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.

Learn How to Start a Ban the Box Campaign!

NELP’s Awesome Opportunity to Learn How to Ban the Box in Your County and State!

It’s here! 

Check out NELP’s online, comprehensive Fair Chance – Ban the Box toolkit, available atwww.nelp.org/banthebox  “Ban the Box,” a term first coined by All of Us or None organizers, refers to removing the check-box that asks about convictions from job applications. Fair Chance campaigns do more than remove the check-box; they’re about adopting a robust set of fair hiring policies to ease employment barriers for people with records.

Register for NELP’s webinar to learn how to launch a Fair Chance campaign!

To introduce the Fair Chance – Ban the Box toolkit, NELP is hosting a webinar for advocates and policymakers. Using examples from recent campaigns, NELP staff will walk through the toolkit’s new model policies, media and research resources, and more to support your own local fair chance campaign. This webinar is an opportunity for seasoned advocates and policymakers as well as new organizers to learn best practices, strategize responses to common opposition, and be introduced to ready-to-use materials.

Webinar Details:

Date: Tuesday, May 13th Time: 10-11am Pacific / 1-2pm Eastern  Who: NELP staff Eleven states and over 60 cities and counties have it. Does yours? Bring a Fair Chance to your community. Register for the free webinar here.

Co-sponsors:

AFL-CIO Alliance for Boys and Men of Color All of Us or None Center for Community Change PICO National Network Lifelines to Healing PolicyLink Council of State Governments Justice Center Legal Services for Prisoners with Children National Council of La Raza New Southern Strategy Coalition

 

Bay Area Reentry Connection Event – Continuing the Reentry Conversation!

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Our incredible speakers & venue.

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Root & Rebound Staff (from left to right) Kony Kim, Sonja Tonnesen, Katherine Katcher, and Aiasha Khalid with CRI Reentry Coordinator, Alton Mcsween or “Coach” (center).

Last week, Root & Rebound and the California Reentry Institute were delighted to co-host the Bay Area Reentry Connection event at the Berkeley City Club. The event brought together many inspirational groups and individuals to discuss the complex issues and challenges surrounding reentry.  The turnout was huge—demonstrating the passion and dedication of all those working in criminal justice and reentry issues around the Bay Area. More than 100 people were in attendance!

In the first part of the evening, the audience heard four powerful speakers, all formerly incarcerated individuals, who shared their personal stories of incarceration and reentry, and the many challenges and barriers they faced and continue to face as people with criminal records. The speakers described life in reentry, especially the early days, as stressful, thrilling and terrifying. They described how decades of incarceration can fill a person with trauma and fear, and how hard it can be to adapt the chaotic and changed world they return to. Simple things such as using a phone, travelling to an appointment, and using public transport can take hours of planning and can cause severe anxiety. For many of the speakers, the biggest help of all was their social network—or just one person—who made the difference: a friend, a wife, social worker who gave them the time of day, who really listened, and who used their own social capital to build support for the speaker.

A key theme that came out of the speaker panel and the Q&A with them was the need for reentry organizations to improve collaboration so that people in reentry receive a continuum of care and stronger wraparound services. Since we as a legal advocacy center are committed to increasing collaboration in the field so that clients receive more holistic care, we were thrilled that this was a main takeaway from the event.

We hope to host many more collaborative events and workshops in future and we would love to hear from any of our readers who would like to be involved in any future planning. We would like to thank the Berkeley City Club as well as all those who attended the event, for your enthusiasm and passion about reentry issues!

Let’s continue the conversation!

– The R&R Team

Support SB 1384! Help people access stable jobs as certified nursing assistants.

We urge you to support Senate Bill 1384! SB 1384 (Mitchell) reforms the stringent conviction barriers to becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) by eliminating  the automatic denial of certified nursing assistant (CNA) applicants that have one of a long list of specific convictions, regardless of how much time has passed or a person’s significant efforts to transform. It provides all CNA applicants discretionary review of their criminal record and recognizes that certain conditions–like the passage of time and no subsequent convictions–is actual evidence of rehabilitation. SB 1384 expands opportunities for qualified, rehabilitated individuals to access this growing industry of living-wage jobs. In Root & Rebound’s conversations with formerly incarcerated people and service providers, this is a barrier that we have heard time and time again. Certified nursing assistants make a living wage and it is a good, stable job that should be open to people who have shown their rehabilitation and commitment to working.

Mandatory rejection of prospective CNAs—even for decades-old convictions and low-level offenses like petty theft—disregards studies showing that the passage of time substantially reduces the likelihood of recidivism to a level equal to those who have never been arrested. Such blanket prohibitions against employment opportunities defy California’s commitment to evidence-based policies that reduce recidivism and encourage reintegration. Studies show that stable employment decreases the likelihood of recidivism by as much as 62%. Yet, California continues to impose stringent barriers on the hundreds of licensed occupations that would provide stability and increased mobility for persons who most need it.

SB 1384 protects public safety by preserving the discretion to deny a CNA application where there is evidence that the individual has not rehabilitated. This commonsense revision models the current provisions that apply to Registered Nurses and thus gives CNA applicants with a criminal record a chance to be evaluated on the basis of their record and all evidence of rehabilitation.

Persons with a criminal record–estimated at one in four adults–urgently need access to stable jobs that pay more than the minimum wage. This is particularly the case for justice-involved women, many of whom are the primary caregiver for dependent children. These women seek employment as a CNA so that they can get off public assistance and provide food, housing and other necessities for their family. CNA opportunities are expected to increase by more than 22-percent from 2010-2020. To ban individuals from this growing industry of living-wage jobs on the sole basis of a past conviction not only denies opportunities to rehabilitated individuals; it denies many families a real chance to climb out of poverty.

California’s commitment to reducing recidivism–which remains high at 63.5%–must include measures that increase opportunities to growing industries of living-wage jobs. SB 1384 would pave the way for such reform, while also ensuring that public safety remains paramount.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Health Committee. We encourage you and your organizations to write letters of support no later than Tuesday, April 16.*** The proposed bill language can be accessed here: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/postquery?bill_number=sb_1384&sess=CUR&house=B&author=mitchell_<mitchell>. For more information or questions about SB 1384 and to request a sample letter of support, you can direct questions to Natalie Lyons at Equal Rights Advocates at nlyons@equalrights.org or (415) 575-2394.

Help people get back to work!

– The R & R Team

 

 

Join Us in Vital Policy Reform Efforts: SB 1029 and AB 1756

We want to update you on two crucial policy reform efforts, spearheaded by some our amazing partners in the community, for which we’ve signed on as wholehearted supporters. We encourage you to join as cosponsors as well.

AB 1756 (“Starting Over Strong” — Skinner, co-sponsored by All Of Us Or None and East Bay Community Law Center) would make the record-sealing process more accessible for one of California’s most vulnerable populations: low-income youth. By eliminating the fee — up to $150 — for people under age 26 seeking to seal their records, this proposal removes barriers that prevent motivated youth from improving their lives. Juvenile records can appear on background checks, leading to unfair denials of employment or housing. High fees can make it impossible for low-income youth to remedy their records and move forward from their mistakes, depriving them of a second chance at rebuilding their lives with stable employment and safe housing. AB 1756 would help restore this second chance.

SB 1029 (CalWORKs, CalFresh expansion — Hancock, co-sponsored by Western Center on Law and Poverty and County Welfare Directors Association) would make it easier for county probation departments and human service agencies to improve life prospects for the most vulnerable families they serve. California imposes a lifetime ban on CalWORKs and CalFresh aid for people with a prior drug-related felony conviction. For otherwise-eligible people currently subject to this ban, SB 1029 would allow them to access basic needs assistance, job training, and work support through these programs — as long as they have complied with their conditions of release, or completed their probation or parole. This would be a vital step toward helping reentering citizens get back on their feet — while reducing hunger, improving financial stability, and protecting child wellbeing among many struggling families.

If you or your organization wants to sign on to endorse these efforts, please reach out to our partners who are co-sponsoring these proposals:

AB 1756 — 

  • Jesse Stout, All Of Us Or None: jesse@prisonerswithchildren.org
  • Rachel Johnson-Farias, East Bay Community Law Center: racheljf@ebclc.org

SB 1029 —

  • Jessica Bartholomew, Western Center on Law and Poverty: jbartholow@wclp.org
  • Libby Sanchez, County Welfare Directors Association: sanchezadvocacy@gmail.com

— The R&R Team