Apr 252015

Here’s the latest celebrity attempt to help prisoners.

0425LegendJohn Legend has launched a campaign to end mass incarceration.

The Grammy-winning singer announced the multiyear initiative, FREE AMERICA, on Monday. He will visit and perform at a correctional facility on Thursday in Austin, Texas, where he also will be part of a press conference with state legislators to discuss Texas’ criminal justice system.

"We have a serious problem with incarceration in this country," Legend said in an interview. "It’s destroying families, it’s destroying communities and we’re the most incarcerated country in the world, and when you look deeper and look at the reasons we got to this place, we as a society made some choices politically and legislatively, culturally to deal with poverty, deal with mental illness in a certain way and that way usually involves using incarceration."

Legend, 36, will also visit a California state prison and co-host a criminal justice event with Politico in Washington, D.C., later this month. The campaign will include help from other artists — to be announced — and organizations committed to ending mass incarceration…

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Click through for more.  Kudos! This is so necessary!

Apr 062015



Jennifer Thompson is an advocate for judicial reform and the healing power of forgiveness.  Her strong convictions were born of a brutal rape she suffered as a twenty-two year old college student.  Her compelling testimony sent a young man to a life term in prison for a crime he did not commit.  That man, Ronald Cotton, was eventually freed thanks in large part to newly developed DNA tests which eventually identified the true perpetrator. Together they co-authored a joint memoir, Picking Cotton, a New York Times best-seller, which recounts their journeys and the tragedy that brought them together.  They have successfully lobbied state legislators to change compensation laws for the wrongly convicted, to abolish the death penalty, to revise police eyewitness line-up procedures, and for many other causes.  She has appeared on Oprah, Sixty Minutes, The Today Show, Good Morning America, 20/20, The View, NPR, Diane Rheams, People magazine, RedBook, Newsweek, and in other media outlets.  Her Op-Eds have appeared in The New York Times and elsewhere.  Jennifer and Ronald speak before a variety of audiences about race, class, judicial reform, human error, and forgiveness.

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Mercy Corps Action Center
28 Southwest 1st Avenue
Portland, OR 97204

Thursday, May 14, 2015 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (PDT)

To purchase tickets, click here.

Oct 272014

I’m Pleased to announce that Partnership for Safety and Justice has just released a new plan to reform our public safety system.

PSJlogoPartnership for Safety and Justice, along with crime victim advocates and criminal justice reformers from around the country, released Bridging the Divide: A new paradigm for addressing safety, crime, and victimization. This report highlights the importance of reforming our public safety system for both victims of crime and people accused of and convicted of crime. When we work for survivors of crime, as well as people who have committed crime, more individuals and communities can get safe, become healthy, and thrive. A core objective of this approach is eliminating racial disparities for victims of crime and people accused and convicted of crime.

PSJ pioneered this model to address safety, crime, and victimization in Oregon. We’ve had many successes along the way. Most recently, in 2013, PSJ helped pass justice reinvestment legislation that flatlines prison growth for the next 5 years and reinvests savings into other vital parts of our public safety system, like addiction treatment, mental health services, reentry services, and victim services. Because of smart sentencing reform, Oregon doubled funding for lifesaving domestic and sexual violence services…

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Click through for more.  I see this as an excellent plan to move from retributive to restorative justice.

Feb 102014

Senator David Vitter (R-LA), joined by several other Republicans, tried to prohibit people, who have ever been convicted of certain sexual offences, from receiving food stamps.  Fortunately for our communities, they failed.

0210VitterToday [Feb 4], the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan farm bill conference agreement that effectively neutralizes an effort by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) to ban food stamps for life for people with certain felony convictions.

In May, Senator Vitter offered an amendment to the farm bill that would have denied food assistance through SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for life to anyone ever convicted of certain violent offenses. The measure would have resulted in reduced SNAP benefits in households with people convicted of such offenses, affecting children as well as adults. The House later adopted a similar amendment to its farm bill.

About one in six of the 1.6 million people in state or federal prison has been convicted of an offense targeted by these amendments. Over time, the ban would have applied to more than a million people. Disparities in the criminal justice system mean African-Americans and Latinos would have been disproportionately affected.

The Sentencing Project joined a diverse group of civil rights, faith, labor, and criminal justice advocacy organizations in strongly opposing Senator Vitter’s counterproductive food stamp ban…

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Hat Tip: CURE National

Realistically, the most important thing in dealing with offenders of this type is that they do not reoffend.  The Vitter Amendment would have made that goal more difficult.  First, people receiving food stamps are less likely to move without notifying authorities, making it easier for authorities to supervise them.  Second, that availability of help, gives former offenders a stake in their communities, and with it, a greater incentive to stay crime-free.

Vitter’s motivation appears to have been purely political, a great irony, given his own sexual history.

Kudos to all who joined in defeating this measure.

Oct 222013

I’m sorry to learn of the passing of Sister Antonia Brenner, one of those rare indivisuals with a genuine heart for prisoners.  She is an inspiration to us all.

055454.ME.1115.antonia.1.DPBSister Antonia Brenner, a Beverly Hills-raised mother of seven who became a Roman Catholic nun and moved into a notorious Tijuana prison where she spent more than three decades mending broken lives, easing tensions and dispensing everything from toothbrushes to bail money, has died. She was 86.

Brenner, who had been in declining health, died Thursday of natural causes at the home of her religious order in Tijuana where her fellow sisters had cared for her in her final days, said Christina Brenner, her daughter-in-law.

She was born Mary Clarke in Los Angeles on Dec. 1, 1926, to Irish immigrant parents. Her father grew wealthy running an office supply business, and the family counted Hollywood stars such as Cary Grant among their neighbors. She married and raised four daughters and three sons, all the while becoming deeply involved in charity work.

In 1977, after her children were grown and two marriages had ended in divorce — a source of sadness that she rarely talked about — Brenner gave away her expensive clothes and belongings, left her Ventura apartment and moved to La Mesa penitentiary. She had delivered donations in the past to the prison, each visit filling her with compassion.

"Something happened to me when I saw men behind bars. … When I left, I thought a lot about the men. When it was cold, I wondered if the men were warm; when it was raining, if they had shelter," Brenner told The Times in a 1982 interview. "I wondered if they had medicine and how their families were doing. …You know, when I returned to the prison to live, I felt as if I’d come home."…

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Please click through for the rest of this excellent article.

Thanks to CURE National for pointing this article out.