Category: Mass incarceration

Hold Sheriff Accountable for Human Rights Violations at Alameda County Jail, Says New Report

 “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them.”  Hebrews 13:3

Santa Rita Jail, Alameda County

The Live Free Committee of Oakland Community Organization (OCO) released a  report titled “What’s Up With Our Jails?” on Oct. 2, detailing human rights violations  taking place in Alameda County jail.

This important report is available online at www.oaklandpost.org and was published in the Oakland Post.

The 2,600 people held in Alameda County jails daily are our brothers and sisters, fathers, mothers, and neighbors. The jails are ours, as taxpayers and voters, and should reflect our values.

Racial and economic injustices are evident in who ends up in jail. While we work to correct these injustices, our research raises urgent questions about county jail operations:

  • Do our jails meet basic human rights standards?
  • Do we offer persons leaving jail the resources they need to successfully return to our communities?
  • What can we, as a community, do to make a difference?

Who Runs Our Jails?

The Alameda County Sheriff is the elected official with authority over county jail operations. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO), under the direction of Sheriff Gregory Ahern since 2006, also polices unincorporated areas of the county and functions as county coroner.

Sheriff Greg Ahern

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors, also an elected body, is responsible for authorizing the annual ACSO budget and monitoring jail conditions.

Who Is Locked Up?

Alameda County has two jails — the Santa Rita Jail (the larger facility, in Dublin) and the Glenn E. Dyer Detention Facility (a high-rise maximum security jail in Oakland).

In early 2018, the county jails held on average 2,362 men and 236 women daily. The average daily jail population is more than 50 percent African-American, 20 percent Latino, and less than 20 percent white.

Reasons for Incarceration: Only 446 (18 percent) of the 2,598 people held in our jails in early 2018 were actually serving sentences. According to ACSO data from December 2017, of those detained but not sentenced, one-third were bail-eligible.

They remained in custody because they were too poor to afford bail.

Length of Incarceration: Some people are serving sentences of years rather than months in our jails. State prison reforms in 2011 moved many people convicted of nonviolent crimes from state jurisdiction to the counties.

For lower-level offenders, local supervision is supposed to be better than state prison. Yet county jails were never intended for long confinement.

Even pretrial incarceration can take years. In 2013, for instance, Dajon Ford was arrested as a juvenile and spent four years in Santa Rita awaiting trial before community efforts finally won his freedom.

OCO Findings

OCO leaders have heard many complaints about the treatment of people detained in the county’s jails over the years. Based on our research, we find these to be the most serious current problems.

Pregnancy: At Santa Rita, pregnant women are in with the general population unless they ask to be moved to a medical unit, which means isolation 23 hours a day. Multiple sworn testimonies reveal that medical needs for pregnant women are often neglected.

“A very pregnant woman … was in so much pain she could not walk. … Instead of taking her to receive medical care, [deputies] placed her in an isolation cell … [she] began to scream. This went on for hours. … Finally, we could hear the crying of a baby … [she] had given birth, alone,” from a sworn declaration of a woman incarcerated at Santa Rita.

Medical Care: Many lawsuits have been brought against the jails’ for-profit medical care contractors. Sheriff’s deputies are not trained as certified emergency medical responders. In 2015, Mario Martinez died in Santa Rita when deputies ignored cries for help and failed to provide needed medical care.

Food Services: Complaints about poor jail food and kitchen cleanliness — including reports of animal feces and rats — are common. A recent Alameda County Public Health Department inspection found that 24 percent of persons in Santa Rita were not getting their required diets. Canteen food is available, but only to those who can pay for it.

Hygiene Services: Female inmates have testified in recent lawsuits that they cannot get the sanitary supplies they need. During the 2017 hunger strike at Glenn Dyer, inmates complained that they were getting only one set of clean clothes per week.

Isolation: Ten percent of Santa Rita inmates and 20 percent of Glenn Dyer inmates are held in “administrative isolation” — a kind of solitary confinement. Isolation was a major grievance of the Glenn Dyer strikers. Studies have shown solitary confinement can “severely impair prisoners’ capacity for normal human functioning.”

Contact with Family and Community: Family visitation is restricted to 30 minutes. No physical contact is permitted. Visiting hours are available during limited hours, three days a week. The cost of phone and video calls runs about $6 for 15 minutes.

“It kills me mentally to be in jail,” said a young man who was held in Santa Rita.

“A 30-minute visit maximum a week … is not enough. It breaks families. They use visits as punishment, taking visits away,” said two men formerly held in Santa Rita.

Lack of Translators: Although there are bilingual deputies and ACSO has a rulebook in Spanish, there are no dedicated translators on staff. Translation is often done informally among inmates. Language barriers can prevent individuals from participating in programs and services.

ICE and Undocumented Persons: Despite sanctuary policies passed by the Board of Supervisors that restrict contact between ICE and law enforcement, the Sheriff’s Office has posted inmates’ release dates on the internet. This allows ICE to take undocumented persons into custody (even though being held at Santa Rita Jail is not evidence of criminal guilt) and exposes others to harassment or retaliation as they leave the jail.

Release from Jail: People are often released from our jails at night and alone with no more than a BART ticket — without even a few days’ supply of essential medications. Since Medi-Cal benefits are automatically suspended in jail, many people return to the community with no medical coverage.

“They just release you. No referrals. They gave me a $5 BART ticket. I had to walk to the BART station in my [jail] blues,” according to two young men released from Santa Rita.

Re-entry and Rehab Programs: In 2014, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors adopted a re-entry strategic plan to help break the cycle of returning the same people to jail.

The plan, not yet implemented, acknowledges the need to provide inmates with a wide range of services such as housing, health care, mental health and substance abuse services; employment; and education.

Yet rehabilitative programs within Santa Rita Jail remain underfunded and understaffed, serving relatively few inmates effectively. Only the most motivated individuals tend to get the help they need. But society would be better off if everyone received needed services.

They classify people by tattoos, gang, where they’re from. … Couldn’t take college or trade classes in there because of security,” said one young man who had been in Santa Rita.

“There are waiting lists. Everybody is trying to get into a program,” said another young man who did time in the jail.

Our sources report that ACSO’s jail classification system (the way it segregates and houses people for security and other reasons) ends up denying program access to those who need resources the most. (ACSO, unlike state prisons, does not make its classification system public.)

ACSO also routinely excludes formerly incarcerated persons from serving as community program staff and peer mentors within the jail, eliminating another invaluable resource for inmates.

We must reduce the likelihood of people returning to jail. The community has a right to expect that people returning to our families and neighborhoods after staying in our jails will not be worse off than before they were detained.

Community Action Make a Difference

  1. Demand that our jails adopt best practices – changes Alameda County should initiate immediately:
  • Adopt the higher California state prison standards for conditions of confinement, which reflect the needs of inmates held for longer periods.
  • Adopt a supportive model for meeting the critical needs of pregnant women and new mothers.
  • Make the cost of phone calls and jail canteen food affordable for all inmates, as Santa Clara County has done.
  • Prohibit the posting of inmate release information on the internet where it can endanger the lives and safety of those departing custody.
  1. Insist on more effective community re-entry programs.
  • Return to the community is the expected outcome for every person held in our jails. This understanding should drive a comprehensive “needs-based” re-entry plan for each individual. As the re-entry strategic plan adopted by the county in 2014 stated, effective re-entry “begins with assisting the individual at the earliest possible point of contact with the criminal justice system [and continues] through community-based supervision and community integration.”
  • Require A Full Needs Assessment: Every inmate must receive a full assessment of their needs so that they are better prepared to re-enter the community. This means identifying their health, education, housing, and employment needs. Job training and placement are particularly essential to successful re-entry.
  • Release with a Warm Hand-Off: Our jails must ensure that all released individuals have safe transportation, emergency housing if needed and access to critical community services to meet their immediate needs (medical services, mental health care, substance abuse treatment and domestic violence prevention).

Four hours after her 1:30 a.m. release from Santa Rita on July 28, 2018, Jessica St. Louis, 26, was found dead near the passenger pick-up area of the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station, two miles from the jail, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 8, 2018.

The county must ensure that Medi-Cal benefits are reinstated at the point of release. San Diego and Los Angeles counties work with the Department of Motor Vehicles so that everyone leaving jail has an ID or driver’s license. Alameda County should adopt this model.

  • Ensure Continuity with Community-Based Providers: On-site and re-entry programs are better run by community-based providers who can offer continuity of services once people are released, rather than by the Sheriff’s Office whose primary expertise is detention and law enforcement.

In its re-entry strategic plan, the Board of Supervisors concurred that a successful return to the community relies on “high-quality, peer-involved and comprehensive” programs and services.

  1. Hold our elected officials accountable and institute community oversight.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors holds the purse strings of the Sheriff’s Office. Since 2005, the county jail population has declined by 45 percent while the sheriff’s budget for detention and corrections has increased by 92 percent. This large increase in ACSO’s resources raises questions for taxpayers:

How are these dollars being used?

How can money be reinvested in community-based re-entry programs and services?

  • Conduct a financial management and performance audit: The Justice Reinvestment Coalition (a community group that includes OCO) has proposed a Financial Management and Performance Audit to determine how ACSO has used increased resources while its jail population has decreased — and to what effect. The audit is an essential step toward systematic ACSO transparency. We demand that the Board of Supervisors adopt the audit as proposed.
  • Separate coroner duties from the sheriff: In Alameda County, the sheriff is also the county coroner by law. Deaths that occur inside the jails are medically examined by ACSO (including two deaths that occurred within one week in June 2018). Coroner duties must be separated from the Sheriff’s Office.
  • Establish independent oversight: No one can be expected to monitor their own behavior objectively. Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties have initiated independent oversight agencies of their sheriff’s departments. Alameda County should adopt a model of independent community oversight of jail conditions and re-entry programs.

Greater accountability and oversight of the Sheriff’s Office are in the interests of a wide range of stakeholders in Alameda County, including deputies working in the jails.

What’s Next?

The immediate goals of OCO’s Live Free Committee are to guarantee humane jail conditions and to return individuals to the community with the resources to improve their chances for success.

For information about OCO’s jail project as well as sources, methods, citations and notes, see www.oaklandcommunity.org/OurJails  or contact BK Woodson Sr. at servantbk@
oaklandcommunity.org

 

 

 

East Oakland Organizations Unveil New Grassroots People’s Agenda

Speakers Tuesday evening at the East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods rally at Oakland City Hall were (L to R): Mercedes De La Torre of Communities for a Better Environment, Andre Spearman of Oakland Community Organizations and Vernetta Woods, Oakland Community Organizations Photo by Ken Epstein.

East Oakland residents gathered in front of city hall his week to unveil a community-created East Oakland People’s Agenda.

The agenda, based on community needs, was created Sept. 30 at a Community Assembly of the newly-formed East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods, attended by Oakland residents who live in communities between Lake Merritt and the San Leandro border

The release of the agenda on Tuesday, Nov. 7 was intentional—one year ahead of the 2018 elections— announcing residents’ determination to vote for candidates and ballot measures that align with their agenda.

“We are inspired by the hundreds of East Oaklanders who made our Community Assembly such a fantastic success,” says Sonya Khvann, an EBAYC leader and resident of District 2. “We are ready to fight for the agenda that we created there.”

The East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods is an umbrella organization formed by six of East Oakland’s most prominent community organizations, whose members are fed up with a lack of action on extremely pressing problems in East Oakland—including housing and homelessness, fears about immigration raids, illegal dumping, gun violence and the street-level sex trade, air quality and the lack of green space, school quality and safety, and good jobs for the unemployed.

Beginning in January, members of East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods will start a process of research and trainings to prepare residents to advocate effectively for the People’s Agenda.

“We are in this for the long haul,” says Andre Spearman, a leader with Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) and District 5 resident. “We are serious about building the power we need to be in charge of our communities.”

Evangelina Lara, an EBAYC organizer and a District 2 resident, says the purpose of the Congress is to provide East Oakland with the same kind of clout that more affluent neighborhoods have. “We represent the East Oakland majority,” said Lara. “Politicians are on notice that they need to respond to OUR agenda.”

“Residents from all four East Oakland City Council Districts came together to create this agenda,” says Alba Hernandez, an OCO organizer and a District 6 resident. “Our members are working together to make it come true.”

Published November 10, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Oakland Anti-Displacement Coalition Says “Speak Out to Stay Put!”

Carroll Fife (top left), a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, spoke at a workshop on developing an anti-displacement electoral strategy Oct. 17 "Speak Out to Stay Put!"forum in Oakland. Photo b Ken Epstien

Carroll Fife (top left), a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, spoke at a workshop on developing an anti-displacement electoral strategy Oct. 17 “Speak Out to Stay Put!”forum in Oakland. Photo b Ken Epstien

By Ken A. Epstein

Local organizations took a big step forward last weekend in their efforts to coalesce the growing movement to impact the market-driven wave of displacement that is pushing out local residents and small businesses, fueling criminalization of young people and adults and suppressing Oaklanders’ cultural expression in the parks and churches.

About 500 people squeezed into the West Oakland Youth Center last Saturday for an event called “Speak Out to Stay Put! An Oakland-wide Anti-Displacement Forum,” hosted by over a dozen organizations and endorsed by over 20 groups.

Groups that helped put on the event included: Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Causa Justa: Just Cause (CJJC), California Nurses Association (CNA), Community Planning Leaders (CPL), East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), East Bay Organizing Committee (EBOC), Oakland Alliance, Oakland Tenants Union (OTU), SEIU 1021 and Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP).

Robbie Clark

Robbie Clark

 The purpose of the forum was enhance connections between the groups that are working against displacement and to deepen the understanding of the complex connections between various aspects of displacement and the variety solutions that organizations that groups are supporting.

“We wanted to come together to unite a lot of the forces who are in motion against gentrification, people who are involved in their neighborhoods or working on a variety of development plans and policies,” said Robbie Clark, regional housing rights campaign lead organizer at Causa Justa, in an interview with the Post.

“We want to broaden how people look at displacement, look at the factors that play into gentrification, plug people into additional ways to fight displacement and expand the strategies they can use,” said Clark

 The day’s workshop topics indicate the breath of the concerns: climate change and displacement, community land trusts for public control of city-owned land, the poor people’s movement to fight homelessness, police brutality and gentrification, the fight for jobs and decent wages for Oaklanders, promoting tenant rights and how to elect public officials who are accountable to residents.

 Clark pointed out an aspect of gentrification that so far have not received much attention are the explosive commercial rental increases that are pushing out small businesses and nonprofits that provide services to residents.

“These small businesses and nonprofits are all part of the neighborhood fabric that holds communities together – businesses and services that people utilize are being threatened,” said Clark.

One of the speakers at the workshop on elections and voting was Carroll Fife, a co-founder the Oakland Alliance, a citywide organization that formed about a year ago.

 Fife said her experience working in Dan Siegel’s mayoral campaign last year showed her, “There is a lot of energy that is untapped in this city – (but) we have to put egos aside. There are lots of organizations that are doing work in silos,” unconnected to each other.

She said the Oakland Alliance is trying to find ways groups can work together, not in interests of one organization, but “for what is good for everyone in the city.”

Dan Siegel, an Oakland civil rights attorney, said that voting is a component of building peoples’ power.

“An electoral strategy by itself will not make change,” but the movement needs to select and elect leaders who will be accountable to the community and the promises they make when they running for office, said Siegel.

“(At present), we see people who say they are going to do this or they are going to do that, but (once elected) they don’t do it,” said Siegel. “Oakland has a city council that has completely checked out on housing.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, Oct. 22, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

California’s New Racial Profiling Law Seen as First Step Toward Police Accountability

California Highway Patrol officer stands outside the office of Gov. Jerry Brown as protestors shouting "Black lives matter!" block the hallway last month demanding approval of AB 953, a bill aimed at reducing racial profiling by the police. Photo courtesy of AP.

California Highway Patrol officer stands outside the office of Gov. Jerry Brown as protestors shouting “Black lives matter!” block the hallway last month demanding approval of AB 953, a bill aimed at reducing racial profiling by the police. Photo courtesy of AP.

 

By Ashley Chambers

A state bill that was signed into law this past weekend will usher in new police accountability reforms requiring California law enforcement to collect and report identity data on police stops in order to address racial profiling.

In the face of continuous pressure from community groups and civil rights activists who occupied the State Capitol rallying in support of the bill, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 953 (The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015) into law on Oct. 3.

Rev. Ben McBride

Rev. Ben McBride

The bill, authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber with co-authors Assemblymember Rob Bonta and Senator Holly Mitchell, is designed to combat racial profiling, police misconduct, and help restore trust between police and the community.

Reports show that Black and Latino drivers are pulled over in traffic stops at higher rates than whites, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over by police than whites, and Latino drivers are six percent more likely than whites, the Washington Post reported.

In Oakland, 55 percent of vehicle stops involved African Americans while they make up only 28 percent of the city population. Whites were stopped in 12 percent of traffic stops by Oakland police but represent 34 percent of the city population.

This new law, although just a first step, hopes to change that trajectory, according to activists.

Rosa Aqeel

Rosa Aqeel

Under the law’s requirements, police and other law enforcement agencies track data from traffic and pedestrian stops, including the race, age and gender of the people stopped, the reason for the stop and result, as well as actions taken by the officer.

Each agency will be accountable to the state Attorney General and will submit an annual report to be reviewed by a 19-member advisory board.

“This precedent setting legislation is historic – it is both a moral and legal victory for our state and our nation,” said Rev. Ben McBride, Director of Regional Clergy Development with PICO California, who was part of the coalition of activists that rallied at the State Capitol for Governor Brown to sign the bill.

“The people have spoken and no longer will we be held hostage by rogue officers and departments who see us as criminals unworthy of human dignity simply by virtue of the color of our skin.”

The Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) will be one of the first laws to revise the definition of “racial and identity profiling,” based on recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the U.S. Department of Justice. It will prohibit profiling based on race, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability.

“It’s a very important first step in creating some transparency and accountability with the way in which law enforcement policies our communities,” said Rosa Aqeel, legislative director with PICO California, one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

“For so many years, folks who live in communities of color have been making complaints on a lot of actions that have led to harassment. Police have dismissed those for years as just being anecdotal,” Aqeel said. “Now, we’re able to see how pervasive racial profiling is across the state.”

Collecting and reporting racial and identity data is just one part of the new law. A RIPA Board will analyze the data and then create solutions to address police violence and unjust policing practices.

Occupying seats on the board will be 19 members representing law enforcement, community organizations, faith leaders, human and civil rights activists, and a university professor specializing in racial and identity equity. One young person, aged 16 to 24, will have a seat on the board as well.

Together, the board will develop guidelines and training for all officers in California, the bill reads, to raise awareness and respect among law enforcement of racial and cultural diversity.

“AB 953 puts California on a path moving from an anecdotal system to one that is data-driven,” said Chauncee Smith, Racial Justice Advocate with the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy, another co-sponsor of the bill along with the Youth Justice Coalition, Dignity and Power Now, and others.

The board will work in partnership with law enforcement agencies and submit policy recommendations to curb racial profiling.

“The advisory board is a means to the ultimate end,” said Smith. “It is invaluable to ensure law enforcement buy-in on every finding and recommendation from the board.”

It is also important for community members to be actively involved in this process and let their local police departments know that they want to see effective change, Aqeel said.

“Ultimately, it will be up to different communities to take the recommendations from RIPA and see which ones make the most sense for local communities,” she said.

“I think that (AB 953) is a really important first step in the long journey that we have to ensure police accountability,” said Taina Vargas-Edmond, State Advocate with the Ella Baker Center. “We can’t push for policy reforms that will keep our people safer unless we have the data to support and back up what people of color know to be the real experience of our lives.”

“This lets the people know that all of the power is in the hands of the people, in organizing, and in making our voices heard,” Vargas-Edmond said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 10, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Landmark Victory Curbs Long-term Solitary Confinement in California Prisons

 Family members of prisoners, demonstrators and lawyers celebrated last week's landmark settlement reducing long-term solitary confinement in California prisons. A press conference was held on Sept. 1 outside the state building in Oakland. Photos by Ashley Chambers.

Family members of prisoners, demonstrators and lawyers celebrated last week’s landmark settlement reducing long-term solitary confinement in California prisons. A press conference was held on Sept. 1 outside the state building in Oakland. Photos by Ashley Chambers.

By Ashley Chambers

A landmark victory this week to reduce long-term solitary confinement in California will immediately release up to 2,000 prisoners who have been held in isolation for 10 years or more for alleged gang affiliation.

The settlement in the case of Ashker v. Governor Brown last week is a historic step to reform the practice of keeping prisoners in solitary confinement indefinitely.

The lawsuit was originally filed by prisoners held in Security Housing Units (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, challenging long-term solitary confinement as “cruel and unusual punishment” and as a violation of prisoners’ Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

Under the settlement, prisoners in solitary confinement for alleged gang affiliation will be released into the general prison population. Some prisoners, depending on their offenses, will enter a two-year, four-step, step-down program to return to the general prison population.

In addition, solitary confinement will no longer be used as punishment for alleged gang affiliation, dramatically reducing the SHU prisoner population in the state.

Nearly 3,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement in California prisons, the majority of which have been in the SHU for multiple years, some for as long as 30 or 40 years.

Angie Gallegos, whose brother has been in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison for 26 years.

Angie Gallegos, whose brother has been in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison for 26 years.

Prisoners in the SHU spend nearly 24 hours a day in small cells, not much bigger than a large bathroom stall and often without windows. They are denied phone calls, physical contact with visitors, and any recreational activities or programs.

Prisoners mobilized hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013, when over 30,000 prisoners protested indefinite solitary confinement.

The prisoners themselves played a critical role in the fight to win this settlement, said Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and the lead lawyer on the lawsuit.

Going forward, no prisoner will be held in solitary confinement for more than 10 years, a length of time that many still consider to be a violation of human rights.

“This is something we’ve been waiting for so long. It’s so emotional, I don’t even have words,” said Angie Gallegos, whose brother has been in the SHU for 26 years at Pelican Bay.

“Hopefully next month, we’re going to have our first hug in 30 years,” said Gallegos, speaking at a press conference held on Tuesday, Sept. 1 in front of the state building in Oakland.

Hugo Pinell, who was recently killed in prison, was held in solitary confinement for 46 years, the longest known time a prisoner has ever been held in isolation. Pinell’s life and fight against prison violence was acknowledged at the press conference last Tuesday.

Marie Levin, the sister of one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said her brother has been in solitary confinement for 31 years.

Marie Levin, whose brother has been in solitary for 31 years.

Marie Levin, whose brother has been in solitary for 31 years.

She said she has had no physical contact with her brother during that time. “It will be a blessing to hold him,” said Levin.

She said she hopes that other states will follow California’s example.

“They’re allowing prisoners to have input on the change,” said Levin. “So they’re asking the prisoners what do we need to change, how do we need to do this, what’s effective, what’s not – that’s going to make a difference.”

According to a statement released by the prisoners who are plaintiffs in the case, “California’s agreement to abandon indeterminate SHU confinement based on gang affiliation demonstrates the power of unity and collective action.”

“It is our hope that this groundbreaking (End Hostilities) agreement to end the violence between the various ethnic groups in California prisons will inspire not only state prisoners, but also jail detainees, county prisoners and our communities on the street, to oppose ethnic and racial violence,” the statement said.

The settlement includes the creation of a modified general population unit for prisoners coming out of the SHU, allowing them time outside their cell, family visits, phone calls and other privileges.

“Part of this agreement is that there’s going to be a new facility created for men stepping out of the SHU who’ve been there for 10 years or more,” said Anne Weills, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“There are different categories in this group: some of the men that are coming out, there may be threats against them so we want to protect them,” she said. “Some men will be in the step-down program; some men maybe have committed an offense that would place them in the SHU.”

Prisoners in these new units will have access to educational programming. Lawyers on the case also want psychological and mental health support for prisoners but that is yet to be negotiated, Weills said.

One additional term of the settlement is no retaliation against prisoners based on their conduct, leadership and involvement in this litigation, she said.

“This movement is so important…to give these men a proper setting to grow and to change, and to basically live a halfway decent life in the system,” said Weills.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 5, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Ferguson, Missouri Judge Throws Out Arrest Warrants; Local Activists Say Change in Oakland Courts Long Overdue

By Ken Epstein

A new municipal court judge in Ferguson, Mo. this week announced he was withdrawing all arrest warrants issued before Jan. 1, 2015, taking an action that should be duplicated and expanded by courts in Oakland and other cities across the country, according to local anti-mass incarceration and civil rights activists.

Appointed in June as municipal court judge of Ferguson, Mo,  i   Donald L. McCullin formerly served as circuit judge of the 22nd Judicial Circuit  for September1999 to 2011, when he retired. Judge McCullin earned a law degree from St. Louis University Law School (SLU) where he has served on the Dean's Council. He is a member of the Missouri, Illinois, and California bars. Besides private practice, he served four years as managing attorney for the United Auto Workers Legal Services Program and 11 years with Anheuser-Busch Companies as Director of Diversity and Compliance. He served two terms as president of the Mound City Bar Association and Regional Director of the National Bar Association.

Appointed in June as municipal court judge of Ferguson, Mo, Donald L. McCullin formerly served as circuit judge of the 22nd Judicial Circuit from 1999 to 2011, when he retired. Judge McCullin earned a law degree from St. Louis University Law School (SLU) where he has served on the Dean’s Council. He is a member of the Missouri, Illinois, and California bars. Besides working in private practice, he served four years as managing attorney for the United Auto Workers Legal Services Program and 11 years with Anheuser-Busch Companies as director of Diversity and Compliance..

Many of the warrants were for unpaid fines or failure to appear in court for traffic violations.

“The Ferguson court took a significant step in trying to undo years and decades of a cycle of poverty and incarceration in that city, though it is certainly not all that needs to be done,” said Zachary Norris, executive director of Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, which has been involved in campaigns against mass incarceration.

Under the court order issued by Ferguson Judge Donald McCullin on Aug. 24, the conditions of pre-trial release were modified, and defendants will be give new court dates along with alternative dispositions, such as payment plans, community service or commuting fines for people without money.

Zachary Norris, executive director of Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Zachary Norris, executive director of Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

“Many individuals whose license has been suspended will be able to obtain them and take advantage of the benefits of being able to drive,” said McCullin. “Moreover, defendants will not be (denied) pre-trial release because of inability to make bond.”

In addition, if arrest warrants were issued for a minor traffic violation, the defendants will not be incarcerated but instead released on their own recognizance.

All active warrants more than five years old will be withdrawn. In cases where a person’s driver’s license was suspended solely for failure to appear in court or pay a fine, the license will be reinstated pending final disposition.

The judge’s ruling is in part a response to a scathing Department of Justice report in March that found Ferguson’s police department and municipal court targeted low-income and minority residents with tickets and fines for minor offenses in order to raise revenue for the city.

According to the DOJ Report, more than 16,000 people, equal to 70 percent of Ferguson’s population, had outstanding arrest warrants at the end of last year.

While the judge’s action was a significant step forward, according to Norris of Ella Baker Center, the reform could not have been won without grassroots activism.

Walter Riley

Walter Riley

“It was a hard-fought victory that comes as a result of community struggle,” said Norris, who said the Organization for Black Struggle in the Saint Louis area made the withdrawal of warrants one of its central demands.

“The Organization for Black Struggle has been advocating for changing several of these policies that effectively result in debtors prison (for the poor),” he said.

The practice of issuing warrants amounts to a “money-making scheme” that is common in California, affecting as many as one out of six drivers, he said.

“Traffic courts drive inequality in California,” he said, referring to the case of one woman who had a $25 traffic ticket and as result of penalties, ultimately owed $2,900.

The woman lost her license and her job, ending up on public assistance, he said. “She was consigned to an unending cycle of poverty and incarceration.”

In Oakland, Norris continued, “We need to end the practice of suspending licenses for traffic tickets, taking away people’s way to continue with their jobs.”

The city also needs “deep and meaningful pretrial reform,” said Norris, noting that 75 percent of people in the Alameda County jail have been convicted of nothing.

“They are charged with something and can’t make bail,” which means they lose their jobs and have their family relationships disrupted, he said.

Local judges should take up the challenge to make these same reforms, said Oakland civil rights attorney and activist Walter Riley.

“Oakland judges need to look at this kind of example,” he said. “The judge in Ferguson has recognized some of the inequities and has taken the responsibility to do something about it.”

This cycle of arrests, fines and jailing are an element of mass incarceration, said Riley, the continuous adverse impact of the criminal justice system of people without money, particularly on African Americans.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 30, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

We Must Speak Up” for Racial Justice, Say Teen Leaders and Rep. Barbara Lee

Calling for Black-Brown unity, a youth said, “The system has us pinned against each other.”

Jose Alejandre speaks at the Community Forum on Racial Justice on Aug. 18 at Brookins AME Church in Oakland. Photos by Ashley Chambers.

Jose Alejandre speaks at the Community Forum on Racial Justice on Aug. 18 at Brookins AME Church in Oakland. Photos by Ashley Chambers.

 

By Ashley Chambers

“In order to improve race relations in America, we must speak up. Comfortable silence has gotten us nowhere,” said Alomar Burdick, one of the young panelists speaking at the Community Forum on Racial Justice on Aug. 18 at Brookins AME Church in Oakland.

Stressing the need for community and action, three young people led the discussion, sharing their outlook on race in America and ways that people can work together against racism.

“In order for us to speak up, we must replace comfortable silence with verbal discomfort, and we must take action,” said Burdick, who works with the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee hosted the forum and participated in the panel, along with Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks.

Another young panelist stressed the importance of knowing and embracing one’s identity.

“What I think is really important is to really know where we’re trying to go,” said Adeniji Asabi-Shakir, of Young, Gifted and Black.

“I would like to find a way to be able to…thrive and speak pride openly,” added Asabi-Shakir.

Another young panelist emphasized that in order to make strides in fighting the system of racial injustice, Black and Brown communities need to work together.

“The system has us pinned against each other – its divide and conquer. Our kids are growing up alongside each other and don’t understand each other,” said Jose Alejandre.

“I want to put a call out to community members to lead by example to show the kids that we can build up Black and Brown communities in East Oakland, wherever we are,” he said.

“If we don’t do it now, the separation between Black and brown (people)…will get bigger and bigger.”

The discussion addressed the impacts of institutional racism, pointing to racial disparities that exist in education, criminal justice, housing, jobs and other areas.

Studies show that African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.

A recent Department of Education survey highlights inequities in the education of Black preschool kids. While Black children, ages 2 to 4, are only 18 percent of students in preschool, they make up 40 percent of the number of the kids that are kicked out of preschool.

“How do you suspend a preschool baby from school? There’s something wrong,” said Congresswoman Lee.

“Everywhere you look in American society, you’ve got issues around structural and institutional racism,” she said

It is especially important, said the congresswoman, that we “really not allow people to say we’re playing the race card if we want to talk about race. We have to talk about public policies and structures and funding policies in a way that includes race.”

Lee said she is pushing legislation to reverse these disparities, including language to address the expulsion of Black preschool children.

She is also pushing for legislation to increase police accountability, end racial profiling and address inequalities in school funding, job training, re-entry programs, violence prevention and apprenticeships for youth.

Councilmember Desley Brooks recently led a fight to establish a Department of Race and Equity in the City of Oakland, which the city approved this summer.

“This (department) is about truly looking at the policies and procedures of the city and changing them,” she said.

The new department, expected to start by December, will address systemic inequities in city policies and practices – such as housing, jobs, contracting, and employment.

Congresswoman Lee will hold additional forums in the future throughout her congressional district.

For more information, visit Rep. Barbara Lee on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 29, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Is America Hearing the Message Resonating from Behind Prison Walls?

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

By Troy William

Commentary

Troy Williams

Troy Williams

After reading articles written by Richard Johnson (in the Post newspaper), watching the impact of violence on communities across America, the release of hundreds of formerly incarcerated men, and having several online conversations using social media sites like Facebook – I can’t help but wonder if America is hearing the message resonating from within the walls of prison. If you listen close enough, you will hear the affirmation of thousands of modern day slaves bellowing from throughout the new plantation.

With a voice of transformation they are chanting, “Forgive us? We have awoken and are returning to reclaim the dignity we once allowed to be taken. It’s time for change.”

Using examples from his life, Mr. Johnson has advised youth to avoid prison, community to return to family roots, the world to learn from media hypocrisy and Donald Trump and to study the history of Mexicans in what is now called America.

As reported by The Post News Group, “The prison letters from Richard Johnson’s Soledad Prison cell are being reprinted, posted on Facebook and even cited in some sermons throughout the Bay Area.”

It is very important that we as a community capitalize on this positive influence coming out of prison from men like Richard Johnson. Let’s us use his voice, pay attention to his influence and even his alleged ties to the Black Guerilla Family (BGF), to achieve positive change in our community.

On one hand many youth are not listening to their parents, and they do not trust the police for advice. But the moment I, or any other formerly incarcerated man, walk into juvenile hall or speak to youth on the street, there is an instant connection.

The credibility of someone who has been-there-and-done-that spreads far and wide. We are living signpost that read, “Wrong way! Do not enter. Return to you roots!”

On the other hand many Americans are shouting for the end of mass incarceration. Yet, I believe some are still missing an important ingredient in that solution.

We march in the streets and turn to books written by authors who have never spent a day inside the prison system, yet we consider them experts on the issue. We value them for the books they have read, research they have conducted, and data they have compiled – perhaps rightfully so.

Yet many of us still overlook the direct experience of those who have spent decades living inside the prison industrial complex.

How would you feel listening to someone who has read a lot of books about America, never actually lived here, but believes their research supersedes your direct experience of America?

And instead of attempting to learn from your perspective, they insist they know better because they read about it in a book.

This has been the gist of a few of my social media conversations. This is why I am urging readers to value the experiences of others, ask questions, and attempt to understand the prison system from an inside perspective.

If we truly want to end mass incarceration, we have to eliminate the mindset that believes mass incarceration is a solution for crime as well as the mindset that believes crime is a solution.

In order for this to happen, all stakeholders must be seated at the table.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, August 23, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Commentary: Practice Restorative Justice to Shut Down Mass Incarceration

Students in restorative Justice program

By Troy Williams

According to the American Civil Liberties Union the school-to-prison pipeline is a name for the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”

Students tracked into prison from an early age when they attend schools with inadequate resources, overcrowded classrooms, a lack of qualified teachers, insufficient funding for counselors, zero tolerance, and reliance to handle classroom discipline for teachers.

Fania Davis operates a restorative justice program for students in the Oakland Unified School District. Photos courtesy of Yes! Magazine.

Fania Davis operates a restorative justice program for students in the Oakland Unified School District. Photos courtesy of Yes! Magazine.

But there is hope.

For a successful alternative, look at restorative justice programs that are being practiced in Oakland and other cities.

For years Fania Davis, co-founder and executive director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), has been a pioneer in the restorative justice process teaching Oakland children how to communicate their emotions and respond to wrong doing in a way that doesn’t harm themselves or the community.

On Sunday, July 19, RJOY held a fundraiser. I watched nearly a dozen boys and girls sat in a circle with actor and activist Danny Glover, discussing the impact of trauma in their lives.

With nearly 100 adults watching, the young participants expressed fears of having to live in a community surrounded by violence.

“Someone got shot on the street I walk down everyday, one young person.

“The other day I was beat up, stomped out and knocked unconscious by grown men,” said another boy.

“I need a job so I don’t wind up on the street,” a third youth said.

I was impressed by their ability to identify their emotions and communicate them. But I was even more impressed by their resolve to rise above the violence and be of support to each other.

I wish I had their strength, resolve, and insight when I was their age.

The group was lead by a young woman who presented like a seasoned facilitator. Another young lady seemed to play the role of big sister to the group. Several young men expressed how valuable her advice was and that her ability to be a good listener had helped them through a particular traumatic event.

Restorative Justice is rooted in the practice of indigenous cultures that sought to repair harm by inviting the people affected by crime to dialogue together.

Attention is given to community safety, the victim’s needs, as well as opportunities for accountability and growth for the offender.

Based on this event alone, it is clear that Restorative Justice is a model that works and needs to be expanded throughout the community.

But for those of you who need statistical data, here is an example.

At present, seven out of 10 people who parole return to prison within the first three years. But   Restorative Justice programs reverse the percentages. Seven out of 10 participants stay out of prison.

So the answer is clear: if you want to shut the prisons industrial complex, down then practice restorative justice.

 Courtesy of the Post News Group, August 15, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)