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

Reimagining Reentry: Letters from Inside

Happy Holidays, Friends of Root & Rebound!

As 2015 comes to a close, we are excited and proud to launch our end-of-year campaign, Reimagine Reentry, featuring a video about our work, Letters from Inside.

The goal of this campaign is not only to raise money, but to raise awareness in the Bay Area and beyond about what we do here at Root & Rebound. This year, Root & Rebound produced and published the Roadmap to Reentry, a legal guide that provides comprehensive guidance on barriers in reentry across nine areas of law and life.

In 2016, we plan to expand the use of Roadmap to Reentry, so that we can transfer powerful information from a small legal community to the massive number of people facing disenfranchisement upon release.

Additionally, we will provide more community-based trainings across California—in prisons, for families with incarcerated loved ones; with correctional departments; at community centers, and in places of worship—to strengthen families and communities.

We also plan to make the Roadmap to Reentry information more accessible for people in reentry and their advocates by building online content and interactive toolkits to reach more people, thus increasing access.

Finally, we will continue our policy reform work and grow our efforts to educate partner groups, advocates, and policymakers about issues on the ground—to reduce barriers and expand opportunities for people coming out of prison and jail, and create a healthier society.

To accomplish all this, we need your help! Please take 3 minutes to watch our video, share with your social networks, and if you can, make a donation.

 

Pick 6 (5/10/2015)

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Hello friends. Happy Mother’s Day! 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!

1.) How Baltimore and cities like it hold back poor black children as they grow up (Washington Post)

“Every year a poor boy spends growing up in Baltimore, this research found, his earnings as an adult fall by 1.5 percent. Add up an entire childhood, and that means a 26-year-old man in Baltimore earns about 28 percent less than he would if he had grown up somewhere in average America. And that’s a whole lot less than the very same child would earn if he had grown up, 50 miles away, in Fairfax County.

That one result — among data Chetty and Hendren have calculated for every county in America — marks a remarkable convergence this week of slow-going social science and current events. If young men in Baltimore who have been protesting for the last two weeks are lashing out at a long legacy of inherited disadvantage, they are also reacting to a reality today that empirical data now confirms: Baltimore is a terrible place to grow up as a poor black boy.”

2.) Chicago to Pay $5.5 Million in Reparations for Police Torture Victims (Rolling Stone)

“We’re the first municipality in the history of the country to make reparations for racialized police torture and violence, and I hope that other jurisdictions and other municipalities follow suit,” Mariame Kaba, founding director of Project NIA, an organization that helped push through the reparations, tells Rolling Stone. “It’s one thing to sue civilly for money and damages. It’s another thing to insist that people receive care for the trauma they’ve experienced. It’s another thing to insist that people get education and their kids benefit and grandkids benefit. It’s another thing to really focus on the importance of memorializing the harm done, the atrocities visited upon real people.”

3.) The Painful Price of Aging in Prison (Washington Post)

Also see: Older Prisoners, Higher Costs (The Marshall Project)

“Harsh sentencing policies, including mandatory minimums, continue to have lasting consequences for inmates and the nation’s prison system. Today, prisoners 50 and older represent the fastest-growing population in crowded federal correctional facilities, their ranks having swelled by 25 percent to nearly 31,000 from 2009 to 2013.”

4.) Are We Witnessing an Emergence of a Black Spring? (Ebony)

Equal Justice Society board vice chair Priscilla Ocen co-authored this must-read piece on the emergence of a ‪#‎BlackSpring‬

“The description of the Arab Spring could just as easily apply to the mobilizations in the United States, in Ferguson, in New York and now in Baltimore. The similarities between these movements have not escaped the notice of many activists in the United States, as they see the connections between the conditions they confront in poor Black neighborhoods, the eruption of protests in American cities, and the resistance efforts of peoples in the Arab World. For these activists, the protest movements in places like Baltimore signal the rise of a “Black Spring,” a kindred movement spurred by many of the same structural symptoms and subhuman conditions that ignited the popular protests in the Arab World.

5.) Inquiry to Examine Racial Bias in the San Francisco Police (New York Times)

Time to investigate…
“Blacks make up about 5% of the city’s population, but account for half of its inmates and more than 60% of the children in juvenile detention.”

6.) Clinton on incarceration: ‘We cast too wide a net’ (KRGV)

‘Clinton signed into law an omnibus crime bill in 1994 that included the federal “three strikes” provision, mandating life sentences for criminals convicted of a violent felony after two or more prior convictions, including drug crimes. On Wednesday, Clinton acknowledged that policy’s role in over-incarceration in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.”

For Mother’s Day

+1) What It’s Like to Visit Your Mom in Prison on Mother’s Day (Mother Jones)

+1) The New Mothers in Bedford Hills (The Marshall Project)

+1) Ella Baker Center Mama’s Day 2015

Audio of the week) #BlackLivesMatter: Alicia Garza on the Origins of a Movement (RadioProject.org)

“Black Lives Matter. This simple phrase has become the motto of a growing movement calling for true justice and equalty for black people. Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, first typed out those three words back in 2013. In March of 2015, Alicia Garza visited the University of Southern Maine to tell the story of how Black Lives Matter came to be, and express her hopes for where it’s headed. We hear her speech.”

Report of the week) TURNING ON THE TAP: How Returning Access to Tuition Assistance for Incarcerated People Improves the Health of New Yorkers (forthcoming May 12th)

Quote of the week) “Mass incarceration is ahistorical, criminogenic, inefficient, and racist,” Paul Butler, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center from The Milwaukee Experiment (The New Yorker)

Image of the week)

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#BlackLivesMatter #BlackSpring

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.

Why the Teacher’s Protection Act is Deadly to Students

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This blog was written by R&R’s Spring Legal Fellow Dominik Taylor. He will be writing more articles about issues of criminal justice over the next few months. In May 2015, Dominik will be leaving us to begin a two-year Fellowship with the incredible Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.

In Texas, teachers are permitted to carry guns in the classroom. This has been the case since 2012, when, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, Texas passed a law allowing for school employees to carry firearms on campus.[1] But the recently proposed Texas H.B. 868, entitled the Teacher’s Protection Act,[2] would go one step further and allow Texas teachers to use deadly force to kill a “threating” student.[3] H.B. 868, proposed by Rep Dan Flynn (R), would provide educators with civil immunity and “a defense to prosecution” should they use force or deadly force to protect themselves, students of their school, or even school property.[4] If enacted, H.B. 868, could lead to a variety of frightening consequences (i.e. sending the message that school property is more valuable than the lives of the school’s students). Given the biases and prejudices of the world we live in, the existence of “zero tolerance” policies in many schools across the country, combined with the chances of human error, this bill could prove deadly for students, especially students of color.

What are the different factors that could come together to prove deadly here?

(1) The school to prison-pipeline.

The school-to-prison pipeline refers to policies and practices that push schoolchildren—especially poor students of color—out of the classroom and into the juvenile and criminal justice system.[5] Underfunded and underperforming schools who face budget cuts,[6] the pressure of standardized testing,[7] and public concern following several highly-publicized school shootings,[8] have resorted to “zero-tolerance polices” that automatically impose severe punishment regardless of the circumstances. A 2014 study from the Department of Education observed that black students are expelled at a rate three times higher than that of white students.[9] Black students account for 46% of students suspended more than one time.[10] While black students only represent 16% of students enrolled in American public schools, they represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement, and 31% of students subjected to school-related arrests.[11] According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the ACLU, “Overly harsh disciplinary policies push students down the pipeline and into the juvenile justice system. Suspended and expelled children are often left unsupervised and without constructive activities; they also can easily fall behind in their coursework, leading to a greater likelihood of disengagement and drop-outs. All of these factors increase the likelihood of court involvement.”[12]

(2) Zero Tolerance Policies

Students of color are disproportionately impacted by zero-tolerance policies, policies that dictate that schools expel any student who is perceived to cause trouble. The result of these policies is that these “troubled students”—disproportionately students of color (more on that below)—are sent straight into the criminal justice system—so that they are no longer a burden to the school. This happens every day in our country, even though many intermediary and more holistic steps could be taken to help these students.[13]

(3) Implicit Bias

“Implicit bias” is defined as the mental process that causes us to have negative feelings and attitudes about people based off characteristic like, race, ethnicity, age, and appearance.[14] As noted by Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, “In the general population, implicit racial bias often supports the stereotypical caricature of Black youth—especially males—as irresponsible, dishonest, and dangerous. In an ideal world, teachers and school administrators would be immune to these unconscious negative attitudes and predispositions about race. But, of course, they are not.”[15]

(4) H.B. 868.

Back to H.B. 868. When you take this bill, allowing for the use of deadly force and leaving much to a teacher’s discretion, and combine it with zero tolerance policies and implicit bias, it is clear that it puts students of color at risk of punishment by physical violence or death. Instead of school-to-prison pipeline, you might see one that is school-to-grave.

To demonstrate the devastating, and potentially deadly, consequences that H.B. 868 would have if enacted, let’s consider the recent vandalism of a Texas high school. On the evening of September 6, 2014, Lake Travis High, in Lake Travis, Texas was vandalized.[16] According to the local news, offensive words and pictures were spray-painted on the school’s entrance and windows were broken.[17] At the time of the vandalism, the Lake Travis High administration believed the culprits to be “two young men and a young woman.”[18]

Now, if H.B. 868 was the law on September 6, 2014, then one of Travis High’s teachers would legally be allowed to use reasonable force to defend the school from vandalism.

Picture this: a teacher is working late grading tests, when he looks out the window of his classroom. The teacher witnesses three teenagers (likely high school students) standing outside a school window. One of the teens throws something through the window and shatters it. If H.B. 868, were the law, it would allow that teacher to approach the teens and use reasonable force to protect the school’s property (i.e. to prevent the teens from breaking a school window).

Now picture this: the teacher decides to go outside to approach the teens. As the teacher gets closer, he notices that the teens are each carrying long, dark objects in their hands. The teacher is carrying a concealed firearm, as he is allowed to do under Texas law. But the teacher still feels threatened because he is outnumbered and the kids are holding dark objects.

As the teacher approaches, one of the teens holds up the dark object. The teacher then reaches for his firearm and fatally shoots the teen. As the shot teen lays on the ground, the other two teens run away. The teacher approaches the first kid, who is now lying on the ground, shot and dying. It is then that the teacher realizes that the dark object that the kid was holding was a can of spray paint. Would H.B. 868 grant the teacher a valid legal defense to shooting and killing a kid who was armed with a can of spray paint? The answer certainly appears to be “yes.”

What’s most ironic (or maybe not ironic at all), is that support for zero-tolerance policies largely stems from the passage of the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994, a piece of federal legislation that mandated that schools expel any students found with firearms, or lose federal funding.[19] The Gun Free Schools Act was designed to decrease violence in schools. But through the proliferation of zero-tolerance policies and the silent yet damning effects of unrecognized implicit bias,[20] and now H.B. 868, Texas schoolchildren—particularly students of color—still face the spectre of gun violence. Only now it’s teachers carrying the guns. And those teachers may soon have a statutory legal defense and civil immunity from punishment or liability for killing a student.

[1] http://www.wsj.com/articles/more-texas-schools-allow-armed-employees1408986620 (paywall)

[2] http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/01/texas-teachers-could-be-allowed-to-gun-down-students-to-protect-school-property/

[3] http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:BEJae18IIr8J:ftp://ftp.legis.state.tx.us/bills/84R/billtext/html/house_bills/HB00800_HB00899/HB00868I.htm&hl=en&gl=us&strip=1

[4] http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:BEJae18IIr8J:ftp://ftp.legis.state.tx.us/bills/84R/billtext/html/house_bills/HB00800_HB00899/HB00868I.htm&hl=en&gl=us&strip=1

[5] https://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/what-school-prison-pipeline

[6] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/26/texas-budget_n_3340949.html

[7] http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/02/texas-cant-change-the-nature-of-math-fox-guest-destroys-gov-abbott-for-rejecting-common-core/

[8] http://abc13.com/archive/8498652/

[9] http://ocrdata.ed.gov/Downloads/CRDC-School-Discipline-Snapshot.pdf

[10] http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-43-spring-2013/school-to-prison

[11] http://ocrdata.ed.gov/Downloads/CRDC-School-Discipline-Snapshot.pdf

[12] https://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/what-school-prison-pipeline citing http://www.otlcampaign.org/sites/default/files/resources/american-academy-pediatrics-suspensions-policy-statement.pdf

[13] http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/racial-disproportionality-in-school-discipline-implicit-bias-is-heavily-implicated/

[14] http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/racial-disproportionality-in-school-discipline-implicit-bias-is-heavily-implicated/

[15] http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/racial-disproportionality-in-school-discipline-implicit-bias-is-heavily-implicated/

[16] http://kxan.com/2014/09/08/vandals-strike-lake-travis-high-school-again/

[17] http://kxan.com/2014/09/08/vandals-strike-lake-travis-high-school-again/

[18] http://kxan.com/2014/09/08/vandals-strike-lake-travis-high-school-again/

[19] http://www.nbcnews.com/news/education/school-spirit-or-gang-signs-zero-tolerance-comes-under-fire-n41431

[20] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/11/science-of-racism-prejudice

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

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

Dear Readers,

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

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

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

The R&R Team

Learn How to Start a Ban the Box Campaign!

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

It’s here! 

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

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

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

Webinar Details:

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

Co-sponsors:

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

 

Reentry legal services change lives.

Last month, we wrote a blog post about a fantastic community resource in the South Bay: the San José State University (SJSU) Record Clearance Project. This clinic, led by Professor and Attorney Margaret (Peggy) Stevenson, engages undergraduate students to assist people in clearing their eligible criminal records. They do this by:

  • providing legal education about the dismissal process to potential clients;
  • preparing their clients’ petitions to the court, requesting dismissals and reductions of eligible convictions;
  • leading mock court hearings where people can practice talking to a judge about what a dismissal will mean to them in putting their lives back on track and seeking new opportunities, including better jobs and housing;
  • paying for all the court costs and fees associated with their clients’ cases for dismissal.

This week, the Record Clearance Project shared an INCREDIBLE VIDEO interviewing people in Elmwood Jail who have benefitted from the SJSU expungement clinic. The people interviewed in the video talk about how the expungement process has provided them with new opportunities and countless benefits in moving beyond their past. For example, several folks spoke about how the expungement process helped them find better jobs, access professional licenses that got their careers back on track, and find better housing. Many spoke from the heart about how getting their records dismissed gave them renewed self-confidence & self-love. This service gave people a second chance. See the video below:

Record Clearance Project 3/18/14 from John Kane on Vimeo.

As noted in the video, a judge can dismiss an eligible person’s criminal record “in the interests of justice.” This is a broad standard giving the judge a lot of discretion. This is exactly the type of situation where a lawyer and legal advocates are extremely important! If the judge has discretionary power, advocates can counsel their clients to tell their own story in the most impactful way possible and help advocate for a second chance with the client.

This video highlights the importance doing THIS WORK! And the importance of LEGAL ADVOCACY in reentry! It shows how reducing barriers in reentry, by providing legal services like expungements, changes lives and creates opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist. People who need reentry legal services have no legal right to an attorney, and there is no money for these services. Having nonprofit lawyers and volunteers engaged means that more and more people can overcome barriers in reentry and access opportunities to create the lives they dream and work hard for.

Thanks, SJSU Record Clearance Project and the people interviewed for this project, for sharing your work and incredible stories!

— The R & R Team