Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Georgia Prison Strike Comes to an End With Unfinished Business

The heroic prison strike that took place in Georgia this month has finally come to an end. Other than the inmates who are still holding out, most of the others have been released from the massive lock down and agreed to go back to work. Progress was made during the strike, and negotiations are still underway.

I was scheduled to meet with Elaine Brown, one of the leaders of the movement last night. For some reason, we weren't able to find her. But I'm sure that whatever she was doing was more important than talking to me. Tomorrow morning I'll be speaking with Rev. Jesse Jackson on the matter, and then Monday, I speak with Rev. Al Sharpton. In fact, I'll be speaking to everyone I know about this issue for as long as I possibly can.

One of the things that I believe, and I'm sure Elaine agrees, is that the strike was a significant step in getting the public to recognize the urgent need to reform our criminal justice system. It's important for people to realize that supporting the human rights of prison inmates is not a matter of being soft on crime. Instead, it's a matter of being intelligent about how systems operate so that those who are willing to rehabilitate themselves can return to their communities in a productive capacity. We cannot afford to keep throwing away every black child who makes a mistake.

Even though reports are stating that the strike is effectively over, the momentum created by the activities of these inmates cannot be understated. By coming together in such an amazing way, the individuals in the Georgia State correctional system have made a strong statement for human rights around the world. They have also taught us a few things about America, the prison system and ourselves. Here are a few lessons to ponder:

1) Prison inmates are not dumb and worthless human beings: The same brilliance that it took for the Georgia inmates to coordinate their protest, write public statements and become conscious of their human rights can be applied to nearly anything they try to do. Our society has been trained to believe that anyone who breaks the law is somehow worthless to society, but if that's the case, then we can say the same thing about Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, Martin Luther King and even Jesus. The truth is that while there are certainly inmates who deserve to be punished, the punishment should not be for life for most of the individuals who are convicted. By marginalizing prison inmates and not creating opportunities for them to add to our society, we are only throwing away potentially productive human capital and destroying families, making the problem worse and more expensive over time.

2) Prisons should be used to rehabilitate, not to make our society worse than it is: I've never understood the mindset of those who don't feel that prison inmates deserve access to an education. Do you really want an uneducated, unemployed ex-convict living in your neighborhood or raising children who attend school with your child? I thought not. Giving inmates access to quality education gives them a choice of returning to a life of crime or doing something better. I can tell you with all sincerity that if I had no education, no job and no way of providing for my family, I'd be willing to consider all alternatives to get my children what they need. Instead, a little opportunity and divine intervention turned me into a college professor instead of a menace to society.

3) There should be additional oversight in the prison system: Prisons are like universities in that they are given the ability to operate without sufficient checks and balances on their behavior. As a result, many universities are among the last bastions of serious segregation in our society (my business school at Syracuse didn't grant tenure to an African American in any department in over 100 years of existence), and prisons are also allowed to consistently violate the human rights of their inmates. As much as the United States criticizes nations like China for their human rights violations, consider this: China has only 3/4 as many of its citizens in prison relative to the United States (2.1 million to 1.6 million), and they have a population that is four times greater than our own. When it comes to violating the human rights of minorities and the poor, the United States has become a global leader.

4) The black community is being destroyed by our prisons: Nearly every black person I know has been affected by the prison system in one way or the other. If you haven't been in the criminal justice system, you probably have a parent, brother or cousin who has. If that's not the case, then you've possibly mentored or helped raise a child whose parent was incarcerated. Out of the 1.8 million African American men that live in the United States, nearly 200,000 of them are in state or federal prison, or in a local jail. According to a 2003 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 32 percent of black males born in the year 2001 can expect to spend time in state or federal prison during their lifetime. This means that the little boy you're raising right now has a prison bed already made out for him. Your daughter is going to try to find a husband and end up meeting several men who have interacted with this system. Therefore, it is not only in our incentive to teach our kids how to avoid these systems, we must also confront the systems themselves so that making a mistake at an early age does not lead to a death sentence on an individual's entire future.

5) Black politicians and public figures must get involved: I wrote an article recently about how the Congressional Black Caucus was as quiet as a church mouse during the Georgia prison strike. While I get quite a few statements about the fabulous work they are doing for the Hispanic community (i.e. the DREAM Act), the war in Afghanistan, and much more, I don't see much in terms of fighting for the human rights of prison inmates. I'd love to see black politicians stop acting as if ex-convicts are sub-human individuals who deserve to be raped and beaten, and start realizing that many of them (not all) are fractured souls who made bad choices at an early age. Also, as much as rappers love to bust rhymes about selling dope, going to prison and getting shot, leading hip hop artists should be issuing statements in support of the Georgia prison protest and offering to help.

One of the reasons that the Nazis were able to execute so many Jews was because the good-hearted members of society were convinced that those being exterminated deserved their fates. By separating people into the "us" and "them" groups, the powers that be are able to slowly but surely eat away at civil liberties for us all. When Jesus was thrust upon the cross, many mistook legality for morality to believe that he must have been doing something wrong because he was being punished. But we must understand that applying the arbitrary label of "convict" onto someone does not imply that we have the right to disrespect ourselves, our society and our freedom by making that person into a slave. In fact, most of us are not as far away from this system as we'd like to believe, just ask Wesley Snipes.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the author of the bookBlack American Money To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Michelle Alexander Is Coming to Seattle

The New Jim Crow: The Prison Industrial Complex

DATE | TIME: Monday, January 24, 2011 | 7 p.m.
LOCATION: Mount Zion Baptist Church

Join us for an powerful discussion about the current Prison Industrial Complex! The event will be led by Michelle Alexander, professor and author. She joined the OSU faculty in 2005 and holds a joint appointment with the Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. She was a member of the Stanford Law School faculty, where she served as Director of the Civil Rights Clinic. She has litigated civil rights cases in private practice and has engaged in innovative litigation and advocacy efforts in the non-profit sector. For several years, Professor Alexander served as the Director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, which spearheaded a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement. Professor Alexander is a graduate of Stanford Law School and Vanderbilt University. Following law school, she clerked for Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the United States Supreme Court, and for Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

This lecture is part of the Diversity Speaker Series
The Bush School Diversity Speaker Series is free and open to the public. Unless noted, events will be held at:
The Bush School | 3400 E. Harrison St., Seattle | www.bush.edu/diversity contact: Dr. Eddie Moore Jr., Director of Diversity | 206-326-7731 | eddie.moorejr@bush.edu
Sponsors:  ACLU | Bethany Presbyterian Church | Casey Family Services | Comparative History of Ideas-UW | Cross Cultural Connections | Empower Law PLLC | Giddens School | Mount Zion Baptist Church | Seattle Pacific University | Seattle Public Schools | North Seattle Community College | Seattle University | Starbucks | Seattle Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and Youth Council | UmojaFest P.E.A.C.E. Center | WEACT  | YMCA of Greater Seattle

SPS CLOCK HOURS: Participants who attend a one-hour pre-lecture workshop and the lecture/discussion are eligible for three clock hours at a cost of $6 ($2/hour). Please bring a check made out to Seattle Public Schools. We are unable to offer clock hours for the lecture only. Contact Jenn Kovach, SPS, at jekovach@seattleschools.org with questions.


Brian C. Johnson
DATE | TIME: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 | 7 p.m.
LOCATION: The Bush School Community Room

Barbara J. Love
DATE | TIME: Thursday, March 3, 2011 | 7 p.m.
LOCATION: The Bush School Community Room

Hsiao-wen lo
DATE | TIME: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 | 7 p.m. and Friday, April 29, 2010 (Upper School Privilege Day 2)
LOCATION: The Bush School Community Room

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Prisons Overcrowded due to Sentencing - Supreme Court to Hear Case

"A system designed to house 80,000 prisoners now houses more than twice that many. Prisoners are not only doubled and tripled up in 6-by-9 cells that were built for one, they are stacked in bunks in areas meant to be used for recreation, vocational training and even clinic space."
"California admits that the conditions in its prisons violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Over the past two decades, the state has convened some two dozen blue-ribbon panels to study the prison crisis; each has concluded that to provide basic health services, the system must reduce overcrowding. The problem is that the state Legislature has not been willing to change California's uniquely punitive laws or to spend the money to reduce overcrowding."
"A Supreme Court decision in the case is expected in the spring or summer."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Justice Works! - a grassroots criminal justice reform organization

Justice Works! is a grassroots criminal justice reform organization. Visit us often. New information is added regularly.
We are a people-based and people-driven organization whose goal is to create a safer and more just community. This is done through providing the previously incarcerated with positive transitions back into society and campaigning for just laws and equal treatment of all people.
Justice Works! is building a statewide presence in Washington State. Anyone interested in working with us on our projects and / or campaigns are welcome!  To learn more about Justice Works! feel free to browse our site.  The About Us section includes information about our mission, our values and background on our organization.  If you are an organizer,  be sure to check out the Organizer Toolkit tab above to get information and instructions on how to do the work in your area.

Blacks in Iowa Prisons: Disproportionate Numbers, but Possible Solutions Questionable

Proposals to lower the numbers of African-Americans in Iowa prisons fail to address the racism some blacks believe is contributing to the disparities and don’t offer any immediate solutions, activists and others said.
“I’m tired of people faking like they don’t know what the problem is,” said Zorana Wortham-White, a Waterloo attorney. “Everybody needs to realize — even Governor [Chet] Culver — that this is happening because it’s racism. Period.”
Iowa leads the nation for imprisoning blacks at a rate 13.6 times that of whites, according to a national study by the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project. Blacks account for just 2.3 percent of Iowa’s population but 25 percent of its prison population.
A committee Culver convened recommended spending $4.3 million on early-childhood education; $3.12 million on offender re-entry programs; $1.25 million on community-based correctional programs and $1 million on substance abuse and mental health programs.
Ryan King, a policy analyst with the Sentencing Project, said the proposals are encouraging, but don’t go far enough. 
“The single biggest thing that can be done is to revisit the sentencing laws that exist to determine who is brought into the criminal justice system to begin with,” King said.
Iowa needs a “wholesale” evaluation of sentencing laws to determine if punishments are proportionate to offenses, King said. He also said Iowa should figure out which laws are sending people to prison the most and identify people who might be eligible for alternative programs.
“Looking to see if community sanctions rather than custody sanctions might be appropriate,” King said. 
Abraham Funchess, division administrator for the Iowa Commission on the Status of African-Americans, served on Culver’s committee. The commission is spending $200,000 this year on an effort called the Ongoing Covenant with Black Iowa, to study and improve the lives of blacks in 10 cities.
“We need to change the law here in Iowa to give our judges more judicial discretion to incorporate individual circumstances in the sentencing decisions,” Funchess said. “If we can make changes in these areas, I believe that we will be able to make a more immediate impact on reducing the disparities here in Iowa.”
The proposals, which are being reviewed by Culver’s office, make no mention of racism or cultural competence or sensitivity training for law enforcement personnel, which surprised and troubled some community activists.
“I believe money should have gone into law enforcement to attract minority and women officers,” said Jerald Brantley, who is publisher of the Iowa Bystander, the state’s largest black newspaper.
Wortham-White said law enforcement should have topped the list.
“One of the solutions is to get a police environment where you can have more African-Americans feel comfortable on the police force and not have to deal with a whole bunch of racism while they’re on the police force…” she said.
David Goodson, founder of Social Action Inc., a Waterloo agency that helps black male adolescents with life skills and employment, said the state can’t continue to do the same thing and expect different results. He said the goal of spending money on early-childhood education is great but does nothing to fix immediate problems.
“Whether or not people end up going to prison 18 years later, that is a byproduct of early education funding,” Goodson said. “We need something that is more immediate that’s going to take hold right now. Overnight.”
Zorana Wortham-White agreed.
“I’m really, really confused as to how that is even hitting at the problem,” Wortham-White said. “To put that much money towards an early-childhood education program as opposed to your community-based correctional programs is ridiculous.”
Reverend Keith Ratliff Sr., is the NAACP state conference president. He said the group met with Culver last month to discuss the issue.
“I know because of the high visibility of this issue some people are looking for quick fixes and quite frankly quick fixes may look good on paper, but what our state needs are some short term and long term goals that continue to address and reduce this disproportionate rate and to have checks and balances in place to keep this disproportionate rate once reduced from reoccurring and reoccurring,” Ratliff said.
He said the NAACP reviewed the issue of plea bargains and believes a study should be conducted comparing the plea bargains that blacks accept with those of whites.
“It seemed to suggest that African-Americans are being offered and accepting too many plea bargains, which on the surface may give a person a reduced charge or sentence, yet it is an admission of guilt and will follow this person for years if not their whole life,” he said. “Do these individuals really understand the full ramifications of plea bargaining?”
Goodson, of Waterloo, is pushing for more community-based correctional programs. He held a forum last month in Waterloo about the racial disparities in the prison system. He said society needs to rethink imprisoning nonviolent offenders, a change that could help lower the numbers of blacks in prison.
“I’m not saying that a nonviolent offender should never go to prison. I’m simply saying that nonviolent offenders should be sentenced to drug court, substance-abuse programs, to work release, to residential facilities and on and on and on,” he said.
He said imprisoning nonviolent offenders is “criminalizing bad behavior.”
“Most people think that prison is the only form of punishment for criminal behavior or bad behavior,” he said. “But probation is a form of punishment; ankle bracelets are a form of punishment, [being] court-ordered to various programs is a form of punishment when you don’t want to go.”
The feedback Funchess has received through the Ongoing Covenant with Black Iowa project is that not enough money is being spent on community-based alternatives to prison.
The Sentencing Project recommends that policymakers consider strategies to reduce the disparities, including ensuring that defendants have high-quality representation and requiring a racial-impact study for any new laws that concern prisons.
Culver’s committee studied a 2001 report that was commissioned by former Gov. Tom Vilsack, which stated: “The residents and policy-makers in this state must recognize that the issues identified in this report grow deeper and become more costly each year that they are left unchecked.”  The report can be found at http://www.doc.state….
Brantley, who is also executive director of Spectrum Resources which provides re-entry programs, agreed. He applauded the committee for developing budget proposals instead of just more ideas. But, doubts loom. 
“Are the recommendations going to sit there and die like the other report?” he said.
Wortham-White questions whether the proposals — assuming they are implemented and financed — will have any real impact at all.
“The problems go a lot deeper than this and go way beyond the suggestions that the committee made,” she said. “It’s not happening by accident. This is being directed at black people.” 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Should Rappers Wage War on Mass Incarceration?

Yesterday, Dr. Boyce from Syracuse University published an article entitled "Rappers Should Be Repping The Georgia Prison Strike." It's a well-informed article on the issue of mass incarceration, and in it, Dr. Boyce appeals to rappers to take up the issues of mass incarceration. "Rather than writing lyrics to glorify incarceration and excessive materialism, [the hip hop community] may want to consider doing things that challenge the systems that enslave hundreds of thousands of black people."

Well said, Dr. Boyce.

But we'd like to take his message a step further. Who has a responsibility for spreading this message?

Certainly, rappers need to examine their messages and ask themselves how their lyrics are serving their community. The 13th Amendment of the Constitution allows for slavery if one is incarcerated, and the media reinforces the African American male stereotype of the "criminal clown" through imagery, movies, music, and the like.  These images find a home in the minds of law enforcement officers, jurors, judges, and politicians.  If the only way to sell music downloads is to play into this media model, isn't that the ultimate form of selling out? You're just reinforcing the stereotype. You're playing right into the slaveholder's hands! How about some positive black images for once.

But it's not just rappers who have a responsibility. EVERYONE who becomes aware of this injustice needs to get involved and make their voice heard. African Americans only make up approximately 12% of the United States population. There is no such thing as a 12% majority vote, and the Civil Rights Act would have never been enacted if it depended solely on the African American community.  Rappers, television and film personalities, academics, lawyers, judges, upper and middle class businessmen and women, young and old, white, black, Asian, Latino, all need to speak out when they see an injustice of this magnitude.

As Dr. Boyce stated in his article, "While it's easy to say that every man and woman in prison is there because they deserve it, we must remember that the power of the state to define someone as a criminal is arbitrary (even Jesus and Martin Luther King were "criminals" according to the state.)  The erosion of civil liberties related to rights such as those regarding illegal search and seizure, forteiture of property, access to counsel, and voting rights as they have been applied to African Americans should be a concern to us all.

Over the past two decades, with the War on Drugs, we have managed to lock away a significant portion of our population, and African Americans have been disproportionately targeted even though research shows that whites use drugs at a higher rate.  The result is that the United States now incarcerates a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did during the height of apartheid.  In the past, Germans locked up and put to death a large portion of their population too.  Does anyone remember that?  And yet we have the audacity to wag our finger at other countries for their human rights abuses???

So, in conclusion, it's not just rappers who have a responsibility to their community, it's all of us.

Action Step: Read "Until They Come For You" and post comments on how you are trying to make a difference.

New Bureau of Justice Report Shows First Decline in Correctional Populations in Decades

New figures released December 21st 2010, by the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that the total corrections population in the United States declined last year for the first time since 1980. The 7.2 million persons under supervision – in prison, jail, or under probation or parole supervision – declined by 48,800, or 0.7% from the previous year.
The new report also shows the first decline in the overall state prison population since 1977 -- 24 states measured prisoner reductions during 2009. This is in marked contrast to the federal prison system, which grew by 3.4%.
“The decline in the criminal justice population is likely due to pressures brought on by the fiscal crisis, along with increased interest in effective public safety strategies,” stated Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. “It’s now clear that we can reduce prison populations without jeopardizing public safety.”
The new figures confirm that correctional populations are in large part a function of policy choices, and not necessarily a direct outcome of crime rates. The decline in state prison admissions, for example, was largely a function of a 4.5% decline in the number of parole violators sentenced to prison. Parole violators now represent more than a third of new prison admissions, more than double the proportion of the 1980s. Many of these cases are a function of discretionary decisions by parole officers responding to technical violations of parole.
Similarly, a 2010 report by The Sentencing Project and Justice Strategies, Downscaling Prisons: Lessons from Four States, documented sustained prison population reductions of 5-20% in four states – Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York – in the past decade. In each of these states, changes in sentencing policy and parole practice were significant contributors to the population reductions.
The new BJS reports also offer evidence of a continuing decline in the number of incarcerated African American females. From 2000-2009, there was a 31% reduction in their rate of incarceration, compared to a 47% rise among incarcerated white females and an increase of 23% for Hispanic females. According to recent analyses by The Sentencing Project, these trends may be related to shifting trends in the implementation of drug enforcement laws.
New figures released December 21st, 2010 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that the total corrections population in the United States declined last year for the first time since 1980. The 7.2 million persons under supervision – in prison, jail, or under probation or parole supervision – declined by 48,800, or 0.7% from the previous year.
The new report also shows the first decline in the overall state prison population since 1977 -- 24 states measured prisoner reductions during 2009. This is in marked contrast to the federal prison system, which grew by 3.4%.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Equity and Social Justice Ordinance in Seattle, Washington

City council recently passed Ordinance 2010-0509 "establishing definitions and directing implementation steps related to the fair and just principle of the adopted 2010-2014 countywide strategic plan."

"I am committed to implementing our equity and social justice agenda. It is very troubling that race, income and neighborhood are each major predictors of whether we graduate high school, whether we are more likely to be incarcerated, how healthy we are, and even how long we will live. Our economy depends on the ability of everyone to contribute, and we should remove barriers that limit the ability of some to fulfill their potential. When all can participate, we can have true competition that leads to excellence." ---King County Executive Dow Constantine

See more initiative updates and how to get involved at http://www.kingcounty.gov/exec/equity.aspx

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Democracy Now! Interview with Michelle Alexander

Democracy Now! Interview with Michelle Alexander regarding Mass Incarceration.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

GreenLight Project

In an effort to help those transitioning in the criminal justice system, we periodically will post information and links to resources in the community. If you or your organization have upcoming trainings, job fairs, mock interviews, housing resources, or other related resources, please send us an email at 6and44@gmail.com.

GreenLight Project
King County Work
Training Program

Program Details

The GreenLight Project is a work training program designed to give young adults training and certifications in construction, trades, and green industry.

Program Schedule
Start Date:  January 2011

1 week orientation - YouthSource Renton
4 week training – Georgetown, SSCC
4 week internship with a business in manufacturing, industrial or trade

§  5 week training at South Seattle Community College – Georgetown Campus including introduction to construction, carpentry, welding, electrical work and other trades.
§  Certifications in First Aid/CPR, OSHA 10, Falls/Scaffolding, and Flagging.
§  4 week internship with a manufacturing/trade business in the Seattle Area

Eligibility Requirements:

1. Age 18 -24 with no or low-income
2. A resident of a specific geographical area in South Seattle and Southwest Seattle, and:
§  Unemployed
§  High-school dropout
§  Re-entry/ex-offender
§  Veteran, or
§  In need of updated training related to energy efficiency and renewable energy industries

Program Schedule
Start Date:  January 2011

1 week orientation - YouthSource Renton
4 week training – Georgetown, SSCC
4 week internship with a business in manufacturing, industrial or trade

To Get More Information and to find out if you are eligible, please call:

Mario Bailey at 206.205.3657


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Would You Stop a Bike Thief?

When we at 6and44 try to explain our mission, most people don't immediately understand. Let me rephrase that. Most Caucasians don't understand.  Most African Americans and Latinos, even those in law enforcement and the criminal justice system, are well aware of the inequitable distribution of enforcement and punishment, otherwise known as racial profiling. 

When we start to talk to Caucasians about the issue of the disporoportionate percentage of African American men in prison, however, we are often met with a quizzical look, and people ask something on the order of, "But if they do the crime, shouldn't they do the time?" At this point, we typically launch into a discussion about the research, which shows that African Americans are stopped and frisked for drugs at a ratio of 5:1 over their Caucasian counterparts and at every level of the criminal justice system, blacks are swept into the system at a disproportionate rate, when it fact research shows that whites use drugs at a higher rate.

The following video from ABC's show "What Would You Do?" shows how our perceptions and racial biases can play out in real life.  Watch how people react to three separate scenarios involving a Caucasion male, an African American male, and a sexy, white female as they try to steal a bike. What would you do??

Action step: Question your own racial biases, and confront them. The next time you watch television, for example, analyze how the characters are portrayed. Do they reinforce your racial biases? If you close your eyes and picture a drug dealer, what image comes into your head?

Chances are your image is not supported by the data.