PRISON MINISTRY NETWORK NEWS is a service of the Prison ingMinistry Task Force of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. Val Hymes is the coordinator of the Task Force and editor of Prison Ministry Network News.
VAL HYMES is a "retired" journalist who covered local, state and national government, law enforcement, the courts and politics for 35 years and has been a freelancer ever since, She continues to advocate for criminal justice reform in Maryland and in Washington, working with secular and religious organizations to make reentry back to families and to the community a real possibility. For news, follow http://prisminnet.org For resources and information, www.prisonministry.episcopalmaryland.org.
To download a detailed guide on establishing a camp for children of the incarcerated, click here: Grace Camping Ministry Guide.
THE TASK FORCE WEB SITE contains more information and features about prison ministry, including an extensive list of local and national programs and resources in prison ministry, reentry, criminal justice reform, death penalty reform and victims/families.
See also news, reviews and offerings from around the
country on Facebook.com at
You are invited to submit comments and information for inclusion on either site to email@example.com.
Big State Wins Big Savings, Safety
Texas— often winning bragging rights for all things big— is now bragging about its smaller prison costs and crime rates.
This tough-on-crime state, saysThe Washington Post, is ahead of all other states that have adopted more alternatives to traditional incarceration and is ahead in reducing the number of prisoners it supports.
It all started in 2006 as the state prepared to build more prisons and more beds. Instead, Reid Wilson reports that they replaced that plan with new inpatient and outpatient substance abuse programs, sentencing alternatives such as pretrial diversion programs that kept minor offenders out of prison, and options to house parole violators at temporary holding sites that aren’t as harsh as prisons.
The legislature funded programs instead of prisons,
said The Pew Charitable Trust. According to Wilson, “The results
have been dramatic: prison population has decreased by about 5,000 inmates.
And while the state still executes more people than any other--10 so far
this year-- crime rates have fallen markedly, recidivism is down and the
state was able to close a prison the first time in 166 years. They estimate
that this big state has saved big as well: $3 billion estimated so far.
Reprieve for 4 on Death Row in MD?
Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said, “It Is a “legal and factual impossibility” to execute the prisoners now on death row because Maryland no longer has regulations in place on how to administer lethal injections. Since the death penalty was abolished by the last session of the General Assembly, the state cannot develop new regulations on carrying out executions. Keeping the men on death row, therefore, “violates their due-process rights,” he explained.
The state is asking an appellate court to resentence one of the four men to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to The Washington Post.
Gansler added, “People should understand
life without parole is a death sentence. You are dying in jail.”
Holder launches racial bias initiative
In the wake of the Ferguson Justice Department investigation, Atty. Gen. Eric H Holder Jr. announced a new federal program in five yet- unnamed cities to study racial bias and build trust among law enforcement agencies, the communities, faith-based groups and organizations.
“We cannot allowed tensions, which are present in so many neighborhoods cross America, to go unresolved,” Holder said. “We have an essential obligation and unique opportunity to ensure fairness, eliminate bias and build community engagement."
in addition to police training, the program will help
communities reduce bias and ease perception of unequal treatment in the
local court system. A board of advisors will include national law enforcement
officials and faith-based and community leaders. Holder said this represents
a major step forward in resolving long-standing tensions in many of America’s
Return of the Electric Chair ?
The House of Delegates in the State of Virginia overwhelming voted Jan. 22 to make the electric chair the preferred mode of execution if chemicals are not available for lethal injection. Since European manufacturers refuse to sell them for executions and a U. S. supplier stopped production in 2011, many states are having trouble finding the means to kill prisoners. “It’s barbaric,” said one delegate.
The Washington Post story does not mention any consideration of repealing the death penalty.http://tinyurl.com/mo2ctf4
The president commuted the sentences of eight people Dec. 19 who were “sentenced under an unfair system” ? the disparity between harsh mandatory sentences for crack and lesser sentences for powdered cocaine. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 “narrowed the disparity,” said the president, but many more than eight men and women are in for decades and life without parole.
An editorial Dec. 24 in the Washington Post said, “It was long past time the president acted – and it remains long past time for many others enduring excessive sentences in Federal prisons.” The editorial board calls for congressional action as did the president, and there is some movement.
“The push is being led by the Senate,” reports The Root , where Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., has partnered with staunch members of the Tea Party, like Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on legislation that would give judges room to mete out prison sentences in many drug cases, the AP reports. At the same time, a right-left coalition is also pushing for changes in the House.”
But the Post also calls on President Obama to use his clemency power to free others now who have served unfairly for many years.“The president has the unrestricted authority to grant clemency to federal convicts.”
Obama seems to agree that he can do more. “Together,
we must ensure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and that our
justice system keeps its basic promise of equal treatment for all.”
Less than a week later on Dec. 25, conservative columnist George F. Will wrote that the attorney general and Senators Pat Leahy, D-Vt., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., “are questioning the regime of mandatory minimum sentences, including recidivism enhancements, that began with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. Meanwhile, the human and financial costs of mass incarceration mount.” Recidivist enhancements increase criminal sentences for prior convictions in federal cases.
It’s time to get serious about real justice.
U.S. Attorney General Holder:
Attorney General Eric Holder’s strong speech for prison and criminal justice reform and his instructions to federal prosecutors not to charge drug offenders under mandatory minimum statutes to give judges more discretion, marks the first indication of an official national recognition that the system doesn’t work.
The country with only 5 percent of the world’s population has 25 percent of the prisoners – more than any other nation. Of the 219,000 people behind bars in federal prisons almost half of them are there because of drugs. http://tinyurl.com/n6qfscq
The attorney general began hoping for change
when he was a trial judge in Washington D,.C. He told how he came to write
that speech in an interview with Daniel Klaidman of the Daily Beast:
Some 5,000 inmates in Maryland’s prisons don’t
belong there, said Anne Arundel County Associate Circuit Court Judge Philip
“Ideally, what would work,” the judge said, “is screening for risk and an individualized plan. In Maryland, they put you in prison based on how dangerous they think you are.”
Caroom said he was not speaking for the courts. “This is one person’s view about the criminal justice system.”
But he added that he has a “fair amount of experience in the system.”
Since 1991, Caroom has held judicial and master positions involving juvenile, criminal and civil cases. In 2010, he was appointed chairman of the Appellate Court’s Ad Hoc Committee on Sentencing Alternatives, Re-entry and Best Practices.
“What we have currently in Maryland state prisons is about 23,000 inmates and 9,000 more in jails — nearly equal to the entire population of Annapolis,” Caroom said.
He cited reports that some incarcerated African-American and Latino youths are learning how to be gang members, to get and deal drugs, or to assault officers and other inmates.
Studies and polls, Caroom said, indicate that the “war on drugs” is a failure, “mandatory minimum sentences are unfair” and disparate sentences are handed down depending where the crime takes place.
“The importance of knowing if someone is high-risk or low-risk is incredibly important,” the judge said. “If you put someone who is low-risk in prison with other people who are high-risk, you can double their risk of recidivism. If they are low-risk, we shouldn’t send them to prison at all.”
Drug courts, mental health courts and prison jobs help,
but “there are not enough resources or slots,” Caroom said.
“Probably more than 50 percent of the inmates have nothing to do.
The result is the time spent in prison is wasted.” “It does
not need to be that way,” he said.
“I am personally in favor of paroling people who are elderly and frail and a low risk,” Caroom said. He applauded tax incentives for employers who hire ex-offenders.
He said the interfaith group members can help by urging the state legislature to adopt a plan or authorize a task force to study ways to reduce the prison population and to find the funds for job training, drug treatment and community-based services.
Caroom also urged support of legislation to remove the
state requirement for listing criminal records on job applications.“Some
states, like California,” he said, “give released prisoners
certificates of rehabilitation.”
Unusual Supreme Court Split Allows
Alito: Most important criminal procedure case in decades.”
The Supreme Court June 3 agreed to let police continue
taking DNA swabs during arrests. The Maryland case involved a man arrested
for assault in 2009 whose DNA revealed an unsolved rape case six years
During the initial arguments before the court in February,
Justice Alito voiced the opinion that this was the most important criminal
procedure case the court had taken up in decades.
Wisconsin Faith Communities Tackle How to Cut Prison Population in Half
Faith--based groups in Wisconsin are determined to cut the prison population in half in three years. Journalist, ordained minister and columnist with the Capital Times Phil Haslanger writes:
“Half of the people behind bars in Wisconsin are there for nonviolent crimes. Half of them have issues with drug and alcohol abuse and/or mental illness. And most of them are going to return to our communities at some point.”
The Rev. Jerry Hancock, a former assistant district attorney and a former assistant attorney general, and now an ordained minister, said if Minnesota can do it, so can Wisconsin.
“We need treatment on the front end to keep people out, help on the back end to keep people from going back into prison after release and a way to allow people in prison to earn their way out. If we did all three of those things, we could solve this in three years.”
The effort, called the 11X15 Campaign, begins with rallies, meetings and marches by coalitions and networks of congregations led by clergy who have worked in and observed the criminal justice system in their earlier careers.
Las Vegas Cuts Offender Recycling with Buddy Programs for Employers
A police officer, an ex-offender and an Urban League Champs program have cut the recidivism rate in Las Vegas to 26% down from the state’s 40%, the rate at which released inmates return to Nevada's prisons within three years.They have done it by making themselves advocates or “buddies” willing to vouch for ex-offenders to employers
Chad Baker, a Metro Police officer in West Las Vegas, has been mentoring former inmates for two years at the Urban League. He grew frustrated arresting the same people all the time in the department’s Bolden Area Command.
As a mentor, Baker seeks to mend relationships with ex-offenders and help them find employment at nearby businesses, such as grocery stores.“It’s one thing for an ex-offender to go into a business to try to get a job,” he said. “It’s another when an ex-offender walks in while a Metro Police officer is by their side.”
Jon Ponder started Hope for Prisoners after he was released from a Pennsylvania prison in 2009. He credits his time served in federal prison for a bank robbery with helping him turn his life around and understand what inmates need for successful transitions into society.
“My entire time in prison, I didn’t go to prison,” he said. “I went to school. I used every bit of time in prison to learn and grow.” www.hopeforprisoners.org
Long-term success ultimately hinges on a person’s desire to change, said John Butler, outreach coordinator for the Urban League’s RExO Champs program.
”They have to be able to obtain and secure (jobs) on their own, which is part of that self-sufficiency,” he said. “We guide and advocate for them.” http://www.lvul.org/rexo.html
Justice cites overcrowding; ignores mandatory minimums, drug policies
In an editorial, The New York Times said the Justice Department in its recent annual report failed to mention mandatory minimum sentences and its effective drug policies when it noted that the 218,000 federal prison inmates and a budget of almost $6.2 billion are “incompatible with a balanced crime policy and are unsustainable.”
The already-taxed Bureau of Prisons network swelled to 39 percent above capacity through last September, and is expected to surge to more than 45 percent above its limit in 2018, says the Government Accountability Office report, titled "Growing Inmate Crowding Negatively Affects Inmates, Staff, and Infrastructure."
There is no evidence that long mandatory sentences deter crime, says The Times, and “…there is very good evidence that older prisoners (45 and up) are the least dangerous…”
Report of Flawed Forensics Spurs Review of Thousands of Criminal Cases
By Val Hymes
A newspaper story last spring about defendants convicted on faulty forensic evidence has led to a review of tens of thousands of criminal cases by the Justice Department and the FBI.
The Washington Post reported in April that the “Justice Department had known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people but had not performed a thorough review of the cases."
The cases, from 1985 or earlier, will be examined in concert with The Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
In June, the Supreme Court said prisoners do not have a constitutional right to DNA testing. “ The decision was based in large part,” said a Washington Post editorial, “on the assertion that federal judicial intervention was unnecessary because the great majority of state legislatures already had passed laws to give prisoners adequate access to the revolutionary technology.”
While 47 states allow some statutory access to DNA testing, the laws are limited and sketchy and motions for testing are often denied, even where the inmate offers to pay for it and the test could confirm guilt or innocence.
Leahy Plan for DOJ Forensics Unit
In January, Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced the Criminal Justice and Forensic cience Reform Act (S.132) It will establish an Office of Forensic Science within the Department of Justice.
It also will establish a Forensic Science Board comprised of scientists, practitioners, prosecutors, defense attorneys and other stakeholders to make recommendations in research priorities, standards and best practices; establish committees of scientists to be overseen by the National Institute of Standards and Technology which will examine each individual forensic science discipline to determine research needs and help set uniform standards.
A Rare Agreement: Right and Left Together on Criminal Justice Reform
A column in The Washington Times, published a column says “Left and Right agree on criminal justice reforms.” Escalating costs are leading voices from both sides of the aisle to call for an overhaul of the systems that now costing many states more than colleges. The writers urge Congress to follow the examples of states like Georgia, South Carolina, Kansas and Ohio. They have increased drug treatment inside and moved nonviolent prisoners into programs outside prisons.
'We will keep fighting’
Although some Republicans using states’ rights arguments, blocked passage of legislation that could begin the reform of the criminal justice system, Senator James Jim Webb (D.VA) said he is not backing down.
“We will keep fighting,” he said, “for a comprehensive review of the justice system, with the help of the thousands of sheriffs, police, mayors and justice advocates who have joined us in pressing for reform.” Out of a needed 60 the vote was 57-43. The legislation passed the House last year.
It would establish a bipartisan National Criminal Justice Commission to recommend reform and has the support of more than 100 organizations including The Heritage Foundation and law enforcement groups.
See Politico’s take at http://tinyurl.com/3cx5l8u
250th Convict Exonerated
The Innocence Project on Feb. 3 announced the 250th exoneration of a prisoner through DNA testing.
Freddie Peacock, 60, of Rochester, N.Y., was convicted in New York in 1976 of a rape he didn't commit based on a false eyewitness identification and a false confession that police claim he made during an interrogation. Peacock, who has severe mental illness, was freed in 1982, but continued the fight to clear his name..
His fight to clear his name after release is the longest of any DNA case so far. He spent the last 28 years pushing for complete exoneration, even turning down chances to end his parole. Finally, with the help of the Innocence Project, his name has been cleared.
A report issued by the Innnocence Project “250 Exonerated – Too Many Wrongfully Convicted -- describing the 250 cases -- may be found at http://innocenceproject.org/news/250.php
Its findings conclude that :
• There have been DNA exonerations in 33 states and the District of Columbia.
The National Coalition Against the Death Penalty (NCADP) points out that 17 percent of the exonerated were serving under threat of the death penalty. "While exonerating 250 citizens, the cases also identified 90 real perpetrators and 40 of them were convicted of subsequent crimes."
In December, James Bain, 54, was exonerated in Florida after spending 35 years in prison for the rape of a child and Donald Eugene Gates, 58, was freed in Arizona after serving 28 years in prison for rape and murder.
Congress Begins Fight to Restore
Justice advocates, unhappy that an estimated 5.3 million Americans cannot vote or participate fully in civic life because of a criminal conviction, are pressing for Congressional action to establish a federal standard restoring voting rights in federal elections. Sen Russell Feingold and Rep. John Conyers introduced the Democracy Restoration Act as S.1516 and H.R. 3335.
Passage of the Democracy Restoration Act would:
Virginia Ex-Offenders May Vote Next Year
Virginia 's governor has urged all ex-offenders who served time for nonviolent crimes to ask for a return of their voting rights. The Sentencing Project reports that Gov. Tim Kaine said in a broadcast interview with WSLS 10 he cannot by law restore voting rights across the board; it must be done one by one by name. He maintained that he has restored the rights of all nonviolent ex-offenders who applied and that those convicted for a violent felony require an investigation.
Here's a link to the story by the Sentencing Project: http://tinyurl.com/y8rhfge
by Val Hymes
A Pardon Is for Turkeys
Turkeys visiting The White House for Thanksgiving apparently stand a better chance of receiving a presidential pardon than human prisoners.
Two Law professors wrote in an article in the Washington Post that the current pardoning process is badly broken. It can take four years or longer; it can require seven levels of bureaucratic approvals and even then rarely happens.
Presidents, including Obama, rarely grant pardons unless they are recommended by a member of Congress or someone else politically important. And President Obama, they say, is worse than previous presidents. The most successful clemency move was Gerald Ford’s pardoning of 21,000 deserters and draft dodgers -- successful because few remember it.
The president has created the clemency project 2014 to encourage defense attorneys to determine if an inmate has served 10 years in federal prison for a nonviolent crime and has no other disqualifying problems, such as gang connections.
The professors recommend that a bipartisan
board such as those in many states recommend pardons. The turkeys pardoned
at the White House had no comment.
'Ban the Box' Effort Spreads
More than 60 local governments — cities and counties— have voted to ban the box on job applications, eliminating the requirement to spell out criminal convictions until later in the job process. Also 13 states, including Maryland and the District of Columbia, have done the same, although in some cases it applies only to those convicted of nonviolent crimes. In some cases, the box will not be banned for jobs in public safety, or those involving children.
According to the Washington Post, one in four
adults have a criminal record. Some of the recent laws also apply only
to government jobs.
Warden wants churches to step up to ease reentry
“We want to make the urban church into the agent
for change it ought to be. He told the Associated Baptist Press.
Some jails ignore shackle law
National corrections and medical organizations also
oppose the shackling. We need to question and check on the policy in our
communities. Ask the women. – Val Hymes, Diocese of Maryland.
How Churches Hold
“The 14th Amendment, when combined with the War on Crime, has paradoxically disenfranchised vast swaths of the population and given the rural, white areas surrounding the prisons unforeseen political power. ..”
The Sentencing Project alerted us to this article by
Heather Ann Thompson in The Atlantic
Inmate Phone Cost
The FCC had voted
after a hearing marked by family pleas and tears Aug. 9, 2 to 1, to stop
phone companies and prison systems from overcharging families of prisoners
for interstate calls.
From the Outrageous-Justice Files
A man who was driving his friend's car across the country in 2005 was arrested for a DUI and car theft in New Mexico. Stephen Slevin and his attorney say he then spent nearly two years in solitary confinement without physical or mental health care.
On March 5, he accepted a $15.5 million settlement from county officials despite a court’s ruling last year that the $22 million awarded him by a federal court was not excessive. He just wanted to end the fight that started with his arrest eight years ago. http://tinyurl.com/c6pwb3u
Opponents of $70M Youth Jail Win
Now the state is planning to rehab a pre-release center for youth offenders with counseling, treatment, education and recreation facilities, and is looking for a former school for more space.
'Pipeline to Prison' Going Public
Getting the word out about the “family-to-community-to-school pipeline” to prison is finally out in the open.
Churches, especially urban churches, have feared it for decades.
The Metropolitan AME church in Washington held a rally in Washington, D.C., March 28 to decry the work of the prison industrial complex creating “a pipeline straight from our schools, our communities and our families to prison,” speakers said.
“We must reclaim our young.”
Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline -- Some Answers
The Children's Defense Fund is working nationally to find ways to break that cycle.
As Congress considers re-authorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), CDF President Marian Wright Edelman looks at several promising approaches across the country that are changing the juvenile justice paradigm from punishment and incarceration as a first resort to prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation.
California Voters Strike Down
Californians have finally reformed the three strikes law that has cost the state hundreds of millions a year and packed the prisons with more than 9,000 nonviolent offenders. Where a petty crime in the past ---including stealing a slice of pizza – has earned sentences of 25-life, the offenders may now show they are not a danger to society and ask a court for a lower sentence. It will not affect those convicted of violent crimes. Twenty-six other states have a three strikes law, but none of them involve petty crimes, says Slate.http://tinyurl.com/bztmqjg
According to the Associated Press, writes ThinkProgress, “In the past decade, three major private prison companies spent $45 million on campaign donations and lobbyists to push legislation at the state and federal level. At times, this money has gone to truly nefarious legislation. A 2011 report found that the private prison industry spent millions seeking to increase sentences and incarcerate more people in order to increase the industry's profits.”
The Federal Bureau of Prisons is paying the private
companies $5.1 billion to hold more than 23,000 criminal immigrants through
13 contracts of varying lengths.
Lack of DNA Evidence
After he confessed, Damon Thibodeaux was convicted of the rape and murder of his teenage step-cousin and sentenced to death, spending 15 years locked in a cell 23 hours a day in the Louisiana prison at Angola.
Inmates Seek 1st Amendment Rights
Six prisoners went to court Aug. 14 to argue that a victims’ rights policy has no teeth and that they have a First Amendment right to promote their peace initiative to slow gang violence through interviews with the media.
The Maryland Dept. of Public Safety and Corrections
arguedthat the warden has the power to say no, but the inmates appealed
to the Inmate Grievance Office and when denied, went to a circuit court.
The judge denied their motions but scheduled a Nov. 19 hearing that could
decide whether the policy is "arbitrary and capricious."
One of the oldest graveyards in the country for African Americans is Baltimore City’s long-neglected Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Nonprofits Press Maryland to Give
The State of Maryland continues to resist taking action that could save a sprawling complex of brick buildings on a landscaped and shaded campus near the State Capital.
Some became college annexes; others became hospital expansions. But many have stood empty, their roofs caving in, broken windows gaping and historians saddened by the deterioration. Crownsville State Hospital in Maryland, originally built for the “Negro Insane” in 1910 is one of them. Sitting on 500+ acres are 66 buildings – some of them considered worthy of permanent protection.
The state wants a developer to purchase it for real estate tax revenue; the community fears development, traffic congestion and destruction of the rural landscape. But a group of nonprofits have a vision for a “Village of Health, Healing and Hope” – a one-stop center for community, veterans and reentry services, a sports complex, hiking and biking trails and a museum to tell the story of the agrarian community and the “hospital for the negro insane.” It has been a four-year saga of frustration for the volunteers.
Miss America Visits Camp
Miss America 2012, once a child with a father in prison, hasdedicated her platform during and after her reign to promoting mentoring of children of prisoners.
“I’ve been there. I’ve lived it,” said Laura Kaeppeler, 23, of Kenosha, Wis. “A lot of times these children feel this experience that is out of their control defines them. A lot of time, incarceration cycles in families. They don’t think there is another way out for them.”
When she was in high school, her father served a year in prison for mail fraud. He supports her long-term plans to work for children of prisoners. She spent the day at a camp for children of prisoners Aug. 1. She made children of the incarcerated her contest cause because she remembers how it felt when her father was taken away. She visited Camp Bob at the Kanuga Conference Center in North Carolina. See photos, videos: www.facebook.com/CampBobAtKanuga
Since her January crowning, she has met with 200 inmates at Racine Correctional Institution. “No matter what they’re there for,” she said, “they can only move up from where they’ve been. And kids still deserve a relationship with themas parents,” Kaeppeler said. She also met with U. S. Dream Academy officials in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. She hopes to become a partner and spokesman with the academy is a national organization for atrisk children with learning centers in 10 cities.
Although she is an accomplished musician, she plans
to seek a law degree in child advocacy. Her organization, Circles of Support,
is at www.laurakaeppeler.com.
Newspaper Honors Lifers' Group
Six lifers and long-termers in a Jessup, Md. prison who created a program to stop gang violence inside and outside prisons have won an Innovator of the Year award from The Daily Record in Baltimore.
The newspaper selected the Legalese Group, Inc.,(ELG,Inc.,) the only incorporated prisoner think tank in Maryland, for "creating a new program that has helped their communities with imagination and vision,” demonstrating “the ability to see a need and fill it, and the courage to make change happen."
They were slated to be recognized in absentia Oct. 26, at a reception at the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore. Jennifer Adkins, the mother of a teenager, Christopher Jones, 14, who was killed by gang members, was asked by the prisoners to accept the award for them.
Adkins and Christopher’s father, a deputy sheriff, had one inside the Jessup Correctional Institute a year earlier to meet with the ELG about its Peace Initiative. At one of the meetings, touched by Christopher’s story, a dozen gang leaders and members stood to pledge a stop to random violence.If we can’t stop the violence in our communities outside prisons,” said Adkins, “then we’ll go inside to find answers.”
The men plan to work with gang leaders in the prison as they move in and out of the corrections system and to redirect gang members to help stop bullying in schools and to volunteer to provide security at community meetings.
JCI Warden John S. Wolfe said, “We have to reach across walls to address these problems. You men have been there. They’re apt to listen to you.”The ELG grew out of a prisoner newsletter, Extra Legalese, that offered legal tips and information about court rulings and law. It led to Legal Awareness Seminars in four facilities in Maryland and to other programs.
A Community Support Coalition, which is helping the ELG, is made up of attorneys, educators,and community and reentry program leaders, including representatives of the NAACP, Fusion, the Justice Policy Institute, Safe Streets Baltimore and the Jericho program.
Prisoners' 'Lifelines' Are Cut
A Dan Rodricks column in the Baltimore Sun reports that Maryland prison libraries have no money in the budget for new books and now have cut their evening hours at all state prisons.
Many prisoners use the libraries to increase their chances of succeeding when they get out, working on a GED, for example. He writes:
Many who are within a year or two of release use library services to prepare for re-entry -- to get their GED, to improve their vocabularies and language skills. The recidivism rate in the United States varies, from 50 percent to as high as 67 percent in some states, and there are two main reasons for that level of failure: the employment challenge facing ex-offenders on the outside and the lack of preparation for re-entry on the inside.
Prisons are for punishment. Prisons exist to protect the public. But given that so many of their inhabitants eventually get out of them, they should be places of second chances, too,” writes Rodricks.
The Department of Corrections maintains that it has in operation all necessary reentry programs for those due to get out within a year. Shutting down the libraries and cutting all book money is not the way to do it.
The chief librarian, Glennor Shirley, says they are “lifelines” for the inmates. And that includes lifers and long-termers.
'Financial Expediency, Not Justice'
Legislators in Rhode Island this fall Outlawed mandatory minimum sentences. Two other states, Massachusetts and Ohio considering sentencing reforms, according to the Washington Post.
Numbers released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that states are sending fewer people to prison in order to lessen the high cost of their corrections departments.. They are also reevaluating sentencing, parole and drug policies. The irony of these changes was caught by the head of a victims’ organization when he noted that they are economic and not justice reasons.
The good news is that the incarceration rate for African-Americans has dropped, but not far enough. "... The scale of racial disparity in imprisonment still dramatic," said Marc Mauer, The Sentencing Project's executive director.
New bipartisan legislation was introduced in Congress Nov. 17 that is designed to cut corrections costs and increase public safety. It's called the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Act of 2009.
It would authorize the Attorney General to make grants to state and local governments and tribes to help them analyze criminal justice trends, develop options to reduce expenses and increase efficiency to make communities safer, to put into place better policies and programs, and measuring the impact of these changes.
In 1988 state spending on corrections was $12 billion. The cost had increased to more than $50 billion by 2008, yet most inmates released from state prisons were back inside within three years.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center worked in several states with policymakers on these ideas and saw hundreds of millions of dollars saved in corrections spending. The bills, S. 2772 and HR. 4080 grew out of programs tried in 11 states.
The Episcopal Church holds a General Conventions every three years. Actions approved by the convention or the executive council means the church’s government relations office in Washington can go to work lobbying for appropriate legislation before Congress. A successful resolution in 2006 calling on Episcopalians to actively support reentry legislation helped lead to the passage and signing of the Second Chance Act in 2008.
Despite the huge workload of about 400 resolutions facing them at the July 2009 Convention, the bishops and deputies of the Diocese of Maryland won the successful passage of three resolutions proposed by the Prison Ministry Task Force.
States, Cities Tell Hill
As the full court press for funds for the Second Chance Act came to a head, the chief sponsor, Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL), sponsored a special symposium April 1 to highlight what states and cities want to do with reentry funds if they are approved.
The Second Chance State and Local Reentry Initiative Symposium on Capitol Hill focused on half a dozen state and city corrections officials and eight bipartisan congressional supporters. They planned to spell out what they believe those programs in the new reentry law can do to make corrections more efficient and less costly and neighborhoods safer if the money can be found.
Attendees were also to hear from Gary Dennis, the Justice Department point man in the Bureau of Justice Assistance about fund solicitation requirements and deadlines.
The Second Chance Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law in April 2008, authorizes $165 million for programs that will improve coordination of reentry services and policies at the state and local levels. While advocates are pressing for full funding, President Obama included $75 million in his budget for SCA.
Officials taking part in the symposium were: Jerry Madden, Texas State Representative Deanne Benos, Illinois Assistant Director of Corrections, Secretary Rick Raemisch, Wisconsin Department of Correction Commissioner Martin F. Horn, New York City Department of Correction Bonnie Cosgrove, Maryland Public Safety & Correctional Services Dennis Schrantz and Michigan Deputy Director, Planning & Community Development.
The new law includes a $55 million program for Adult and Juvenile Offender State and Local Reentry Demonstration Projects, which improve coordination of reentry initiatives and implement evidence-based practices.
The Second Chance Act also authorizes a $15 million program for Mentoring Grants to Nonprofit Organizations, which provide mentoring and other transitional services to adult and juvenile offenders reentering the community.
State and local governments and nonprofit organizations around the country are eager to launch innovative reentry programs, and families and communities are desperate to access the services the Second Chance Act will provide.
Why Was the Second Chance Act So Important?
Shocking New Numbers
1 in 100 Adults Now in Prison
New High in U. S. Prison Numbers
All over the country, the report of the Pew Center on the States made the lead story. Talk about “shock and awe.” The 50 states alone spent more than $49 billion on corrections. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending.
The study, done by a recognized organization, notes that the costs of corrections is now $11 billion more than it was 20 years ago, and that fact is making the states consider reentry programs despite the fear of looking “soft on crime.”
Republican support of the Second Chance Act is a sign that this message of cost is a strong one. Read more: http://tinyurl.com/b2wehg
The Barriers Outside
There are also “Invisible Punishments – the Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment” as spelled out by co-editor Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project in his book. The magazine notes:
Some states, including New York, have laws restricting employers from considering of criminal records in hiring, but many others do not. Ex-cons are further handicapped because employers can now easily gain access to criminal offender databases when they are performing background checks. The Army, for example, found that more than 8,000 of its new recruits last year had criminal histories. It granted them waivers, but other professions are off limits to ex-cons—teaching and child-care work, of course, but also embalming, limousine driving, firefighting, and haircutting.
Senator Leahy of Vermont, chief sponsor of the Second Chance Act in the Senate, is also concerned about these collateral consequences. http://tinyurl.com/atwqha
Can a Parolee