Certificates of Rehabilitation

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By Lizzy Gilbert. 

Have you heard this statistic yet? One out of every three Americans has a criminal record.[1] As the Center for American Progress brilliantly noted in a 2014 report:

“Today, a criminal record serves as both a direct cause and consequence of poverty. It is a cause because having a criminal record can present obstacles to employment, housing, public assistance, education, family reunification, and more; convictions can result in monetary debts as well. It is a consequence due to the growing criminalization of poverty and homelessness. One recent study finds that our nation’s poverty rate would have dropped by 20 percent between 1980 and 2004 if not for mass incarceration and the subsequent criminal records that haunt people for years after they have paid their debt to society. Failure to address this link as part of a larger anti-poverty agenda risks missing a major piece of the puzzle.”[2]

As our country grapples with the implications of hypercriminalization, policymakers are starting to discuss ways they can ameliorate some of the 44,000 documented barriers and roadblocks that decades of their shortsighted “tough on crime” legislation have inflicted on us. Expungement, or the official sealing of a criminal record, is one option. Another, lesser known path, is a legal certification of rehabilitation. That’s what I’m here to discuss today.

Certificates of Rehabilitation (CORs), sometimes called Certificates of Good Standing or Employability, are currently offered in 14 states and Washington, D.C.[3] As is the case with expungement, the eligibility, application and value of CORs varies from state to state, but they are generally viewed as a legal stamp of approval from a judge or parole board, verifying that the grantee has proven themselves rehabilitated in the eyes of the law. CORs also generally give recipients a respite from automatic exclusion from certain licenses and professions.

In an effort to learn more about the various state certificate programs, we spent some time studying the California COR system and comparing it to the 13 other states that offer them.* As expected, we found great variety in how different states have chosen to write and implement their statutes. In some states, like Connecticut, individuals are eligible to apply for a COR as soon as they’re released from prison or jail. In others, people have to wait 10 years after release from any kind of supervision before they can apply. Some judicial relief programs look great on paper, but hold little value in practice. For example, Nevada’s Certificate of Good Standing appears promising: it removes a legal disability, or collateral consequence, that is inflicted as a result of a conviction (e.g. a ban from acquiring a particular license); it furnishes evidence of good moral character; and it provide official government recognition that the grantee is “rehabilitated.” Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, Nevada hasn’t issued a single Certificate of Good Standing in years.[4]

California’s COR program was written into law in 1943, but is also exceptionally underutilized. The application process, comparatively, is cumbersome, and the wait period is a minimum of 5 years after release from supervision (depending on conviction). But there are also some favorable components to California’s law: applicants are entitled to be represented by a public defender; if granted, it can relieve the individual from having to register as a sex offender; and it mandates that professional or business licensing cannot be denied solely based on conviction (without the COR, absolute denial is legal and ubiquitous).

Why is this information pertinent to us today? Because Root & Rebound, in partnership with Project Rebound at SFSU, is embarking on a dual public education/direct service campaign to expand the use, impact and value of Certificates of Rehabilitation in California. Our goal with this project is twofold: 1) to directly aid and educate those who are eligible to apply for CORs (as well as their advocates and attorneys) about the application process, the benefits of applying, and their right to be informed; and 2) to educate the public, including judges, attorneys, employers, licensing boards, and professionals, about the existence of CORs, their value, and their impact.

With this campaign, we hope to drastically increase the number of Californians who possess a COR, thus decreasing the number of our community members who are denied a license, a job, or an apartment based on their criminal conviction. We also want to ensure that their value is well understood by potential employers, landlords, and licensing boards; we want them to know that a COR is meaningful, that certificate holders have proven themselves rehabilitated in the eyes of the law—the same eyes that originally convicted them.

In the reentry space, we’re continually looking for a way to reduce the barriers people with criminal records encounter. California’s Certificate of Rehabilitation program is not perfect by any means, but we believe that it has the potential to transform peoples’ lives. Please stay tuned as we move forward with this exciting campaign!

*To share our findings from web research of the national landscape, we have shared the link to the table here and below (Table 1). This matrix is a quantitative evaluation of the 14 states that currently offer judicial certificate programs as relief mechanisms for convictions and criminal records.

Here is description of the measures used for evaluation:

  • Ease refers to the level of difficulty of the certificate application process, where 1= very difficult and 10= extremely easy, or automatic.
  • Wait period refers to the amount of time an individual must wait post-release (or post-sentence, in some states) before eligibility for the certificate begins, where 1= a long wait period (over 10 years) and 10= no wait period.
  • Accessibility refers to how available the certificate option is for individuals with criminal records in the state, where 1= very low accessibility (only nonviolent, first-time offenders are eligible) and 10= highly accessible (all individuals with a criminal record can apply).
  • Scope refers to what the certificate program aims to do or accomplish, where 1= a limited scope, for example an automatic presumption of rehabilitation for licensing with no enforcement mechanisms, and 10= a broad scope, for example a program that seeks to provide relief for an individual across a myriad of areas (employment, voting rights, housing).
  • Value refers to the extent to which the certification, if granted, improves the area in which it is intended to bring improvement, where 1= little to no value, and 10= the certificate is highly valuable and impactful.
  • Bonus refers to a specific component of a state’s certificate program that either increases or decreases program quality, for example the states that offer immunity to employers from negligent hiring lawsuits were given a bonus point, and Nevada lost a point because a certificate hasn’t been granted in the state for over a decade.

Although the matrix allows us to compare states side-by-side, it has its limitations. First, this evaluation tool does not measure the frequency with which certificates are granted, unless it is specifically indicated in the description. This information has been left out for most states because the information is unpublished, or at least not easily accessible.

Secondly, the matrix does not necessarily measure the overall quality of the certificate program because each state’s program has different stated goals, so direct comparison is bound to be flawed. For example, some states, like Ohio, have programs that offer relief only for very specific occupational licenses, while others, like California, seek to offer relief from collateral consequences that affect one’s life much more broadly.

A third limitation to the matrix is that, depending on the individual and his or her states’ program goals, it’s nearly impossible to arbitrarily assign a numeric score. For example, a long ‘wait time’ can sometimes be a positive program component, and sometimes a negative. Although excessively long wait times will disqualify a lot of people (many of whom would benefit from the certificate), the more time that has passed since an individual’s last conviction, the better and more substantiated proof there may be of rehabilitation. Programs that have very short wait times will, obviously, permit more people to apply, but by doing so may reduce the value of the certificate solely due to the fact that individuals don’t have to wait as long to apply for it. For these reasons, the matrix should be seen as one lens through which the 14 state programs can be compared, rather than a complete and definite ranking from ‘best’ to ‘worst.’

Table 1-Certificate of Rehabilitation State Assessment

[1] http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/cc_HiT_CriminalRecords_profile_1.pdf

[2] https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/VallasCriminalRecordsReport.pdf

[3]https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/media/publications/States%20Rethink%20Collateral%20Consequences%2C%20Vera%20Inst.%2C%202014.pdf

[4] http://www.shouselaw.com/nevada/certificate-good-conduct.html

Pick 6 (09/18/2015)

I. READ IT: Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families (The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, Research Action Design, and partners) Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families proves that the costs of locking up millions … Continue reading

Reflections on R&R Internship

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Reflection on Root & Rebound Internship

This post was written by our incredible outgoing summer intern, Sofie Werthan, when prompted with the question, “What did you learn this summer?” Sofie is a rising sophomore at Wellesley College, near Boston, Massachusetts, where she is an intended Ethnic Studies major focusing on systems of oppression. As you will learn from this post, Sofie is truly amazing, a gifted and talented writer and thinker. We were lucky to have her this summer and hope she will go back to school using her talents for criminal and social justice reform. Here are Sofie’s thoughts:

“In some ways, the United States prison system is like a black hole. People get pulled into its gaping rift, and it’s as if they have simply vanished from society for good. By disappearing individuals who have violated the cultural, social, and legal underpinnings of our society, prison does an exceedingly good job of obscuring many underlying social problems and inequities. While families and friends notice the absence of their incarcerated loved ones, many people (without an immediate connection to those on the inside) don’t spend much time actively thinking about what happens to people in prison, let alone what happens after they return from prison. In fact, we are even encouraged not to think about those who have been sucked into the carceral vortex: currently and formerly incarcerated people have been constructed as the societal Other to reject, in contrast with the aspirational figure of the successful law-abiding citizen. By promoting this dichotomy through legal and cultural barriers to reentry, we as a society have set up formerly incarcerated people for failure, vilification, and alienation from our culture and communities.

Before this summer, I was pretty ignorant to the specifics of what happens to people after they are released from prison/jail. In fact, I wanted to intern at Root & Rebound specifically because of my ignorance on this specific issue. Over the past several years, I have become more aware of social justice issues, and during this past year in college, I have participated in the Black Lives Matter movement. I have begun to research the historical and contemporary roots of police brutality, mass incarceration, the militarization of law enforcement, and the over-policing of non-white communities. However, much of this education has come from an academic perspective divorced from individuals’ personal experiences. I came to Root & Rebound in hopes of bridging this gap by directly engaging with my fellow community members who are in the process of reentry.

I grew up in a relatively privileged environment in Berkeley. While lower income communities and communities of color in Oakland, Richmond, and even within Berkeley are subject to the cyclical oppression and violence wrought by the prison industrial complex, I was able to maintain my distance emotionally and psychologically (if not physically, as well). None of my immediate family or friends have been incarcerated. Until this summer, my most intimate connections to the prison system were the fact that I drove past San Quentin State Prison every day on my way to and from high school and that I visited Alcatraz once to see Ai Weiwei’s art exhibit. I wanted to change this sense of personal detachment.

During my internship at Root & Rebound, I have immersed myself in the world of criminal justice and reentry from a more personal, holistic, and community-based perspective. In addition to getting an inside look at the tremendous work it takes to keep a small non-profit up and running, I also learned a lot about the myriad hardships that come along with a criminal record. By reading parts of Root & Rebound’s recently published Roadmap to Reentry guide, attending lectures, and having discussions with formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones, I became aware of the many hurdles to employment, housing, education, and public benefits that formerly incarcerated people have to navigate. I learned about the complicated legal web of restrictions, regulations, and mandates that trap many formerly incarcerated people upon release.

During my summer, I have been exposed to many great opportunities: I have had the privilege of listening to the criminal justice-reform speaker Michael Santos, attending a panel (that included R&R’s own Sonja Tonnesen!) about the ADA as it relates to prisons and reentry, and engaging with many fantastic formerly incarcerated people at an advanced film screening of the documentary Life After Life. This summer has taught me innumerable lessons about forgiveness, humanity, and compassion. I made many connections to people involved in advocacy work and started forging inter-community bonds. This summer has made me even more excited about local non-profit advocacy work and has helped me feel even closer to the Bay Area community.
My internship came at a unique time in our country’s history. The criminal justice system and its many flaws have taken the center stage as President Obama’s concludes his final term. This summer, I have witnessed history being made as Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, announce a reconsideration of this country’s excessive use of solitary confinement, and reinstate Pell Grants for incarcerated people. By fits and starts, criminal justice reform is now a hot topic. Media, politicians, celebrities, and ordinary people across the country are waking up to the prospect of (bipartisan!) prison reform. It seems like an emphasis on rehabilitation and tolerance is beginning to replace a culture of harsh discipline and cold indifference to the struggles of currently and formerly incarcerated people. I am proud to have played a small part in the movement this summer. Thank you R&R for giving me the opportunity to help make a change!”

“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

Profiting from Failure: Corizon Health, Inc., Martin Harrison and the deadly consequences of for-profit prison healthcare

Santa Rita jail where Martin Harrison died. Copyright: The Wall Street Journal

Santa Rita jail where Martin Harrison died. Copyright: The Wall Street Journal

By: Dominik Taylor

“Martin Harrison’s legacy will be safer care for jail and prison inmates around the country. His family . . . was committed to making sure that Martin’s death was not in vain. They have succeeded completely.”[1] – Julia Sherwin, attorney for the Harrison family

On Tuesday, February 10th, 2015, the largest wrongful death settlement in a civil rights case in the history of California was reached. The parties to this settlement were the family of Martin Harrison (the plaintiffs) and Alameda County, California and Corizon Health, Inc. (the co-defendants).[2]

Defendant Alameda County is the San Francisco Bay Area county that includes Oakland, Berkeley, and Hayward, amongst several other cities. Alameda is home to over 1.5 million residents.

But who was Martin Harrison? Who or what is Alameda’s co-defendant, Corizon Health, Inc.?

Martin Harrison died on August 2010 at the age of 50. Harrison died two days after he was severely beaten and tased by ten Santa Rita Jail deputies in Alameda County.[3]

Corizon is one of the largest for-profit prison healthcare providers in the United States.[4] Corizon, a privately held corporation, operates in 27 states and services more than 345,000 inmates.[5]

Among the jails that Corizon services is Alameda’s Santa Rita Jail. In February 2013, Alameda County awarded Corizon a three-year contract extension worth $210 million.[6] Corizon and its predecessors have operated within Alameda County for last 27 years, and Corizon is responsible for overseeing the 3400 inmates in Alameda’s two jails, Santa Rita and Glenn Dyer.[7]

Harrison was held at Santa Rita Jail following an August 13, 2010 arrest for jaywalking and for having an outstanding warrant stemming from a failure to appear in court on a prior DUI charge.[8]

The State of California requires prison healthcare contractors to provide Registered Nurses (RNs) to assess inmates upon intake. However, instead of an RN, an unsupervised licensed vocational nurse (LVN) conducted Harrison’s intake screening.[9] While RNs hold professional nursing degrees, LVNs only hold a “practical” degree to provide basic nursing care. LVNs usually work under the supervision of an RN or physician. Healthcare providers, such as Corizon, can pay LVNs substantially less money than RNs, as LVNS do not have as much educational experience or training.

According to the Harrison family’s attorneys, Harrison told the LVN that he drank everyday and that he had a history of alcohol withdrawal.[10] Despite his repeated requests for treatment, the LVN decided that Harrison was not at risk of alcohol withdrawal. Instead of receiving medical treatment, the LVN sent Harrison to a jail cell.

While in his cell at Santa Rita, Harrison began hallucinating due to a severe form of alcohol poisoning, known as delirium tremens.[11] According to the National Health Institute, medical attention and immediate hospitalization is required for someone suffering from delirium tremens.[12] No treatment was provided for Harrison, however. He remained in his cell. For three days, he was frequently heard screaming. He was left in his cell screaming and going through withdrawals until August 16, 2010.[13] On that day, at around 6:30 p.m., deputies attempted to move Harrison to another cell.[14]

Harrison resisted as a deputy tried to usher him out of the cell. In response, the deputy Tased Harrison. The deputy then called for backup. Several other deputies—ten in total—rushed over to Harrison and repeatedly kicked, punched, and Tased him.[15] After severely beating Harrison, the officers placed Harrison in leg shackles and handcuffs.

Shortly after the beating, while a nurse was examining Harrison, he became unresponsive.[16] Harrison never regained consciousness. Two days later, Harrison died. Cause of death: “cardiac arrest following excessive exertion, multiple blunt injuries and Tasering.”[17]

As part of the settlement with the Harrison family, Corizon announced that it will stop employing LVNs to complete tasks that California law mandates that RNs perform. According the Harrison family’s attorneys, Corizon saved 35% in costs for every LVN Corizon enlisted to perform duties that RNs should be performing.[18]

Corizon also agreed to employ RNs to perform inmate screenings at all of the other California facilities that it operates it. Corizon currently has contracts in four California counties (Alameda, Fresno, Santa Barbara, Tulare).[19] Lastly, Corizon expressed a desire to ensure that it provides a better standard of care to inmates. U.S. District Court Judge Jon S. Tiger will monitor Corizon and Alameda for at least the next four years to ensure that they are complying with the terms of the settlement.

Harrison’s case is an archetype of why our nation’s prisons and jails need to provide better healthcare. Harrison never should have been sent to a jail cell. He should have, instead, received immediate medical attention for alcohol withdrawal. Mr. Harrison’s death was not in vain though, as prison reform will ostensibly be implemented in the four California counties where Corizon operates.

Unfortunately, news of a settlement in this case in is no way the end of the battle for better quality—and simply put, more humane—prisoner healthcare. The Harrison family settlement is just the latest battle in long war to reform America’s prisons and to obtain the adequate healthcare that all prisoners are constitutionally guaranteed.

In Estelle v. Gamble, a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case, the Court affirmed that prisoners have a constitutional right to adequate medical attention, and that the Eighth Amendment is violated when prisons and jails display “deliberate indifference” to an inmate’s medical needs.[20]

Writing for the Court in Estelle, Justice Thurgood Marshall stated: “An inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs; if authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met. In the worst cases, such a failure may actually produce physical ‘torture or a lingering death’ . . . In less serious cases, denial of medical care may result in pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose . . . The infliction of such unnecessary suffering is inconsistent with contemporary standards of decency as manifested in modern legislation.”

After the Harrison family settlement was reached, Alameda County Sherriff Greg Ahern was quoted as saying, “Things could have been done better and we are very sad it resulted in an inmate death.”[21] But Ahern also said that Corizon has done “a fantastic job” at Santa Rita.[22] Again, this was right after a Santa Rita inmate named Martin Harrison died… and the county sheriff publicly stated that Corizon has done a “fantastic job?” Really?

A man had just died and the county was protecting its corporate friend, not human beings. This response points to why the close relationships between corporations like Corizon and state and local governments must be stopped. To understand the depth to which the bottom-line and profit driven Corizon has no business running the healthcare system in our jails, let’s take a look at another state. A state where Corizon has a heavy presence as the holder of a lucrative contract to provide healthcare to prisons and jails. That state is Alabama.

For the last two and a half years, the Alabama Department of Corrections has contracted with Corizon. Prior to that, Alabama contracted with Corizon’s predecessor, Correctional Medical Services, from 2007-2012. On February 9, 2015, Corizon announced that Alabama’s Department of Corrections (ADOC) approved a renewal of Corizon’s $224 million contract.[23] This contract extension brings the contract’s total cost up to $405 million, a staggering amount.[24] Despite the re-upping of the contract between Alabama’s DOC and Corizon, it cannot be said that Corizon has done anything close to a “fantastic job” in Alabama, where Corizon is responsible for providing healthcare to the State’s 25,100 inmates.

As revealed in May 2013, Alabama actually gave Corizon failing marks on an internal audit of the healthcare provider’s job in Alabama facilities.[25] Despite the failing grades, Alabama still extended Corizon’s contract through September 2017. And Alabama isn’t the only state where Corizon has failed internal audits. In 2014, the Secretary of Florida’s Department of Corrections threatened to withhold payment of a five-year, $1.2 billion contract, because Corizon “continues to fall below the contractually required standard.”[26] Audits of Corizon in Florida showed that Corizon was providing deficient medical care, nursing, and administration.[27] Corizon has also been subject to lawsuits in Georgia, New York, New Mexico, Minnesota, Washington D.C., and has been accused of providing deficient healthcare in Mississippi and Maine.

On June 17, 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a federal lawsuit against Alabama’s Department of Corrections (ADOC), alleging that ADOC is violating federal laws by ignoring the medical and mental health needs of prisoners.[28] The class action lawsuit contains 40 named plaintiffs who allege that ADOC failed to provide adequate health care, and that this failure constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.[29] Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that, due to ADOC’s “deliberate indifference,” Alabama prisoners oftentimes go for months without appropriate diagnoses, and that prisoners have died because they were not treated for condition such as diabetes and cancer.[30]

The SPLC lawsuit isn’t for the faint of heart. SPLC has reported that numerous Alabama prisoners have had toes, feet, and legs amputated as a result of receiving poor diabetes treatment.[31] SPLC also reported staph outbreaks, scabies outbreaks, raw sewage being allowed to leak into a facility, and that a prison guard was allowed to continue working, despite the fact that he had TB.[32] The case is scheduled to go to trial in 2016.

Corizon is not a named defendant in the SPLC lawsuit. But Corizon is paying for prominent Alabama-based law firm Maynard Cooper & Gale to defend the State of Alabama in the lawsuit.[33] Under the terms of Corizon’s contract with the State, Corizon must pay for any litigation resulting from Corizon’s provision of healthcare in Alabama prisons and jails.[34] Of course, both ADOC and Corizon dispute the claims made in SPLC’s lawsuit. [On an interesting yet seemingly unrelated note, Maynard Cooper & Gale announced in August 2014 that it was opening its first office outside of Alabama. That office is in San Francisco.[35]]

In California, Corizon saved 35% costs by tasking LVNs—instead of RNs—to conduct inmate intakes. Corizon’s cost-saving policy led to Martin Harrison being placed in a jail cell, instead of in a hospital bed. After being trapped in his cell for three days and suffering from alcohol withdrawals, Santa Rita deputies literally beat Harrison to death. Despite Harrison’s death, Alameda renewed its contract with Corizon in 2013.

Through continuing it relationship with Corizon—despite the Harrison family lawsuit—Alameda County, just like the state of Alabama, is placing inmates at risk of pain and suffering in arguably unconstitutional conditions. Simply put, Corizon is placing profits over people. Yes, private corporations place profits over people on a daily basis. But if a private corporation makes hundreds of millions of dollars off government contracts, as Corizon does, isn’t it fair to expect that the company do a “fantastic job?” Certainly, corporations like Corizon must at least be expected to pass internal audits, right? Apparently not.

Over the last two decades, private for-profit healthcare providers, such as Corizon, have continually struck lucrative deals with state and local governments.[36] This is as, prison healthcare has become increasingly privatized by state and local governments in an effort to cut costs while meeting the requirements of Estelle. Corizon makes over $1.5 billion annually from its revenue and contracts with state and local governments.[37] Corizon frequently employs cost-cutting measures to ensure that it maximizes its potential revenue. Corizon’s cost-cutting is partially responsible for the death of Martin Harrison. Corizon’s cost-cutting and lack of responsiveness are part of the reason Alabama’s Department of Corrections is being sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

As noted in a 2014 report by the non-profit Prison Legal News, “When Corizon compromises medical care to save money, such as curtailing the use of ambulances for emergency transports, reducing the number of on-site doctors or sending fewer prisoners to outside hospitals for needed treatment, government officials typically fail to take corrective action and deny responsibility for the resultant deaths and injuries.”[38]

Alameda County and Alabama DOC’s continued relationships with Corizon serve as perfect examples of state and local governments denying responsibility and failing to take corrective action for the deaths and injuries that have resulted from Corizon’s substandard, shoddy, and frankly unacceptable healthcare services.

Julia Sherwin, attorney for the Harrison family, stated, “Martin Harrison’s legacy will be safer care for jail and prison inmates around the country. His family . . . was committed to making sure that Martin’s death was not in vain. They have succeeded completely.”

The Harrison family’s settlement cannot be deemed a complete success. The Harrison family settlement is just the latest battle in long war to reform America’s prisons and to obtain the adequate healthcare that all prisoners are constitutionally guaranteed.

A record-breaking settlement in the Harrison case and SPLC’s lawsuit against ADOC should be used as a springboards for concerned tax-paying citizens and prison reform advocates to start a more serious, focused discussion on the provision of healthcare in prisons and on the lack of responsibility demonstrated by state and local governments in doling out prison healthcare contracts. Serious questions need to be asked and state and local governments must be held accountable. Private for-profit prison healthcare providers must be held accountable.

It all boils down to this: As the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in Estelle, prisoners have a constitutional right to adequate healthcare. If state and local governments are going to contract with for-profit private corporations to provide prisoner healthcare, then it is absolutely imperative that those corporations deliver the care that prisoners are constitutionally entitled to. If providers, such as Corizon, continuously fail time after time, in county after county, and state after state, then state and local governments must end their relationships with these corporations.

Alameda County and Corizon are splitting the cost of the $8.3 million settlement with the Harrison family. That’s $4.15 million a piece. Martin Harrison is dead as the result of Corizon’s cost-cutting measures and a lack of oversight or responsibility by Alameda County. Instead of splitting the cost of a settlement, it’s fair to wonder whether a better solution would be for Alameda County to ditch Corizon completely. Alameda County is responsible for ensuring that its prisoners receive the adequate healthcare that they are constitutionally entitled to. If Alameda County and counties like it across the county do not take this responsibility seriously, then it is up to us to demand they do so.

[1] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[2] According to the Contra Costa Times, in a separate 2013 lawsuit, Alameda County and Corizon Health, Inc. settled with Martin Harrison’s fifth child (a minor).

[3] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/11/usa-prison-settlement-idUSL1N0VK2H620150211

[5] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/11/usa-prison-settlement-idUSL1N0VK2H620150211

[6] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[7] http://www.corizonhealth.com/Corizon-News/corizon-awarded-alameda-county-contract-extension

[8] http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/8-3-million-settlement-in-death-of-Alameda-6073319.php

[9] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[10] http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/8-3-million-settlement-in-death-of-Alameda-6073319.php

[11] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[12] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000766.htm

[13] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[14] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[15] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[16] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[17] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[18] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[19] http://www.corizonhealth.com/About-Corizon/Locations

[20] 429 U.S. 97

[21] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[22] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[23] http://www.corizonhealth.com/Corizon-News/alabama-department-of-corrections-renews-contract-with-corizon-health

[24] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2015/02/alabama_department_of_correcti_1.html

[26] http://www.northescambia.com/2014/09/florida-dept-of-corrections-targets-problems-with-inmate-health-care

[27] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/09/alabamas_inmate_health_care_su.html

[28] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/06/splc_story_on_inmate_health_ca.html

[29] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/06/splc_story_on_inmate_health_ca.html

[30] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/06/splc_story_on_inmate_health_ca.html

[31] http://media.al.com/news_impact/other/Alabama%20Prison%20Report_final.pdf

[32] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/06/cruel_confinement_report_packe.html

[33] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/08/powerful_law_firm_to_defend_al.html

[34] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/08/powerful_law_firm_to_defend_al.html

[35] http://www.bizjournals.com/birmingham/news/2014/08/13/four-questions-with-maynard-cooper-s-managing.html?page=all

[36] http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/Assets/2014/07/StatePrisonHealthCareSpendingReport.pdf

[37] https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2014/mar/15/corizon-needs-a-checkup-problems-with-privatized-correctional-healthcare/

[38] https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2014/mar/15/corizon-needs-a-checkup-problems-with-privatized-correctional-healthcare/

Pick 6 (2/27/15)

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Hello friends. Friday=time for our weekly Pick 6! Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’ (The Guardian)

In an exclusive, Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian describes the horrific treatment of detainees at a secretive, off-the-books interrogation”black site” known as Homan Square. Homan Square is a “nondescript warehouse,” but it isn’t located at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib . . . it’s located on the west side of Chicago and is operated by the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Among the alleged atrocities committed by CPD are: keeping arrestees out of official booking databases, shackling and beating arrestees for extended periods of time, denying attorneys access to the “secure facility,” and holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours. At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.

2.) Free state ID cards proposed for newly released prisoners (Seattle Times)

Not having proper identification can be a major hurdle for newly released prisoners. Identification is required to get housing, to get a job, to cash a check, and even to get a library card. In Washington, getting a new driver’s license or state identification card usually costs between $45-$54 (not to mention, the time and cost of transportation required to get to a Department of Licensing office). Unfortunately, many Washington prisoners are only released with as little as $40. But a new bill, proposed by state legislator, Cyrus Habib, would issue free temporary identification to all reentering individuals as they are released from jail or prison.

3.) Want to visit an inmate? Increasingly, you’ll have to log on (San Fransisco Chronicle)

Hamed Aleaziz reports that several California counties, notably; Napa, Solano, and San Mateo are moving away from allowing prisoners to have in-person visits, and are instead replacing them with Skype-like digital video-chats. Supporters argue that using video-chat technology saves money and strengthens security. Supporters are quick to note that families can now video-chat with their incarcerated loved ones from home, without having to make a trip to jail. But as Bernadette Rabuy of the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative notes, “Inmates and their families find video visits to be more impersonal.They talk about being able to hold their hand on the piece of glass and the other incarcerated person holding their hand up. Moments like that feel impossible with video visits.” A 2011 Minnesota Department of Corrections study concluded in-person prison visits “establish a continuum of social support,” and that visited inmates were 13% less likely to be convicted of a new felony after release. According to Keramet Reiter, an assistant professor of criminology at UC Irvine, “The data is pretty good. The more in-person visits prisoners have, the better off they are likely to be when they get out.” Also problematic is the fact that the video-chats are expensive. The companies providing video-chat technologies for prisons and jails charge families up to $20 for as little as 20 minutes of talk time. These companies then split profits with the county (Napa receives 20% of fees obtained from video chats to its inmates).

4.) Santa Clara County increases oversight of cases of youths being charged as adults (Santa Cruz Sentinel)

California prosecutors have wide discretion in deciding whether to charge juvenile suspects as juveniles or as adults. A 2013 internal review by Santa Clara County’s District Attorney’s Office revealed that a higher percentage of Latino kids face adult charges than other ethnicities. In response to this finding, Santa Clara’s DA has teamed up with Santa Clara’s Public Defender’s office and several Bay Area youth advocacy groups to examine these cases more stringently. Specifically, the DA has asked youth advocates who favor rehabilitation over prison to review and critique the DA’s decision to charge juveniles as adults. The committee of advocates is currently reviewing every 2014 Santa Clara case where a juvenile was charged as an adult.

5.) Eric Holder’s parting shot: It’s too hard to bring civil rights cases (Politico)

Last Saturday (2/21) marked the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination. In a recent exit interview, Politico asked outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder what book he would recommend to a young person coming to Washington, D.C. Holder’s answer–“The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”Holder also stated that before leaves office, he will call for a lower standard of proof for civil rights crimes (see # 6, below). “I think some serious consideration needs to be given to the standard of proof that has to be met before federal involvement is appropriate, and that’s something I am going to be talking about before I leave office.” Holder’s remarks come days after the Department of Justice announced that it has closed its investigation in the shooting death of unarmed African American teenager Trayvon Martin. DOJ will not be filing federal hate-crime charges against Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman.

6.) Why Is It So Hard to Prove a Civil Rights Crime? (The New Republic)

Cristian Farias discusses the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision not file federal hate-crime charges against George Zimmerman and the limits of federal hate crimes laws. Farias writes, “Willfulness, in civil rights cases or otherwise, is by far the most difficult thing to prove in criminal law. And absent a damning confession from Zimmerman or a mountain of circumstantial evidence showing that he harbors resentment toward black teenagers, making that showing is hardso hard, DOJ determined, it couldn’t risk pressing charges and losing later.”

Bonus: Tomorrow, 2/28, marks the end of Black History Month. If you have some spare time this weekend, cozy up with your loved ones and take 2 hours to watch “Freedom Riders,” the beautifully directed, 2010 documentary by Stanley Nelson Jr. “Freedom Riders” is the powerful, harrowing, and inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever. From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives—and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Jim Crow South. The Freedom Riders challenged the status quo by riding interstate buses and trains in the South to challenge local laws or customs that enforced illegal segregation in seating. They called national attention to the blatant disregard for federal laws and the local mob violence used to enforce segregation in the South. You can watch Freedom Riders for free online courtesy of PBS. Here’s a link to the film.

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.

Weekly Pick 6 (2/13/15)

pick 6

Hello friends. We’re back with the second edition of our new weekly feature–Pick 6. Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) History of Lynchings in the South Documents Nearly 4,000 Names (New York Times)

In this article, Campell Robertson discusses some findings from a newly published report by the Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative entitled: Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror. EJI’s report documents lynching in twelve Southern states from the time of Reconstruction to the end of World War II. The report makes the case that the lynching of African Americans was terrorism and a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation.

2.) Go to Trial: Crash the Justice System (Hands Up United)

Timothy Lynch of the Cato Institute has said, “The truth is that government officials have deliberately engineered the system to assure that the jury trial system established by the Constitution is seldom used.” In this commentary, Michelle Alexander, famed author of, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, argues that one way to end mass incarceration is by “crashing the system.” Alexander writes, “If everyone charged with crimes suddenly exercised his constitutional rights, there would not be enough judges, lawyers or prison cells to deal with the ensuing tsunami of litigation….Such chaos would force mass incarceration to the top of the agenda for politicians and policy makers, leaving them only two viable options: sharply scale back the number of criminal cases filed…or amend the Constitution…Either action would create a crisis and the system would crash.”

3.) High School Police Ask Judge to Let Them Pepper-Spray and Arrest Unruly Students (Mother Jones)

Since 2006, there have been at least 110 instances where school police officers (called School Resource Officers or SROs) have pepper-sprayed school students in Birmingham, Alabama. A lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center has brought up the issue of whether such practices are constitutional. Of the policy allowing officers to pepper-spray students, Ebony Howard of the SPLC says, “We want it to be declared unconstitutional because it allows officers to spray people, specifically students, without considering a wide variety of factors—such as whether they are in a school environment, the fact that they are in a closed environment, and the fact that these things that they are accusing kids of doing and acting on are actually just student misconduct issues.” Allie Gross of Mother Jones describes the pepper-spraying of Birmingham students as well as the rise of police presence in schools since the mid-1990s.

Related: be sure to check out R&R’s previous blog entry, “Why the Teacher’s Protection Act is Deadly to Students,” for another example of how, since the 1990s, public school systems have become increasingly militant.

4.) Alameda County: $8.3 million jail death settlement mandates jail health care reforms (Contra Costa Times)

Malaika Fraley of the Contra Costa Times reports that a record-breaking settlement has been reached in the case of an Oakland, California man, Martin Harrison, who died after being beaten to death and tased by Santa Rita Jail deputies. Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors and its jail medical services provider, Corizon Health, have agreed to pay $8.3 to the family of Mr. Harrison. Mr. Harrison died in August of 2010 while incarcerated at Santa Rita, just two days after he was beaten and tased by 10 deputies.

5.) Missouri cities, including Ferguson, sued over ‘grotesque’ jail conditions (Los Angeles Times)

Matt Pierce of the LA Times writes about two recently-filed lawsuits against the cities of Ferguson and Jennings, Missouri. Pierce writes that the lawsuits accuse the cities of “maintaining ‘grotesque’ jail conditions for motorists locked up because they couldn’t pay fines for minor legal infractions . . . crowded cells are smeared with mucus, blood and fecal matter and inmates are denied basic hygiene supplies and medical care.” Ferguson is the city where unarmed African American teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot in August 2014.

6.) Gov. Pat McCrory says brothers’ pardon still being reviewed (News and Observer)

Our sixth pick this week is actually an update of a story we told you about last week. Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were recently exonerated or murder after serving three decades in a North Carolina prison following a wrongful conviction. The two brothers were exonerated by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. But following their exoneration, McCollum and Brown are left without any ability to collect compensation for the time they spend incarcerated absent a pardon from the state’s governor. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s office is currently “conducting a formal an thorough process that will lead to a recommendation” of whether or not McCollum and Brown should receive a pardon. If the men receive a pardon, they will be eligible to receive $50,000 for every year they spent incarcerated (up to a max of $750,000). McCollum and Brown spent their entire adult lives in prison and have IQ scores in the 50s and 60s. The two men struggle with reading and writing. We will keep you updated on this story.

— The R&R Team