Sunday, September 30, 2007

King Hearing Scheduled - Your Confirmation is Requested

In 2004, there were an impressive 130 people who attended the hearing in support of Arnie King’s request for commutation of sentence. It made a difference; he was given a favorable recommendation by the Advisory Board of Pardons and your support and presence helped make that happen.

This year, WE NEED YOU AGAIN; Arnie needs you to PACK THE PLACE, and then some, at his upcoming hearing on Thursday, OCTOBER 25th, 2007, at 10:00 AM.

Please reply to this email or call (617) 576-5367 with answers to the following questions by no later than OCT 10, 2007, to tell us:

Can you come?
Can you bring anyone and if yes, how many?
Can you give a ride to whoever may need one (provide your address/location)?
Do you need a ride (provide your address/location)?

IMPORTANT: You MUST bring a PICTURE ID with you. Please dress in an appropriate manner (no halter tops, shorts, worn out jeans, hats, and T-shirts - per guidelines).


Date: Thursday, October 25, 2007
Time: 10:00 AM
Place: Massachusetts Parole Board Central Office, 12 Mercer Road, Natick, MA 01760

More information:

Thank you for your ongoing support to free Arnie King!


Arnold King Commutation Working Group


Hearing on Costs of Mass Incarceration Called by VA Sen. Webb in Light of 500 Percent Increase in Prison Populations in Last 30 Years

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) will hold a Joint Economic Committee (JEC) hearing to explore the economic consequences and causes of and solutions to the steep increase of the U.S. prison population.

The hearing entitled, "Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?" is scheduled for Thursday, October 4, 2007 at 10:00am in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building.

The United States has 25 percent of the world's prisoners, despite having only 5
percent of the world's population. The JEC will examine why the United States has such a disproportionate share of the world's prison population, as well as ways to address this issue that responsibly balance public safety and the high social and economic costs of imprisonment.

Expert witnesses have been asked to discuss the costs of maintaining a large prison system; the long-term labor market and social consequences of mass incarceration; whether the increase in the prison population correlates with decreases in crime; and what alternative sentencing strategies and post-prison re-entry programs have been most successful at reducing incarceration rates in states and local

WHAT: Joint Economic Committee Hearing: "Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?"

WHEN: Thursday, October 4, 2007 - 10:00am

WHERE: 216 Hart Senate Office Building

Witnesses (as of September 27):

* Dr. Glenn Loury, Economics and Social Sciences Professor, Brown University

* Dr. Bruce Western, Director Inequality and Social Policy Program, Harvard University

* Alphonso Albert, Executive Director, Second Chances

* Michael Jacobson, Executive Director, Vera Institute for Justice

The Joint Economic Committee, established under the Employment Act of 1946, was created by Congress to review economic conditions and to analyze the effectiveness of economic policy.

Conaway B. Haskins III
Deputy State Director
Office of U.S. Senator Jim Webb
507 E. Franklin Street
Richmond, VA 23219
Pho: 804-771-2221
Fax: 804-771-8313


For ex-offenders, CORI law not working

By Michael Jonas September 30, 2007

At a time when residents of high-crime neighborhoods are on edge over the plague of gang and gun violence, Mayor Thomas Menino ventured up to Beacon Hill this month to lobby on behalf of the city's ne'er-do-wells. The mayor was there to testify at a Judiciary Committee hearing in favor of a bill to limit employer access to criminal records. While some might say Menino should focus his energies on law-abiders, not lawbreakers, he is driven as much by a concern for the former as the latter.

"There are young people who made a mistake," says Menino. "I don't believe it should be a life sentence."

Reform advocates have complained that the state's Criminal Offender Record Information law, or CORI, has become just that - preventing those convicted of even minor offenses from being able to turn themselves around and find honest work.

But Menino says the wide access to criminal record information does more than just hold back ex-offenders. "It makes neighborhoods unsafe," says Menino. "It's part of our public safety problem, as I see it."

That's because nearly everyone locked up by the criminal justice system is eventually let out, some 250 inmates every month from the Suffolk House of Correction alone. And the options open to them can have a big impact on whether they end up back behind bars - and whether a law-abiding citizen becomes a victim in the process.

CORI laws keep them from getting jobs and finding a place to live, says Menino. "After a while, they get frustrated and get angry, and they turn to the world they came from," he says.

Under the bill Menino supports, access to full CORI reports would be available only to law enforcement agencies and employers that serve children and other vulnerable populations. Other employers would have access to more limited summaries, while all employers seeking information would have to attend a training session on accurate reading of CORI reports, which are notoriously difficult to decipher.

Horace Small, director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods and a man not unfamiliar with tossing an occasional grenade at politicians, has nothing but praise for the mayor's willingness to push for changes in the CORI system. "He gets this at the most basic level," says Small. "From a practical level, from a public safety level: Get them jobs and there will be fewer crimes."

That basic level involves regular encounters Menino has with young people, sometimes in his City Hall office, but more often in the neighborhoods where they live. At one such session recently in Dorchester's Uphams Corner, Menino says the CORI issue came up repeatedly.

That plenty of young people not even out of their teens already have criminal records is a depressing thought. That those records could be a barrier to success for even those most determined to get on the right path is an even more grim reality for ex-offenders. But it should be of equal concern to those who share the same neighborhood with them.

"I see a real impact every day that we don't take action," says City Councilor Steve Murphy, who cosponsored a 2005 Boston ordinance that lessens the impact of CORI in city hiring.

Menino says a longtime friend of his with a produce business in Newmarket Square makes it a point to hire young people with records, putting into practice the maxim that the best social program is a job. "They're the best workers he has," says Menino.

That may not always be the case, and there are plenty of jobs that even CORI reform advocates acknowledge should be off-limits to those with records for serious offenses. But there will also be a price paid if state lawmakers and the Patrick administration don't figure out the right balance and fix a system that many agree is not working.

Michael Jonas can be reached at

Source URL:

Thursday, September 27, 2007

CORI foes continue their fight for Mass. legal reforms

By Yawu Miller

More than 600 activists from across Massachusetts rallied at the State House last week, urging lawmakers to reform the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system.

Many of the activists — among them ex-offenders and their families, clergy, lawyers and civil rights advocates — crowded the halls of the State House while others testified in a hearing room jammed beyond its 100-person capacity.

The overwhelming majority of those who testified spoke in favor of reforming CORI laws, as did the activists and lawmakers who gathered in front of the State House for a rally.

“We’re going to march,” said Boston Workers Alliance (BWA) organizer Maggie Brown during the rally. “We’re going to demonstrate. We’re going to do whatever we have to do to make them feel the pain we’re feeling in our community.”

The state’s CORI laws were created to give law enforcement officials and prospective employers access to information about ex-offenders. Opponents of the law argue that it goes too far, listing not only convictions, but also arrests and charges that do not result in convictions.

Misdemeanors and charges that are dropped appear on CORI records and remain there indefinitely, leaving an arrest record that makes it more difficult for ex-offenders to obtain even menial jobs.

Ex-prisoners must now wait 10 to 15 years before they are eligible to seal a record for a felony. The proposed reform legislation would reduce the waiting period to seal a CORI to three years for a misdemeanor and seven years for a felony.

The legislation would also provide anti-discrimination protections by allowing employers to check a CORI only after they have shown interest in hiring the applicant, removing non-conviction, not guilty and dismissed cases from CORI records, and allowing juveniles to have their CORIs purged by a judge.

CORI reform advocates last year made a similar push with rallies, marches and lobbying at the State House. The Public Safety Act of 2006 cleared the Senate before House Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Eugene O’Flaherty referred the bill to a study commission made up mostly of law enforcement personnel.

That move effectively killed the legislation. The commission never met, and the legislation died in the House.

This year, the same coalition of CORI reform activists have joined in the Massachusetts Alliance to Reform CORI (MARC) — including the BWA, Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, Ex-Prisoners Organized for Community Action, and the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition.

Others who turned out last week to testify on behalf of CORI reform included Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral.

The reform advocates expressed disappointment when Suzanne Bump, secretary of labor and workforce development under Gov. Deval Patrick, called for the creation of a study commission to look at CORI reforms.

“This has been studied enough,” said Horace Small, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods and a founder of MARC.

“We are in dialogue with the governor,” he said. “We’re not trying to be disrespectful, but we have to deal with the governor like we deal with anyone else.”

Small said activists are banking on the reform legislation passing this year.

“We know we have a very short window in which to work,” he said. “In 2008, when there’s a presidential election, nobody’s going to want to deal with this.”

Source URL:

Boston’s Biggest Community Book Drive Ever!

The Prison Book Program and City Mission Society of Boston have joined with other local non-profit groups to organize a massive book collection– hard covers & paperbacks, used & new, fiction & non-fiction – we’ll take them all!

Here’s a way to clear out those book shelves and boxes while ensuring your books are put to a good use.

Only books in good condition, please!

WHEN: Saturday October 20, 2007, 10am to 4pm

WHERE: Brighton-Allston Congregational Church UCC, 404 Washington St., Brighton, MA

WHY: Donations will be sent to prisoners around the country to promote literacy, sold at City Mission Society’s used bookstore, or distributed by Better World Books to benefit other literacy efforts.

Here's how YOU can help:

· Bring your unwanted books to Brighton on Oct. 20th

and encourage your friends & family to do the same.

· Or better yet, organize a book drive at your office, church,

club or in your neighborhood and bring all of the books to Brighton on the day of the event!

For more information, please email or call 617-423-3298.

Influx of U.S. Inmates Slowing, Census Says

Number Incarcerated Still a Record High; Sentencing in '90s Cited as Factor

By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 27, 2007; A12

After two decades of massive growth, the U.S. prison population began to level off in the first six years of this century, according to 2006 census statistics released today.

At nearly 2.1 million, the number of adults in correctional institutions remains at an all-time high. Still, that figure represents a 4 percent rise since 2000 -- nowhere near the 77 percent spike in the prison population from 1990 to 2000.

The data, from the yearly American Community Survey, represent the Census Bureau's first in-depth look at people in prisons since the 1980 Census. Although the numbers vary, the census findings generally track with trends in twice-yearly statistics compiled by the Justice Department.

Many analysts point to crack cocaine in the 1980s as a catalyst for the subsequent boom in incarceration rates. Attracted by the drug's low price, dealers in impoverished urban neighborhoods began selling it in open-air markets, where they and their customers were targets for arrest. Thirst for the drug also fueled other crimes by addicts.

Perhaps the most significant factor, however, was the introduction of tough sentencing laws in the 1990s.

Congress dramatically increased prison time for offenses involving crack cocaine compared with those involving powdered cocaine. The federal government also introduced guidelines limiting judges' discretion at sentencing, as well as rules that drastically curtailed states' ability to parole offenders convicted of violent crimes. Many states also passed mandatory minimum-sentencing laws.

The result was an explosion in the prison population even as crime rates began to drop.

"The growth wasn't really about increasing crime but how we chose to respond to crime," said Allen J. Beck, deputy director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. "When you increase the likelihood of a person going to prison for a conviction, and then you increase how long you keep them there, it has a profound effect."

Despite pending court challenges, most of those laws remain on the books. There are indications that the impact may be increasingly on women -- whose rate of violent crime has increased, and who often are arrested for low-level participation in drug conspiracies led by boyfriends or male relatives. In 1990, 8 percent of the prison population was female. By 2000, women were 9 percent of the population, and in 2006, 10 percent.

Still, the overall growth of the prison population has slowed substantially compared with the 1990s. Researchers point to a variety of reasons. First is the precipitous drop in crime rates since the late 1990s, possibly because of the declining popularity of crack cocaine, the introduction of innovative policing strategies and many would-be offenders already being behind bars.

Perhaps as important, many felons locked up in the 1990s are completing their sentences.

"All those people who were in prison are starting to come out. . . . So the number that is going in is approaching the number going out," said Christy Visher, primary research associate with the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center.

Indeed, said Visher, the prison population might even start to decline if it weren't for the high recidivism rate of those released: About half return to prison within three years.

And with a recent uptick in the crime rate, and increasing numbers of offenders being placed on probation, Beck said that the prison population may begin to significantly increase again.

Even if the prison population remains at its current level, the social and economic costs to the nation are enormous, Visher said.

She noted that the federal government and states are spending more than $65 billion per year on corrections alone. "We need to have a national conversation about how to transition this population into being productive," Visher said.

Just as worrisome is the persistent overrepresentation of blacks in prison. In 2006, blacks accounted for 12 percent of the general population but 40 percent of those in adult correctional institutions.

Hispanics are also overrepresented, but to a lesser extent. They made up 15 percent of the general population and 19 percent of the prison population.

By contrast, immigrants are underrepresented. Foreign-born inmates accounted for 9 percent of those incarcerated, compared with 13 percent of the total population.

Meeting location: Boston Workers Alliance


Thursday, Sep 27
Freedom House
14 Crawford Street

Thanks to the gracious people at the Freedom House, the Boston Workers Alliance weekly meetings will now be held at the Freedom House. Please join us this Thursday for CORI and Job Committee Meetings ~ starting at 5pm.

The movement for jobs and CORI reform needs your help!

(617) 427-8108

Slavery: A Shark's perspective

Slavery: A Shark's perspective
A strange text sheds new light on the true roots of abolition
By Marcus Rediker | September 23, 2007

This year and next mark an important historical anniversary: Two centuries ago, both the United States and Great Britain abolished the African slave trade.

By the time they did, the trade had carried 9 million Africans to New World plantations, where they would live under the lash and produce the largest planned accumulation of wealth the world had yet seen. Abolition followed a long and determined campaign waged by antislavery activists on both sides of the Atlantic.

But who really brought the slave trade to an end?

In popular history, the people who abolished the slave trade are seen virtually as saints. They were somber, often dressed in black; they were devout, earnest, and good; they were the very embodiment of Christian virtue. In New England, many were descended from Puritans and reflected their austere and humorless ways. In England they were epitomized by the aristocratic evangelical William Wilberforce, the voice of abolition in Parliament. The recent movie "Amazing Grace" portrays him as a selfless, somewhat sickly angel who loved animals, servants, Africans, and God. Piety has long been seen as the hallmark of abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic.

If that were the full story, though, it would be exploded by this document. While working in the special collections library of Bristol University in England on a book on 18th-century slave ships, I found an almost completely unknown broadside entitled "The Petition of the Sharks of Africa." It looked like any other printed petition, elegant in its composition, suitable for presentation, addressed "To the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of Great Britain, in Parliament assembled."

It was, however, a vivid and harsh piece of satire. In fact it claimed to have been written by the "Sharks of Africa," who declared themselves to be a numerous and flourishing group thanks to the many slave ships that visited the coast of West Africa. From these vessels, they explained, they got "large quantities of their most favourite food - human flesh."

When the dead were thrown overboard, the sharks devoured the corpses. Sometimes they got live flesh, when African rebels who preferred death to slavery jumped overboard. When slave ships were "dashed on the rocks and shoals" of the region, throwing "hundreds of human beings, both black and white" into the water, it was a feast.

The sharks were writing to the British Parliament kindly asking them not to end the slave trade. Taking a sensible conservative view, the sharks denounced the abolitionists' "wild ravings of fanaticism," confident that their benevolent lordships would not let His Majesty's loyal shark subjects starve. The petitioners were sure that they could count on "the wisdom and fellow-feeling" of the House of Lords. Sharks should stick together, after all.

Nothing I had read had prepared me for such a document. Here, unexpectedly, was a dark and daring kind of humor I had never known to exist among abolitionists.

Further research revealed that it had been republished widely, in Edinburgh, Philadelphia, New York, and Salem. I concluded that "The Petition of the Sharks of Africa" had been written by a Scot named James Tytler, who was a physician, poet, composer, an editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and Britain's first hot-air balloonist. For his radicalism, he was eventually arrested and charged with sedition, only to flee into exile in 1793, first to Ireland, then to Salem. His contribution has never figured in the histories of abolition - partly, I am convinced, because it does not fit the enduring image of abolitionists.

The document joins a long string of new findings that have changed our understanding of who the abolitionists were. Working-class men and women protested the trade through boycotts; sailors smuggled pamphlets and told their horror stories to activists ashore. The front line of the war against human bondage was occupied by the enslaved themselves, whose resistance sent shock waves around the world, terrifying many and inspiring some. Their names may be lost to the history books, but they anchored a complex and diverse social movement.

Why do we need to know this today? First, it is important to understand that the abolition of the slave trade, and of slavery itself, was not a gift from on high. William Wilberforce did not abolish the slave trade, as "Amazing Grace" might make it seem, just as a lone Abraham Lincoln did not free the slaves. It will no longer do to pretend that a "great man" did things that are more accurately described as a result of a complex historical situation and a many-sided resistance.

Second, it is important to people demanding justice and reparations today - whoever and wherever they may be - to know that their forebears played an important role in bringing the slave trade and indeed the entire institution of slavery to an end. We owe the end of the abolition of the nefarious trade not just to aristocrats and Puritans, but to enslaved rebels, to factory workers and sailors, and to at least one irreverent Scottish daredevil.

Marcus Rediker is a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. His new book, "The Slave Ship: A Human History," will be published by Viking-Penguin in October.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Prisoners argue constitutionality of criminal code


For Release on September 24, 2007

Prisoners argue constitutionality of U.S. criminal code

For dozens of prisoners, attorneys Barry Bachrach and James W. Parkman, III, filed a petition today with the United States Supreme Court that challenges Public Law 80-772 (including Title 18, or the U.S. Criminal Code). Tens of thousands of federal prisoners prosecuted since 1948 may be affected by the Supreme Court's response.

"Public Law 80-772 is invalid," Bachrach asserted. "This is a case where numerous procedural errors occurred. The law is clear; an act of Congress cannot become a law unless it follows each and every procedural step as defined in Article I of the U.S. Constitution."

A bill originates in either the House of Representatives or Senate, but its exact text must be approved by a majority vote in both chambers. While Congress is in session, that text must be certified as having been passed in identical form by both Houses (or "truly enrolled") and then signed by the Speaker of the House and President pro tempore of the Senate. After, the bill is presented to the President to sign into law.

According to Bachrach, spokesman for the petitioners, H.R. 3190 was passed by the House on May 12, 1947. The resolution came before the Senate, but Congress adjourned before the bill could be passed. The Senate should have returned the bill to the House to be resubmitted to the Senate during a later session. Instead, during the following session, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary continued its review of H.R. 3190 and added a volume of amendments to the bill. The Senate passed "H.R. 3190 As Amended," which was sent to the House for a vote. While the House agreed with the amendments, the members failed to vote on "H.R. 3190 As Amended."

According to the Constitution, valid business is conducted only when Congress is in session and a majority of members of both Houses are present. Yet, Congress authorized the House Speaker and President of the Senate to sign enrolled bills during an adjournment of indefinite length that began on June 20, 1948. This incomprehensible error was compounded when the Chairman of the Committee on House Administration mistakenly certified as enrolled the original H.R. 3190. Still more errors occurred: the House Speaker and President of the Senate signed the Senate's "H.R. 3190 As Amended," the bill was then misrepresented to President Truman as being enrolled, and Truman signed the bill.

"Congressional journals clearly show that the House and Senate each passed two separate bills that were grossly different. According to the Constitution, this means that neither bill ever became law," Bachrach said.

"Under P.L. 80-772, U.S. district courts were given jurisdiction over all federal offenses. With P.L. 80-772 being invalid, however, the district courts clearly lack jurisdiction. The convictions and sentences of these prisoners are therefore void."

Countries having extradition treaties with the U.S. since 1948 and their citizens, who were turned over for trial in U.S. district courts, also may be affected by the outcome of this case.


Contact: Barry A. Bachrach, Esquire, 62 Paxton Street, Leicester, MA 01524; Telephone: 508-892-1533; E-mail:

Download the petition and exhibits at Prisoners are encouraged to file behind this petition as soon as possible. If you do so, please notify us at

Boston Bar Assoc Supports CORI

From: "UMN/Horace Small"
Subject: READ: Boston Bar Assoc Supports CORI
Date: Sat, 22 Sep 2007 15:34:40 +0000

Hello Everyone,

We continue to widen the support of CORI Reform and make strides forward!

--This week the Boston Bar Association release a statement of support for CORI Reform. [See the statement below]
--At the hearing on Sept. 18th Mayor Menino and the Sheriff's testified in support of CORI Reform.
--Also, this week the Cambridge City Manager wrote into policy the Fair CORI Hiring Practice Ordinance the Cambridge City Council had passed last year, thanks to the persistent efforts of Cambridge City Councilor Brian Murphy!\

Our continued unwavering must continue, to get the Judiciary Committee to favorably report the Public Safety Act 2007 - HB 1416 - out of committee and onto the legislative floor for a vote. Continue calling, writing, and visiting your legislators and the Governor to let them know this remains a priority for millions in the commonwealth.

Attached is Frequently Asked Questions on CORI for your reference. You can get the 7 point summary and the full language of the bill at

Jackie Lageson

Boston Bar Association Statement below

Boston Bar Association

press > bba news releases > news release

BBA News release
September 18, 2007 Contact: Bonnie Sashin, APR
Communications Director
(617) 778-1902

Basic Principles Needed for CORI Reform
So Says Boston Bar Association

BOSTON – As the Massachusetts Legislature prepares to convene a hearing on Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reform legislation, the Boston Bar Association today unveiled 12 basic principles covering four categories that meaningful CORI reform demands: Accuracy, Access, Sealing, and Juvenile Justice. The principles were developed by the BBA Study Group on CORI Reform, chaired by employment attorney Jennifer Catlin Tucker.

"Successful re-entry is a critical component of preventing recidivism," said BBA President Tony Doniger. "It is no secret that many employers find it easier to hire someone without a smudge on his or her record than to deal with trying to understand CORI," said BBA President Tony Doniger. "The principles adopted by the BBA provide an important road map for those on all sides of the issue. Where CORI is concerned, nothing is more dangerous than inertia."


1. Accuracy

A system should be established to improve the accuracy of the CORI that is maintained by the Criminal Systems History Board.
Research should be conducted to determine whether it is advisable to redesign and simplify the form and content of CORI reports in order to make it easier for non-law enforcement personnel to understand them, and to craft more usable guidelines on the subject.
A process must be established that enables the correction of erroneous CORI in a timely and effective manner.

2. Access

The Legislature should consider adopting additional criteria with respect to: (i) who may have access to CORI and under what circumstances; (ii) the content of the CORI that should be released; and (iii) permissible use of the CORI in the housing and employment contexts. In formulating these criteria, the Legislature should consider whether to prohibit the making of housing and employment decisions based solely on the fact of CORI without regard to the content, timing, and relevance of the CORI.

There should be no restriction of access to CORI by law enforcement personnel.
The Legislature should consider creating a system that enables offenders to present prospective employers with documentation reflecting their satisfactory completion of probation or rehabilitation requirements.
Those who have access to CORI should also have access to training that enables them to read and interpret CORI accurately.

3. Sealing

The Legislature should consider developing criteria for sealing CORI which more accurately reflects scientific research regarding recidivism rates and which more precisely distinguishes between categories of offenses which warrant the application of discrete sealing criteria.

The Legislature should consider whether housing authorities and employers should be precluded from denying housing or employment to an individual based solely on the existence of sealed CORI.

4. Juvenile Justice

The CORI system should be revised so that individuals who commit criminal offenses while minors are not prevented from obtaining housing and employment for years after they have completed any probation or other sentencing requirements. The Legislature should consider whether purging or expungement of juvenile records should be permitted under standards to be applied by the courts (except that, records of criminal activity that caused the individual to be designated as a youthful offender under M.G.L. c. 119, s. 52 would not be eligible for purging).

Juveniles should be educated about their rights with respect to their CORI records and potential inquiries of prospective employers and housing authorities.
If prospective employers and housing authorities are permitted to have access to information reflecting an individual's juvenile CORI, they must receive training on how to read and interpret it.

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On Mass Incarceration

Life sentence

It's a government program whose impact rivals the New Deal. It pushes whole communities out of society's mainstream. It costs tens of billions of dollars a year. Scholars are just beginning to understand how prison is reshaping the country.
By Christopher Shea | September 23, 2007

WHAT if America launched a new New Deal and no one noticed? And what if, instead of lifting the unemployed out of poverty, this multibillion-dollar project steadily drove poor communities further and further out of the American mainstream?

That's how America should think about its growing prison system, some leading social scientists are saying, in research that suggests prisons have a far deeper impact on the nation than simply punishing criminals.

Fueled by the war on drugs, "three-strike" laws, and mandatory minimum sentences, America's prisons and jails now house some 2.2 million inmates - roughly seven times the figure of the early 1970s. And Americans are investing vast resources to keep the system running: The cost to maintain American correctional institutions is some $60 billion a year.

For years sociologists saw prisons - with their disproportionately poor, black, and uneducated populations - partly as mirrors of the social and economic disparities that cleave American life. Now, however, a new crop of books and articles are looking at the penal system not just as a reflection of society, but a force that shapes it.

In this view, the system takes men with limited education and job skills and stigmatizes them in a way that makes it hard for them to find jobs, slashes their wages when they do find them, and brands them as bad future spouses. The effects of imprisonment ripple out from prisoners, breaking up families and further impoverishing neighborhoods, creating the conditions for more crime down the road. Prisons have grown into potent "engines of inequality," in the words of sociologist Bruce Western; the penal system, he and other scholars suggest, actively widens the gap between the poor - especially poor black men - and everyone else.

"This is a historic transformation of the character of American society," says Glenn Loury, a Brown University economist who has begun to write on this topic, most recently in the Boston Review. "We are managing the losers by confinement."

The shift isn't just academic. In national politics, concern about the people who actually go to prison has been drowned out by tough-on-crime rhetoric, but today the issue is getting a hearing from some politicians, and not just hard-left liberals. On Oct. 4, Congress's Joint Economic Committee will hear testimony from Western, Loury, and others on the economic and social costs of the prison boom. The session will be chaired by Jim Webb, the gruff, moderate Democratic Senator from Virginia. Cities including Boston and San Francisco are changing their hiring practices to destigmatize prisoners, and there is detectable momentum in Congress toward reducing the extraordinarily harsh minimum sentences for possession of crack cocaine, which disproportionately affect poor black Americans.

The issue has arrived on the public agenda in part because of the work done by a handful of leading sociologists. Western's 2006 book "Punishment and Inequality in America" is a key work in this new scholarly movement. Devah Pager, a Princeton sociologist, has been making headlines since her dissertation, completed in 2002 at the University of Wisconsin, demonstrated how a criminal record - even for nonviolent drug offenses - made it nearly impossible for black ex-convicts in Milwaukee to land a job. This month, a book based on that work, "Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration," appears in bookstores. And the sociologist Lawrence Bobo, who left Harvard for Stanford two years ago but is returning in January, has been investigating how the growing black prison population is eroding African-Americans' confidence in the rule of law.

For years, the penal system was a marginal topic among sociologists, catching the interest chiefly of professors with an interest in hard-core criminology. But in the past decade, discussion of incarceration has moved to the center of the field, in the work of respected scholars at top institutions who are interested in a broad understanding of American inequality.

"My sense of it is just that the sheer mass, the weight of the reality of what's happening, has sunk in," says Loury.

With black men in their early 30s more likely to have been in prison than to have graduated from college, and with 700,000 ex-prisoners reentering society each year, the trends cannot be ignored. The current US rate of some 750 prisoners per 100,000 citizens is several times higher than rates in Europe - higher, even, than the rates in formerly repressive states like Russia or South Africa.

In "Punishment and Inequality in America," Western documented the degree to which poor black communities across America live in a penitentiary shadow. Of black males born in the late 1960s who did not attend college, 30 percent have served time in prison, he pointed out. For high-school dropouts, the figure is a startling 59 percent. "I don't think the really deep penetration of the criminal justice system into poor and minority communities has been fully understood by people outside these communities," says Western.

Mass incarceration, Western argues, also renders invisible a substantial portion of American poverty. At the height of the tech boom in 2000, he points out, 65 percent of black male high school dropouts weren't working. Government statistics, however, said the unemployment level of this group was 33 percent, because government surveys exclude prisoners.

At the root of prison's broader social impact lies its lingering effect on individual lives. In an ideal penal system, prisoners might exit the system having paid their debt to society and be more or less restored to their previous status as free men and women. But Pager's book demonstrates just how detached from reality that view is. She had four college students, two black and two white, pose as applicants for low-level jobs in Milwaukee (excluding jobs where a criminal record would have disqualified them).

They used résumés that were nearly identical - high school degrees, steady progress from entry-level work to a supervisory position - except that in some cases the applicant had a drug conviction in his past (possession with intent to distribute) for which he served an 18-month sentence and then behaved perfectly on parole.

In surveys conducted by Pager, 62 percent of Milwaukee employers said they'd consider hiring an applicant with a nonviolent drug offense in his past. But in her field study, Pager found that her black applicants with criminal records got called for an interview - or to interview on the spot, as they applied in person - a mere 5 percent of the time. That compared with 14 percent for the black applicants without a criminal record. Meanwhile, the white applicants with a record were called back 17 percent of the time, compared with 34 percent for the white men lacking the blotch on their résumé. "Two strikes" - blackness and a record - "and you're out" is how Pager summarizes her findings. (Pager has replicated this study in New York City, with similar results.)

Job prospects for black ex-prisoners in Milwaukee may be even worse in the future, Pager argues in "Marked," because while the vast majority of job growth is in the suburbs, the gap between employers' receptiveness to black and white ex-convicts is even wider there.

Western explores the same set of post-prison issues on a broader statistical canvas. He found that whites, Hispanics, and blacks all face a hit in their wages of about a third, relative to their peers, when they emerge from prison, and also work fewer weeks per year. Their peers will see significant raises from ages 25 to 35, but the ex-prisoners won't, widening the gap. Former prisoners, too, are far less likely ever to marry, but no less likely to have kids, meaning that prisons contribute to the epidemic of female-headed, single-parent households. (Some 9 percent of all black children now have a father in jail.)

Sociologists and a few politicians are not the only ones aware of these trends, argues Lawrence Bobo. Black Americans interpret them as evidence of stark racism, according to surveys he's done. Seventy-nine percent of white Americans, for example, think drug laws are enforced fairly, compared with 34 percent of black Americans.

Black Americans' concerns about the justice system burst to the fore in Jena, La., last week when thousands protested prosecutors' tough treatment of six black teenagers after an assault on a white student. When Bobo looks broadly at black attitudes about the justice system, he doesn't find them irrational.

"We as a society," Bobo wrote last year, "have normalized and, for the time being, depoliticized a remarkable set of social conditions."

Policy makers are slowly beginning to reckon with some aspects of these developments. In 2004, President Bush, in his State of the Union address, acknowledged some of the challenges caused by mass incarceration, Pager points out, describing the hundreds of thousands exiting prisons annually as a "group of Americans in need of help." And this year liberals like Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and conservatives like Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) have cosponsored the so-called Second Chance Act. It would provide $192 million for drug counseling, family counseling, housing, and mentorship for ex-offenders to assist their reentry into their communities.

A handful of cities, including Boston, no longer ask applicants for city jobs whether they have a criminal record, although their backgrounds can still be checked later. A growing "Ban the Box" movement - referring to the check-off box on an application, signaling a conviction - is designed to reduce the kind of upfront discrimination Pager identifies. San Francisco and St. Paul have also signed off on the idea, while Los Angeles is pondering it.

To these ideas, Pager would add a policy modeled on how we treat debtors: After a certain amount of time, records of most convictions, especially for nonviolent offenses, would be expunged. Stigma would have a deadline.

Such proposals would do nothing to roll back prison populations, but bills introduced by Senators Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Biden to raise the amount of crack cocaine that triggers automatic five- and ten-year sentences might do so. (The possession of crack - typically a drug of the poor, and specifically the black poor - is penalized far more harshly than the powdered cocaine preferred by middle- and upper-class drug users.) Bruce Western advocates ending mandatory minimum sentences for drug conviction, and adds some further thoughts about reducing prison populations: "We could be spending money and social services to reduce the risks that make people likely to go to prison in the first place - on drug addiction, on mental-health services, on housing."

In a campaign year, the prison issue is a tough one - such arguments don't have the easy pull on voters that "tough on crime" policies do. Yet with Congress calling prison experts to testify about their research, and coverage in the mainstream media of the protests in Jena, "I do sense there is a public conversation beginning," Western says.

Christopher Shea's column appears regularly in Ideas. E-mail

© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Saturday, September 22, 2007

State House CORI Hearing Debrief

On Tuesday, September 18th, over 600 people descended on the State House in support of the CORI reform proposal, The Public Safety Act of 2007 (House Bill 1416). The Public Safety Act aims to:

1) reduce the waiting period to seal a CORI to 3 years for a misdemeanor and 7 years for a felony (it is currently a long 10-15 years),

2) provide anti-discrimination protections by only allowing employers to check a CORI after they have shown interest in hiring the applicant,

3) remove non-conviction, not guilty and dismissed cases from the CORI,

4) allow juveniles to have their CORIs purged by a judge

As a whole, the vast majority of testifiers came out in support of our bill. Of the many CORI reform proposals, our Bill #1416 was given the most attention. Mayor Menino testified in support of CORI reform, but did not explicitly mention our bill. Deval Patrick's representative Commissioner Bump announced an interest in forming a Study Commission on the issue of reforms. As CORI reform advocates, we are strongly opposed to another Commission and are calling for Govenor Patrick to deliver on his campaign promises to take strong action on this issue, now.

Additionally, State Representatives Gloria Fox, Willie Mae Allen, Cleon Turner and Benjamin Swan all testified in support of 1416. Councilor Chuck Turner made a strong case in favor or reducing the waiting period to seal CORIs, as did representatives from the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Boston Bar Association. Rep Michael Festa, the lead sponsor of the Public Safety Act brought in speakers from Texas, Illinois and Washington DC to give insight into the CORI reforms that have happened across the country. Sheriff's Cabral and Ash also spoke in favor of broad CORI reforms. However, lawyers from the Massachusetts Business Association spoke against 1416 and argued that employers should have full access to CORI records, including dismissed and not-guilty cases.

Most of the people who came out to support the bill were prevented from entering the actual hearing, as the room quickly filled to capacity. In addition, legislators and politicians were given first priority to testify, leaving community leaders, clergy, and labor leaders waiting for nearly 3 hours before being able to speak. For many, these conditions were frustrating.

However, there was a clear sense of the urgency for CORI reform, and nearly everyone in the room besides Chairman Eugene O'Flaherty acknowledge the need for drastic changes in the very near future. It is clear that direct pressure is needed on Chairman O'Flaherty (representing Chelsea and Charlestown), Mayor Menino (to support 1416 on record) and to Govenor Patrick to adopt the main priorities of our coalition and stand up as a real leader.

BWA members Maggie Brown and Stanely Porter testified on the panel with 16 year old Jalelle Cosgrove of the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project. The three testifiers drew a powerful picture of the depression and hopelessness that arises from preventing so many people from working. Maggie Brown stated simply, "I want to show my children that working and going to school is the civilized thing to do. With the current CORI laws, I am paralyzed from doing so." Jalelle explained that the thousands of youth who were unemployable and out of school created a recipe for violence in the neighborhoods. Additionally, Emma Bradley and Magnolia Turbidui from Worcester's group EPOCA provided strong testimony describing their personal devastation from the CORI laws.

The hard work of thousands of activists across the State have helped propel this politically unpopular issue onto the cusp of becoming a reality. While CORI reform advocates gain strength, the opposition is also beginning to mobilize. The next several months will be critical for unifying the messages of the many pro-reform players and bringing an definitive clamor into the State House to force real change on this issue.

Stay updated on CORI news at

SHaRC meeting

Thursday, September 27
6:30 to 8:30 pm
Community Church of Boston
565 Boylston Street, Boston (near Copley Square)

Hope to see you Thursday.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The war over there vs. The war over here

From: Clifford Thornton,
Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2007 15:49:11 +0000

The war over there vs. The war over here

Most Nutmeggers have always opposed the Bush regime's illegal Iraq war, seeing through the false rationales for it, and understanding that it is ultimately a power-grab for control of middle eastern petroleum -- supposedly the most valuable military-strategic prize in the history of the world.

However, we in our state, and we in our country, are still not taking a close enough look at another fantastically-expensive war -- more costly in the number of human lives adversely affected than the Iraq boondoggle. This, of course, is the never-ending Drug War, the so-called 'War on Drugs' that began with the Harrison Narcartics Act in the early part of the 20th century, and increased greatly with the inception of the Rockefeller drug laws in New York state, the crack cocaine scare of the early 1980s, federal 'mandatory minimum' sentences, and 'three strikes you're out' laws.

The authorities, in effect, have gone into the poorest areas, taken help away, turned them into battlefields, and put a tempting basket of goodies in the middle of the street, seducing children who see no hope in their futures. This big bright basket of drug dealing falsly offers youngsters the things they probably otherwise would not attain. Then we tell them they must not touch, and have imposed terrible penalties for doing so. It is as if we deliberately have set these traps to destroy them.

The stereotype of a young, dangerous minority criminal has done incalculable damage to race relations. The fear shown by whites has caused a backlash of loathing from young blacks. The real enemy is displaced.

Too many people value security more than privacy or freedom. The image of violent young minority males has exacerbated racism and interracial distrust. The drug war has pitted individuals against one another. Through our drug control strategies we have taught an entire generation to be abusive and disrespectful of the rights of others!

The so-called 'peace dividend' after the end of the cold war was immediately diverted to the drug war. Funds that should be used for urban renewal and educational programs are used to fight the drug war and terrorism, while schools literally crumble around our children.

The drug war is the insidious cause of this cultural retrogression. It has succeeded because we the people have embraced the war. Deliberate or not, the drug war is an ingenious 'divide and conquer' scheme. It is so brilliant that most people support it as it tears society, freedom, and democracy apart.

This country has had almost a century of drug prohibition, four decades of the war on drugs, yet there are more drug at cheaper prices on our streets than ever before and we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on interdiction alone. Those who insist on a continuation of 21st century Prohibition are directly agreeing that both production and distribution of drugs be left in control of criminals, funding terrorists and cartels. Drug use should be handled as a public health issue, not one of crime. Citizens must carefully consider the policy options in this complex issue. If they endorse and lend their support to advocacy efforts to end the destructive and counterproductive "War on Drugs", change will happen for the benefit of all of us.

Those calling for an end to drug Prohibition are primarily non-users of illicit drugs. We are parents and grandparents - serious citizens who want to see the street dealers shut down for good. We see the drug war as mean-spirited. We believe that risky drugs should be licensed and dealers regulated, just as is currently done with alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals.

However, my dear friends and neighbors, it is long past time to legalize, medicalize and decriminalize other controlled substances. Our society is consuming itself and its economic output with a futile 'drug war' that will have no end, but which like the Iraq fiasco also creates huge vested interests -- people who profit from it. We don't need all the 'private contractor' companies (who now outnumber our troops in Iraq) to do our government's work. We should oppose a new prison, the one they are now talkin about building in Meriden. The Corrections Department wants to increase capacity by 758 prisoners but would need $30 million more per year, at $40,000 per prisoner. We don't need another prison, we don't need the huge criminal INjustice, prison-industrial complex to imprison, stigmatize, and even enslave huge segments of our population at home.

Like the Iraq war the drug war is meant to be waged not won.

PO Box 1234
860 657 8438
Hartford, CT 06143


Working to end race and class drug war injustice, Efficacy is a non profit 501 (c) 3 organization founded in 1997. Your gifts and donations are tax deductible.

5 Firms to Join Anti-Drug Campaign

By Michael Hardy
Special to the Washington Post
Monday, September 17, 2007; D04

The Defense Department has picked five companies, four of them from the Washington area, for a contract to support the Pentagon's counter-narcoterrorism activities. The government may spend as much as $15 billion through the five-year contract.

The local companies are Arinc of Annapolis, Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Raytheon Technical Services of Reston and Northrop Grumman Information Technology of McLean. The fifth company is Blackwater USA of Moyock, N.C.

The companies will provide equipment, material and services to the Defense Department's Counter-Narcoterrorism Technology Program Office (CNTPO). The office's mission is to attack the narcotics trade and the flow of money and support from drug traffickers to terrorist groups.

Drug trafficking provides money for terror organizations in various ways. According to a 2002 report that the Library of Congress's Federal Research Division prepared for the Defense Department, the drug trade funds guerrilla groups in Latin America and Islamic fundamentalist organizations -- including Al Qaeda -- around the world. The funding comes directly, from proceeds of drug sales, and indirectly, through use of drugs to bartering for weapons or other supplies.

The contract is broad in scope and could involve several divisions of the winning companies, said Kerry Beresford, senior director of advance aviation applications at Arinc. That unit, based in Oklahoma City, is likely to handle many task orders that come through the contract, but other Arinc divisions specializing in intelligence gathering and other disciplines would be better suited for other demands, he said.

Although the companies on the contract have diverse capabilities, Beresford said he didn't expect them to carve out niches. "All of the [prime contractors] that are given the award are fully capable of satisfying any requirement," he said. "I expect there to be a lot of competition" for each task order.

The Army Space and Missile Command awarded the contract on behalf of the counter-narcoterrorism office, which is based at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va.

The work that could come through the contract includes specialized aircraft, advanced communications technologies, security training and other equipment and support services. About 80 percent of the work be outside of the United States.

Raytheon Technical Services specializes in mission support, counterterrorism and counter-proliferation activities, said Tom Arnsmeyer, vice president of the Homeland Security Solutions product line of the Raytheon subsidiary's integrated support systems businesses.

Monday, September 17, 2007

CORI Reform Now!


On Tuesday, September 18th, all concerned residents are called to the State House to demand CORI reform, now! This is our opportunity to demonstrate the urgency of the CORI crisis.

When: This Tuesday, Sept 18th

Rally / Press Conference
11:30am~12:30 pm @ Steps of the State House

CORI Reform Hearing
1pm~6pm @ State House Room B1

Demand passage of the Public Safety Act of 2007 (H.1416) to win comprehensive CORI Reform this year.

Call us @ (617) 427-8108


Have You Called Your Legislators Yet?

Find out who your elected officials are by going to Scroll to the bottom of the page and find your Rep. and Senator in the General Court.

Call the State House operator at (617) 722-2000 and ask the operator to transfer you to your Rep or Senator.

Once you are speaking to your legislator's staff, tell them that you support "The Public Safety Act" House Bill 1416, and ask them what they are doing to help pass CORI reform.

Please voice the two demands below:

1) Lower the waiting period for sealing a CORI to 3 years for a misdemeanor and 7 years for a felony. The current law requires a 10-15 years waiting period to seal a record. These long waiting periods prevent us from moving on with our lives and securing decent employment.

2) Demand an "anti-discrimination" law that only allows employers to check a CORI after they decide that the applicant is qualified for the job. Employers that ask about a criminal record on job applications generally weed out job seekers before they even consider our resumes or qualifications. The CORI should not be used unless it is directly related to the job at hand.

Other key figures to call:

Governor Deval Patrick (617) 725-4005
Undersecretary Heffernan (617) 727-7775, Patrick's point person on the CORI

Speaker of the House DiMasi, (617) 722-2500
Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Representative O'Flaherty (617) 722-2396

Email to let us know you called! Thank you for helping the movement for jobs and CORI reform.


What would the Public Safety Act of 2007 do?
H.1416 Fact Sheet

CORI Access

- It would ensure that anyone who has access to CORI other than criminal justice agencies would only get convictions and pending cases.

- It would require that those with access to CORI be trained and pass an examination in reading and understanding a CORI report.

CORI Sealing and Purging

- It would begin sealing all records of felonies more than 7 years old and all misdemeanors more than 3 years old, unless there has been an intervening conviction punishable by 1 year of incarceration or more.

- It would allow for the complete purging of juvenile records upon petition and require the judge to take into account a number of factors before making a decision.


- It would make it a discriminatory act to take adverse action against an applicant or employee for merely having a criminal record, but would allow adverse action based on one or more convictions that "substantially relate to the circumstances of a particular employment."

Mandatory Minimums

- It would allow people sentenced under "mandatory minimum" drug laws to seek parole after serving 2/3 of their sentences, thereby making them eligible for drug treatment and other rehabilitative programs prior to release.

Certificate of Commitment to Rehabilitation

- It would create a "Certificate of Commitment to Rehabilitation" so that a record of programs completed in prison or afterwards would be included in a person's CORI.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why Should Marijuana Be Illegal?

Bill Maher To Senator Dodd: "Give Me A Good Reason Why Marijuana Should Be Illegal?"

Medical exploitation

Inmates must not become guinea pigs again


Allen M. Hornblum is an assistant professor of geography and urban studies at Temple University

Osagie K. Obasogie directs the project on bioethics, law and society at the Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland, Calif.

Any day now the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services may decide to turn back the clock to a time when doctors went unchallenged, medical investigators could do no wrong, and vulnerable people were grist for the research mill.

Last summer, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a controversial report recommending the return of federally funded medical research to our nation's prisons. Propelled by historical amnesia and corporate greed, a resurgence of such research may do much harm.

Although Tuskegee (black sharecroppers), Fernald (orphans), and Willowbrook (retarded children) are infamous examples of how medical researchers exploited vulnerable populations, prisoners were scientists' guinea pigs of choice during the 20th century.

Prisoners across the country were routinely incorporated into dangerous medical experiments that were unthinkable for other populations: testicular transplants and radiation studies, injections of live cancer cells, dioxin slatherings, and exposure to psychotropic chemicals and mind-control agents. University of Pennsylvania researchers set up labs inside Holmesburg Prison for easy access.

Commercial interests, the military and the CIA were behind many of these dubious initiatives. It wasn't until the late 1970s that policymakers curbed these brutal practices.

The IOM now thinks that new "guidelines," institutional "transparency" and increased "monitoring" would safeguard today's prisoners from past transgressions. Such views are wildly optimistic.

Prisons are unusual institutions. Oppressive, paramilitary and sequestered from society, they are the reason the Nuremberg Code's first principle precludes those in "constrained" and "coercive" environments from participating in medical research.

Perhaps even more troubling than the recommendation itself is how the IOM came to it.

First, and most shocking, the IOM admits to having visited only one prison during its two-year investigation. How is it possible to make sound policy decisions without taking a thorough look at the conditions faced by those most affected? By failing to acknowledge that nearly every aspect of prisoners' daily lives - from when to eat to when to sleep - is imposed at the barrel of a gun, the IOM committee makes a mockery of informed consent, medical research's foundational principle.

Second, the committee based its decision on a review of articles about trends in ethics since the late 1970s, when current restrictions on research with prisoners were put in place. But decisions of such consequence cannot be based solely on changes in the academic wind. What also needs to be considered is whether the appalling conditions giving rise to the current protections have been eliminated. And all evidence suggests that they have only gotten worse.

Last, the committee isolates its inquiries from other moral commitments relevant to prisoners' well being - namely, human rights. Vesting internationally agreed upon human rights in every person and creating ethical standards for medical research are two sides of the same coin. But with the wide-ranging human-rights violations in today's prisons - including sexual assault and decrepit living conditions - attempts to isolate medical research from human-rights standards can lead one ethical norm to undermine the other, exposing prisoners to even greater abuse.

Bioethical dilemmas involving prisoners will be with us for some time. South Carolina, for example, is considering a proposal to relieve its shortage of kidneys for transplant by shaving 180 days off inmates' sentences if they agree to become donors.

Human biotechnology also might come into play; given the shortage of eggs available to pursue certain types of stem-cell research, it's not difficult to imagine similar incentives being offered to incarcerated women to become egg donors.

These are complicated issues with remarkably high stakes. Medical research with human subjects can retain its legitimacy only if it recognizes its deep kinship with human rights. Regrettably, the impending Health and Human Services decision to loosen restrictions on prison research leads us in the wrong direction.

Allen M. Hornblum is the author of "Acres of Skin: Human Experimentation at Holmesburg Prison" and "Sentenced to Science: One Black Man's Story of Imprisonment in America" (coming later this year). Osagie K. Obasogie contributes to the blog

Saturday, September 08, 2007

AG certifies citizen measures for ballot

September 6, 2007

Attorney General Martha Coakley yesterday certified all of the proposed initiatives and constitutional amendments citizen activists hope to put before voters in 2008 and 2010, including proposals that would ban greyhound racing, eliminate the state income tax, and decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The petitions cover nine topics, and their certification means activists can begin collecting the voter signatures needed to advance their proposals. The pending crop also includes proposals to repeal the automobile excise tax and reduce the annual allowable increase in the property tax levy from 2.5 percent to 1 percent. Three proposed constitutional amendments, which would not be eligible for the ballot until 2010, would lower the voting age, authorize Massachusetts residents to delegate powers to a global federal union of democratic nations, and change the constitutional amendment process by cutting the Legislature out of it. (State House News Service)

Destruction in black America is self-inflicted

By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist September 5, 2007

DEBATING capital punishment at an Ivy League university a few years ago, I was confronted with the claim that since death sentences are more often meted out in cases where the victim is white, the death penalty must be racially biased. It's a spurious argument, I replied. Whites commit fewer than half of all murders in the United States, yet more whites than blacks are sentenced to death and more whites than blacks are executed each year. If there is racial bias in the system, it clearly isn't in favor of whites.

But if you choose to focus on the race of victims, I added, remember that nearly all black homicide is intraracial - more than nine out of 10 black murder victims in the United States are killed by black murderers. So applying the death penalty in more cases where the victim is black would mean sending more black men to death row.

After the debate, a young black woman accosted me indignantly. Ninety-plus percent of black blood is shed by black hands? What about all the victims of white supremacists? Hadn't I heard of lynching? Hadn't I heard of James Byrd, who died so horribly in Jasper, Texas? When I assured her that Byrd's murder by whites was utterly untypical of most black homicide, she was dubious.

I thought of that young woman when I read recently about James Ford Seale, the former Mississippi Klansman sentenced last month to three life terms in prison for his role in murdering two black teenagers 43 years ago. The killing of Charles Moore and Henry Dee in 1964 was one of several unsolved civil-rights-era crimes that prosecutors in the South have reopened in recent years. Seale's trial was a vivid reminder of the days when racial contempt was a deadly fact of life in much of the country. His sentence proclaims even more vividly the transformation of America since then. White racism, once such a murderous force, is now associated mostly with feeble has-beens.

Yet many Americans, like the woman at my debate, still seem to view racial questions through an antediluvian haze. To them, white bigotry remains a clear and present danger, and the reason so many black Americans die before their time.

But the data aren't in dispute. Though outrage over "racism" is ever fashionable, African-Americans have long had far less to fear from the violence of racist whites than from the mayhem of the black underclass.

"Do you realize that the leading killer of young black males is young black males?" asked Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan 16 years ago. "As a black man and a father of three, this really shakes me to the core of my being."

From Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement, came a similar cry of anguish. "Nothing in the long history of blacks in America," he lamented in 1994, "suggests the terrible destruction blacks are visiting upon each other today."

Happily, crime rates have declined from their 1990s peak. But it remains that the worst destruction in black America is self-inflicted.

In a new study, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics confirms once again that almost half the people murdered in the United States each year are black, and 93 percent of black homicide victims are killed by someone of their own race. (For white homicide victims, the figure is 85 percent.) In other words, of the estimated 8,000 African-Americans murdered in 2005, more than 7,400 were cut down by other African-Americans. Though blacks account for just one-eighth of the US population, the BJS reports, they are six times more likely than whites to be victimized by homicide -- and seven times more likely to commit homicide.

Such huge disproportions don't just happen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously warned 40 years ago that the collapse of black family life would mean rising chaos and crime in the black community. Today, as many as 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock and 60 percent are raised in fatherless households. And as reams of research confirm, children raised without married parents and intact, stable families are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior.

High rates of black violent crime are a national tragedy, but it is the law-abiding black majority that suffers from them most. "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life," Jesse Jackson said in 1993, "than to walk down the street and hear footsteps . . . Then turn around and see somebody white and feel relieved."

It isn't an insoluble problem. Americans overcame white racism; they can overcome black crime. But the first step, as always, is to face the facts.

Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is

Job Vacancy

841 Broad Street, Providence, Rhode Island, 02907
(401) 781.5808

Job Posting: Policy Director, RI Family Life Center


The Rhode Island Family Life Center was born from a coalition of community-based organizations, churches, and corrections officials uniting to address the disproportionate impact of incarceration on neighborhoods in Providence. The FLC exists to support and advocate for the reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals returning to Rhode Island’s communities—by preparing inmates for release, providing strong support during the post-release period, and assisting families of offenders returning home through support and counseling that builds on individual and family strengths. In addition to providing direct service, FLC works to change laws and policies that discriminate against the formerly incarcerated and their families in areas such as housing, employment, government benefits, or political participation. With its dual goals of service and advocacy, the Family Life Center works to assist ex-offenders with their current needs while working towards a world where individuals with criminal records are given the same opportunities to participate and achieve as everyone else.

The Family Life Center has achieved considerable success with its research and advocacy work, including a series of reports and successful policy campaigns which have gained local and national recognition. In the fall of 2006, the FLC ran the Rhode Island Right to Vote campaign, which spearheaded the successful passage of a constitutional referendum to return the right to vote to people on probation and parole. Most recently, the FLC helped to organize the Reinvest in Justice campaign, which advocated for several criminal justice reforms, including mandatory minimum drug sentencing repeal, court fine reform, prostitution reform, and probation reform. The FLC has a staff that is experienced in community organizing and education and has led several successful advocacy campaigns. With strong relationships to formerly incarcerated individuals, access to criminal justice data, and a history of collaboration with leaders at the city, state, and community level, the FLC is a leader in criminal justice policy in the state.

Job Description:

The Policy Director will provide critical leadership, vision, and organization to the Family Life Center. The Director will work closely with Policy staff, consisting of one to two part-time researchers and three part-time outreach workers, and will be immediately supervised by the Executive Director.

The Director will direct the planning and implementing of the Family Life Center policy agenda and will have the opportunity to help lead Rhode Island towards a more just criminal justice system. The Director will oversee and conduct research about criminal justice policy and reentry, including interviews and focus groups with impacted individuals, legal analysis, data analysis, and writing of reports. Research topics include recidivism analysis, prostitution policy and reform, probation and technical violations, substance abuse treatment and sentencing reform, and employment discrimination against people with criminal records.

The Director will oversee public education and advocacy around the policy agenda. This work will include educational presentations and forums with community and policy-makers, organizing public events and advocacy campaigns, and writing op-eds and other media outreach. The Director will oversee the continued development of a discussion group and speaker's bureau that fosters grassroots involvement as well as an advisory committee of community leaders that can offer professional guidance.

The position is a full-time position starting in November 2007 and ending in November 2008, with the potential for continuation.

Major Qualifications:

--At least three years experience doing research or advocacy in a related field.
--A real commitment to social justice issues and working to improve the criminal justice system, and deep personal belief in the importance of grassroots organizing and working with populations that have been affected by the criminal justice process.
--Graduate degree in a related field or J.D.
--Experienced with process of state politics; ideally familiar with Rhode Island political system. Responsibilities will include forming relationships with legislators and other policy-makers.
--Experience organizing, including doing community and media outreach. Responsibilities will include collaborating with other organizations, agencies and churches.
--Experience working with a diverse array of people. The Director will need to outreach and coordinate with the community affected by FLC work, including formerly incarcerated individuals, low-income communities, and African-American and latino communities.
--Skilled manager with the proven ability to organize and lead with vision, enthusiasm, and productive critique.

Other Qualifications:

--Excellent interpersonal communication skills and proven ability to easily and quickly build and maintain productive relationships with individuals in neighborhood, business, faith, and government settings.
--Background in statistics is an advantage, but not required.
--Reliable access to car and ability to travel within Rhode Island as needed.
--Excellent writing skills.
--Proficiency with Windows XP and Microsoft Office (including PowerPoint and Excel).
--Ability to speak Spanish is an advantage, but not required. People of color are strongly encouraged to apply.

Salary: $50,000-56,000 depending on experience, plus full benefits

To Apply:

Please submit a resume, cover letter, three to five page writing sample on a relevant topic,
and three references (1 personal, 2 professional) to Ronn Fortes by October 1st :

Ronn Fortes
Executive Assistant, Rhode Island Family Life Center
841 Broad Street, Providence, RI 02907
Phone: (401) 781-5808 x101 Fax: (401) 781-5361

Learn more about the RI Family Life Center at

First Shot: Thanks, But No Thanks

A women's jail is set to open? But do we really need it?
By Maureen Turner
Valley Advocate, September 6, 2007

After five years and more than $26 million-and despite countless protests and petition signatures-the new women's jail in Chicopee officially opens for business this month.

The minimum- and medium-security facility will house more than 200 women from the four western counties who've received sentences of less than 2 1/2 years.

Supporters applaud the fact that the jail will have the space and staff for programs-from parenting classes to addiction treatment and mental health services-that were hard to offer when women were housed in the already crammed men's prison in Ludlow.

Certainly, those kinds of services, if done right, could be a great benefit to the targeted women-but do they really need to be locked up before they get that support?

As Jo Comerford, formerly of the Western Massachusetts American Friends Service Committee, which has fought the creation of the jail, has put it, "A woman shouldn't have to get locked up to get healthcare, to get her addiction looked at, to get a GED. ... What I'm interested in is the root cause of what brought her to jail."

The majority of incarcerated women are there for non-violent offenses, namely, prostitution and drugs. Local prison officials acknowledge that about 85 percent of the women now at Ludlow have some kind of addiction problem. It's hard to believe that the social, economic and health problems behind their crimes couldn't be solved in a way that's healthier for the women and society, less damaging to their families and their post-incarceration lives, and less costly to taxpayers.

And when women are locked up, there's another group of people who are adversely affected: their kids. Across the country, there are 1.3 million kids whose mothers are under some form of "correctional supervision," according to journalist Christina Rathbone, author of A World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life Behind Bars.

A 2003 study by UMass Boston found that there are 7,000 mothers, with a combined 16,000 children, incarcerated in Massachusetts. Often the children will be sent to stay with already overburdened family members or put into foster homes.

Of course, the building of the new jail profits some, including the contractors who took part in the pricey construction and the city of Chicopee, which sold the land for the jail for more than $1 million and receives another $100,000 for each bed at the site-meaning some sectors, at least, have plenty of motivation to back Hampden County Sheriff Mike Ashe's call to add another 56 beds to the jail. (For more on the true costs of prison projects, see

Ashe's bid to add more cells to the jail means the fight's not over for activists like the Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition, or ShaRC (, who've fought the facility. They're rallying behind proposed legislation, cosponsored by state Rep. Peter Kocot (D-Northampton), that would create a five-year moratorium on new jail and prison construction.

Instead, the bill calls for the creation of a special commission to study the "system of incarceration," looking at the unfair treatment of poor people and people of color, overcrowding, drug sentencing policies and the effect prison and jail spending has on anti-poverty and health programs. Ultimately, the commission would consider whether there are more effective and cost-efficient ways to deal with those who are now locked up, while also protecting public safety.

"What we need is drug treatment, childhood sexual abuse prevention, quality education and job training," Lois Ahrens, director of the Real Cost of Prisons Project, offered as testimony in support of the bill at a Statehouse hearing last spring. "These are long-term solutions; however, right now, we can alleviate jail overcrowding and the need for more and bigger jails though bail reform and pre-trial diversion programs and the diversion of resources from jails and prisons to drug treatment and meaningful job training."

Running Down the Walls 5K Roll/Run/Walk

From: Jericho Boston
Date: 9/8/2007 9:56:24 AM
Subject: [jericho_boston_announce] TOMORROW: Running Down the Walls!

Greeting Jericho fam,

Just reminding you all that tomorrow, September 9th is our Running Down the Walls fundraiser. Half of the proceeds will go to the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (in honor of Leonard’s birthday, which is September 12th), and the other half will go to the San Francisco 8. It is crucial that we come together to raise these funds next Sunday, since the SF8 recently had their bail reduced, and we are that much closer to getting them back on the streets until we finally beat the governments bogus case against them. Please come down, bring a friend or family member and something good to eat or drink. The registration forms are still available if you email See you at the pond!


Sunday, September 9th 10am
Jamaica Pond Boat House

On September 9th, folks from all over will be coming together in the spirit of justice and health. Inside and outside the prison walls, people will be participating in Running Down the Walls, a 5K run/roll/walk to raise funds for U.S.-held Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War. U.S.-held PP/POW’s are constantly in need of financial support due to legal appeals, medical needs, commissary needs, etc. Jericho Boston’s goal is to raise $1,000 through community participation in the event, as well as raise consciousness and mobilize our communities to liberate
these Freedom Fighters and put an end to the repression of peoples’ movements worldwide. Please come down to the pond this September 9th, where we will be collectively getting in shape and providing much needed resources for our comrades. A potluck picnic will follow. Jamaica Pond is located on the Jamaica Way in Jamaica
Plain. It is reachable by taking the Orange line to Green St., Green line to Heath St. or the 39 bus. Please call Jericho Boston if you need more detailed directions.

P.O. Box 301057, Boston, MA 02130 - (617)830-0732 - - jericho_boston (at) yahoo (dot) com

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Back From Behind Bars

Back From Behind Bars
Homelessness, Unemployment and Familiar Temptations Greet the 2,000 Prisoners Who Return to the District Each Year
By Robert E. Pierre
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 2, 2007; A01

Few people understand the criminal justice system like Wendell Poole. He spent 21 years, four months, 16 days and three hours in prison for assault with the intent to kill two people during an argument. He arrived home middle-aged and paranoid, flinching at the sound of passing cars. He needed a job, a place to stay, a plan.

He slept on sofas, convinced a friend to give him a job and now, four years later, counsels just-released prisoners, nudging them toward a fresh start.

Staying out, Poole tells them, is simple: Change your clothes, your friends and your frame of reference. Don't expect handouts or even much help. As a small first step, Poole decided before leaving prison to wear a necktie in his new life.

"You have to reinvent yourself," he said.

But reinvention requires help. For many ex-cons, help can be hard to come by. The reentry system is overwhelmed, and the pipeline of people returning from prison gets replenished daily.

About 2,000 prisoners come back to the District every year -- an average of five a day. As many as 60,000 D.C. residents -- one in 10 -- are felons, 15,000 of them under court supervision.

They arrive at the homes of relatives, at halfway houses and shelters. One-third end up homeless or close to it. Seven out of 10 have abused drugs. Half don't have a high school diploma. Employers, landlords and even family members often avoid them.

Most emerge ill-equipped to stay out of prison. Two-thirds are re-arrested within three years. Forty percent are sent back to prison. This means more crime, more victims and more money spent to send them through the justice system again and again.

The District is the only jurisdiction in the country where the federal government has direct authority for supervising its felons, a legacy of the city's bankrupt '90s under Mayor Marion Barry (D).

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) says too many inmates are not getting the services they need in prison or after their release.

"These people are out of sight, out of mind," Norton said. "There's been no oversight, not one hearing. The whole notion of what role this population plays in crime is not part of the crime-prevention strategy."

The federal agency overseeing ex-offenders in the District spends $135 million a year, but former D.C. police chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. said more needs to be spent to ensure that residents get homes and training that will lead to jobs. Allowing people to be idle, he said, is dangerous.

"What you're saying is," said Fulwood, a member of the U.S. Parole Commission, " 'Keep robbing us. Keep busting us in the head. Keep breaking into our houses.' "

* * *

The District used to incarcerate its prisoners and monitor them on release. But in 1997, Congress transferred that authority to federal agencies because the District was financially strained and its key prison, Lorton Correctional Complex in Fairfax County, was crowded, violent and corrupt.

Prisoners were sent to institutions run by the federal Bureau of Prisons. Parole authority was given to the U.S. Parole Commission in Bethesda, and the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, or CSOSA, was created to do pre-release counseling, supervise parolees and provide drug treatment.

The federal prisons, although generally considered safer and newer, evoke inmate complaints: Spread across 75 institutions in 33 states, inmates are cut off from their families, and 15 percent of about 7,000 inmates serving time are beyond the 500-mile limit Congress set. Many are housed in facilities that do not offer college-level classes or training in such skills as barbering. One in nine inmates in federal prison reports getting drug treatment.

Poole, 52, spent time in both systems. During seven years at Lorton, he got a GED and started college. "I got to see my kids two or three times a week," he said. "I got a chance to be a part of their lives."

Going to "the feds" meant a game of survival. Calling home was too expensive, and inmates said they often felt mistreated by guards. At least as big a problem is they lost touch with the city -- and the city lost touch with them.

* * *

When an inmate leaves prison, a reentry system is supposed to kick in before old habits set in, say government leaders, community activists and law enforcement officials.

For Poole, a counselor at the Anacostia Men's Employment Network, there was no halfway house, no job training.
Now, however, CSOSA makes a concerted effort to reach out to prisoners a few months before they are scheduled to leave and develop a plan of action. About half of those leaving prison are sent to a halfway house to serve their final months. It is not uncommon for release dates to be held up because an inmate has nowhere to live.

Of 2,200 offenders released in the past year, 370 listed their residence as a homeless shelter. Many times, all a parole or probation officer can do is refer inmates to programs and hope they get in.

Even after years in prison, inmates often need drug treatment. Some continue using drugs in prison. Others have no access to drugs but without treatment come out with their desire intact. Returning to old haunts and temptations can be too difficult to resist.

"It's the number one issue," said Paul Quander, who heads CSOSA. "There aren't enough resources."

Treatment is expensive. Seven days of detox, 90 days of residential care and 54 outpatient visits costs $17,141 for one person; the cost of a year in prison approaches $30,000.

CSOSA gets $11 million a year for drug treatment, enough to serve one of four addicts under its care. So Quander focuses on people with multiple convictions and long-standing addictions.

The crown jewel of the agency's efforts is the 102-bed Reentry and Sanctions Center in Southeast next to RFK Stadium, between the D.C. jail and the morgue. For 28 days, ex-cons fill 14-hour days with counseling, group chats, academic testing and personalized assessments. A 2001 review showed a 35 percent drop in re-arrests, a rate the agency hopes to replicate on a larger scale. No one believes recidivism can be wiped out, but CSOSA officials say increased funding can help reduce overall crime in the city.

Michael Washington, 37, said chasing drugs kept him cycling in and out of prison, at one point for a burglary conviction and most recently for a parole violation. He started drinking at 12 and then began using drugs. He has dealt drugs, been robbed and been shot.

Washington hopes a treatment program he started after being released in late June will help him stay clean. "In my mind and my heart," he said, "I know what to do, but I need some help."

Those who don't get treated through CSOSA are referred to the District's Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration, which provides detox and inpatient care for all the District's addicts, not just ex-offenders. The District does not track whether the people it treats are ex-offenders but acknowledges drugs as a pervasive problem in the city.

APRA served 13 percent of an estimated 60,000 people in the District who needed drug treatment last year. Freed prisoners often have to join a long line. Some waiting lists stretch four or five months.

And treatment can cost $70 a week. To pay the fee, the felons need a job.

* * *

The census tracts with the highest concentrations of ex-offenders have unemployment rates up to 35 percent, a recent study by the Urban Institute found.

Dozens of job-training programs focus on life skills. Fulfilling a requirement of their release, inmates can cycle from one training program to another, never landing a job.

Many employers are reluctant to give ex-cons a second chance.
"If you check yes, they're not going to call you in for an interview. It happens all the time," said Lohren Robinson, 25, a cook who hasn't had run-ins with the law for the two years since he served time for convictions on stolen identity, breaking and entering and grand theft. He is unemployed but gets occasional temp jobs. "It takes away your ambition and your drive to want for something."

For a year, the D.C. Council has considered barring employers from asking applicants if they have a criminal history until after a job offer is made.

Opposition from business has been fierce. Business owners, colleges and security agencies say insurance premiums would rise, along with lawsuits from ex-offenders rejected for jobs. Some threatened to stop recruiting in the District. Business leaders said many emerge from prison lacking college degrees, certifications or training to qualify for jobs.

"While we will have some discrimination in our lives," D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang told council members earlier this year, "discrimination is not the major reason for the issue we are discussing today; preparedness for jobs is."

Sponsors said the measure is alive, although it has yet to come out of committee.
One hundred men and women showed up at a CSOSA job fair in June. A videolink was set up to Rivers Correctional Institution in North Carolina, where dozens of District prisoners were months from release. Agents for two construction companies were invited to offer tips on what to wear to an interview and how to create a good impression.

One audience member said he wanted to become a crane operator. Another, a man who had been sitting quietly, said, "I just need a job."

But Larry Barnes, a trainer in the D.C. Apprenticeship Office, which links District residents with employers in the skilled trades, said ex-offenders often sabotage themselves. "We show up late," he told them. "We're positive [for drugs] in our urine. . . . We got baby-mama drama. We rely on other people to get to work."

The Rev. Stephen E. Tucker, pastor of New Commandment Baptist Church in Northwest Washington, runs one of dozens of job-training programs for ex-offenders in the District. His is out of the church basement, mixing spiritual guidance with r?sum? writing and conflict resolution. The program forms partnerships with business owners who agree to interview and hire its graduates.

Since 1997, more than 1,000 have graduated. Eighty-five percent get jobs, Tucker said, and 90 percent keep them at least a year. Still, about half of those under CSOSA's supervision are without a job. Tucker said jobs, housing and drug treatment are parts of a whole.

"If you give a brother a job and he hasn't gotten over substance abuse, he's not going to have that job long," he said. "If he gets a job and doesn't have a place to stay, they're going to open themselves up to the same choices that got them locked up in the first place."

* * *

Inmates and their advocates, however, agree that programs and access to drug treatment do not guarantee success for those living on the margins.

Jason Kinney, 26, had been away for a year on a parole violation from a 1999 assault charge. Out of prison for two months, his job hunt was frustrating him, but he hadn't given up, his mother, Tawana Kinney, said.

He completed CSOSA's 28-day drug treatment and started a job-training program near his parents' home in Congress Heights. He talked about restarting his fledgling acting career. Once, he had a minor role in "Homicide: Life on the Street."

On July 13, Kinney stood in a crowd in his old neighborhood on Capitol Hill. A car drove past, and someone opened fire. Four people, including Kinney, were hit. The others lived. He died just before midnight.

Days later, 150 people gathered on a breezy afternoon as the summer sun eased into twilight. In death, Kinney had completed a familiar cycle: He got into trouble early. He went to prison. He died young.

The Rev. Roy Bowman, associate pastor of the Soul Factory in Forestville, told the gathering that the endless churn of black men through the prisons and the morgue has become so routine that it hardly warrants a passing glance. Help, he said, wasn't on the way.

"Ain't nobody coming, ya'll," said Bowman, a former police officer, looking from one teary face to another. "Ain't nobody coming to save us, to work this thing out. If you don't learn to read, ain't nobody going to show up to care. If you expect the police or the D.C. government to do something, it ain't going to happen. Nobody cares that we kill each other. . . . Ain't nobody coming."

Police have offered up to $25,000 to anyone who can help put the killer or killers behind bars.