Ex-felons vote in Florida after overcoming prison - and the GOP
NBC News byElizabeth Janowski and Jane C. Timm
Nov. 2, 2019
Desmond Meade can't vote in Orlando's mayoral contest. But he'll be in the city on Saturday anyway, cheering as hundreds of recently reinfranchised ex-felons and their families head to the polls together.
Meade, the organizer who lead a campaign to amend Florida's Constitution and restore voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million people with felony convictions, called the party "a celebration of expanding our democracy." He has three felony convictions of his own, acquired during years of drug addiction. Just the thought of voting again, he said, "brings tears to my eyes."
But after the festivities, he has to return to work.
Since it was overwhelming passed by voters last year, the constitutional amendment Meade and his group, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, fought for has spurred legislation and litigation over differences of opinion in how to interpret and implement it. The FRRC has renewed its educational efforts, kicking off a a 23-city bus tour Saturday to register eligible ex-felons and raise awareness about a fund to help people pay off fines and fees associated with their convictions — an issue at the heart of the latest legal battle voting rights advocates have waged over restrictions lawmakers put in place that could still keep thousands from accessing the ballot box.
A Prison Lifer Comes Home
The Atlantic by Maura Ewing and Samantha Melamed
Haywood “Red Dog” Fennell was finishing up work for the day, headed back to his cell at Pennsylvania’s largest-capacity prison, when a friend called him over, eager to share the news that had lit up the men’s tiny TV screens and sent shouts and whistles echoing down the long, cavernous cell block. It was June 25, 2012, and the U.S. Supreme Court had just ruled that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole were unconstitutional for juveniles. Pennsylvania had imposed that sentence on more kids than any other state—some 500 of them, many now in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.
Men who still had their mothers called home to share the news. The jailhouse lawyers got creative with petitions to speed their release. The religious men said prayers. Fennell didn’t see much cause to celebrate. Forty-eight years of incarceration for a role in a fatal mugging when he was 17, and 11 denied commutation applications, had hardened him against fantasies of freedom. Besides, Fennell was 20 years old by the time he was convicted and sentenced. He figured the Supreme Court decision didn’t even apply to him.
Commentary: From jail to an apartment — not the streets. Secure housing is key for those pulling their lives back together.
Commentary: From jail to an apartment — not the streets. Secure housing is key for those pulling their lives back together.
Chicago Tribune by Richard J. Monocchio and Charles P. Burns
September 30, 2019
Johnny Washington walked out of his program graduation, certificate in hand, saying he felt relieved and proud. After more than 20 years of heroin abuse and numerous stints in Cook County Jail, he was now regularly engaged in therapy, finally clean and sober, had secured a part-time job and was on the cusp of having his most recent charges dismissed.
He had done everything right, and he was hopeful for the future, but one thing was weighing on his mind. While he had secured a spot at a transitional living facility for the time being, his time there was soon coming to an end. He worried about where he would land after leaving — and whether he would be able to afford it.
After Prison, more punishment
Washington Post by Tracy Jan
Sept 3, 2019
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — He had spent 17 of his 46 years behind bars, locked in a pattern of addiction and crime that led to 16 prison terms. Now, Meko Lincoln pushed a cart of cleaning supplies at the reentry house to which he had been paroled in December, determined to provide for his grandchildren in a way he failed to do as a father. “Keep on movin’, don’t stop,” Lincoln sang, grooving to the British R&B group Soul II Soul on his headphones as he emptied trash cans and scrubbed toilets at Amos House. He passed a bulletin board plastered with hiring notices — a line cook, a warehouse worker, a landscaper — all good jobs for someone with a felony record, but not enough for him.
Lincoln, who is training to be a drug and alcohol counselor, wants those lost years to count for something more.
“I lived it,” he said. “I understand it. My past is not a liability. It’s an asset. I can help another person save their life.”
Yet because regulations in Rhode Island and most other states exclude people with criminal backgrounds from many jobs, Lincoln’s record, which includes sentences for robbery and assault, may well be held against him.
Across the country, more than 10,000 regulations restrict people with criminal records from obtaining occupational licenses, according to a database developed by the American Bar Association. The restrictions are defended as a way to protect the public. But Lincoln and others point out that the rules are often arbitrary and ambiguous.
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Health Care Jobs Bill SB1965 - signed into Law
July 31, 2019 - IL E-News Release
Governor JB Pritzker signed a new law Wednesday that expands access for Illinoisans involved in the criminal justice system to gain employment in the health care industry.
“Over 4 million Illinoisans have an arrest or conviction record – that includes over 40 percent of our working age population,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “This vicious cycle of poverty, crime and injustice – which disproportionately impacts communities of color – does a disservice to everyone involved, from affected families to employers to taxpayers. I’m so proud that this legislation will dismantle another part of the wall that blocks people with records from living a dignified life. Today, with this action, we’re showing the world that we are building an Illinois that works for everyone.”
Senate Bill 1965 creates a timelier and efficient health care waiver application process, expands the list of eligible organizations that can initiate a fingerprint-based background check and those than can request waivers to include workforce intermediaries and pro bono legal service organization, and allows people with disqualifying conditions to obtain waivers before receiving a job offer.
Prior to the passage of SB 1965, only health care employers who extended a conditional offer to an applicant could begin a fingerprint-based background check. The new law expedites that process to reduce the barriers to employment and occupational licensing within the state’s health care sector, which is projected to be the fastest growing industry in the next 10 years. SB 1965 takes effect immediately.
“Governor Pritzker has once again demonstrated his commitment to communities throughout the state of Illinois by signing SB 1965 into law. Securing employment is critical to decreasing the likelihood of recidivism,” said Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton. “SB 1965 is a critical piece of legislation that will expand opportunity, justice, and equity throughout Illinois while increasing the pool of qualified candidates to fill much-needed positions.”
“This new law will help many throughout the state get their lives back on track,” said Senator Elgie R. Sims, Jr. (D-Chicago). “It will put people back to work and help keep them out of our prison system. By getting these background checks done upfront, we provide a greater level of transparency between applicants and employers, avoid wait times and help Illinoisans with criminal records have a better shot at getting a job.”
“As Illinois pushes forward with criminal justice reform, it is extremely important that we enhance and create opportunities for returning citizens to be productive in society and in our economy,” said Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago). “SB 1965 represents a major step forward in reducing recidivism in Illinois, as it will facilitate employment in the healthcare industry for ex-offenders that have embraced rehabilitation and turned their lives around.”
Formerly incarcerated people are building their own businesses and giving others second chances
ABA Journal by Kevin Davis
As he prepared to leave prison for the second time, David Figueroa decided he was going to walk away from the Chicago street gang he belonged to since he was a boy and build a better life for himself. “I wanted to do the right thing this time,” he says. “I wanted to get a job. I wanted to get married. I wanted to have children.”
He knew finding work would be hard because of his criminal record. “It was a very scary moment,” recalls Figueroa, whose hands, fingers, arms and chest were covered with gang tattoos when he left prison in 2005 at the age of 29. He thought at the time: “Wherever I go, I will be looked at as a scary person.”
Figueroa grew up in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, notorious for its violent street gangs in the ’80s and ’90s. He wanted out, and he hoped to work in construction. But doors began slamming as soon as he filled out job applications. “Every time I checked the box that asked whether you were a convicted felon, I never got a call back,” he says.
June 13, 2019
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Releases Report:
Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption and the Effects on Communities
WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released its report,Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption and the Effects on Communities. Each year, federal and state prisons release more than 620,000 individuals, and even after completing their sentences, these individuals still face potentially thousands of collateral consequences upon reentering society. Individuals can face barriers to voting, jury service, holding public office, securing employment, obtaining housing, receiving public assistance, getting a driver’s license, qualifying for college admission and financial aid, qualifying for military service, and maintaining legal status as an immigrant. The impact of each consequence extends past people with felony convictions to affect families and communities.
Chair Catherine E. Lhamon said, “These collateral consequences impose heavy burdens on formerly incarcerated persons’ ability successfully to reintegrate into free society and in so doing render all of us less equal and less safe. Congress, and local communities, should heed the call documented in these pages to lift unnecessary restrictions and speed effective reentry for formerly incarcerated people.”
Key findings from the Commission majority include:
· Collateral consequences exacerbate punishment beyond the criminal conviction after an individual completes the court-imposed sentence. Valid public safety bases support some collateral consequences; however, many are unrelated either to the underlying crime for which a person has been convicted or to a public safety purpose.
· Evidence shows harsh collateral consequences unrelated to public safety increase recidivism by limiting or by completely barring formerly incarcerated persons’ access to personal and family support.
· The general public, attorneys, and courts often lack knowledge of what the totality of the collateral consequences are in their jurisdiction, how long they last, and whether they are discretionary or mandatory, or even if they are relevant to public safety or merely an extended punishment beyond a sentence. This absence of awareness undermines any deterrent effect that might flow from attaching such consequences, separate and apart from the punishment itself, to criminal convictions.
Key recommendations from the Commission majority include:
· Collateral consequences should be tailored to serve public safety. Policymakers should avoid punitive mandatory consequences that bear no rational relationship to the offense committed, and impede people convicted of crimes from safely reentering and becoming contributing members of society. Jurisdictions should periodically review the consequences imposed by law or regulation to evaluate whether they are necessary to protect public safety and if they are related to the underlying offenses.
· Call on Congress to limit discretion of public housing providers to prevent them from categorically barring people with criminal convictions from access to public housing; lift restrictions on access to student loans based on criminal convictions, except for convictions related to financial fraud; eliminate restrictions on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits based on criminal convictions; and require federal courts to give comprehensive notice of federal restrictions on individuals’ rights before guilty plea entry, upon conviction, and upon release from incarceration.
Collateral Consequences is based on expert and public input, extensive research and analysis, and testimony, findings, and recommendations from Commission State Advisory Committees in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
COOK COUNTY CHIEF JUDGE RELEASES NEW REPORT ON BOND REFORM SHOWING OVERWHELMING SUCCESS
Coalition to End Money Bond
Late last week, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans released a new report about bond reform and its impact in Cook County. Notably, the court also released case-level data for the first time, which will allow independent analysis by people outside the court system. The central conclusion from the new report is simple: fewer people are being incarcerated in Cook County Jail and increased pretrial releases “did not increase the threat to public safety in Cook County.”
What this truly means is that releasing more people pretrial in recent years has, in fact, increased public safety. In addition to the fact that reforms have not been shown to increase already low re-arrest rates, jailing fewer people will ultimately reduce crime because pretrial incarceration increases recidivism. The changes have also meant that, on any given day in Cook County, thousands of people who are members of the public are spared the inherent harms—physical, economic, emotional, legal—that necessarily occur in jail.
The report analyzes data about tens of thousands of bond decisions made in Cook County in 2016 and 2018, both before and after the implementation of General Order 18.8A, the local court rule requiring judges to set money bonds only in amounts people can afford to pay. According to the report, the Order has had clear positive effects: money bonds have been used less frequently overall, the median money bond amount has dropped significantly (from $5,000 to $1,000), and the average daily number of people in Cook County Jail has declined from 10,064 in January 2014 to 5,799 in December 2018. Despite the Order’s stated goal of ensuring “no [one] is held in custody prior to trial solely because [they] cannot afford to post bail,” however, approximately 2,000 people were locked up in Cook County Jail for just that reason on the day of the report’s release.
California Programs Helps People On Parole To Function In Society
Heard on Morning Edition by Elissa Nadworny
May 2, 2019
A re-entry program in San Bernardino, Calif., for released offenders is like a bridge between the world of corrections and the world of social services. The program helps people on parole transition.
The United States has the largest prison population in the world, and a big part of that is re-offenders. One way to get those numbers down is to give people on parole the tools they need to function in society. In San Bernardino, Calif., there is a promising effort to do just that. Here's NPR's Elissa Nadworny.
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What happened during my first visit to a prison since being released from one
Washington Post by Jason Razaian
On my latest trip to the Bay Area, I did something a bit different from what I usually do when I visit the area in which I grew up: I went to prison.
I had the opportunity to meet with inmates at San Quentin State Prison, the California penitentiary that sits on the southeastern edge of San Rafael, the city I called home for my first 33 years.
I had driven past San Quentin thousands of times. As a boy at Marin Country Day School, I looked out across the bay to see the prison’s sand-colored walls just across the water. During my childhood, my dad, his sister and a cousin all had retail businesses in an outdoor shopping mall less than a quarter of a mile from the prison.
This, though, was the first time I was going inside. It was my first experience at a prison since being released from Evin in Iran, which was also eerily close to my home in Tehran.
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive