States and Local Advocates Lead the Way for Criminal Justice Reform

Stealing From The Mouth of Public Education to Feed the Prison Industrial Complex

It can be easy to overlook the role of our deeply broken criminal justice system in perpetuating the cycle of poverty and rising inequality.

While Congress stalls on any semblance of progress on criminal justice reform, a number of states are taking matters into their own hands.  Kimberly Hart, a life-long New Haven, Connecticut resident is using her own personal story to bring about change in her home state.

Hart is a community advocate and mother of a 15-year-old son. She was convicted of a felony 30 years ago, but the sentence has carried on long after she exited prison. She knows first hand the economic disadvantages placed on the formerly incarcerated and has dedicated her life to helping others like her navigate in an economy tilted against them.

The United States has the largest criminal justice system in the world spending over $ 80 billion annually. The Sentencing Project found that U.S. incarceration rates have increased by more than 500 percent in the last 4 decades, despite a decrease in crime rates across the country. The incarcerated population today is 2.2 million people.

According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, 600,000 individuals are released from prison every year, with very few access to programs that could ensure a smooth transition back into society, leading them to face barriers in getting a job, securing stable housing and much more. They are often shut out of government provided opportunities that would lead to stability such as employment, housing, and education.

“Because my felonies are all larcenies, I can’t get a living wage job. I can’t get a job at a retail store.” Hart goes on to explain how she can’t even get trained to become a Certified Nursing Assistant because potential employers are too afraid to let her into clients’ homes. “I told myself, I don’t do those things anymore. Why am I still being held accountable for it? I’ve already paid my dues, why do I have to pay for the rest of my life?”

Shutting out formerly incarcerated people from these essential programs creates massive economic problems not limited to this population but for the nation as a whole. The Center for Economic Policy Research estimated that excluding people with criminal records out of the job market results in “a loss of as many as 1.9 million workers and costs the U.S. economy up to a whopping $ 87 billion each year in lost gross domestic product.” With people of color occupying 60 percent of the current prison and jail population, they face the brunt of these economic burdens.

Having been exposed to advocacy at a young age thanks to her parents, Hart became involved with the organization Mothers For Justice, a grassroots women’s advocacy group that focuses on welfare reform, prison re-entry, and affordable housing. “In order to affect change, you have to affect policy. I join advocacy groups that address the problems that I’m going through because I know that I’m a part of the solution. That’s when I learned that legislators work for me and I have the power to hire and fire,” Hart says.

In 2016, she worked with Mothers For Justice to push the Connecticut state legislature to pass the “ban-the-box” law that prohibits employers from requesting past criminal history on initial employment applications. While this law is a step in the right direction, it chips a small piece away at the large wall that stands between those with felony records and financial security.

For the past few years, Hart’s best chance at employment has been with a telemarketing company that doesn’t do background checks, where she has to deal with the harsh reality of receiving no benefits, no paid holidays, or paid sick time. “I get paid off of commission and I have to work hard because if I don’t make a sale, my fifteen-year-old son and I can’t eat.” Because of this, Hart still has to rely on government safety net programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Hart is concerned over the future of SNAP as the program faces funding cuts under the Trump Administration’s proposed 2018 budget. She explains how food is a basic necessity that people need to build better lives for themselves. “If you cut SNAP that means my child will go hungry. When you’re hungry you can’t sleep or learn. In order for my child to become self-sufficient and not have to rely on social services, he’s going have to get a decent education, go to college, and land a decent job so he can be a productive member of society. You can’t do any of that hungry.”

Kimberly Hart now works with the organization Witnesses to Hunger where she sits on the New Haven Food Policy Council working to eradicate hunger in New Haven. Among other issues related to poverty, Hart ensures that her voice remains one that represents people like her who are victims of the criminal justice system.

“If the state of CT looked at me as Kimberly Hart who happens to have a 30-year-old felony conviction instead of looking at me as a convicted felon whose name is Kimberly Hart then they could be more humane about this,” Hart said. “All we want is a second chance, life happens but it definitely doesn’t define who I am today.”

|||||||http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/IPS/latest/~3/_8w4k7nhAfA/

On Heels of Obama’s Historic Visit to Cuba, Advocates to Gather in Washington

For immediate release: March 23, 2016

Contact:

Washington, DC-The International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity is returning to Washington next month to increase pressure on President Barack Obama to do more to reduce the impact of the failed 55-year-old blockade against Cuba, and to encourage Congress to pass legislation to finally eliminate it entirely.

President Obama and the executive branch continue to announce new regulations that ease restrictions against Cuba in such areas as travel and commerce, yet the teeth of the criminal blockade against Cuba remains intact.

The International Committee, accompanied by dozens of supporters from across the United States and beyond, will descend on Washington from April 18-22 for a second “Days of Action against the Blockade.

They not only will undertake grassroots advocacy visits to the offices of Senators and members of the House of Representatives, but also stage a community forum, Through Cuban Eyes,” to provide Americans with a Cuban perspective on what’s been happening in Cuba and the real state of U.S.-Cuban relations.

The key note speaker at the April 22nd community forum will be  Cuban Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas. Invited guests from Cuba include medical professionals who took part in the fight against Ebola in West Africa and in restructuring the health infrastructure in Haiti, the Director of Havana’s Literacy Museum, a representative of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People (ICAP), and a Cuban journalism student with his own dramatic story to tell. Jorge “Jorgito” Jérez was born with cerebral palsy in Cuba in 1993, but today – thanks to Cuba’s health care and education system – he has become a “self-sufficient, independent young journalist.” The Power of the Weak, a documentary by German filmmaker Tobias Kriele about Jorgito’s life and the social supports available to him in Cuba, will be screened during the Days of Action.

While acknowledging the significance of President Obama’s decision in December 2014 to end, in his words, the United States’ “outdated approach [to Cuba] that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests,” and the President’s recent historic visit to Cuba, Alicia Jrapko of the International Committee explained there is much more Obama can do to help normalize relations with Cuba. “Although we applaud many of the steps taken, we urge the President to use his executive power to close Guantanamo Prison and return to Cuba the land it sits on. He should also end the preferential “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” Policy that encourages Cubans to embark on illegal and unsafe migration; end the Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals that encourages Cuban doctors to abandon Cuba’s medical programs abroad; and stop funding USAID and National Endowment for Democracy programs aimed at fomenting dissent in Cuba.”

Netfa Freeman from the Institute for Policy Studies, one of the groups organizing the upcoming April events in Washington DC, noted that a majority of Americans, including Cuban Americans, support ending the blockade. “Part of this support,” says Freeman, “is from heightened awareness of the hypocrisy in U.S. claims of wanting to encourage change for a Cuban society that is not experiencing a national epidemic of killings of people of color by police and mass incarceration or social ills like rampant homelessness. The overwhelming majority of Cubans are guaranteed shelter and healthcare as human rights.”Freeman pointed to the success of a recent whirlwind 10-day visit to the West Coast by Miguel Fraga, the first secretary of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., as another sign of the changing mood. Fraga spoke to close to 1,500 people at 20 different events, and was even introduced on the California State Senate floor. “The cold war is over!” declared Los Angeles State Senator Isadore Hall III as the Cuban flag was displayed in the chambers. “It is time to look forward and to look ahead to a future where Cuba is a partner, not an enemy to the United States.”

As part of the tour of the Cuban diplomat speaking at a conference in Seattle, Washington State’s veteran 7th District Rep. Jim McDermott urged the audience to “go to Washington in April to lobby to end the blockade.”

The post On Heels of Obama’s Historic Visit to Cuba, Advocates to Gather in Washington appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

|||||||http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/IPS/latest/~3/3uP0zatSunA/

Athletes, Advocates Pen Anti-Nike Letter – Georgetown University The Hoya


Georgetown University The Hoya
Athletes, Advocates Pen Anti-Nike Letter
Georgetown University The Hoya
The group, which formed last week following a discussion on campus with sweatshop activist Jim Keady, argues that the athletics department should suspend its partnership with Nike. Twenty students-athletes and advocates … “Today we come to you with

|||||||http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNHKm2os2RVi-q-q-TJk9zyUVqyKgw&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&ei=7ch1Vpi5FKaHwgGP1b_wBQ&url=http://www.thehoya.com/athletes-advocates-pen-anti-nike-letter/

Athletes, Advocates Pen Anti-Nike Letter – Georgetown University The Hoya


Georgetown University The Hoya
Athletes, Advocates Pen Anti-Nike Letter
Georgetown University The Hoya
The group, which formed last week following a discussion on campus with sweatshop activist Jim Keady, argues that the athletics department should suspend its partnership with Nike. Twenty students-athletes and advocates … “Today we come to you with

|||||||http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNHKm2os2RVi-q-q-TJk9zyUVqyKgw&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&ei=y-dQVuSSGYqWwQHXqaWoCQ&url=http://www.thehoya.com/athletes-advocates-pen-anti-nike-letter/

Changes To Farmworker Housing Rules Worry Farmers, Advocates – KRCU


KRCU
Changes To Farmworker Housing Rules Worry Farmers, Advocates
KRCU
Many of the more than 3 million migrant farm workers that plant and pick the fruits and vegetables we eat in the U.S. live on the farms they work for. But the rules that govern farmworker housing may be changing, worrying both farmers and migrant

and more »

|||||||http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNEQAiv5B8qdLBpnlL0xXg4DEIkNkQ&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&cid=52778901342576&ei=Lj-lVaiuCISKwwHp47mIBw&url=http://krcu.org/post/changes-farmworker-housing-rules-worry-farmers-advocates

Worker advocates praise Virginia bill to ban child tobacco labor – Safety+Health magazine


Safety+Health magazine
Worker advocates praise Virginia bill to ban child tobacco labor
Safety+Health magazine
“We urge Virginia lawmakers to support this bill, and other tobacco-producing states to follow suit to protect America's most vulnerable workerschildren in tobacco fields,” Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League and co

|||||||http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNEq-Q_2uzoCyTzVugfH7jkRy_WCxg&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&ei=5KbMVLDyKObswQGUyoCYCg&url=http://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/11774-worker-advocates-praise-virginia-bill-to-ban-child-tobacco-labor

Worker advocates praise Virginia bill to ban child tobacco labor – Safety+Health magazine


Safety+Health magazine
Worker advocates praise Virginia bill to ban child tobacco labor
Safety+Health magazine
“We urge Virginia lawmakers to support this bill, and other tobacco-producing states to follow suit to protect America's most vulnerable workerschildren in tobacco fields,” Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League and co

|||||||http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNEq-Q_2uzoCyTzVugfH7jkRy_WCxg&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&ei=pwbKVJinGuKAwQGT_YHwDQ&url=http://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/11774-worker-advocates-praise-virginia-bill-to-ban-child-tobacco-labor

Elco Intermediate students become advocates for animals – Lebanon Daily News

Elco Intermediate students become advocates for animals
Lebanon Daily News
Classmate Eli Schaeffer, 9, also of Myerstown, can speak knowledgably about endangered animals, and Aldus Hart, 8, of Richland, knows quite a bit about rainforest deforestation. "We're trying to save "Along with the loss of animal habitat, the

|||||||http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&usg=AFQjCNG7G8AfwlVHGVbI6ITg0kvqLbpzyg&url=http://www.ldnews.com/local/ci_24932752/elco-intermediate-students-become-advocates-animals

Advocates Oppose TPP Fast Track Bill Expected in Congress in January

United Students for Fair Trade is helping allies oppose the injustices and secrecy of the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade deal, and its potential Fast Track process:

The good news: TPP negotiations in Singapore last week didn’t get as far as they hoped. That means they missed their third deadline for completing this agreement–this is great news! Read more here.

The worse news It looks like after months of stalling, the Fast Track bill is ready to be introduced as soon as Congress gets back from the holidays. That means we don’t have much time left to make sure Congress will do the right thing. Fast Track is the biggest key to taking down the TPP, and right now the battle is very close.

Click here to see where your Congressperson stands on Fast Track and let them know how you feel about it. Call them today to thank them if they’ve committed to vote no. If they haven’t, then they should have a problem on their hands. Call them, email them, tweet at them, and organize an action at their office.

|||||||http://www.fairtraderesource.org/2013/12/17/advocates-oppose-tpp-fast-track-bill-expected-in-congress-in-january/

Report from climate scientists confirms what climate justice advocates already know: The time to act is now

“We hope the IPCC’s report will help skeptics understand that the jury is in and has issued a clear ruling: climate change is underway and we must do all we can to slow it down,” said Janet Redman, climate expert at the Institute for Policy Studies.

|||||||http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/IPS/latest/~3/3-b646tkY6A/climate_justice_advocates_time_to_act_is_now