saturday, September 27 2014: Root & Rebound is co-hosting a Reentry Event and Resource Fair for San Francisco and San Mateo Counties in collaboration with the Archdiocese of San Francisco, PICO and Californians for Safety and Justice. This FREE event is for returning individuals, their families, their advocates, community partners. Really, it is meant for anyone interested in learning more about reentry services in SF and SM counties, hearing speakers at 6 panels talk about issues in reentry, and understanding more about the Safe Neighborhoods Act, which will be highlighted at the event (and on the SF Ballot in November). Reentry organizations ins SF and SM counties are encouraged to sign up to table at the resource fair – to showcase their services. Please see the ReEntry Conference & Resource Fair flyer for more information. Join Us!
  • Friday & Saturday, October 17-18 2014: Root & Rebound is designing and presenting a panel on reentry law, made up of influential lawyers from across the country, at Stanford Law School’s annual ‘Shaking the Foundations’ conference. Michelle Alexander, an inspirational figure who speaks powerfully about the movement for achieving racial justice and ending mass incarceration, will be the keynote speaker. She is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand the criminal justice system in America (we wrote about her incredible work and vision in a previous blog post). This event and our panel are designed to inspire a new generation of young attorneys to get involved in these issues. Join Us!

Root & Rebound is proud to be partnering with such inspiring and dedicated reentry organizations in California. We hope you will join us in these events either as a participant or an audience member. Please share the news widely with your friends, neighbors, colleagues – Can’t wait to see you there!

The R&R Team

All of Us or None launches Freedom School starting Saturday August 9th – all welcome!

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Today we’re excited to share a great new leadership development series for people in reentry and their families: The Freedom School launched by All of Us or Nonea grassroots civil rights organization fighting for the rights of formerly- and currently- incarcerated people and their familiesThe Freedom School is an education and training initiative for formerly incarcerated people and their families that will explore the barriers and issues they face, explore tangible solutions, and build support. The goal of the program is to help participants better understand these issues, develop solutions, and grow into community leaders.

At the Freedom School, participants will learn:

  • To develop a critical understanding of the root causes of incarceration and be a part of the solution towards building real safety
  • How to build support to help stay out of jail and prison
  • About the history of All of Us or None, its mission, and work

The Freedom School is a once a week, 4-week long commitment. The first session will begin on Saturday, August 9th and will end on Saturday, August 27th with a Graduation Ceremony on August 30th. Classes will be held at 5833 Bancroft, Oakland, CA 94605 (Cross Street is Seminary).

Dates:

  • SAT 8/9 (10am – 4pm)
  • WED 8/13 (6pm – 9pm)
  • WED 8/20 (6pm – 9pm)
  • WED 8/27 (6pm – 9pm)
  • Graduation – SAT 8/30 (10am – 4pm)

We think this is an excellent opportunity and hope that many of you will join. If you are interested, contact Manuel at 415-637-8195 or manuel@prisonerswithchildren.org to apply or receive more information. See the flyer or visit this website for more details.

To learn more about All of Us or None, visit their website, watch their videos Locked Up, Locked Out and Enough is Enough or check out their newspaper.

– The R&R Team

Announcement! LCCR Second Chance Clinic on Tuesday July 29th – Spread the word!

Dear Readers,

We would like to let you know about the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR) next Second Chance Legal Clinic on Tuesday, July 29th at 6 pm at the West Bay Community Center, 1290 Fillmore Street, next door to their partner, Mo’MAGIC.

Clients should call 415-814-7610 to sign up.

The Second Chance Legal Clinic assists people with conviction records in removing the legal barriers to reentry. At the clinic, individuals with prior arrests or convictions can receive advice in the areas of employment, housing, driver’s license suspensions, occupational licenses, record expungement, and background checks. Please spread the word to all those who may be interested in these services and have them call the LCCR hotline, 415-814-7610, to sign up for the clinic.

For more information, please see this flyer LCCR Second Chance Legal Clinic Flyer_2014-2 or visit the LCCR website.

Thanks!

The R&R Team

Urgent Need for Transitional Housing for People in Reentry

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Today we want to talk about housing. Stable housing is a huge need for people in reentry: for many, the private sector is not an option and they also may face legal restrictions from staying with friends and family in Section 8 Housing. Faced with such great obstacles, many look for transitional housing upon their release. Demand is always much higher than the number of beds that are available, leaving individuals incredibly vulnerable in their first few days and months back in the community.

Case in point: A New York Times article released this week, showed that every year approximately 72,000 people are released from prison in the state of Texas, yet only 1,800 are allocated beds in subsidizing housing, mostly in the form of halfway houses that have contracts with the state. Because of the overwhelming need for housing for most individuals being released from incarceration, priority often goes to those who either require close supervision or for those who lack the necessary familial and community resources to get by on their own.

But there are so many people being released into the community with absolutely minimal support facing seemingly impossible barriers as a result of collateral consequences! They lack a meaningful second chance to improve their lives and to become productive fulfilled members of their communities.

And while halfway houses pose a viable option for those seeking a supportive transition back into society, the opportunity often comes with a costly price tag. Hand Up, a for-profit halfway house founded by a formerly incarcerated individual, Mark Fronckiewicz and his wife, mentions how the $550 monthly cost for rent and utilities creates the largest barrier for those who seek this type of environment. Most people reintegrating back into their communities after incarceration simply can’t afford such high living expenses, especially with the challenge of finding and holding down a job when you have a criminal conviction.

Hand Up proves to be more holistic and thorough in its approach, most likely because it was run by someone who has been the struggles of reentry themselves. One resident spoke to the meaningful guidance he received from Mr. Fronckiewicz when it came to preparing a resume that helped him land a construction job. With fewer restrictions than most halfway houses, Hand Up residents find it more accommodating in their process of searching for employment and transitioning from life outside of prison. However, a lack of funding and the passing of the founder mean that the work is difficult to carry on.

Halfway houses can provide a stable environment for individuals who will otherwise lack a setting in which they can thrive. If such a setting creates such positive outcomes in the reentry process for those who are being released from incarceration, it is worth examining to see how these types of successes can be reproduced and made more accessible for people returning to society after incarceration.

Olivia Cahue-Diaz, Root & Rebound Summer Intern