Program allows inmates to see their kids outside prison
CNN by Poppy Harlow
CNN's Poppy Harlow takes you inside the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York to meet the mothers locked up there -- and into an innovative new program through the Children's Museum of Manhattan that allows a select group of female inmates to spend a few precious hours outside of jail with their children.
Incarcerated people have a lot to teach us about preventing crime and violence. I listened, and you can, too.
Incarcerated people have a lot to teach us about preventing crime and violence. I listened, and you can, too.
NBC News by Jeffrey Wright
The transition from incarceration to reintegration into society is very much at the center of what our story is about in "O.G.": I play a man who's been incarcerated for 24 years, who is in the final weeks of his sentence. As a result, I had many conversations with folks on the inside, since we filmed in a working facility, and largely worked with men who are incarcerated in the roles of the other incarcerated men.
Almost to a man, they described what they feel is a universal period of anxiousness — of confusion — about what lies on the other side of the wall because, in many ways, time has stood still for them while they've been incarcerated, and the world outside has become foreign. But it's also because they've lived within an institution that has made every day-to-day social choice for them, and so their decision-making skills have really atrophied.
That's a real danger to someone who's reintegrating into society after having committed a serious crime, as the men that I worked with have. Reintegrating into society with your social skills having atrophied, but with your survival skills having been honed in a dangerous setting, is not necessarily the best combination for the general public, let alone for them.
Opening Minds Behind Bars
NPR-IL by Dusty Rhodes
Ro’Derick Zavala grew up in Chicago at 21st and State Street — the northern tip of a four-mile corridor lined with 8,000 units of public housing. His mother worked three jobs, including one at Walgreens, where she would pick up the Disney and Hanna Barbera books that inspired Zavala to fall in love with reading at a young age.
That passion should’ve made him a successful student. But on Chicago’s south side, in the 1980s, it was hard to find a safe place to go to school.
“My mother was always trying to get me out of the neighborhood I grew up in, so we constantly moved a lot. I was never in a school longer than a year," he says. "So you take me from one neighborhood to another school … to her, the school seems like a better place to go. But there still is a neighborhood around it that I have to operate in. So I continued to get in trouble in school and get kicked out of school.
Cory Booker: It’s time for the next step in criminal justice reform
Edward Douglas woke up on Jan. 10, 2019, in a federal penitentiary in Pekin, Ill., where he had spent every morning of the past 15 years of his life. He was serving a lifetime sentence for selling 140 grams of crack cocaine — an amount about the size of a baseball.
It seemed like any other day until, at 10:30 a.m., a guard came into Douglas’s cell and told him he needed to call his lawyer. A few minutes later, he reached his lawyer, who informed him that, thanks to a new law, he would be a free man in a matter of hours. Douglas started sobbing.
“I don’t know what to say,” Douglas said through tears. “I’ll be glad to see my mom and my kids.”
Reckoning With Violence
The New York Times by Michelle Alexander
March 3, 2019
We must face violent crime honestly and courageously if we are ever to end mass incarceration and provide survivors what they truly want and need to heal.
When Chicago’s police chief, Eddie Johnson, looked out at the sea of journalists to share the breaking news that Jussie Smollett, a well-known and beloved actor, had allegedly staged a violent racist and homophobic attack against himself, he said with great emotion: “Guys, I look out into the crowd, I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention.”
Chicago is besieged by horrific levels of violence, including thousands of shootings and hundreds of homicides each year. More than 500 people were killed in 2018, down from 664 in 2017. This ongoing tragedy cannot be blamed on any lack of aggressiveness on the part of law enforcement. Indeed, if wars on crime and drugs, militarized policing, “get tough” sentencing policies, torture of suspects, and perpetual monitoring and surveillance of the poorest, most crime-ridden communities actually worked to keep people safe, Chicago would be one of the safest cities in the world.
Despite the abysmal failure of “get tough” strategies to break cycles of violence in cities like Chicago, reformers of our criminal justice system in recent years have largely avoided the subject of violence, instead focusing their energy and resources on overhauling our nation’s drug laws and reducing penalties for nonviolent offenses.
Jay-Z and Meek Mill launch prison reform organization
CNN by Lisa Respers France
Rappers Jay-Z and Meek Mill have joined with sports and business leaders to try and reform the criminal justice system.
The pair were on hand Wednesday at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York to announce the formation of the REFORM Alliance, an organization that aims to reduce the number of people serving unjust parole and probation sentences.
In addition to Jay-Z and Mill, the founding partners include Philadelphia 76ers co-owner and Fanatics executive chairman Michael Rubin, Kraft Group CEO and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Brooklyn Nets co-owner and philanthropic investor Clara Wu Tsai, Third Point LLC CEO and founder Daniel S. Loeb, Galaxy Digital CEO and founder Michael E. Novogratz, and Vista Equity Partners founder, chairman and CEO Robert F. Smith.
JHA Special Report: Kewanee The Inaugural IDOC Life Skills Reentry Center Facility Report
John Howard Association of Illinois
The John Howard Association of Illinois (JHA) had our first official visit to the Kewanee Life Skills Reentry Center (LSRC) in April 2018, about a year after it opened in mid-February 2017 with the first 10 men housed within Kewanee LSRC (Kewanee) as an Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) facility.1 Population at Kewanee on the date of the April 2018 visit was 215, nearly double the population of 130 men housed at the facility a few months earlier at the beginning of 2018.2 The operational, or bed-space, capacity at Kewanee has been reported differently, from 538 to 648.3 Administrators stated that they expected to soon increase population to 280 when a third housing unit is opened. However, the facility capacity remains undecided, as increasing the population to the reported operational capacity is not yet considered feasible while maintaining program integrity.4 Kewanee’s population made up just about .5% of the approximately 41,060 people incarcerated within IDOC; nonetheless, the novel work of this facility merits review.
Kewanee had been an Illinois Youth Center run by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) until the closure of that facility in June 2016. JHA had called for the closure of the facility for youth for several years due to chronic issues and the low population throughout IDJJ.5 However, JHA strongly supported repurposing the facility for adults, in part because it has a much newer and better physical plant than most adult facilities,6 and to provide specialized services sorely lacking throughout IDOC.7 Ultimately, with Kewanee, Illinois chose to try something that had been talked about for years and encouraged by many including JHA, to use the facility to provide intensive programming and reentry preparation for those who were at a higher risk to recidivate.8 As Kewanee administrators explained, they don’t want “the best of the best,” or people who are already at a low level of risk to reoffend, and who are not coming back anyway, because providing intensive reentry programming for that population will not make as much of a difference.
JHA also notes that providing more humane treatment and productive programming undoubtably will benefit both individuals and society.
Time for businesses to take the second step for prison reform
The Hill by Jerry Goodstein
This past December, President Trump signed into law the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act — also known as the First Step Act. This legislation represents a powerful bipartisan commitment to federal criminal justice reform. Following the passage of the First Step Act, there has been significant praise for political leaders and calls for Congress to take this legislation further. Not only should we be looking to Congress to continue the progress made by this legislation, but most especially, we must look to the business sector to take the critical “second step” that can make the difference between success or failure of this act.
The First Step Act advances a number of initiatives within federal prisons to enhance people’s reentry into society after their release from prison. These initiatives include job training and counseling while incarcerated, the expansion of early-release programs for prisoners earning this privilege, and the release of prisoners closer to their home communities. The legislation also provides for reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and the re-evaluation of sentencing disparities associated with crack and powder cocaine offenses.
While these are all steps in the right direction, the people affected by the First Step Act must now prepare to reenter their communities — which is no easy task. They will need to rebuild relationships, find housing, and perhaps most importantly, find employment.
Exercising Full Powers: Recommendation to Kim Foxx on Addressing Systemic Racism in the Cook County Criminal Justice System
In 2016, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx was elected in a landslide victory that was widely seen as a referendum on Cook County’s criminal justice system. Voters rejected the “tough on crime” stance of Anita Alvarez as well as her cover-up of the police murder of Laquan McDonald. Voters chose, instead, a candidate who ran on a platform of holding police accountable and reversing some of the policies that led to massive increases in the number of African American and Latinx people incarcerated in Cook County.
Changing practices in such a large criminal justice system is a big order. The People’s Lobby and Reclaim Chicago – which organized a significant portion of Kim Foxx’s electoral operation – have been working with Chicago Appleseed to report regularly on Foxx’s progress to reduce incarceration. The following is a report on the first nine months of 2018 data released by the State’s Attorney’s Office. It includes key recommendations for how Foxx can strengthen her decarceration efforts and be a leader in rolling back the failed policies of over-policing and mass incarceration.
In this report we evaluate the performance of Foxx’s State’s Attorney Office on four major criteria we believe are vital to the advancement of criminal justice reform and overturning decades of systematic racism in the Cook County court system. We look at the role of felony charging by the prosecutor’s office and highlight limited successes in a context of rising felony charging by Foxx’s office. How people are charged within the criminal justice system has far reaching consequences not just for sentencing, but also for people’s ability to avoid pre-trial detention. We analyze how wealth and class effect pre-trial detention in light of recent reforms by Chief Judge Evans and attempts by Foxx to find alternatives to incarceration. This type of research and evaluation is only possible with regular, detailed access to data from the court system, so we evaluate Foxx’s efforts at transparency in a court system renowned for antiquated and incomplete record keeping. The most recent data release also provides a clearer window into how gun crimes are charged and adjudicated. The data suggest that a “war on guns” is now adding to the “war on drugs” with equally disastrous results.
Read the full report
The Love Story that Upended the Texas Prison System
Texas Monthly by Ethan Watters
October 11, 2018
In 1967, a 56-year-old lawyer met a young inmate with a brilliant mind and horrifying stories about life inside. Their complicated alliance—and even more complicated romance—would shed light on a nationwide scandal, disrupt a system of abuse and virtual slavery across the state, and change incarceration in Texas forever.
On November 9, 1967, Fred Cruz was in his sixth year of a fifteen-year robbery sentence and starting yet another stint in the hole. Of the many punishments the Texas prison system doled out to inmates, solitary confinement was one of the most brutal on the body and the soul. It wasn’t Cruz’s first time there, but it wasn’t something one got used to. The Ellis Unit, about fourteen miles north of Huntsville in a boggy lowland area of East Texas, was known as the toughest prison in the system, and there was no worse place to be in Ellis than solitary.
The cell’s darkness was so complete it made the eyes ache. On some occasions, Cruz was given a thin blanket and nothing else—no clothes and no mattress for the steel bunk. His toilet was a hole in the floor. He’d receive only three slices of bread a day with a full meal twice a week, and had shed multiple pounds from his already thin frame. After two weeks, an outer door to the cell would be opened, allowing in light from the hallway. This would be considered a “release” from solitary. Then the warden or an officer would come by and assess the sincerity of Cruz’s contrition. If he failed that yes-sir-no-sir encounter, the solid steel door would be shut again and the days of darkness would recommence.
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive