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.
To download a detailed guide on establishing a camp for children of the incarcerated, click here: Grace Camping Ministry Guide.
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Not Finished with Efforts
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear he
is not finished rolling back DOJ civil rights guidelines issued by President
Among those were guidelines for avoiding cash bail for suspects unable to pay and to avoid excess fines and fees charged to poor suspects.
Student law centers found in Maryland that lower courts were ignoring the appellate court ruling retaining the Obama guidelines.
In New Jersey, prosecutors warned of a crime wave that
never occurred after the courts urged them to consider suspects’
abilities to a pay a cash bail or fines. In California, a retired Superior
Court judge called unconstitutional excessive fines and jail time ordered
against a driver for failing to pay parking fines. All these hard-on-crime
actions by the Department of Justice unfairly affect poor and minorities.
Sessions has rescinded guidelines issued by the Obama administration to stop these violations of civil rights. They are being applied across the country against men women and children who are fined and then taxed with fees to support the justice and emergency systems in their communities.
Current Affairs magazine says these actions are
turning judges into debt collectors and local jails and prisons into debtors’
Cash Bail Bond System
The Census Bureau has extended its deadline to Sept.
1 for comments on the continuation of its proposed residence rule that
counts prisoners’ residences as the location of their prisons and
not their hometowns.
Prison, Jail Commissaries May Merge, Raise Costs to
Prisoners are forced to pay
for basic necessities out of their own pockets in most cases. Privatization
is most common in jails as local governments continue to cut costs.
More than 200 colleges have told the US Department of
Education they are interested in returning Pell grants to prisoners, which
were banned by Congress in the 90s and signed by President Clinton.
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:
Innocent Man Executed -- The Fallout
News reports that Texas executed an innocent man in 2004 have led to bipartisan discussions and support for forensic reform--scientific standards nationally. The New Yorker magazine ran an extensive, detailed story about the father who was put to death for setting a fire that killed his three children. It turns out he was convicted on faulty evidence, according to arson experts and the story, ”Trial by Fire” by David Grann. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann
But the former prosecuto,r who is now a judge, still believes Cameron Todd Willingham was guilty. He told a Nightline interviewer "without question" the scientific evidence was not valid, but went on to claim that Willingham was “likely a devil worshipper and was therefore guilty.”
Gov. Rick Perry recently fired the head (and two members) of a special commission he had appointed to investigate the case two days before a report by a fire expert was due to be delivered. The Innocence Project called it a Nixon-like “Saturday Night Massacre.”
Justice Scalia: “not a single case…the innocent's name would be shouted from the rooftops.” NCADP Campaign: The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty quotes Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia when he wrote in 2006 that "there has not been ‘a single case - not one - in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent's name would be shouted from the rooftops."”
The NCADP calls on everyone to get out the word that the state of Texas has executed an innocent man. Suggestions and references to a report about Willingham and three other innocent men are found here: http://www.ncadp.org/index.cfm?content=96
To find state NCADP affiliates:www.ncadp.org/affiliateDirectory.cfm
exists for science-based federal forensic standards. Senators also focused on the recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences to establish an independent, science-based entity to oversee forensic science research and standards.
Chairman PatrickLeahy noted that one in five labs do not meet accreditation standards set by the National Academy of Crime Lab Directors. "We cannot allow these nationwide deficiencies in forensic sciences to continue." http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1126811
The Justice System Is Sending
But States Seek Ways to Reverse Revolving Door
(See entire program and transcript at )
(See entire program and transcript at
The criminal justice system is sending whole communities back to prison and jail, says Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly’s May 22 feature broadcast over the PBS network. And how some states are taking new approaches to reverse the revolving doors by rewarding with tax dollars parole and probation departments that reduce the prison population.
Correspondent Phil Jones visited
ERIC CADORA (Director, Justice Mapping Center): The current overuse and overdependence on criminal justice is a complete failure. It's having no impact on these issues of public safety and crime. That's not to say there isn't a need for a level of criminal justice. But this radical overuse is not accomplishing those goals. Cadora said he found about 150 blocks in New York City where the authorities were spending more than a million dollars a year just to send people back and forth from prisons upstate to the neighborhood than back to prison again.
GREG JACKSON (Community Activist): Incarceration is not just the individual going to jail, but it's the whole family going to jail, for Brownsville. Everybody's suffering from it. There are no reentry programs to help them get jobs or kick drug habits or find housing -- especially when felons are not allowed to live in public housing.
Mr. CADORA: Let us take the investments that had been built up over the years from criminal justice, redirect them to investments in civil institutions in those neighborhoods -- better schools, better health care, better mental health support, and so on. In many of the states where the Justice Reinvestment initiative has taken root, prison populations are either dropping or the trend line in growth has been radically reduced, and that's from Connecticut to Kansas --liberal to conservative. In Kansas, when they found that 60-65 percent were being sent back to prison because of a parole or [probation revocation, the legislature turned it around.
JONES: That was the case in Kansas, so legislators passed a new law -- a new direction -- committing taxpayer dollars to cities and communities that change parole and probation regulations that'll reduce the prison population by 20 percent.
CALDORA: That's kind of what the reinvestment project
is about. It's about saying, “Look, if you can reduce it, we'll
give you the money to keep reducing it.”
Frank Dunbaugh, director of the, Maryland Justice Policy Institute, has been saying that for years. And he repeated it to the Maryland Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services Gary D. Maynard, at a meeting several early this spring. Maynard's reply was that he is putting into place a new policy. When ex-offenders violate parole or probation, they will be turned over to the Department of Parole and Probation for discipline and not sent back to the prison facilities.
by Val Hymes
Juveniles Sentenced to Life
Girls are criminalized and sexually abused
without a safe haven law.
Way Paved for New
“There has been a seismic shift in criminal justice politics,” said a director of the Brennan Center for justice at New York University School of Law.
“People who once based their campaigns
on being the most punitive are now basing them on having the best ideas
to reduce mass incarceration.”
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.
Warden wants churches to step up to ease reentry
Burl Cain, the colorful warden of the once "bloodiest prison in America” at a restorative justice conference in Dallas called on urban churches to act as “agents for change” for prisoners and their children, helping them to reintegrate into society and recognize their moral responsibilities to their families and communities.
“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
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
argue dthat 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.
Newspaper Honors Lifers
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 changhappen."
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 toolunteer 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 prisonernewsletter, 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.
Expediency, Not Justice'
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.
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.
Can a Parolee