New CA Program Provides Housing to Ex-Inmates

The Homecoming Project in Alameda County, Ca., is a first-of-a-kind program providing vitally needed housing for inmates released from prison. The project matches prisoners being released after long sentences with homeowners and renters who want to take part in the experiment. A nonprofit pays the former inmates’ rent for six months.

The Homecoming Project in Alameda County, Ca., is a first-of-a-kind program providing vitally needed housing for inmates released from prison. The program aims to break down misconceptions and fear surrounding the formerly incarcerated, NPR reports. The project matches prisoners being released after long sentences with homeowners and renters who want to take part in the experiment. The nonprofit behind the program pays the former inmates’ rent for six months. It is an example of “the sharing economy with a conscience, with values,” says Alex Busansky, a former prosecutor and Justice Department lawyer who runs Impact Justice, the group behind the novel housing initiative.

The project provides cash subsidies to homeowners in exchange for renting a room to a former inmate. It is similar to how Airbnb allows people to monetize their extra living spaces. “For people getting out of prison, the penalty hasn’t ended and re-entry is its own obstacle course that everybody has to navigate,” Busansky says. “And housing is essential to being able to get through that obstacle course: if you don’t have a place to sleep, to shower, to keep your things, it’s very difficult to think about doing anything else.” Finding stable, affordable housing — especially in the San Francisco Bay Area — is often one of the biggest barriers to ex-inmates, along with finding a decent job and getting their life back on track. So far, the experiment is small. It launched a few months ago with six male ex-convicts paired with local hosts — couples and families — around the Bay Area. Impact Justice hopes to expand it to 25 participants by the end of this year. One recent report estimates that former inmates are almost ten times more likely to become homeless than the general population.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Iowa Gov Wants to Restore Felons’ Voting Rights

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is proposing a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to convicted felons, citing “the beauty of grace” and second chances. If approved, the proposal would overturn a ban on felon voting imposed by former Gov. Terry Branstad.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds,  citing “the beauty of grace” and second chances, is proposing a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to convicted felons, the Des Moines Register reports.

“There are few things as powerful as the joy of someone who got a second chance and found their purpose,” Reynolds said in an address Tuesday to the legislature. The felon voting proposal, if approved, would overturn a ban on felon voting that former Gov. Terry Branstad enacted through executive order in 2011.

Reynolds called for other changes to Iowa’s criminal justice system, including legislation protecting employers from lawsuits if they hire Iowans with criminal records, a constitutional amendment enshrining victims’ rights into the state’s constitution, and a new home-building program to provide training to inmates to build homes for low-income Iowans.

“I’m a recipient of second chances,” Reynolds said recently, alluding to past drunken driving arrests and her battle with alcohol addiction. “I believe that people make mistakes and there’s opportunities to change, and that needs to be recognized.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures says 38 states and Washington, D.C., automatically restore the voting rights of convicted felons or, as in Maine and Vermont, never take them away.

Iowa has one of the nation’s most restrictive bans on felon voting, permanently barring them from voting unless they successfully petition the governor to restore their rights.

Only Kentucky shares a similar lifetime ban after Floridians voted in November to lift their state’s ban. More than 1.4 million Floridians with felony convictions were set to register as voters this month.

A Register investigation  found that the system Iowa uses to prevent felons from voting has flaws that have resulted in some Iowans wrongfully being denied their constitutional right to vote.

Additional reading: 2018 Called High Point in Restoring Rights to Individuals with Criminal Records.

from https://thecrimereport.org

2018 Called ‘High Point’ in Restoring Rights to Individuals with Criminal Records

Some 30 states and the District of Columbia passed laws or enacted statutes aimed at helping people with criminal records overcome barriers to reintegrating with civilian society last year, according to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center. The most promising legislative development focused on ending restrictions on occupational licensing.

Some 30 states and the District of Columbia passed laws or enacted statutes aimed at helping returning incarcerees adjust to life in civilian society, representing a “high point” in national efforts to restore rights and status to people with a criminal record, according to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC).

The most promising legislative development focused on ending restrictions on occupational licensing, said the CCRC, a nonprofit organization established in 2014 to promote public discussion of the collateral consequences of conviction.

“(Occupational licensing) showed the greatest uniformity of approach,”  said study authors Margaret Love and David Schlussel.

Of the 14 states that enacted laws regulating licensing in 2018, nine (added to 4 in 2017) adopted comprehensive frameworks to improve access to occupational licenses for people with a criminal record, limiting the kinds of records that may be considered, establishing clear criteria for administrative decisions, and making agency procedures more transparent and accountable.

During 2018, some 52 separate statutes (some addressing multiple restoration mechanisms),  three executive orders, and one ballot initiative aimed at enhancing the prospects for successful reentry and reintegration were enacted. In comparison, 23 states enacted 42 new restoration laws in 2017.

The CRCC said the “most consequential single new law” was the ballot initiative approved by Florida voters last fall to restore the franchise to 1.5 million people with a felony conviction.

See: Fla Ex-Felons Plan Mass Voter registration

Voting rights were also restored for parolees, by statute in Louisiana and by executive order in New York.

The largest number of new laws (27 statutes in 19 states) expanded access to sealing or expungement, by extending eligibility to additional categories of offenses and persons, by reducing waiting periods, or by simplifying procedures, the CCRC said.

The wide variety of approaches to restoration of rights seems to reflect the challenge of striking the appropriate balance between the public’s interest in having access to criminal records, the state’s public safety concerns, and the need to support individuals in their efforts to reintegrate into society,” the authors said.

“It may also reflect a degree of uncertainty about the efficacy of limiting public access to records as opposed to other more transparent forms of relief that involve limiting their use, in the workplace and elsewhere.”

Additional Reading: Ban the Box in Colleges, Too

The full CRCC report is available here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ban the Box for Colleges, Too

Finding a job — especially one that pays well —is key to keeping those with a criminal history from being rearrested. Removing criminal history questions on college applications will lead to better outcomes not only for people with records, but for society as a whole, argues an R Street researcher.

A growing number of Americans are required to physically check a box on all sorts of applications — including those for education, jobs and even housing — if they have a criminal history.

Sadly, this means that even a single lapse in judgment can become a major obstacle for individuals, even after they have paid their debt to society.

Michigan recently took a step toward “banning the box” for career-related applications, meaning people seeking jobs and certain occupational licenses will no longer be required to check a box indicating that they have been convicted of a felony.

The state also happens to be a leader in correctional education practices, partnering with Jackson College to provide college courses in prisons and working to support those incarcerated with Vocational Village programs.

Given this positive momentum, it makes sense for the Wolverine State (and other states as well) to move “beyond the box” in the educational context by removing the felony check-boxes on college applications.

Colleges and universities are in a unique position to help remove barriers that prevent the estimated 70 million American citizens with criminal records from pursuing higher education — specifically early in the application process when prospective students are asked about an arrest record.

At the federal level, Sen. Brian Schatz( D-HI), has introduced legislation to provide resources for colleges that are considering how to end the criminal history reporting requirement. Senate Bill 3435, the Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act of 2018, would direct the secretary of education to issue guidance and recommendations for institutions of higher education on removing criminal and juvenile record questions from their admissions applications.

A recent survey of post-secondary institutions found that about two-thirds collect criminal history information from all applicants. Even more troubling, a Center for Community Alternatives study found that 25 percent of the schools that ask for criminal histories have some criminal history-related automatic bar to admission.

For individuals with felony records — and particularly for those who would be re-entering society after a prison sentence — education can be the key to finding successful employment.

In fact, the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University found that by 2020, “employers will seek cognitive skills such as communication and analytics from job applicants rather than physical skills traditionally associated with manufacturing.”

For those seeking employment, this means that the likelihood of attaining work will increase with greater access to higher education.

By removing criminal history questions from applications, colleges and universities can contribute to long-term, positive economic returns for these individuals — and help keep them from returning to prison.

Studies have shown that workers with post-secondary education earn 74 percent more than workers with a high school diploma or less.

Similarly, research conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that wages tripled for people who have earned doctoral and professional degree compared to those individuals with less than a high school diploma.

Given that finding a job — especially one that pays well — is key to keeping those with a criminal history from being rearrested, removing criminal history questions on college applications will likely lead to better outcomes not only for people with records, but for society as a whole.

Benefits for Children

Furthermore, when a parent has a post-secondary education, his or her child is more likely to attend college as well, thereby passing additional, positive educational impacts on to the next generation. Theoretically, then, if we help ensure more parents have access to higher education, this can create a community with less unemployment and more stability for generations.

Opponents of eliminating criminal history-reporting on college applications point to the potential for increased crime on campus. Yet research has found no substantial evidence that screening applicants for prior convictions improves safety on campus.

Furthermore, some of the most serious crimes committed on campus have been committed by people with no criminal record.

Education is critical to ensuring lifelong success, and for those re-entering society, access to education can provide long-term, positive outcomes.

Jesse Kelley

Jesse Kelley

States like Michigan, which have already taken steps to ban the box and implement correctional education programs, have a unique opportunity to be on the precipice of moving beyond the box to ensure that the lasting benefits higher education are accessible to all.

Jesse Kelley (@JessDKelley) is a policy analyst and government affairs specialist for criminal justice with the R Street Institute.

from https://thecrimereport.org

FL Ex-Felons Plan Mass Voter Registration, Gov-elect Backs Delay

Many of the more than 1.4 million individuals convicted of felonies are set to register as voters Tuesday, but Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis and some legislators are seeking to delay implementation of the measure approved by voters last November.

One of the largest enfranchisements of U.S. citizens in the past century begins Tuesday in Florida, and many of the more than 1.4 million individuals convicted of felonies who are set to regain their voting rights are treating the moment as a celebration, the Washington Post reports.

In Tampa, one group is renting buses to register en masse at the county elections office. Others will be live-streaming on Facebook as they march in. Voters in November overturned Florida’s 1868 ban blocking residents with felony convictions from automatically having their voting rights restored once they served their sentences.

In the run-up to Tuesday, the organizations and volunteers who worked for the past decade to pass the amendment to the state constitution have been ramping up their efforts to encourage ex-felons to follow through.

“We’re kicking this into a higher gear now,” said Neil Volz of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. Pro-bono attorneys will be on call in case problems crop up.

In last November’s midterms, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, which automatically restored voting rights for people previously convicted of felonies, as long as they have completed their sentences. However, anyone convicted of murder or felony sex offenses was excluded.

Based on the Sentencing Project’s 2016 estimates, this benefits more than a million people. The organization estimated in 2016 that nearly 1.5 million people in Florida have completed felony sentences but can’t vote — about 9.2 percent of the voting-age population in Florida. The total, though, includes some people convicted of murder and felony sex offenses, so not every one of those people benefits under Amendment 4

Some legislators say the law change should not take effect until the legislature can review it. Supporters insist the legislature does not need to do a thing. “The amendment was written to be self-executing.

“It goes into effect on Jan. 8, and we can register that day,” Volz said.

Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis backs a delay so that lawmakers could consider how ex-felons’ registration should be implemented.

To many, the timing is suspect: The legislature does not convene until March, but municipal elections in Florida begin in February. All Democratic candidates running for statewide office in November endorsed the amendment. Republican candidates largely did not, including DeSantis and Gov. Rick Scott, who beat incumbent Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate race. At the polls, the measure was approved by nearly two-thirds of voters.

from https://thecrimereport.org

In Tight Job Market, More Firms Hire Ex-Prisoners

Finding gainful employment is the most effective deterrent to falling back into a life of crime, studies show. Felons have long been some of the last candidates in the hiring pool. The Wall Street Journal tells the stories of three who found work.

Get a job. That’s what former prisoners are told by parole officers, family members and other former inmates, the Wall Street Journal reports. Barry Green, one of 20,695 parolees released from New York prisons last year, was reminded constantly about the importance of being employed during a four-month search for work. If he wasn’t going to job fairs or finding part-time work on weekends, parole officers “think you up to no good,” he said. “If you not going to school, you not looking for a job, how you making money for yourself?”

Finding gainful employment is the most effective deterrent to falling back into a life of crime, studies show. Felons have long been some of the last candidates in the hiring pool. Now, with one of the tightest labor markets in decades, some employers say they are more willing to consider applicants with criminal histories. Many states, including New York, have passed laws designed to give ex-prisoners a leg up in the job hunt. A 2015 federal tax credit has encouraged businesses to hire felons and others who face barriers to employment. Still, many ex-convicts continue to struggle to get hired. For the past year, the Journal documented the journeys of three people released from prison who were trying to enter the workforce. Their convictions ran from murder to misdemeanor assault. Each faced challenges, but all three were eventually hired. The newspaper tells their stories.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How a Minnesota County Found Alternatives to Jail

Almost all the jail growth in the U.S. since 2000 has been in pretrial incarceration, but in St. Louis County, a program that allows more pretrial defendants to be released under supervision has bucked the trend. It’s been a life-changer for Renita Syas.

It’s been five years since Renita Syas was booked into the St. Louis County Jail in Duluth, Minn.

She spent three weeks and a day in custody — a stay that doesn’t exactly stand out in the daily churn of the county lock-up — but it was enough for the Duluth woman to decide she was never coming back.

“I just got really sick of it,” said Syas. “I didn’t want to go spend another 22 days in jail. That was scary enough for me. I knew I didn’t want to live my life like that any more.”

Today, Syas is a success story for local officials who are seeking to find alternatives that offer rehabilitation rather than incarceration for many offenders.

As St. Louis County continues to grapple with a jail-crowding crisis that is among the worst in the state, attention has shifted toward programming that addresses the needs of those who land in the criminal justice system.

Inside the St. Louis County Jail. Inmates’ faces have been blurred as requested by the jail. Bob King / Duluth News Tribune

 

Syas’ journey to jail is one that police, attorneys, judges and probation officers say they see in criminal defendants on a daily basis.

Born in the Twin Cities and mostly raised in Chicago, she was a teenager when she first moved to Duluth with her mother in the late 1990s. Syas, 36, said she had been abused by a family member from a young age, but for years refused to talk about it, and the trauma went unaddressed well into adulthood.

 In 2013, Syas found herself in what she now describes as a “tornado.”

Her partner at the time went to jail, and Syas said she found herself feeling alone and helpless. Mental illness coupled with chemical dependency overwhelmed her; she was soon arrested and faced multiple felony charges, including assault and robbery.

The jail stay, Syas said, was reality telling her to wake up. She nearly lost her apartment while in custody. After pleading guilty to the assault charge, her saving grace was the opportunity she was offered on pretrial release.

 “I pleaded out and I was just kind of waiting for that sentencing date,” she said. “I got pretrial release kind of at the last minute, so that’s how I was able to come home.”

The release from jail allowed Syas to begin putting the pieces back together in her life.

She ultimately had an 81-month prison sentence stayed for five years of supervised probation.

Probation was not a cakewalk, however. Syas went to treatment and was subject to electronic monitoring and random drug and alcohol testing.

She had to make frequent appearances in the South St. Louis County Mental Health Court program. She was required to complete the Duluth Bethel Female Offender Program.

“I was really going through some mental health issues and trying to deal with my housing situation,” she said. “I remember just being afraid of coming out of jail, and asking, ‘Can I really do this? This is so much.’

“It was a real struggle, but first I had to get my health in line and then work on completing all the things I had to complete. The mental health court really helped me change my life. The Bethel program, too.”

Expansion in Probation Services

In recent years, an expansion in probation services has allowed more defendants to get out of jail on supervised release while their cases are pending. And a reassessment of post-conviction probation violations is seeking to allow offenders an alternative to a repeat trip to jail.

See Also: St. Louis County seeks to buck trend as jail growth surges nationwide

“The real measure is probably not the current jail population, but how many lives can find a successful pathway because we had contact with them,” said Dan Lew, the region’s chief public defender.

“That’s how we’ve got to measure our outcomes. Not our jail population, and certainly not how long we can incarcerate folks. How many folks are living better?”

On any given day, about 80 percent of the inmates at the St. Louis County Jail are in pretrial custody.

Yet to be convicted of a crime, how long they remain in jail is largely dependent on the progress of their case through a court system that is seeing increasingly crowded dockets as case filings continue to climb.

“Cases used to move much quicker,” said St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin, who has 40 years of experience in the local criminal justice system. “Now we’ve got people who are on pretrial sitting in jail for far too long.”

The St. Louis County Jail has trended at or above national percentages for pretrial incarceration.

A February report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 65 percent of inmates in county and city jails across the country were in the pretrial phase in 2016.

“Almost all of the jail growth in the U.S. since 2000 has been in pretrial incarceration,” said Cherise Fanno Burdeen, CEO of the Maryland-based Pretrial Justice Institute.

Rubin said some judges are better than others at moving cases along, but he added the concept of a speedy trial now seems like a relic of a different era.

Advances in technology are leading to far more evidence that must be processed and reviewed by both law enforcement and attorneys. Gone are the days when a criminal case largely relied on a handful of typewritten police reports.

Today, there is DNA and advanced drug tests — and a shortage of the chemists at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crime lab who are qualified to analyze them. There are body cameras videos that must be reviewed by the prosecution and defense attorneys. A forensic examination of cellphone or computer data can add hundreds of pages to a case file.

An inmate looks through available reading materials at the St. Louis County Jail. Photo by Bob King/Duluth News Tribune

Those are all great tools for the justice system but a significant burden in keeping cases moving forward, according to Lew.

“A typical case now, it’s thousands of pages of discovery,” he said. “We’re talking terabytes of discovery, which can only be accessed when you plug in a huge external hard drive and play 80 body cams.

“Just think of that, 80 body cams. This is just to open the file and read it for the first time. Leaving aside the time it takes to talk about DNA and forensic science, which is terribly time consuming — and our clients need that time.”

State law prescribes that 90 percent of criminal cases should be completed within three months, 97 percent should be done in six months, and 99 percent should be over within one year.

Minor criminal cases that typically wouldn’t result in any significant jail time — a first-time drunken driving offense or a fifth-degree assault, for instance — are generally meeting those marks. But the more serious cases that could result in a lengthy jail stay are more problematic.

In 2017, nearly 10 percent of “major criminal” cases — generally felonies and gross misdemeanors — went beyond a year in St. Louis County. That number has averaged about 8.5 percent since 2013, roughly equal with the statewide average over that time.

“The state has a hard time with the major criminal cases,” said Marieta Johnson, the 6th District court administrator. “That would be one case type where we’re all the same.”

With most inmates awaiting their next court date, a study from former Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Ken Schoen found that about 300 people who were locked up in the St. Louis County Jail in 2012 could have been safely released into the community with certain conditions.

“These were predominantly offenders who were there on higher-risk offenses or had prior offenses,” said Wally Kostich, chief probation officer for the five-county Arrowhead Regional Corrections (ARC). “Maybe some of them had been on probation before and violated the terms.”

Schoen’s analysis provided the spark for a new initiative: intensive pretrial release.

Ross Litman

St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman. Photo by Bob King/Duluth News Tribune

St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman in 2013 offered to reallocate some money from his jail budget to the probation agency, allowing ARC to add two probation officers in Duluth and two on the Iron Range strictly assigned to defendants who could be released into the community with a higher level of supervision.

Kostich said the program offers a level of attention that is similar to what an offender would receive after leaving prison on supervised release, or parole.

“You see very little of these IPT agents in the office,” he said. “They’re more on the streets seeing people in the community, verifying work status, making sure they’re going to their treatment programs.

“There’s drug testing involved. … These are people that normally would be sitting in custody had it not been for the ability to add these positions and see people out in the community.”

The program has a capacity of 50-60 clients each in Duluth and on the Range. With each day of incarceration for a single inmate costing St. Louis County taxpayers about $131, that adds up.

An Arrowhead Regional Corrections analysis found potential savings of $10.6 million through 2016, after 2 ½ years of operation for the program.

“As a judge, it’s a great alternative, frankly, because typically the person has failed on regular pretrial release,” said 6th Judicial District Chief Judge Sally Tarnowski. “I tend to think that many, if not most, of the people at the jail have either a chemical dependency or alcohol issue.

“If we just let them out of jail without addressing that, we’re just going to create this revolving door where they’re going to get back out in community and go back to old behaviors, and not get treated for the very thing that’s brought them to the jail.”

 The success of the intensive pretrial release program prompted Kostich and partnering agencies to take a look at a similar initiative on the back end of criminal cases.

It was apparent that most post-conviction inmates were in custody for probation violations — often technical infractions, such as missing an appointment, failing to check in with their probation officer or failing a drug test.

Rather than filing a formal violation report with the court and asking the judge to issue a warrant, ARC developed an alternative sanctions program that can be utilized in many instances.

A Contract With Conditions

The program offers the client an opportunity to sign a contract with some new conditions, such as additional days of community service, an alcohol assessment, counseling or cognitive skills programming, depending on the offense. If they agree, as most do, the contract goes to the sentencing judge for approval.

“It’s a way to address violations in lieu of a defendant having to appear in front of the court,” Kostich said.

“By lessening those appearances, we can hopefully give the court a chance to dispose of more high-priority cases in a quicker fashion.”

Like intensive pretrial release, the program was initially started with funds from the Sheriff’s Office. It now operates under ARC’s regular budget, with two full-time agents handling the program.

In any phase of supervision, Kostich said it’s important to tailor conditions to hone in on the needs of the individual. He said most clients will get a standard, comprehensive assessment to determine the appropriate level of supervision and programming.

“Sometimes the more conditions imposed upon an individual the more difficult it is for that individual to be able to maintain a crime-free lifestyle,” he said. “It’s just not a helter skelter that we’re just throwing up a bunch of conditions because I’m a true believer in the more we throw out there, the more difficult it is to succeed.”

180-Degree Turn

In just five years, Syas has made a 180-degree turn in her life. Soon after graduating from mental health court and completing the Bethel program, she stopped by the CHUM emergency shelter in downtown Duluth to pick up an application.

She said it took near-daily calls, but she finally convinced the organization to give her a job. Not long after, she was offered another employment opportunity at Life House, the youth homeless outreach agency, where she now works full time as the activities coordinator.

Syas knows her line of work well. She said she benefitted from the services of both CHUM and Life House earlier in life.

“My life is not perfect by a long shot but I’ve bought a house, I’ve had a kid, I now have a vehicle — all these things that I’ve wanted,” she said.

“I can’t complain.”

Syas recalled initially having a dismissive attitude toward the court and the people trying to help her. But the trip to jail, and the resulting opportunities to get treatment and resources, changed that.

Today, Syas makes visits to the mental health court and crisis-intervention training sessions hosted by the Duluth Police Department, volunteering to share her first-person account of going to jail and navigating the criminal justice system.

“I’ve lived it, I’ve experienced it, and it was not too long ago,” Syas said.
“I share that testimonial every day of my life now in the job I work in.”

Tom Olsen, a staff writer for the Duluth News Tribune, is a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a condensed and slightly edited version of the second and final installment of a series on jail incarceration written as part of his Fellowship Project. The complete version and other articles in the series can be accessed here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Gangstas to Growers Hires Young GA Ex-Cons

Atlanta woman wants to train at least 500 formerly incarcerated young people by 2025 and expand the idea to other major U.S. cities that struggle with gang violence.

Abiodun Henderson of Atlanta is running a program called Gangstas to Growers that trains previously incarcerated youth how to harvest crops, at $15 an hour. Henderson believes Gangstas to Growers has the power to reverse some powerful and negative trends, Politico reports. Nationwide, black people are five times more likely than white people to be incarcerated before their 21st birthday. The unemployment rate of Atlanta blacks in some areas is dramatically higher than the citywide average of nearly 4 percent. communities.  Henderson believed there wasn’t enough being done to help young Atlantans who had spent time in jail or experienced homelessness learn skills that could feed their families and free them from generational poverty.

Henderson, a 36-year-old mother of one and a veteran restaurant employee, had grown interested in urban farming’s potential to help heal communities. “I knew farmers who needed labor. I knew folks in the community who needed money. I couldn’t preach to folks without providing opportunities.” Gangstas to Growers teaches young people the importance of building wealth in historically disinvested communities in Atlanta. Henderson wants to train at least 500 formerly incarcerated young Atlantans by 2025. Eventually, Henderson foresees her program expanding to other major U.S. cities that struggle with gang violence, introducing young black people nationwide to the many possibilities offered by food and farming.

from https://thecrimereport.org

An Ex-Incarceree’s Story:  ‘I Was Runnin’ From Myself’

Charles Rivers spent 30 years cycling in and out of the justice system. He finally broke the cycle after conquering the demons of his own past, and learning the life skills that he now teaches others.

As Charles Rivers tore through a dark backyard in Syracuse, N.Y., one day in 2007, trying to shake a police pursuit, part of him wanted police to catch up.

He was relieved when they did.

“I wasn’t necessarily runnin’ from the police, I was runnin’ from myself,” he recalls.  “Jail was an escape for me.”

Rivers, sentenced to a seven-year term, was released in 2012. It was the last time Rivers, who had already experienced two previous periods of incarceration, went to prison.

In the years since, he achieved a steady job, bought a home, and continued his education.

center

PEACE Inc.’s Southside Family Resource Center in Syracuse, N.Y., houses a food pantry on the second floor, complete with three refrigerators, stacked cereal boxes and fresh and frozen produce. File Photo/The Stand

He works at the PEACE Inc. Emma L. Johnston Southside Family Resource Center, a Syracuse non profit established to help former incarcerees like himself make a successful adjustment to life after prison.

Rivers understands how hard it is to avoid a life of crime⸺and then break out of that life once you become trapped in it. That’s why it has become equally important for him to help younger people in his community fight the odds that make incarceration a likely future⸺in effect, to end the ‘runnin’ from myself’ that nearly destroyed his own life.

In prison, he had begun studying psychology to better understand himself and his anger. And he joined an anger management group, where he soon realized what could help him the most.

“The counselor asked me ‘what is it going to take for you not to come back to jail?’” Rivers recalled.

“I said ‘education.’ ”

Today, Rivers has a near-obsession with education. He worked three part-time jobs and took classes at two different schools before he took on the full-time job of program coordinator at PEACE.

He has a master’s degree in human service management and in criminal justice.

He’s also a certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor through SUNY Empire State College’s Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) program.

At PEACE, Rivers is hoping to build a renewed support network for people re-entering society and seeking stability.

“The mission and goal is to help individuals become empowered with the goal of them being self-sufficient,” he said.

“Some people need more help than others. It’s like letting a baby bird go — either you gonna fly and survive, or not fly and die.”

It’s Not Just the System

Rivers spent 30 years in the criminal justice system, 19 of them behind bars on various charges — robbery, grand and petit larceny, criminal mischief and trespass. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about two-thirds of released prisoners get rearrested within three years of release and over 75 percent within five years of release.

Rivers went back to prison three times and had served three state sentences before the police — and his lifestyle — caught up with him in 2007.

Inequalities built into the justice system were apparent to Rivers even in his early school days, when he observed first-hand the school-to-prison pipeline.

“(At school) we needed ID to get in, we had security guards, metal detectors in school, which prepared us psychologically for prison,” he said. “The only contact I had with white folks was in … medical check-ups, some in school.”

But systemic inequalities and racial injustice are only one part of the problem for him and others, Rivers believes.

Parenting and family development had to take the bulk of the blame for him. He believes that if he had a positive male presence in his life, things might have turned out differently.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 31.6 percent of black families don’t have a male presence such as a husband or father, for all income levels.

Rivers stopped going to school in the ninth grade because school took up too much of the time he’d rather have spent doing the “negative things” he wanted to do. And in the schools in his [former Syracuse neighborhood], change has come slowly for the 50 percent of students who are black.

The disparity is hard to forget for Rivers, who notices it even today on his visits to Danforth Middle School in Syracuse. He described a dark and dingy building where the air quality is poor and the prospect of improved education — smart boards and new textbooks — seems distant.

Not Going to School Was a Culture’

Combined with the racial disparities in school discipline, he says, the streets today remain an almost welcome alternative to the classroom for too many kids.

“Not going to school was a culture,” Rivers said.

As a boy, Rivers enjoyed reading and the occasional gifts of Atari games over Christmas and his birthday. But not going to school carved out more time for things he’d rather do outside the classroom.

Rivers grew up without a male mentor in his own life. He was his mother’s only son and his father’s youngest, and was raised by his mother alone in Newark, N.J., before they moved to Syracuse when he was 13 or 14.

He stopped going to school, and prison soon replaced the classroom.

Growing up, Rivers relied on his mother for most everything — and even that was a challenge because she worked two jobs, out of the house for 12 hours of the day. Rivers was left on his own after school and only later realized that he missed what he called the “in-house socialization.”

“No child should be without both their mother and father in their lives,” he said.

He isn’t alone in that thinking.

charles rivers

Charles Rivers carries in boxes of donated food to be organized and then distributed during the Emma L. Johnston Southside Family Resource Center’s weekly food pantry hours. Photo by Zachary Krahmer/The Stand

Ira De’Lee, youth coordinator at Onondaga Earth Corps and Rivers’ friend, said life for them used to be upside-down without positive male role models.

De’Lee and Rivers go way back: De’Lee offered Rivers his first job out of prison. De’Lee himself has been through the system after the streets took him the wrong way.

“It’s easier to go out, hustle and settle,” he said, a reflection of the fact that crime rates and arrests disproportionately affect the black community.

In 2016, black people made up 12 percent of the country’s adult population, but 33 percent of the sentenced prison population, according to the Pew Research Center.

Looking back, De’Lee said, the place where he and Rivers are now is phenomenal compared to where they used to be. De’Lee is raising his daughter alone, and a smile spread across his face as he revealed that she is a straight-A student.

Raising her alone isn’t easy, but a single-parent household is a reality for many.

Needed:  Dads Who Are Role Models

“They need more fathers involved. More men being an example for transition from streets to real life,” he said.

He adds that Rivers is the kind of rare example they need. The support Rivers wants to foster through the center extends to his friendships, too.

Every day, De’Lee and Rivers exchange long “good morning” messages wishing each other well and sharing encouragement to make the most of their day and life.

For Rivers, the job at the Family Resource Center is more than just a job: It’s his way of creating the male presence and support he missed, and that he largely blames for his own years of crime.

When his brother died after contracting HIV, Rivers became an HIV educator — and it was then that he learned what it was like to help others.

Courtesy The Stand

When he got out of jail, Rivers found his first job at Syracuse Haulers Waste Removal, thanks to De’Lee. De’Lee chuckled about Rivers tripping over hammers; construction wasn’t his calling.

A year later, Rivers returned the favor by offering De’Lee a job at Onondaga Earth Corps. Support begets support, and that seems to be the way forward for Rivers and the community he hopes to help.

“I really don’t want young folks to follow the path I do. I fear if I don’t do anything, they will,” he said. “I would like to live by an example.

“I knew what it was not to be a father, husband, man, to be on drugs, to not be a positive figure.”

It took nearly three decades for Rivers to stop running from himself, face the life he had lived, and start building a new one. It took a spiritual epiphany, a relentless and determined pursuit of education and a growing support network.

The grind doesn’t stop for Rivers. During this year’s celebration of Earth Day at the Emma L. Johnston Center, the skies were blue and cloudless. The children at the center dug their hands through the mud, planting scores of flowers in the front yard.

Rivers, as usual, seemed to be everywhere at once: sifting through mulch and making trips to the store to replace the supply of seeds, a pack of Newport Lights peeking out of his pocket. He cheered on the kids loudly and cursed just as loudly after he lifted a heavy bed of seeds and mud.

He held his back for a moment before his eyes landed on the next bed — it was time to get moving again.

He hailed one of the kids to help.

“Come on,” he said. “Me and you.”

 This is a condensed and edited version of the final article in the “Prison-to-Family series,” published in The Stand, a community newspaper produced in Syracuse, N.Y., in partnership with S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. The full version is available here. Ashley Kang, director of The Stand, is a 2018 John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Justice Reporting Fellow. Click here for the previous story in the series. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

An Ex-Incarceree’s Story:  ‘I Was Runnin’ From Myself’

Charles Rivers spent 30 years cycling in and out of the justice system. He finally broke the cycle after conquering the demons of his own past, and learning the life skills that he now teaches others.

As Charles Rivers tore through a dark backyard in Syracuse, N.Y., one day in 2007, trying to shake a police pursuit, part of him wanted police to catch up.

He was relieved when they did.

“I wasn’t necessarily runnin’ from the police, I was runnin’ from myself,” he recalls.  “Jail was an escape for me.”

Rivers, sentenced to a seven-year term, was released in 2012. It was the last time Rivers, who had already experienced two previous periods of incarceration, went to prison.

In the years since, he achieved a steady job, bought a home, and continued his education.

center

PEACE Inc.’s Southside Family Resource Center in Syracuse, N.Y., houses a food pantry on the second floor, complete with three refrigerators, stacked cereal boxes and fresh and frozen produce. File Photo/The Stand

He works at the PEACE Inc. Emma L. Johnston Southside Family Resource Center, a Syracuse non profit established to help former incarcerees like himself make a successful adjustment to life after prison.

Rivers understands how hard it is to avoid a life of crime⸺and then break out of that life once you become trapped in it. That’s why it has become equally important for him to help younger people in his community fight the odds that make incarceration a likely future⸺in effect, to end the ‘runnin’ from myself’ that nearly destroyed his own life.

In prison, he had begun studying psychology to better understand himself and his anger. And he joined an anger management group, where he soon realized what could help him the most.

“The counselor asked me ‘what is it going to take for you not to come back to jail?’” Rivers recalled.

“I said ‘education.’ ”

Today, Rivers has a near-obsession with education. He worked three part-time jobs and took classes at two different schools before he took on the full-time job of program coordinator at PEACE.

He has a master’s degree in human service management and in criminal justice.

He’s also a certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor through SUNY Empire State College’s Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) program.

At PEACE, Rivers is hoping to build a renewed support network for people re-entering society and seeking stability.

“The mission and goal is to help individuals become empowered with the goal of them being self-sufficient,” he said.

“Some people need more help than others. It’s like letting a baby bird go — either you gonna fly and survive, or not fly and die.”

It’s Not Just the System

Rivers spent 30 years in the criminal justice system, 19 of them behind bars on various charges — robbery, grand and petit larceny, criminal mischief and trespass. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about two-thirds of released prisoners get rearrested within three years of release and over 75 percent within five years of release.

Rivers went back to prison three times and had served three state sentences before the police — and his lifestyle — caught up with him in 2007.

Inequalities built into the justice system were apparent to Rivers even in his early school days, when he observed first-hand the school-to-prison pipeline.

“(At school) we needed ID to get in, we had security guards, metal detectors in school, which prepared us psychologically for prison,” he said. “The only contact I had with white folks was in … medical check-ups, some in school.”

But systemic inequalities and racial injustice are only one part of the problem for him and others, Rivers believes.

Parenting and family development had to take the bulk of the blame for him. He believes that if he had a positive male presence in his life, things might have turned out differently.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 31.6 percent of black families don’t have a male presence such as a husband or father, for all income levels.

Rivers stopped going to school in the ninth grade because school took up too much of the time he’d rather have spent doing the “negative things” he wanted to do. And in the schools in his [former Syracuse neighborhood], change has come slowly for the 50 percent of students who are black.

The disparity is hard to forget for Rivers, who notices it even today on his visits to Danforth Middle School in Syracuse. He described a dark and dingy building where the air quality is poor and the prospect of improved education — smart boards and new textbooks — seems distant.

Not Going to School Was a Culture’

Combined with the racial disparities in school discipline, he says, the streets today remain an almost welcome alternative to the classroom for too many kids.

“Not going to school was a culture,” Rivers said.

As a boy, Rivers enjoyed reading and the occasional gifts of Atari games over Christmas and his birthday. But not going to school carved out more time for things he’d rather do outside the classroom.

Rivers grew up without a male mentor in his own life. He was his mother’s only son and his father’s youngest, and was raised by his mother alone in Newark, N.J., before they moved to Syracuse when he was 13 or 14.

He stopped going to school, and prison soon replaced the classroom.

Growing up, Rivers relied on his mother for most everything — and even that was a challenge because she worked two jobs, out of the house for 12 hours of the day. Rivers was left on his own after school and only later realized that he missed what he called the “in-house socialization.”

“No child should be without both their mother and father in their lives,” he said.

He isn’t alone in that thinking.

charles rivers

Charles Rivers carries in boxes of donated food to be organized and then distributed during the Emma L. Johnston Southside Family Resource Center’s weekly food pantry hours. Photo by Zachary Krahmer/The Stand

Ira De’Lee, youth coordinator at Onondaga Earth Corps and Rivers’ friend, said life for them used to be upside-down without positive male role models.

De’Lee and Rivers go way back: De’Lee offered Rivers his first job out of prison. De’Lee himself has been through the system after the streets took him the wrong way.

“It’s easier to go out, hustle and settle,” he said, a reflection of the fact that crime rates and arrests disproportionately affect the black community.

In 2016, black people made up 12 percent of the country’s adult population, but 33 percent of the sentenced prison population, according to the Pew Research Center.

Looking back, De’Lee said, the place where he and Rivers are now is phenomenal compared to where they used to be. De’Lee is raising his daughter alone, and a smile spread across his face as he revealed that she is a straight-A student.

Raising her alone isn’t easy, but a single-parent household is a reality for many.

Needed:  Dads Who Are Role Models

“They need more fathers involved. More men being an example for transition from streets to real life,” he said.

He adds that Rivers is the kind of rare example they need. The support Rivers wants to foster through the center extends to his friendships, too.

Every day, De’Lee and Rivers exchange long “good morning” messages wishing each other well and sharing encouragement to make the most of their day and life.

For Rivers, the job at the Family Resource Center is more than just a job: It’s his way of creating the male presence and support he missed, and that he largely blames for his own years of crime.

When his brother died after contracting HIV, Rivers became an HIV educator — and it was then that he learned what it was like to help others.

Courtesy The Stand

When he got out of jail, Rivers found his first job at Syracuse Haulers Waste Removal, thanks to De’Lee. De’Lee chuckled about Rivers tripping over hammers; construction wasn’t his calling.

A year later, Rivers returned the favor by offering De’Lee a job at Onondaga Earth Corps. Support begets support, and that seems to be the way forward for Rivers and the community he hopes to help.

“I really don’t want young folks to follow the path I do. I fear if I don’t do anything, they will,” he said. “I would like to live by an example.

“I knew what it was not to be a father, husband, man, to be on drugs, to not be a positive figure.”

It took nearly three decades for Rivers to stop running from himself, face the life he had lived, and start building a new one. It took a spiritual epiphany, a relentless and determined pursuit of education and a growing support network.

The grind doesn’t stop for Rivers. During this year’s celebration of Earth Day at the Emma L. Johnston Center, the skies were blue and cloudless. The children at the center dug their hands through the mud, planting scores of flowers in the front yard.

Rivers, as usual, seemed to be everywhere at once: sifting through mulch and making trips to the store to replace the supply of seeds, a pack of Newport Lights peeking out of his pocket. He cheered on the kids loudly and cursed just as loudly after he lifted a heavy bed of seeds and mud.

He held his back for a moment before his eyes landed on the next bed — it was time to get moving again.

He hailed one of the kids to help.

“Come on,” he said. “Me and you.”

 This is a condensed and edited version of the final article in the “Prison-to-Family series,” published in The Stand, a community newspaper produced in Syracuse, N.Y., in partnership with S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. The full version is available here. Ashley Kang, director of The Stand, is a 2018 John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Justice Reporting Fellow. Click here for the previous story in the series. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org