Written by Sean Larner Evan Ebel was worried about leaving prison — and reasonably so. His last couple years were spent by himself in a cinderblock cell the size of two queen mattresses. Before his release Ebel wondered, in a … Continue reading
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!
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.”
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!
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.”
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.”
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?)
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
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
A few months ago we wrote about an exciting shift in political momentum away from mass incarceration when President Obama commuted the drug sentences for eight individuals in federal prison. In 2014, it seems that Congress and the Federal Government are going one step further – by offering their support for reentry and for people returning to society.
This support could not come soon enough. For decades, the number of people in federal and California prisons and jails has swelled, as people in power have focused on passing tougher sentencing laws. Today, one in every 31 adults is under some form of correctional control. Now, as part of what the New York Times described as “the first major reforms to America’s broken criminal justice system in a generation,” Congress is considering a bipartisan bill aimed at stemming the tide of incarceration by helping more prisoners make the transition back into society.
The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act highlights Congress’ newfound enthusiasm for the reentry process. As a non-profit focused on ensuring that people successfully transition from prison to community life, we at Root & Rebound are delighted by the bill’s focus on reentry. On this blog we have often discussed the need to view reentry as a long-term process – one that must start on day one of an individual‘s incarceration. The bill goes some way in acknowledging this need. It would allow low-risk prisoners to earn credit for early release by participating in education, job training and drug treatment programs. For many people in prison, this training and support could make the difference between returning to prison and successful reentry into society.
In another exciting development, Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that the Bureau of Prisons will impose new requirements on halfway houses that serve people in reentry. The new reforms include standardized treatment for people with mental health and substance abuse issues, as well as new permission for cell phone use, and transportation, so that people living in halfway houses can seek out job opportunities more easily. This reform acknowledges returning citizens are first and foremost human beings with material, social, and emotional needs – not only the need for employment and healthcare, but also the need to communicate freely with their loved ones.
Both The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act and the Bureau of Prisons’ new requirements on Federal Halfway Houses reinforce the Federal Government’s commitment to helping people who are in prison transition back into society, which is heartening to witness. These important reforms mark an exciting time in our nation’s history as we turn away from draconian sentencing laws to a much-needed focus on rehabilitation. They go some way in addressing the big question – As over 95% of people in prison will be released, what processes can we put in place to ensure their successful reentry?
As reentry takes center stage in our political dialogue on criminal justice, join Root & Rebound in supporting these reforms and addressing the challenges of reentry in our local community!
Solitary confinement, a prison-based practice in which an incarcerated person is locked in a cell alone for hours, days, months, and even years or decades, is more prevalent in the U.S. than any other country. The new director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Rick Raemisch, under a mandate to reform solitary confinement in Colorado prisons, decided earlier this month to spend a night in solitary confinement and write about his experience in an op-ed for the New York Times.* In his op-ed, Raemisch wrote about feeling “twitchy and paranoid” in solitary. Yet he called his 20-hour stay “practically a blink,” compared to incarcerated people sent to solitary confinement in Colorado for an average of 23 months, with some spending “20 years.”
As Raemisch wrote, American prisons have “become a dumping ground for the mentally ill”—and this is exaggerated in solitary confinement. Craig Haney, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has been studying isolated prisoners and estimates that about one-third are “mentally ill, and a disproportionate number are minorities, partly because alleged gang membership is grounds for placing a prisoner in solitary indefinitely.” His work, discussed in Smithsonian Magazine, is part of a building movement to research the effects of solitary confinement and understand the science behind isolating people for long stretches of time.
Activism to eliminate solitary confinement continues to swell. The ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and other nonprofits are leading campaigns to end the practice and create public awareness about the serious damaging effects of segregating and isolating people in prison. In our home state of California, prisoners organized hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013 to protest the inhumane conditions and long-term solitary confinement of people (some sent there indefinitely!) in the Security Housing Unit (“SHU”) at Pelican Bay State Prison and others around CA. You can read more on the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity blog and learn more about the organizations supporting their efforts here.
These organizing efforts combined with voices of reformers from within corrections, like Raemisch, are helping to increase public awareness about how solitary confinement is abusive to people in prison and can have dire implications when an isolated person is then released back into the community. Raemisch wrote that in Colorado, “in 2012, 140 people were released into the public from Ad Seg [solitary confinement]; last year, 70; [and] so far in 2014, two.” When people under these circumstances are returned to their communities, they are often psychologically and physically more ill and abused than when they first entered prison. In the field of reentry, this creates a huge barrier for people to reconnect with the outside world. As a reentry advocacy center, Root & Rebound feels passionately that the way people are treated inside has direct consequences for their ability to rebuild and rejoin the community on the outside, and we hope to see an end to the abuse and overuse of solitary confinement.
If you would like to continue to follow this issue and urge our government officials to speak out against solitary confinement, we suggest signing the ACLU’s petition and following the CA movement’s Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity’s Take Action! page. We applaud Mr. Raemisch of Colorado for speaking out on this issue and also see that there is a long road ahead to reduce abuse against incarcerated people in the U.S.
— The R & R Team
* For a response to Mr. Raemisch’s op-ed, see The Atlantic‘s article, “Colorado’s Prison Director Spent 20 Hours in Solitary—but That’s Not Enough,” urging the release of two individuals currently held in solitary confinement in Colorado’s prisons.
Today we want to share information about two affordable housing projects for Bay Area women. Please share these opportunities with Bay Area women looking for transitional housing.
(1) Berkeley Food and Housing Project, Transitional Housing is accepting applications from women only. It is a year and eighteen month living skills program. Applicants must be homeless or in imminent danger of losing housing, with either psychiatric disabilities or HUD qualified disabilities. Women may apply if they are homeless on the street, in emergency shelter, are staying with friends short term and have no lease, are in a recovery program and have no place to return to after graduating and/or are coming from another transitional housing situation.
- TO APPLY: Click here for more details and how to apply: Berkeley Food and Housing Project Transitional Housing.pdf.
(2) Building Futures with Women and Children is accepting applications for its housing lottery for housing at the Alameda Point Collaborative (transitional housing with 2 bedroom and 1 bedroom units). These units are for women and children only. Applicants must be homeless at time of application and, if living in a shelter or in transitional housing, must bring a homeless verification from an agency or shelter, head of household. Income must be less than 50% of area median income.
- To apply IN PERSON (recommended): You can go in from 9:30 am – 4pm at the Alameda Point Collaborative: 677 West Ranger Avenue, Alameda, CA, 94501. In-person apps will be accepted NO LATER than Friday, March 14, 2014.
- To apply BY MAIL: Call 510-749-0301 ext. 222. to have an application sent to you. Mail-in apps will be accepted only if postmarked NO LATER than Friday, March 21, 2014.
Even though “reentry” typically refers to the time after a person is released from prison or jail, the reentry process really begins on the inside, prior to release. Some would say reentry planning should start the moment a person is sentenced, as it can take months or years for an incarcerated person to prepare for life back in the community. This means planning and preparing for the emotional and physical support systems required in reentry—safe and affordable housing, health care, employment, family support, and so on.
One recent change in our health care laws is bringing this principle to life—a ray of hope for people in jails preparing for reentry! In 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) into law. Many of its provisions took effect just last month on January 1, 2014. One of the most powerful changes that Obamacare made to health coverage was the expansion of Medicaid eligibility to more of our nation’s poorest citizens. As Bloomberg reports, “Obamacare replaced a hodgepodge of state requirements that typically excluded childless adults from Medicaid. The 2010 law opened it to anyone making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, about $16,000 for an individual.” Many of the people in prison and jail fall within the expanded eligibility based on income, and 25 states—including California—have expanded their state Medicaid programs to include this newly eligible population. In particular, more and more counties in these 25 states are looking to jail-based programs to begin enrolling eligible people into Medicaid, so that a person can walk out of jail with health care coverage. Policies like this serve everyone: they help many currently and formerly incarcerated people access consistent health care and avoid emergency rooms when they get out; they help states save money on health care by taking advantage of federal money; and they help some of our nation’s poorest in jail and prison stay healthier and less likely to end up back in jail or prison once they get out. Reentry must begin on the inside.
Read more about Medicaid enrollment programs in jails here and here. Learn more about the expansion of California’s Medicaid (called Medi-Cal) program here and here. We hope to see more jails and prisons adopting procedures and policies for getting people eligible for Medicaid covered before they walk out the door!
— The R&R Team
This year, Equal Justice Initiative — a non-profit based in Montgomery, Alabama — put out an impressive report entitled “Slavery in America: The Montgomery Slave Trade.” Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is a world-renowned organization that provides legal assistance to the poor, the incarcerated, the condemned, children prosecuted as adults in the criminal justice system, and communities marginalized by bias, discrimination, or poverty. We appreciate that EJI spent time putting together such a comprehensive and informative report on slavery in America and on reflecting on our past. While some might ask, “Why look back?,” we believe that in order to change our current state of mass incarceration and disenfranchisement, we must understand where our thoughts, beliefs, and laws come from, and how we developed as a nation. As EJI says in its report,
“Slavery in America traumatized and devastated millions of people. It created narratives about racial difference that still persist today. It also fostered bigotry and racial discrimination from which we have yet to fully recover. In learning more about slavery, we can learn more about ourselves, our past, and hopefully, our future. By strengthening our understanding of racial history, we can create a different, healthier discourse about race in America that can lead to new and more effective solutions.”
We cannot talk constructively about criminal justice reform, reentry, and progress toward social justice without first reflecting honestly on our nation’s past. There is no doubt that the United States, which incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation — with an increase in its jail and prison population from 200,000 to 2.3 million in the past 40 years — disproportionately incarcerates people of color. Nearly one out of every three American black men in their twenties is in jail or prison, on probation or parole, or otherwise under criminal justice control. Black men are eight times more likely to be incarcerated than white men.
So we encourage you to reflect on our past, no matter how much we might want to look away, and to think about how America’s Era of Slavery — which lasted more than 200 years and ended only 150 years ago with the Emancipation Proclamation — lives on today in the ways we criminalize, incarcerate, and punish, both inside and outside of prison walls.
For further reading, see EJI’s incredible interactive timeline, “A History of Racial Injustice: The Timeline.” Also check out EJI’s page on “Race and Poverty” and a great scholarly article written by Executive Director Bryan Stevenson on “Confronting Mass Imprisonment and Restoring Fairness to Collateral Review of Criminal Cases.”
–The R&R Team