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.”

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State and Local Governments Can Take the Lead on Climate Policy

solar-panels-renewable-energy

(Photo: Philippe Roos / Flickr)

In March, the World Meteorological Organization released data on the state of the earth’s atmosphere in 2016. Last year, it found, was the hottest year since humanity started recording temperatures, continuing a trend of steadily rising mercury.

Inevitably, the rising temperatures led to record severe storms, floods, droughts, and wildfires, from the United States to Brazil to South Africa. Experts believe that the planet will become a much harder place to live if the temperature rise exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius, and will start becoming unlivable if it crosses 2 degrees.

The vast majority of atmospheric scientists attribute these rising temperatures, of course, to emissions from fossil fuels, among other human activities. Yet completely without irony, the Trump administration chose the week after the release of the WMO data to completely roll back even the insufficiently ambitious steps taken by the prior administration to address this looming global disaster.

This is very bad news. But the good news is that there is much ordinary people can still do to ensure that the United States continues to cut back on carbon emissions.

For one thing, we can exert popular pressure on the administration to reverse course, as the tens of thousands of people gathering in late April for the People’s Climate March in Washington are doing, along with thousands more in sister marches worldwide. And we can use the courts to challenge aspects of the administration’s attack on sound environmental policy.

But we can also push a wide range of policy changes in our states and cities to proactively advance a just clean energy agenda, regardless of what’s going on at the federal level.

In fact, states are already being the adults in the room when it comes to taking bold steps to address carbon emissions. Let’s look at just one possible policy — expanding electricity generation from renewable sources, the subject of a report I recently authored for the Institute for Policy Studies.

Transitioning our fossil-fueled electric grid to renewables would reduce emissions more than if we took every single car in the U.S. off the road, so this is a huge deal.

One adult in the room is Oregon, which legislated that coal be completely phased out of its electricity supply by 2030, and that half its electricity come from renewables by 2040.

The legislation in Oregon also enabled the formation of shared solar projects. A shared solar project is an array of solar panels typically located on the roof of a large building such as a school or church, and collectively owned by community members who cannot install solar panels on their own roof, often because they are renters. To ensure economic inclusiveness, Oregon mandated that 10 percent of the capacity of these shared solar projects be set aside for low-income residents.

Given the disproportionate prevalence of poverty among people of color, this is also a step forward for racial justice. And the idea is spreading far beyond Oregon. Shared solar projects are enabled by legislation in 14 states and the District of Columbia.

Another adult is California, which not only provides dedicated funding to install solar panels on low-income homes, but also requires that the jobs and skills training in those solar jobs be made accessible to people from underserved communities.

The states displaying these signs of maturity don’t follow predictable political lines. The South Carolina Senate has passed a bill, for example, exempting homeowners with solar panels from paying property taxes on their panels.

Expanding renewable energy helps reduce carbon pollution and makes the energy system more just. It also creates lots of jobs. Energy Department data show that solar energy accounts for 43 percent of direct electricity generating jobs — the most of any one source, even though it represents only 2 percent of generating capacity.

Even after accounting for the coal mining and oil and gas drilling jobs created by fossil fueled electricity generation, solar remains the second largest employer in the sector, with 18 percent of jobs — still ahead of natural gas, which is the single largest source by generating capacity.

If solar can create this many jobs at 2 percent of capacity, imagine what a dynamic job creation engine it would be if we aggressively expanded it. Compared to that, Trump’s fantasy of bringing back coal — which accounts for less than half as many electricity generation jobs as solar, even though its generating capacity is more than 10 times as much — doesn’t even hold a candle.

Yes, states can be grown-ups, counteracting Trump’s perspective on climate change. But it doesn’t happen by magic. It’s going to take lots of local organizing. Environmentalists will have to join hands with anti-poverty groups, civil rights organizations, small businesses, workers, clergy, and other constituencies united in demanding a clean energy economy designed to benefit historically excluded populations and to create good jobs.

So after you march, find out what your state has already accomplished in this regard. If you see room for improvement, start organizing now!

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IPS on the Offense: Big Visions for State and Local Power

The Institute for Policy Studies is going on the offense with initiatives in a large number of cities and several key states. Join us and our affiliates for engaging workshops and dialogue that build power and move in the direction of transformative change.

Let’s go beyond reactionary and put forward big visions solutions that will inspire people to think and act differently.


Spring Event Series

Challenging the U.S. War on the Atmosphere: How We Fight Back

April 28 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
St. Stephen’s Church, 1525 Newton St NW

A dynamic teach-in as a prelude to the People’s Climate March (PCM), exploring concrete ways we can advance a just climate agenda and roll back the extractive economy.

Find out more »

State and Local Strategies for Reversing Inequality

May 10 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Institute for Policy Studies, 1301 Connecticut Avenue NW, 6th Floor

Details coming soon

Bringing Global Resistance to the Local Level

Details coming soon

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Making the City’s Budget a Local Affair

town-budget

(Image: Richard Paul Kane / Shutterstock)

My husband and I have carted our kids to every democratic experience we can think of — protest marches, polling places, town halls, city council meetings. We want to demystify the political experience and teach them how to successfully influence it to shape the world into a better place.

I’m embarrassed to admit, however, that I’ve left an alarming gap in their civic education. Not once have I ever exposed my children to the place in democracy where the rubber meets the road: the local budgeting process.

City budgets reflect our commitment, right in our own backyard, to tackle inequity, improve our quality of life, and make crucial decisions about public accountability, like whether our police forces buy body cameras. And, unlike the lobbyist-laden appropriations process at the national and state levels, our local budgeting processes are surprisingly accessible for people like me and you.

Read the full article on The Maryland Reporter’s website.

The post Making the City’s Budget a Local Affair appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Melissa Ann Ehrenreich is a New Economy Maryland fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Populists Set To Rattle Italy’s Establishment In Local Polls – Newsweek


Newsweek
Populists Set To Rattle Italy's Establishment In Local Polls
Newsweek
The anti-establishment Five-Star Movement could make significant gains in local elections in Italy on Sunday, in the latest example of surging populism across Europe. The mayoralty of four cities—Rome, Naples, Turin and Milan—is up for grabs. In
Virginia Raggi serves up threat to Italy's political establishmentFinancial Times
Corruption gripes help Five Star Movement top Italy local election pollsThe Guardian
Italy votes in local elections on 5 and 19 JuneWanted in Rome

all 17 news articles »

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Proposed Amazon dam attracts illegal loggers, threatens local farmers – Mongabay.com


Mongabay.com
Proposed Amazon dam attracts illegal loggers, threatens local farmers
Mongabay.com
The proposed São Luiz do Tapajós hydropower plant on the Tapajós River has seen a rapid uptick in criminal activity, as loggers and squatters try to force residents from their lands, and make homesteaders take part in illegal logging schemes. Federal

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TPP, a Global Stimulus for Local Communities – Huffington Post

TPP, a Global Stimulus for Local Communities
Huffington Post
Living up to the President's campaign promise to rewrite NAFTA, TPP includes enforceable labor standards ensuring fair labor competition in the form of collective bargaining rights, bans against child and forced labor, minimum wage standards, and rules

and more »

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Local farmers react to $15 minimum wage standard – Suffolk Times


Suffolk Times
Local farmers react to $ 15 minimum wage standard
Suffolk Times
In a ceremony Monday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo — flanked by Democratic legislators and his lieutenant governor — signed a state law that will gradually raise the minimum wage on Long Island to $ 15 an hour. Just before heading to a victory rally, Mr.

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UN FORUM SERIES: The importance of local partnership and robust research: Agricultural worker sin the Morocco tomato food chain – LSE

Click on the link below to read The London School of Economics and Political Science article:

UN FORUM SERIES: The importance of local partnership and robust research: Agricultural worker sin the Morocco tomato food chain

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Local Year in Review 2015 – Catholic Free Press


Catholic Free Press
Local Year in Review 2015
Catholic Free Press
He was born in Nsambya, Uganda, studied for the priesthood in Uganda, Rome and Brighton, was a certified nursing assistant in Boston, became director of religious education in St. James Parish in South Grafton and, on June 3, 2006, was ordained a

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