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

Meet the Center for Community Alternatives & Deputy Director Josefina Bastidas

Above, a CCA participant and her daughter

Above, a CCA participant and her daughter.

Root & Rebound had an incredible meeting in NYC a couple of weeks back with Josefina Bastidas, Esq., Deputy Director for the New York City offices at the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) in downtown Brooklyn. Immediately upon walking through their office doors, we felt and were treated like CCA family. During our visit, Josefina introduced us to some of CCA’s social work clinicians, attorneys, program and service directors, administrative support staff, and mentors. Every person greeted us with kindness and support. CCA’s positive work culture and community impact radiated from every person we met.

CCA promotes reintegrative justice and a reduced reliance on incarceration through advocacy, direct services, and public policy development in pursuit of civil and human rights. CCA works with people who would otherwise be incarcerated—men, women, and youth—and provides an alternative to incarceration. In an average year, CCA successfully diverts 400 people from more costly incarceration and provides reentry services to roughly 500 individuals; in doing so, CCA’s programs reduce the collateral consequences of incarceration, strengthen families, and build safer communities.

The way it works is that courts actually sentence people to CCA programs instead of prison or jail time.  CCA provides these clients with client-specific planning, addiction recovery and treatment, family reunification, educational planning support, workforce readiness, social support, and policy advocacy. Another benefit of diversion programs at CCA is that, for every person mandated to CCA instead of incarceration, New York State taxpayers save at least the $32,000 in annual state prison costs. Even more savings accrue through reducing time in local jails or juvenile justice placements, which cost more than twice the amount of state prison.

Josefina—who provides the leadership and oversight for all services provided out of CCA’s New York City office—has an amazing professional history. She received her law degree from Santa Maria University and was a District Judge in her birth country, Venezuela. But after coming to the United States, she was relegated professionally to the bottom of the legal professional totem pole. From Josefina’s drive to rebuild her legal career in the U.S., she received her Master of Laws Degree from Georgetown University Law Center. Josefina not only rebuilt her professional life in the United States, but has also made it her life’s work to help people whose lives have been impacted by the criminal justice system and mentor young people who care about social justice and criminal justice reform. She is nothing short of inspirational.

R & R discussed with Josefina the challenges of starting a reentry legal services nonprofit, and how Root & Rebound could learn from CCA to build the strongest foundation possible for its work. Josefina described the vision of the founders of CCA and the growth behind its reentry services model. Josefina’s biggest piece of advice was to pick one area of narrow focus and to build from there. For example, she cited CCA’s early focus on sentence mediation for people facing criminal convictions, which has since grown into a focus on all things related to alternatives to incarceration and reentry.

And there is still lots of innovation going on at CCA! As an example, CCA, in conjunction with the Vera Institute of Justice and other stakeholders, is developing a pilot program that partners with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to allow a small cohort of people with felony records to live with their family members in NYCHA housing upon release.

Currently, NYCHA has a rule in place that forbids people with a felony records from living in New York City’s public housing. These types of housing restrictions may increase the likelihood of recidivism, as a formerly incarcerated person may end up in less stable living environments or even homeless. But this pilot program will change all that. It will allow 150 individuals with felony records who have family living in NYCHA housing to live with that family upon release. The families that will be involved in this pilot program are those that welcome and desire their formerly incarcerated family member to live with them. Thus, NYCHA will forego its traditional rule that forbids people with felony records from living in public housing for these 150 people and their families. From there, CCA, The Vera Institute, NYCHA and other program leaders will monitor positive outcomes that flow from allowing these 150 individuals to live with their family members. There is hope that, one day, the success of this pilot program will lead NYCHA to remove its housing restriction against individuals with felony records. The pilot program hopes to show that families are perfectly capable of bringing a formerly incarcerated family member into their home, in turn improving that person’s likelihood for reintegration, stability, and success in society.

We were so inspired by our talk with Josefina, and her advice to build the strongest foundation possible for our organization so that we can continue to innovate in the world of criminal justice reform & reentry. From the bottoms of our hearts, from our deepest roots to our highest branches, Root & Rebound would like to thank Josefina and the CCA staff for welcoming us into their space in Brooklyn, sharing their work, and supporting our mission to support individuals exiting prison and jail in Northern California.

Onward!

– The R & R Team

Please take a moment to learn out more about CCA and support them here!

Weekend Reading: Lessons From European Prisons

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Comparison of German, Dutch, and American incarceration rates. Image from Vera Report, page. 7.

Hello again from chilly NYC!

We can’t wait to fill you in on some of the wonderful work we have learned about during our weeklong trip to this incredible city, where reentry work is thriving.

In the meantime, we thought we would leave you with some reentry-relevant weekend reading: A new report put out by the Vera Institute of Justice and the California Based Prison Law Office, Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands: Implications for the United States. The report describes the penal systems of the Netherlands and Germany, countries that incarcerate people at one-tenth the rate of the United States, for far less time, and under conditions geared toward social reintegration rather than punishment alone.

The New York Times publishes an Op-Ed yesterday about the report, in which they note that the “American and European systems differ in almost every imaginable way, beginning with their underlying rationale for incarceration. Under German law, the primary goal of prison is ‘to enable prisoners to lead a life of social responsibility free of crime upon release.’ Public safety is ensured not simply by separating offenders from society, but by successfully reintegrating them.”

The Times op-ed also observes a number of critical differences between the United States and these European nations; In the Netherlands and Germany, “inmates are given a remarkable level of control over their lives and their personal privacy” while in prison; “some wear their own clothes and prepare their own meals. They interact with staff trained not only in prison security, but in educational theory and conflict management.” Thus, they are far better prepared for life post-release and for reentry. Furthermore, the courts in these countries “rely heavily on alternatives to prison — including fines, probation and other community-service programs — and they impose much shorter sentences when there is no alternative to incarceration.While the average state prison term in the United States is about three years, more than 90 percent of Dutch sentences and 75 percent of German sentences are 12 months or less.” Notably for our work, “upon release, European inmates do not face the punitive consequences that American ex-prisoners do — from voting bans to restrictions on employment, housing and public assistance, all of which increase the likelihood of re-offending.”

The Times wisely notes that, as many states in the U.S. are reforming their draconian laws and systems of imprisonment, (for example Georgia, Colorado, Maine and Mississippi are all currently reforming solitary-confinement practices), these states should “rethink outdated assumptions” and “would be wise to pay close attention to European counterparts.”

We hope you also take a look at the NY Times article and the original report, and that it inspires you to learn even more about the American system of criminal justice as it compares to others less punitive but more effective, around the world.

Happy reading!

–The R & R Team