The Fortune Society News Of The Week — the week of May 3, 2016

Monday, May 2, 2016

A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.

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Watch Both Sides of the Bars: Exploring the Excessive Use of Solitary Confinement

On this episode of “Both Sides of the Bars,” host Ronald Day of the Fortune Society sits down with guests, Tyrell Muhammad and Victor Pate, to discuss the excessive use of solitary confinement and their efforts to change the guidelines for its use as punishment in New York State prisons.

Manhattan Neighborhood Network

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‘Ban the Box’ Goes to College

The long-running “Ban the Box” campaign is now gaining ground at colleges and universities. The movement aims to protect job, and now student, applicants from being asked about their criminal histories and was recently bolstered by President Obama, who is taking executive action to ban the practice at federal agencies. Campus officials say the background question helps them learn as much as possible about prospective students and allows them to take steps to keep everyone on campus safe. But opponents say the question—which requires prospective students to check a box if they have criminal histories—is an undue barrier that harms certain groups of students.

The Atlantic

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In Their Own Words: Former Prisoners on What They Need to Succeed

Through a series of events and announcements over the course of the week, the Obama administration aimed to highlight what is and isn’t working for the more than 600,000 people released from prison annually. Amid the week of speeches and program visits, TakePart spoke with Hamilton and Vilma Ortiz-Donovan, who spent six years in New York prisons, to find out what they think formerly incarcerated people need most.

Take Part

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The play’s the thing at the Fortune Society

Each formerly incarcerated person in the nonfiction play “The Castle II” seems to find a way back to functional citizenship in the same way: confronting their own true self.

“It was me. I needed me,” Vilma Ortiz Donovan told the Chronicle.

“I would look in the mirror and not see myself,” she said.

Queens Chronicle

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Festival tackles homelessness, housing access through plays based on actors’ real struggles

A set of plays next month are aiming to tackle some of the largest issues plaguing New York City residents and — through the art of theatre — help bring about some changes.

The Theatre of the Oppressed NYC (TONYC) is holding its Fourth Annual Legislative Theatre Festivalon May 4 and 5 where the issues of homelessness and affordable housing will be seen through the eyes of those who experience it on a daily basis.

Metro

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HUD Guidance Says Blanket Criminal History Bans Violate Fair Housing Act, Supporting Firm’s Claims in Fortune Society Litigation

On April 4, 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued new guidance stating that blanket bans on applicants with criminal histories likely violate the Fair Housing Act. Without an individualized assessment of each applicant’s circumstances, HUD says that such bans are likely to have a harsher, unjustified effect on people of color, who are more likely to have come into contact with the criminal justice system. The HUD guidance also makes clear that landlords cannot use mere arrests to deny applications.

Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC

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New Yorkers with outstanding warrants for minor crimes can wipe records clean at Grand Street Settlement event

New Yorkers with open warrants for minor crimes will get another chance to wipe their records clean, officials announced Monday.

The April 30 event at the Grand Street Settlement is designed to help people from all five boroughs resolve outstanding warrants for low-level charges that include marijuana possession, disorderly conduct, public urination and littering.

Daily News

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De Blasio Budget Will Triple Mental Health Units on Rikers Island

The expansion of the program comes amid increased attention on conditions at Rikers Island, particularly for the 40 percent of inmates there who are classified as mentally ill. The units, dubbed PACE—or Program to Accelerate Clinical Effectiveness—serve inmates with “serious mental health issues”a nd are staffed by both Department of Correction employees and clinical staff like nurses from NYC Health + Hospitals, which recently took over city correctional health services.

Observer

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Can a Notorious New York City Jail Be Closed?

Rikers is every jail and every jail is Rikers. While Rikers definitely stands out as one of the long standing notorious large institutions that has really turned out a tremendous amount of human carnage over the last few decades, the fact of the matter is that there are many components of Rikers that are reflected in jails across this country where over eleven million people cycle through those jails each year. So, why Rikers? Because it is here in our backyard. As an organization with a very ambitious goal, we can’t imagine doing this work around the country without making a statement about our work right here in our backyard.

The Atlantic

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New Recommendations Released – Call for Fair Treatment for the Formerly Incarcerated

Today, CSH and 16 community partners released a set of recommendations to the New York City Supportive Housing Task Force focused squarely on the overwhelming need to ensure supportive housing for persons with criminal justice histories.

People reentering our communities from incarceration have been shortchanged in every New York State and City supportive housing agreement to date. In the face of incredible barriers, many who have served their time are confronted with a second punishment when they attempt to begin new lives but are denied access to affordable housing and the services they desperately need to stabilize.

The Source For Housing Solutions

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Jury Acquits Sing Sing Guard Seen on Video Beating Inmate

Officer Thomas was acquitted despite testimony from Michael Capra, the Sing Sing superintendent, who told the jury that the guard’s violent response was “absolutely not” justifiable. “We don’t strike anybody in the face because we think he’s going to spit,” said Mr. Capra, who had reported the May 6, 2015, episode to the internal affairs unit of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

New York Times

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Severe staffing shortages grind courts to a halt

The state court system in New York City is operating at only “70 percent” of capacity and is down 250 officers and 250 clerks, charges Dennis Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association.

“There are judges who could be working who aren’t working, and it’s the public that’s getting [cheated],” Quirk said.

New York Post

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Letter From the Bronx: The Defenders

Morales’s experience is common in New York, and more common still in the Bronx. Kierra was one of more than ten thousand children placed in foster care, almost all after suspicion of parental neglect—a catchall term that includes everything from excessive corporal punishment to missing doctor appointments. Morales’s poverty was her vulnerability: living in public housing subjects a resident to twenty-four-hour surveillance and automatic eviction after being charged with even low-level crimes.

The Awl

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Human face of mass incarceration gets close-up at Tribeca

At a time when criminal justice reform has gained national attention and bipartisan support from even the leading candidates for president, a handful of documentaries at the Tribeca Film Festival are giving a close-up to the human cost of mass incarceration.

The films pursue the issue in numerous directions, from the conditions of solitary confinement to the difficult re-entry to society ex-convicts face. But they’re united in depicting a system that’s dehumanizing and destructive for all who enter it.

Associated Press

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In His Own Words: Governor Terry McAuliffe on Restoring the Rights of 206,000 Virginians

Some have suggested this action was politically motivated, or that it is wrong to restore the rights of felons who have committed more serious crimes, even if they have served their sentences. I would encourage those critics to meet with some of the men and women whose rights we have restored throughout my term. Who have reentered society seeking a second chance and who have waited years, sometimes decades, to become whole members of our society again. And who have broken down in tears as I signed their restorations on “the best day of their lives.”

Medium

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The Voting Effect of Virginia’s Move on Felons? Small but Potentially Decisive

But the electoral effect of felon re-enfranchisement is likely to be modest. The best-case scenario for Democrats might be that they improve their popular vote margin by a half-point. That’s a big deal, but only in a close election.

The reason is deceptively straightforward. Ex-felons are less likely to vote than nonfelons, even when ex-felons are eligible to vote.

New York Times

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Education Department Announces New Tools to Support Successful Reentry for Formerly Incarcerated Youth and Adults

The U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, announced today $5.7 million in new grants aimed at improving outcomes for students who have been involved in the criminal justice system. The Department also released a new toolkit providing guidance to educators and others to support a successful reentry system for formerly incarcerated youth and adults.

U.S. Department of Education

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Obama Administration Seeks to Curb Inmates’ Return to Prison

She laid out steps to address the problem, including a push for states to allow newly released federal inmates to trade their prisoner identifications for a state-issued ID.

But the plan included little new funding, with $1.75 million in federal grants spread among 18 housing and community service programs nationwide to help incarcerated juveniles find jobs and housing once they are released.

New York Times

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Obama’s advisers just revealed an unconventional solution to mass incarceration

In the report, the CEA argues for a broader analysis of the problems of crime and incarceration, touching on subjects that seem unrelated to criminal justice, such as early childhood education and health care. The authors of the report contend that by helping people get by legally, those other elements of the president’s agenda would be more effective in reducing crime than incarceration.

Washington Post

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Conservatives, White House agree: U.S. criminal justice system does not pay off

The Obama administration, with the help of some prominent conservatives, is mounting a full-court press this week to push the case to rework the nation’s criminal justice system. The argument: too many people are in prison at great economic and human cost to the United States.

Market Watch

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Obama previews new criminal justice reforms on prisoner re-entry

The Department of Justice (DOJ) will be taking new actions to facilitate the re-entry of former prisoners into society, President Obama announced in a videoreleased Saturday.

The DOJ is focusing specifically on building up “strong re-entry programs” and showing how they can “make communities safer,” according to the president.

CBS News

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The attorney general’s new mission: Helping prisoners get IDs when they’re released

It might seem like a nuisance, but not having identification can have significant, real world consequences for those struggling to build a life outside of confinement. An ID is often necessary to secure a job or a place to live, to register for school or to open a bank account. And, according to the attorney general, it’s not always to easy for prisoners in the federal system to get state identification after they are released.

Washington Post

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US to states: Make it easier for ex-prisoners to obtain IDs

States should make it easier for convicted felons to obtain state-issued identification after they get out of prison, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Monday in announcing a set of measures aimed at helping smooth the return to society for the hundreds of thousands of inmates released each year.

The Inquirer

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Compromise struck on criminal justice reform

Top senators who have been quietly revising a controversial overhaul of criminal justice laws unveiled their reworked compromise on Thursday that they believe addresses conservative criticisms that could have derailed the bill in the Senate.

Influential Senate Democrats and Republicans held a news conference trumpeting the changes and to try and show a renewed sense of momentum behind the long-stalled legislation that tries to ease mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders.

Politico

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One Last Push In Congress To Change Punishment For Drug Crimes This Year

A bipartisan group of senators has unveiled a new compromise plan to overhaul the way drug criminals are punished, making one last push for legislative reform before the presidential election all but forecloses action on Capitol Hill.

At a news conference Thursday, one of the plan’s biggest supporters, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., proclaimed, “This is the best chance in a generation to reform our federal drug sentencing law.”

NPR

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Nurses thrust into guard duty at federal prisons

One former health service nurse reported weekly assignments away from medical duties to monitor recordings of inmate telephone calls and other communications to flag potential threats. Another PHS officer said the physical therapy program at one institution was temporarily shuttered because of the reassignments and other staffing shortages.

USA Today

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6×9: A Virtual Experience of Solitary Confinement

What’s it like to spend 23 hours a day in a cell measuring 6×9 feet for days, weeks, months or even years? 6×9 is the Guardian’s first virtual reality experience, which places you inside a US solitary confinement prison cell and tells the story of the psychological damage that can ensue from isolation.

The Guardian

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‘You start seeing figures in the paint chips’: recollections of life in solitary confinement

I had a fly in my cell one day and he was there and I am like ‘hey man, what’s going on man’, you know, talking to him. At first I spent the entire day trying to kill him, which became an activity and then we started playing tag right. And I got frustrated so I laid down and he lands on my shoulder so I am like ‘oh, are you playing tag right?’ So then I go to catch him. Then I didn’t want him to leave my cell so I tried to plug up my door so he couldn’t get out and they pulled me out for a search and he was gone. I got emotional you know, the fly in my cell, you know.

The Guardian

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What I Told the Attorney General and the HUD Secretary About My Criminal Record

Today, as part of the Department of Justice’s inaugural National Reentry Week, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro visited Philadelphia to hear how brushes with the criminal justice system have stood in the way of employment, housing, and more—and how people have persevered.

Here are three stories told to Attorney General Lynch and Secretary Castro—they are representative of the experiences of millions of Americans held back by a criminal record.

Talk Poverty

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Madness

Julie Jones, the current D.O.C. secretary, has promised to change the culture of Florida’s prisons. A few months after taking office, she issued a “statement on retaliation,” in which she vowed that no employee “who comes forward with an issue of concern would face retaliation.” On the wall of the main administrative building at Dade, I spotted a framed copy of the statement. A few months earlier, however, Jones had circulated a memo requiring all D.O.C. inspectors to sign confidentiality agreements about any investigations they conducted. Some employees viewed this as the equivalent of a gag order.

The New Yorker

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How I Break Prison Rules to Keep in Touch with My Family

As someone who has been in prison for a long time, I’ve learned how to get around the fact that we don’t have enough money to speak to each other. Sometimes I find a sympathetic guard and tell him everything I’m going through — how I’m trying to stay in touch with my family, and how hard it is. And sometimes that guard will go out and buy me a cheap, prepaid cell phone on his day off. He’ll have it activated and bring it into the prison, usually inside his lunch. Then he’ll give it to me when the time is right.

The Marshall Project

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Schapiro: McAuliffe uses executive power to paint Virginia blue

The governor’s surprise announcement has Republicans seeing red — not just the partisan color-code variety — and is certain to make Virginia’s already-bitter politics more so. It is elevating a civics-book topic — the breadth of executive prerogative to reinstate the responsibilities of citizenship — as a major issue in the 2017 election to choose McAuliffe’s successor.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

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Republican Leaders Throw Weight Behind Prison Reform

“This is the Republican Party coming together and saying criminal justice reform is an issue that needs to be addressed, and I think it’s sending a message that the RNC wants to make certain Congress has this as one of its top priorities,” said Telly Lovelace, the Republican National Committee’s director for urban media.

The Daily Signal

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Do Felons Make Good Employees?

Employers often rule out applicants with felony convictions. Data show when the military made an exception and allowed people with felony convictions to enlist, they performed better than their peers.

NPR

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Immigrants Are Dying In Detention While ICE Ignores Its Own Medical Standards

In three-quarters of deaths attributed to substandard medical care, the victims were held in for-profit prisons. Their deaths are tragic proof that profit motives have perverse and harmful effects on our judicial system. Corporations have built a business model out of detaining as many people as they can for as long as possible. Desperate men, women and children fleeing poverty and violence in places like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are their unsuspecting prey. As Seth Freed Wessler documented in The Nation earlier this year, medical neglect was also likely a factor in many deaths at the privately run facilities the Bureau of Prisons uses to house immigrants caught crossing the border after deportation.

The Nation

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The Other F-word: What we call the imprisoned matters

Likewise, words that not long ago were used without qualms may come to be regarded as demeaning: “colored,” “illegals.” “Felon,” which makes the person synonymous with the crime, is such a word. Likewise “convict.” I’m less troubled by words that describe a temporary status without the suggestion of irredeemable wickedness — “inmate” and “prisoner” and “ex-offender” — but ask me again a year from now.

The Marshall Project

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The Racist Roots of Virginia’s Felon Disenfranchisement

Last Friday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to more than 200,000 people with previous felony convictions. It’s a momentous stroke in both scope and effect; with an eye towards the 2016 races, The New York Times estimated its electoral impact as “small but potentially decisive.” But the significance of McAuliffe’s efforts goes far beyond a single election. It instead marks an exorcism for one of Jim Crow’s last vestiges in Virginia’s state charter—and a reminder of how many of its legal aftereffects still linger today.

The Atlantic

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Women and prison — the cost in money and lives (By Hillary Clinton)

But women aren’t the only ones affected when they are sent to prison. The high number of women in prison — and the long lengths of their sentences — destabilizes families and communities, especially their children. Since 1991, the number of children with a mother in prison has more than doubled. Mothers in prison are five times more likely than fathers in prison to have to put their children in foster care while they serve their sentences.

CNN

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Prisons Are Using Military-Grade Tear Gas to Punish People

“They started out by using MK9, which is a form of pepper spray. They put a fogger attachment on it, to pipe it into the cell. Then they used a mixture of OC and CS. Then they fired beanbag rounds into the locked cell with a shotgun. Then they upped it to Sting-Ball grenades. They threw two grenades into the cell—a cell that’s approximately 80 square feet. They did all of this back to back to back, without stopping. And then they go in and they use physical force, and they put him in a restraint chair for eight hours.”

The Nation

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When Parents Are in Prison, Children Suffer

The Casey Foundation points to research showing that children with an incarcerated parent tend to move frequently, and their family income drops when a parent, particularly a father, is incarcerated. The parent left behind, or the family member who steps in to care for a child, faces reduced earning potential and difficulties finding child care, even as debts and expenses associated with court and legal fees mount.

New York Times

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Wrecking families to fill our prisons

It’s easy to shrug our shoulders at these numbers and say, “Once a criminal, always a criminal,” but as the prisoner count continues to spiral ever upward, it becomes more likely that someone you care about will become ensnared in the broken system.

And that’s no surprise. Our criminal code has gotten much too complicated. In 2009, Harvey Silverglate published the seminal book on the consequences of our over-criminalizing legal culture, suggesting Americans unknowingly commit three felonies a day.

New York Post

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Children left behind

Every day in America, 5 million children wake up without hearing “Good morning” from a parent. Why? Because their mom or dad is among the 2.2 million incarcerated in our state and federal prisons. If you add in the 11.4 million who cycle through local jails each year, it is clear that too many children are living lives interrupted.

American Enterprise Institute

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The Crippling Effect of Incarceration on Wealth

Once an individual is incarcerated, they often lose what little wealth they have and are left with little to no wealth accumulation. Once released, that individual may make gains in wealth accumulation, but they will always remain at significantly lower levels of wealth compared to those who are never incarcerated in their lifetime.

Prison Policy Initiative

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Why Released Felons Should Be Allowed to Vote

The chief result of disenfranchising former inmates is to discourage them from changing their ways and fully integrating into society. The people likely to be obstructed from voting are not the incorrigible criminals but the reformed ones. They get jobs, pay taxes and keep their noses clean—the sort of behavior that Republicans, as well as Democrats, should want to encourage.

Reason.com

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Some Crimes Can Be Forgotten

Yes, the First Amendment is understood to create a presumptive right of access to certain judicial proceedings, and criminal court records should not be sealed without good reason. But in the U.S., both sealing and expungement have a long history — expungement reaches back at least 50 years. Given the states’ strong interest in preventing severe damage to people’s lives, the constitutional objection to expunging long-ago nonviolent transgressions is weak.

Bloomberg View

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Unlicensed & Untapped: Removing Barriers To State Occupational Licenses For People With Records

Passing a criminal background check is a common requirement to obtain a state license. In fact, the American Bar Association’s inventory of penalties against those with a record has documented 27,254 state occupational licensing restrictions.[vii] Thousands of these restrictions vary widely among states and professions. And because the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color, these extrajudicial penalties—known as “collateral consequences”[viii]— perpetuate racial disparities in employment.

National Employment Law Project

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How License-Plate Readers Have Helped Police and Lenders Target the Poor

Police, too, have used license-plate readers heavily in low-income areas. The Electronic Frontier Foundation submitted a request in 2014 for information about the Oakland Police Department’s use of license-plate readers. When the advocacy organization analyzed the data it got back, it found that the readers were deployed disproportionately often in low-income areas and in neighborhoods with high concentrations of African-American and Latino residents.

The Atlantic

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A Snapshot of the U.S. Prison System’s Racial Realities

This short excerpt from the forthcoming documentary, In an Ideal World, follows three men in California’s Soledad State Prison. The film was shot over the course of seven years, and highlights what has become an institutionalized system largely based on ethnic solidarity. The men in the film have learned how to navigate prison’s complex, violent and deeply entrenched, racially divided culture—yet there is increasing pressure from courts to integrate and move beyond these realities. The full-length film will premiere on WORLD Channel on April 26, 2016, as a part of the AMERICA REFRAMED series. The film will also be available to stream online for 30 days following the broadcast.

The Atlantic

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A compassionate judge sentences a veteran to 24 hours in jail, then joins him behind bars

As Serna sat down on the cot in his cell, WRAL reported, he heard the door rattle open again and saw Olivera standing before him. Olivera sat down beside him. Someone came and locked the door.

“This was a one-man cell so we sat on the bunk and I said, ‘You are here for the entire time with me?’” Serna told WTVD. “He said, ‘Yeah that’s what I am doing.’”

Washington Post

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Parents in prison: How to help US children?

“As the US prison population surged during the past several decades, so too did the number of children and families experiencing the consequences of having a loved one incarcerated,” the report states. “Children need stability and support to minimize the impact of incarceration on their lives, which requires families and communities equipped to properly care for them, as well as parents prepared to provide for them and contribute to their communities upon release.”

Christian Science Monitor

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How States Can Help 5 Million Kids With A Parent Behind Bars

A kid shouldn’t suffer the same sentence that their parents are suffering,” Spencer said. “These are children. What is their future going to be like?”

Here are four steps from the Casey report that states can do to support kids with a parent behind bars.

Huffington Post

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Help ex-inmates lead productive lives

Unsurprisingly, exiting the prison gates becomes a daunting journey for most of the formerly incarcerated. Men and women, many who return to children they left behind, have lost their social support systems, any legitimate work they may have had, and in too many cases, are deeply in debt with legal and child support fees.

To help these returning citizens on their path back to productive and full lives, we must do more. Local, state and federal agencies spend just a tiny fraction of their criminal justice budgets on resources that empower the formerly incarcerated.

CNN

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Economic Perspectives on the Criminal Justice System

This is “re-entry week,” which means we’re supposed to focus on how prisoners can successfully transition from life behind bars to a life in civil society. More than 600,000 prisoners are released each year and over 70 percent of those prisoners are re-arrested within 5 years of release. A businessperson and an economist might say that the system has a failure rate of 70 percent. If we could find a way to reverse those numbers–so that less than 30 percent of the prisoners would be re-arrested following release–economists would say we have a superior system (if all other variables remained constant).

Cato Institute

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Marcia Morey: When traffic court becomes debtors’ prison

When I became a judge in 1999, court costs were $81. Today it is $180. The cost, set by the legislature, has more than doubled in 17 years, resulting in more people incarcerated because of poverty.

Justice is about fairness and following the law, but it should never be measured by the thickness of a person’s wallet.

News Observer

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Five hidden costs of being incarcerated

In a swath of jurisdictions, large and small, charges against inmates are extended to include those bills associated with their confinement, with wages garnished to cover fines or bills provided after the fact. It’s a debt that follows people back into the world and reappears when they return to prison.

Here are five corners where correctional institutions can cutback on their expenses by passing the bill onto “consumers.”

Muckrock

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Public Face of US Re-Entry Effort Speaks From Own Experience

Atkinson, 45, is responsible for advising a federal re-entry council that represents more than 20 federal agencies and develops strategies for helping ex-convicts restart their lives. In working to remove common hurdles faced by felons, he says he’s committed to identifying people who, like him, found success after prison and he hopes to feature their collective experiences in an online digital “story bank.”

ABC News

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Finding The Way Home: The Challenge of Reentry

The beleaguered prisoner reentry effort is getting some help from the nonprofit sector. Today, Project New Opportunity was announced by an organization called the Center for Community Alternatives, with funding from the Open Society Foundations. The program is aimed at assisting a few of the thousands of inmates who were charged with drug violations and are being released by order of the U.S. Sentencing Commission under revised guidelines approved in 2014.

The Crime Report

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State court rules prisoners can’t be punished for hunger strike

A state appeals court says a California prisoner who took part in a mass hunger strike protesting long-term solitary confinement should not have been punished for disorderly behavior because he did not disrupt prison operations or endanger anyone.

Although the 2013 hunger strike, which involved as many as 30,000 inmates across the state, may have affected the workload of prison staff members, there was no evidence of “a breakdown of order” or any threat of violence, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco said in the case of a former inmate at Pelican Bay State Prison.

San Francisco Gate

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Process to restore felon voting rights to be streamlined

Thousands of Iowa felons will have an easier time applying to win back their voting rights after changes to the application form were announced Wednesday.

But civil liberties advocates portrayed the change as a small improvement to a policy that will continue to keep ex-offenders out of Iowa voting booths unless it’s completely overhauled.

Des Moines Register

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Assistant sheriff credited with curtailing the worst abuses in L.A. County jails is leaving

Three years later, McDonald, 52, is stepping down, having presided over a period of seismic change in the county jails.

In a department where jailers were accused of adopting an “us versus them” attitude, McDonald brought a gentler approach, taking time to chat with inmates about their concerns. She sought to revamp a culture in which deputies viewed the jails as an unsavory assignment before moving to patrol.

LA Times

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Bill would let free hundreds of drug offenders

Hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders in Iowa prisons would be released under a proposal supported by the state’s attorney general, who said the move would not threaten public safety.

“We think that some of (the drug offenders) can safely be released,” Iowa’s attorney general, Tom Miller, a Democrat, said. “We also think that we could save some money. If it’s done right, the public will be just as safe as they are today.”

Des Moines Register

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Justice reform bill would reduce minorities behind bars

Legislation aimed at reforming criminal sentencing laws for low-risk inmates convicted of drug crimes and providing more flexibility for robbery cases was approved by the Iowa House and Senate on Wednesday.

House File 2064, which was sent to Gov. Terry Branstad, is expected to help reduce the number of Iowa minorities behind bars, particularly African-Americans, said Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, chairman of the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee. African-Americans constitute about 25 percent of Iowa’s prison population, while they comprise only 3.3 percent of the state’s overall population.

Des Moines Register

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This jail is so troubled that prisoners are hurting themselves to get away from it

The way the Justice Department tells it, conditions at the jail in Orleans Parish, La., are so bad that inmates are hurting themselves in hopes of getting transferred. Violence has spiraled “out of control” — in just the first 11 weeks of this year, there were 114 prisoner-on-prisoner fights and 12 assaults on staff — and there are no suicide-resistant cells or other necessary safeguards for those on suicide watch.

Washington Post

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Cook County jail guard beats prisoner on ground but keeps job

Recently obtained footage from a surveillance camera inside Cook County Jail shows a burly guard repeatedly punching and kicking a prisoner in the head, even after the prisoner is knocked to the ground and curls up on the floor.

But nearly three years after the incident, the officer, Branden Norise, is still on the job, with a taxpayer-funded salary of $57,000 a year.

Chicago Sun Times

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Alabama Inmate: Prisoners stab each other weekly

St. Clair is in a state of chaos where correctional officers and prisoners co-exist in an uneasy truce and no one is really in control. Prisoners stab each other weekly and assaults and robberies happen every day, often going unreported. Several officers have been stabbed here in the last year and one of them was badly wounded this month.

AL.com

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A Department of Corrections investigation found employees lied and falsified records

Department of Corrections employees lied about conducting security rounds and falsified records involving the suicides of two Arizona inmates – one of whom died during a nearly three-hour time period when prison video shows no regular or required checks were done at all, according to a Cronkite News review of DOC documents.

Cronkite News

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Prison Officials Quietly Move To Extend An Out-Of-State Contract

The resulting contract, which takes effect July 1, would allow Hawaii’s longstanding mainland prison operation — first begun in 1995 as a “short-term solution to chronic overcrowding” — to remain in place for at least three more years, with options for two one-year extensions.

Honolulu Civil Beat

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Missouri, raise the age

The noted “tough on crime” criminologist John Dilulio once commented that “Jailing youth with adult felons under Spartan conditions will merely produce more street gladiators.”

Missouri should heed Dilulio’s caution against locking up young petty criminals alongside violent adult criminals. The Show-Me State is one of only nine states that prosecutes 17-year-olds as adults, often for the most minor of crimes (stealing a candy bar, for instance).

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Inside A Georgia Immigration Court, One Man Fights To Stay With His Family

Thousands of immigration cases are heard every year in Lumpkin, Ga., where more than 97 percent of immigrants lose their cases and get deported. There are no working immigration lawyers in Lumpkin. Cell phone service drops off when you get into town.

Welcome to the city of Lumpkin.

NPR

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Ky. children have highest percent of jailed parents in the U.S.

An estimated 135,000 children in Kentucky have had a parent incarcerated, according to a Kids Count policy report released Monday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

That amounts to about 13 percent of Kentucky’s children who have had an incarcerated parent, nearly double the national average of 7 percent and the highest percentage in the nation, Kentucky Youth Advocates officials said in a news release.

Lexington Herald Leader

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10 percent of Michigan kids have parents in prison

Some 228,000 children — one out of 10 — have had a parent incarcerated, according to Kids Count in its report “A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration of Kids, Families and Communities.”

Michigan ranked fifth in the number of kids affected in 2011-12, the latest figures available. California was first with 503,000, followed by Texas, Florida and Ohio.

Detroit News

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Unlocking Potential

MSCOR, based in the south Memphis neighborhood of Soulsville, consolidates an array of supports in one place. “Returning citizens,” assigned to a case manager, can get help with housing, transportation, health care, education and job training. Christ Community Health Services operates a mobile clinic one afternoon a month, monitoring clients’ weight and blood pressure and helping them manage medical concerns.

Voice of America

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Voting rights for all

Take Etta Myers, a 62-year-old African American woman from Baltimore, who served 36 years for a wrongful conviction. This year, she will vote for the first time in her life. When asked about the upcoming election, she said she longed “to take part in our democracy and make my voice heard.”

Nationally, almost 6 million Americans are barred from voting due to laws that prohibit past offenders from voting, which have been condemned as having “no discernible legitimate purpose.”

Baltimore Sun

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Prisoners shouldn’t face a ‘second sentence’ when they’re released

As Alabama undertakes to reform its overcrowded prison system, it is more important than ever that we build and promote services that give ex-offenders the tools to turn their lives around. We must provide comprehensive programs in the core areas of housing, education, transportation, job access and training, health and rehabilitation, and community reintegration and support.

AL.com

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Mississippi lawmakers: Alabama’s mega-prison bill won’t fix problem

While it is still too soon to accurately assess the impacts of the legislation (it has only been in effect for three months), Mississippi’s experience suggests that it will alleviate the budget costs and burdens on Alabama families as well. Alabama is on its way to fixing a part of its very broken criminal justice system—or so it seemed. This week, a committee approved an $800 million bond for a prison construction project to build four new mega-prisons, proposed by Governor Bentley.

AL.com

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This Ex-Con Is Helping Inmates Navigate the Broken US System for Reentering Society

Porter, 47, was granted early parole in 2001, and he has devoted his life after prison to helping other ex-cons reintegrate into society after they are released. A program support specialist at the federal probation office in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, he runs a high-intensity group for offenders who are close to having their probation revoked and being sent back to prison. In group sessions, he questions participants about why they’re late to class or how their job search is going. He sees a lot of his old self in prisoners that are coming home, and he does what he can to make the transition easier for them.

Vice News

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Let’s stop talking about ‘dumping’ offenders

It was not long ago that local leaders concerned about the number of men and women being released from the state Department of Corrections dubbed Pierce County the state’s “dumping ground” for criminal offenders. Turns out one should never underestimate the power of a waste-management metaphor.

In response, the Legislature passed the “county of origin” law to divert the flow of felons into the South Sound because we carried more than our “fair share” due to the disproportionate number of area reentry programs.

The News Tribune

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Life with parole

Despite the best efforts of a constellation of social organizations, New Haven’s prison reentry system is fundamentally broken. According to the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, 79% of formerly incarcerated men are re-arrested within five years. 50% of released prisoners are arrested on a new charge. This fatal cycle of incarceration, release, and arrest shatters communities and comes with a billion-dollar price tag.

The Yale Herald

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Local Youthful Offenders Get Second Chance with New Federal Program

“[They’re] either getting to the job market, [going] back to school or provide a number of case management services to make life re-entering society again a lot more successful,” said Bill Simmons, the Syracuse Housing Authority executive director.

It’s all through the Juvenile Re-entry Assistance Program. The program focuses on helping young adults between the ages of 14 and 24. Syracuse was one of just 18 cities selected to start the program.

Time Warner Cable News

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The Unfortunate Crack in Prison Reform: Where is the Support for Newly Released Convicts?

One of those released drug offenders is Katina Smith, mother of NFL star Demaryius Thomas. She did 15 years of a 20-year drug conviction. According to an ESPN.com article, Smith was convicted after police found cash from a drug operation her mother was involved with in her home. Even though Smith had no criminal record and did not use drugs, she received a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. Now Smith is out and trying to learn how to fit into a society that has drastically changed.

“I’m like a child,” said Smith in the ESPN.com article. “I have to relearn everything. It’s information overload, and my head is about to explode.”

Atlanta Blackstar

Categories: News

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