The Fortune Society News Of The Week — the week of December 19, 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 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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Advocates host holiday party for formerly incarcerated people, families in LIC

Barbara Biscaino and her daughter spend every holiday at the Fortune Society. They capture precious moments in a few snapshots, decorate holiday stockings, and create positive memories.

“If it wasn’t for the Fortune Society, we still would be in a homeless shelter,” said Biscaino, a client at the nonprofit. “They took us out and they welcomed up into the Fortune Society with open arms.”

NY1

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Governor Cuomo announces first in the nation regulation to prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to businesses seeking to hire formerly incarcerated New Yorkers

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a new regulation to prohibit insurance companies from refusing to provide commercial crime insurance coverage to New York businesses that employ people with criminal convictions. The effort – the first of its kind in the nation – will make it easier for businesses across the state to hire formerly incarcerated individuals upon reentry, and helping them obtain the necessary coverage for any loss or damage caused by an employee with a criminal record.

New York State

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What I learned treating the mentally ill on Rikers

The saddest referral of all was that of the severely mentally ill, people suffering from conditions like schizophrenia, dementia, and bi-polar disorder. Their jailhouse plight is at least partly the result of the well-intentioned shutdown of many big state psychiatric hospitals several decades ago, once deemed “snake pits,” leaving municipal jails like Rikers in New York and Cook County in Chicago to fill the void of mental healthcare for the indigent.

Vice

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NYCHA stops discriminating against New Yorkers with criminal records

Around the country, more than 650,000 people come home from prison every year, according to the Department of Justice, and most cities have similar proscriptions on public housing for those with criminal records. NYCHA’s pilot program is one of several initiatives to change that.

The Village Voice

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Inquiry into racial bias in New York prisons is big job for small team

Usually a civil rights investigation of this scope would be undertaken by federal prosecutors working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and backed by a district court judge. But Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, will be relying on the state inspector general’s office, which has a staff of just 109 and oversees scores of state agencies. In its last major inquiry, the office took a year to look into a single prison.

The New York Times

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New York changes the way it keeps tabs on school violence

New York State education officials voted Tuesday to change the way the state tracks school violence, hoping to improve a system that has been called confusing and inaccurate. But because the system will continue to rely on schools to report data, it may not offer a clearer picture of how dangerous the schools might be.

The New York Times

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Regaining life after prison a burden with new struggles

Formerly incarcerated people re-entering society face a daunting array of problems that prevent them from successfully reintegrating. These include not being able to find employment or secure housing, dealing with substance abuse and mental health problems, and difficulties in re-establishing and developing relationships.

Times Union

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Understanding the many ways New York City’s homeless population gets housed

Most homeless individuals and families served by the city’s system are in traditional shelters — temporary housing specifically built or adapted to shelter the homeless. Those shelters are home to over 42,000 people, as of November 30. But the shelters aren’t all large, dormitory-like facilities housing single adults. Over 70 percent house families with or without children.

am New York

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After a crime, the price of a second chance

Diversion is intended to relieve overburdened courts and crowded jails, and to spare low-risk offenders from the devastating consequences of a criminal record. It mostly applies to nonviolent cases that make up the vast majority of crimes — offenses like shoplifting, drug possession and theft. There are now diversion programs in almost every state. But an examination by The New York Times found that in many places, only people with money could afford a second chance.

The New York Times

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The pitfalls of youth incarceration

On a given day, nearly 51,000 youth are held for offenses in secure and non-secure residential detention and placement facilities nationwide. More than 60 percent are in for non-violent offenses. When children and teens are unnecessarily locked away, neither they nor public safety as a whole benefits. The youth prison model aggravates the trauma that many justice-involved kids have already experienced in their young lives, and it sends a searing message of worthlessness.

Office of Justice Programs

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What will the future of incarceration look like?

A 30-foot-high stone wall slinks through the residential streets of west Philadelphia. It connects to four bruised watchtowers, one at each corner, to create a sort of citadel. Across the street, on Fairmount Avenue, patrons of coffee shops and bars either don’t notice or pay much attention to the former prison hulking in their city.

Vice

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A deadly lack of care for some of America’s sickest: formerly incarcerated people

He was desperate for insurance coverage. But the state failed to enroll him in Medicaid, although under the Affordable Care Act Indiana had expanded the health insurance program, making most formerly incarcerated people eligible. Left to navigate an unwieldy bureaucracy on his own, he came within days of running out of the pills that ground him in reality.

CNN

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Signed out of prison but not signed up for health insurance

Local jails processing millions of prisoners a year, many severely mentally ill, are doing an even poorer job of getting health coverage for ex-inmates, by many accounts. Jail enrollment is especially challenging because the average stay is less than a month and prisoners are often released unexpectedly.

NPR

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Four violent crimes: you decide the sentence

For advocates of prison reform, the question is who should be diverted from jails and prisons, and who among the 2.2 million locked up should be freed? Opponents, however, argue that those convicted of a crime — especially a violent crime — should serve their full sentences, and that longer prison terms have contributed to the nation’s historic crime reductions in recent years.

The New York Times

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The prosecutor’s deal, the defendant’s dilemma

You’ve been arrested. Even if you get off with probation, a criminal conviction could haunt you in ways you might not imagine. It could get you evicted from your home or prevent you from volunteering at your child’s school. But there is another option that can keep your record clean: pretrial diversion.

The New York Times

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Why I’m voluntarily going into solitary confinement

Beginning Monday, Burns plans to voluntarily spend 30 days in solitary confinement in the La Paz County Jail in Parker, Arizona, livestreaming his every moment behind bars on VICE.com. But he’s hoping this experience will help shine a light on the darkest corner of America’s criminal justice system.

Vice

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Let’s go to prison!

For at least this one day, they all had access to Central Prison, and could ask honest questions of its warden and other top officials, as part of the Vera Institute of Justice’s “National Prison Visiting Week.” Through a series of field trips to 29 facilities in 17 states, Vera welcomed a diverse array of community members — from bankers to prosecutors to real estate agents to teachers, doctors, and clergy — into Incarceration Nation.

The Marshall Project

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On criminal justice reform, it’s been state and local leaders carrying the torch

To be sure, President Obama is to be commended for calling national attention to the issue and elevating it into one of the administration’s priorities. But calling attention to reform efforts and accomplishing those reform efforts are not the same, and while this administration has been long on the former, it has been frustratingly short on the latter.

Right on Crime

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Trump should reform criminal justice system to foster economic growth

President-elect Trump has expressed a commitment to fostering economic growth and preserving American jobs. In that pursuit, he would be well advised to work towards reforming the criminal justice system. If he embraced a bankruptcy-like program to restore clean criminal records to the millions of Americans who have not been in trouble for many years, he could generate hundreds of thousands jobs.

The Hill

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John Legend: an open letter to Barack Obama on people with non-violent drug crimes

Before you leave office, I would like to add my voice to the more than 2 million Americans who have asked you to use your clemency and pardon powers to bring justice to the thousands of families of non-violent drug offenders who have waited far too long for Congress to act.

Rolling Stone

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Prison ecology

So it goes at Bastøy, the world’s first human-ecological prison. Clearly, the men here have made mistakes severe enough to find themselves incarcerated. But Bastøy’s physical design—lush, unfenced, and escapable—suggests that a man who is invited to work with his feet on the earth and his eyes to the sky, and who functions as an integral part of a community, will learn interdependency better than a man whose movements are choreographed by others, and then only when he’s not locked in a cell.

Orion Magazine

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A tipping point for criminal justice reform

Over the years, piles of reform proposals on an array of issues have been decided by statistical analyses that could be colored dozens of different ways. But when statistics show that in some parts of the city, residents from nearly every other home on some streets are ending up in jail, the need for wholesale change is irrefutable.

The Boston Globe

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Wrongly convicted in Mass.? Good luck getting compensation

Having the charges against him dropped is not enough to qualify, he has learned. The 12-year-old statute on compensation requires O’Loughlin and other plaintiffs to prove their innocence by “clear and convincing” evidence, a standard not easily met in a case like his. Twenty months later, he’s still wrestling with the state attorney general’s office.

The Boston Globe

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Alabama prosecutor sets the penalties and fills the coffers

Diversion was created nationwide to spare first-time or low-risk defendants the harsh consequences of a criminal record and to give prosecutors more time to go after dangerous offenders. But things have played out differently in places like southeast Alabama’s Wiregrass Country, where an investigation by The New York Times found that diversion resembles a dismissal-for-sale scheme, available only to those with money and, in some cases, favor.

The New York Times

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San Antonio became a national leader in mental health care by working together as a community

The seven-person police unit is just one piece of a larger behavioral health care system in San Antonio and surrounding Bexar County that’s widely considered to be a national model. Over the past decade and a half, San Antonio community leaders, government officials, law enforcement, judges, medical institutions, and the county mental health authority have made tremendous strides together in identifying and treating people with mental illness.

The Boston Globe

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Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke blames incarcerated people for dying at his jail

Three incarcerated people and a baby have died since April at a jail run by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, but the outspoken lawman is refusing to take any responsibility. Instead, he’s blaming a health care provider and the incarcerated people themselves for deaths under his watch.

The Huffington Post

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Justice Department announces investigation into the Hampton Roads Regional Jail

The DOJ plans to examine whether the jail violates incarcerated people’s rights by secluding the mentally ill in prolonged isolation and whether it violates the Americans With Disabilities Act by denying services, programs and activities because of an incarcerated person’s disability.

The Virginian-Pilot

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At Fluvanna Correctional Center For Women, horror story after horror story in medical care

A state prison in Fluvanna County that houses more than 200 incarcerated people from Hampton Roads faces so many concerns over the medical care it provides that it is under a federal court order to comply with the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

The Virginian-Pilot

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Past is not present: unconventional re–entry programs fight recidivism

Edmonson’s employment troubles prison ended when she connected with Deno Andrews, owner of Felony Franks, a fast food restaurant nestled in the suburb of Oak Park, Illinois. The friendly neighborhood spot, which opened in 2015 and only employs formerly incarcerated people, was the solution to the challenges Edmonson faced.

Columbia Chronicle

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Wrongfully convicted Tenn. man fights for compensation

Since then, McKinney has depended on odd jobs at his church just to pay the bills. Under Tennessee law he could be eligible for up to $1 million in compensation. But the parole board, which hears such cases, has rejected his request twice.

CBS News

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Plans for second women’s prison stoking controversy

Extra beds double up along the walls of four large dorms at Oregon’s only women’s prison, crowding exits and making it tough for the lone correction officer in each room to spot trouble. Coffee Creek Correctional Institution in Wilsonville is beyond capacity, spiking last month to an all-time high of 1,315 incarcerated people as women take up beds once reserved for emergencies.

The Oregonian

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Defendant’s quest for second look at case can outlast sentence in Philly

This is a defense attorney’s worse nightmare — that a client will have served out a sentence of prison or probation before an appeal can be heard. Some fear the situation will arise more and more as the appeals — known as a Post-Conviction Relief Act petition — pile up and pressure an already stressed criminal justice system in Philadelphia.

Newsworks

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Dayton, legislators push for changes in solitary confinement

Gov. Mark Dayton and several DFL and Republican legislators are expressing alarm about the extremes to which state prison officials are using solitary confinement as punishment on many incarcerated people, and are vowing to push for funding to expand mental health care for prisoners during the coming legislative session.

Star Tribune

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New study critical of Virginia driver’s license suspensions for drug offenses

About 38,000 times each year, driving privileges are stripped from Virginians — not for traffic offenses, but instead for drug offenses. Dubbed a relic of the war on drugs, Virginia law automatically suspends the licenses of anyone convicted of even minor drug offenses, reports a new Prison Policy Initiative study.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

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