I was a bit anxious… getting the kids to school about 10 minutes earlier than normal required all the moving parts to stay synchronized. Whew. Got them dropped. School traffic lightens up as I leave town. I’m careful to stay within the speed limit, then slowing when I pass through one remote school zone on the highway before I turn off.
I make this familiar drive, one that I drove just 8 days ago when I took my friend to court for a probation appearance. She rode with me that morning to take the kids to school and then we went to Blountville. No time for breakfast. We arrived in the courtroom about 10 minutes till 9. With only a 15-minute recess, we sat and waited for her name to be called until 5 minutes before noon. And that’s when the surprise “sealed” indictment was opened, charges read, and within 15 minutes she was gone.
But today, I arrive 20 minutes early for my visit, carefully re-reading the visitor instructions on my phone, getting my identification, pen and paper. I walk through the door that reads “Public Entrance” and timidly step inside. No one is there to acknowledge my arrival.
To my right is a single door. Three pieces of 8 1/2 x 11 size papers are curled at the edges and taped to the wall with instructions for visitors. I walk inside a narrow block-walled room with concrete floors, a row of six metal monitors installed on the right within those blocks, some folding chairs leaning up against the far wall. I find “my” computer terminal number, grab a chair and get ready to sit down. But with flu season upon us and so many sick, I hesitate. I decide to go out to my vehicle and get a Clorox wipe. I bring 3 for the other two visitors as well, which they accept gratefully.
I try to log-in with my unique visitor PIN number but the system won’t accept it. I must wait until within 60 seconds of my scheduled time. I wait.
Then I log in. Two bright lights shine on my face and the warning that I will be monitored and recorded. I can see myself in the lower left of the screen. Well… I can see “part” of myself. I’m only visible from the nose up. Most of the image is of the formerly used “glass” visiting booths when you would see your incarcerated loved one through a glass. Although you could not touch them, at least it was face-to-face. I’m unsure of this video system.
Ten minutes of my visit has passed. The gentleman at terminal 5 is also waiting for his friend. The lady at terminal 4 is talking with her family member. Yes, we can hear her. Not that we are eaves-dropping, but there is no privacy, no barriers, nothing except a row of chairs sitting in front of a wall. Weird.
The video visiting system was a pain from the beginning. The company website had intermittent service. I had difficulty logging in after I registered. I had to do one of those “live help chats” and have the password reset. Visits are free if you go up to the jail and use their terminals; costly if you visit from anywhere off-site. Finally I was able to login and schedule my visit.
It was two days later as I was eating supper with my father that I got the message of my visit being cancelled. What? My loved one has been moved and my visit was cancelled automatically. I called the jail right away. The officer said that the system does that when someone moves from a holding cell into regular population or when someone is release. Had she been released? He wasn’t supposed to tell me, but he looked it up and said, no.
I took that opportunity to ask a couple more questions about the visitation. All visits must be scheduled at least 24-hours in advance. No visits are in-person, all are video screen. I asked about mail, packages, and commissary. I was told that photos are only accepted during four months of the year. No packages are accepted at all. The jail gives them everything they need he said. What about underwear? Yes, we give them underwear. She wants some socks. We give them socks. If they need anything, they can purchase it at the commissary. I wondered how much things cost at the commissary? And I wondered if someone preferred boxers or briefs? or needed a certain type of material? or maybe they were cold and wanted long underwear? Each of my wonderings was answered with a silent “you’re in jail, not a resort” or “you’re in jail, what do you expect?” from my conflicted mind.
When I got home, I went to my computer to reschedule my visit, but the first available day did not have any open appointment times. The second available day did not have any appointment times either. So I had to schedule it for the third day, and my only option was early morning. Thus my drive out to Blountville at 7:45am for my early morning visit. Still waiting.
The lady at terminal 4 is wrapping up her conversation and says goodbye. She asks the gentleman at 5 if he would like her to go ask about his visitor and he says yes. When she comes back into the narrow room, she relays that the officer knows nothing about why an inmate did not show up for a visit… perhaps they were asleep, no they do not wake them, but he has no idea. I wonder if she even knows I’m here to visit? How would she know? Since there’s no approved list of visitors… since there’s no movement of “going to” visitation… what exactly is happening? Hey, I’m waiting here… still waiting for my visit… wake up!
Number 5’s time is up and he leaves, thanks me again for the clorox wipe. Two gals come in and sit next to me at terminal 2. They have no idea what they are doing, it’s obviously their first time also. They can’t logon. One goes out, comes back, and they both move down to terminal 5. They logon and start their visit.
An older man comes in and sits at terminal 3. He’s been here before. He goes straight to pick out his chair, sits till the clock ticks over, and then signs in. The lights come on and he starts chatting with his family member.
Yes, I’m still here. Where are you?
My time is ticking by and almost gone. I’m afraid to leave… just in case. I don’t want to “not” be there if she comes online. How horrible would that be? Are you not worth waiting for? Ugh. I wish I knew something… anything!
My lights go off suddenly and I realize that my 30-minutes worth of visit has been completed.
Public Safety Act of 2016
In 2014, Governor Haslam established a Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism as part of the administration’s overall effort to reduce crime and improve public safety. The task force included stakeholders from across Tennessee and produced a report last year detailing recommendations to reduce crime and address the growth of the prison and jail population. Many of these recommendations were included in the recently announced multi-year public safety action plan developed by the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet. The Public Safety Act of 2016 seeks to codify several of these action steps.
Why are these changes to Tennessee’s public safety laws needed?
The Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet has identified key areas that are driving Tennessee’s violent crime rate, and this legislation would establish mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of three or more charges of these most serious offenses as well as taking additional steps to protect victims of domestic violence. Furthermore, of the 12,588 people entering state prison last year, 5,061 – or 40 percent – were probationers or parolees sent to prison because they violated supervision conditions. The bill would retool community supervision to reduce the number of people returning to prison for probation and parole violations when noncompliance doesn’t rise to the level of a new criminal offense.
What are the key components of the bill?
Addressing Domestic Violence
This legislation would allow a law enforcement officer, with the consent of the victim, to seek an order of protection on behalf of a domestic abuse victim. Additionally, if a law enforcement officer makes an arrest for a crime involving domestic abuse, then an automatic order of protection would be issued when there is probable cause to believe that the alleged assailant used or attempted to use deadly force against a domestic violence victim. A hearing would be held within 15 days of the automatic order of protection being issued.
A third and subsequent domestic violence conviction would become a Class E felony under this legislation. Third and subsequent domestic violence convictions are currently a misdemeanor. This proposed change would maintain the current minimum 90-day sentence for a domestic violence conviction.
Smart Changes in Sentencing
The Act would change the felony thresholds for property theft for a Class A misdemeanor, Class E felony and a Class D felony.
- Class A Misdemeanor: Current $500, Proposed $1000
- Class E Felony: Current $500-$1000, Proposed $1000 to $2500
- Class D Felony: Current $1000 to $10,000, Proposed $2500 to $10000
The legislation would also set the mandatory minimum period of incarceration to 85% for third and subsequent convictions for aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary, and Class A, B, and C felonies for the sale, manufacture, and distribution of controlled substances.
Ensuring Offenders are Properly Evaluated
This legislation would make a “validated risk and needs assessment,” designed by the Department of Correction, part of an offender’s presentence report and an item the judge must consider when sentencing a defendant. The legislation would require the department to conduct an updated validated risk and needs assessment at least annually for each offender under the department’s supervision.
Instituting Swift, Certain and Proportionate Sanctions
Sending offenders back to prison for violating supervision conditions when the violation is not a new criminal offense—particularly for non-compliant behavior such as missing appointments—is an expensive and ineffective means of addressing offender misconduct. Moreover, spending time in jail or prison can increase the risk of future offending, rather than decrease it.
The use of swift, certain and proportionate responses to non-criminal rule-breaking is a key component of an effective strategy to change behavior. The use of both sanctions for non-compliance and positive reinforcements for compliance has been shown to be a powerful tool in successful supervision, supporting positive behavior change and reducing recidivism.
This legislation would authorize the department to utilize a robust, structured matrix of both sanctions and incentives to facilitate compliance with the conditions of supervision by the more than 71,000 state probationers and parolees. Non-compliant behavior would result in the imposition of a proportionate sanction as a mechanism to return the probationer or parolee to compliance with supervision conditions. Sanctions would include, for instance, drug testing and rehabilitative interventions.
The use of graduated sanctions would be included as a condition of probation by the court with jurisdiction over the case. The sanctions system would also apply to persons released on parole.
EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute in Cleveland, Ohio is a unique approach at giving formerly-incarcerated adults a foundation in the hospitality industry while providing a support network necessary for a successful reentry.
Started by Brandon Chrostowski, a former prisoner, who got a second chance while on probation from a mentoring chef named George. Watching as friends and family cycled in and out of the justice system, like a merry go round, Chrostowski learned culinary arts and the art of hospitality from George so well that he moved to Hyde Park, New York and enrolled in The Culinary Institute of America. Success followed, from great restaurants like Charlie Trotters in Chicago to a Michelin 3 star in France as well as the elite in NYC.
The lessons Chrostowski learned on his journeys are found throughout EDWINS, including the philosophy of “making it happen with what you have” (Chicago),”hard work has no language”( Paris), it’s not “practice that makes perfect rather perfect practice makes perfect” and “investing in yourself before someone will invest in you” (NYC).
For more about EDWINS please visit http://edwinsrestaurant.org
My name is Patricia Lefler, and I am a small business owner, a nature enthusiast, a mother, a Christian, a college graduate, and last, because it is the least, I am a convicted felon.
I began working for myself in the fall of 2013, and named my business, ‘Junkyard Revival’ Landscape Management, after an Annual Women’s Outreach Event I started that same year in Kingsport, Tn.
With a past record, the 4-year college degree I once earned became useless in helping me to gain the employment I needed to live a self-sustaining, productive life. Starting my own business was the sensible solution.
For over 5 years, through hard work and a commitment to give back, I have been rebuilding my life in this community. Recently, I entered my business in the Fedex Small Business Grant Contest.
I am searching for those who believe in the idea of a business giving good paying work opportunities to those individuals with a criminal ‘past’. If you are in that group, I ask you to please go to the link below, and vote for Junkyard Revival Landscape Management.
Whether in my personal life, or in my business, the message of Junkyard Revival is similar. Our “junk” can be cleaned up. Society can only define us (convicted “felon”), and set limitations on what we can achieve, IF we allow them to.
I not only believe in second chances, I am continuing to live mine…and that’s what I want for other people. Thank you for your time, my friends.
WASHINGTON — Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia used his executive power on Friday to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons, circumventing the Republican-run legislature. The action effectively overturns a Civil War-era provision in the state’s Constitution aimed, he said, at disenfranchising African-Americans.
The sweeping order, in a swing state that could play a role in deciding the November presidential election, will enable all felons who have served their prison time and finished parole or probation to register to vote. Most are African-Americans, a core constituency of Democrats, Mr. McAuliffe’s political party.
Amid intensifying national attention over harsh sentencing policies that have disproportionately affected African-Americans, governors and legislatures around the nation have been debating — and often fighting over — moves to restore voting rights for convicted felons. Virginia imposes especially harsh restrictions, barring felons from voting for life.
In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin, a newly elected Republican, recently overturned an order enacted by his Democratic predecessor that was similar to the one Mr. McAuliffe signed Friday. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, vetoed a measure to restore voting rights to convicted felons, but Democrats in the state legislature overrode him in February and an estimated 44,000 former prisoners who are on probation can now register to vote.
“There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans — we should remedy it,” Mr. McAuliffe said in an interview Thursday, previewing the announcement he made on the steps of Virginia’s Capitol, just yards from where President Abraham Lincoln once addressed freed slaves. “We should do it as soon as we possibly can.”
Republicans in the Virginia Legislature have resisted measures to expand voting rights for convicted felons, and Mr. McAuliffe’s action, which he said was justified under an expansive legal interpretation of his executive clemency authority, provoked an immediate backlash. Virginia Republicans issued a statement Friday accusing the governor of “political opportunism” and “a transparent effort to win votes.”
“Those who have paid their debts to society should be allowed full participation in society,” said the statement from the party chairman, John Whitbeck. “But there are limits.” He said Mr. McAuliffe was wrong to issue a blanket restoration of rights, even to those who “committed heinous acts of violence.
Nationally, an estimated 5.85 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of felony convictions, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington research organizations, which says one in five African-Americans in Virginia cannot vote.
Only two states, Maine and Vermont, have no voting restrictions on felons; Virginia is among four – the others are Kentucky, Florida and Iowa – that have the harshest restrictions.
Friday’s shift in Virginia is part of a national trend toward restoring voter rights to felons, based in part on the hope that it will aid former prisoners’ re-entry into society. Over the last two decades about 20 states have acted to ease their restrictions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
In Kentucky, Mr. Bevin, who took office in November, promptly overturned an executive order issued by his predecessor, Steven L. Beshear, just before he left office. Then, last week, Mr. Bevin signed into law a less expansive measure, allowing felons to petition judges to vacate their convictions, which would enable them to vote.
Previous governors in Florida and Iowa took executive action to ease their lifetime bans, but in each case, a subsequent governor restored the tough rules.
Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, said Mr. McAuliffe’s decision would have lasting consequences because it will remain in effect at least until January 2018, when the governor leaves office.
“This will be the single most significant action on disenfranchisement that we’ve ever seen from a governor,” Mr. Mauer said, “and it’s noteworthy that it’s coming in the middle of this term, not the day before he leaves office. So there may be some political heat but clearly he’s willing to take that on, which is quite admirable.”
Myrna Pérez, director of a voting rights project at the Brennan Center, said Mr. McAuliffe’s move was particularly important because Virginia has had such restrictive laws on voting by felons. Still, she said,“Compared to the rest of the country, this is a very middle of the road policy.’’
Ms. Pérez said a number of states already had less restrictive policies than the one announced by Mr. McAuliffe. Fourteen states allow felons to vote after their prison terms are completed even while they remain on parole or probation.
Advocates who have been working with the Virginia governor say they are planning to fan out into Richmond communities Friday to start registering people.
Experts say with the stroke of his pen, Mr. McAuliffe has allowed convicted felons to begin registering to vote, and that their voting rights cannot be revoked — even if a new governor rescinds the order for future released prisoners.
But the move led to accusations that the governor was playing politics; he is a longtime friend of — and fund-raiser for — Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee for president, and former President Bill Clinton.
In the interview, Mr. McAuliffe said that he was not acting for political reasons, and that few people outside his immediate staff knew of his plan. He said he did not consult with Mrs. Clinton or her campaign before making the decision.
The executive order builds on steps the governor had already taken to restore voting rights to 18,000 Virginians since the beginning of his term, and he said he believed his authority to issue the decision was “ironclad.”
Prof. A. E. Dick Howard of the University of Virginia School of Law, the principal draftsman of a revised Constitution adopted by Virginia in 1971, agreed, and said the governor had “ample authority.” But Professor Howard, who advised Mr. McAuliffe on the issue, said the move might well be challenged in court. The most likely argument, he said, is that the governor cannot restore voting rights to an entire class of people all at once.
Virginia’s Constitution has prohibited felons from voting since the Civil War; the restrictions were expanded in 1902, as part of a package that included poll taxes and literacy tests.
In researching the provisions, advisers to the governor turned up a 1906 report that quoted Carter Glass, a Virginia state senator, as saying they would “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State in less than five years, so that in no single county of the Commonwealth will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.”
Mr. McAuliffe, who took office in 2014 and campaigned to restore voting rights to felons, said that he viewed disenfranchisement as “a remnant of the poll tax” and that he had been “trying to figure out what more I can possibly do.”
The governor’s action Friday will not apply to felons released in the future; his aides say Mr. McAuliffe intends to issue similar orders on a monthly basis to cover people as they are released.
“People have served their time and done their probation,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “I want you back in society. I want you feeling good about yourself. I want you voting, getting a job, paying taxes.’’
For the entire article, please click here.
MURFREESBORO, Tennessee (AP) — Outside the $200-a-week motel room that Steven Gibbs and his family call home, the afternoon sun sparkled. Inside, though, he had the curtains pulled tight. After working third shift at a round-the-clock McDonalds, his wife, Debbie, sat on the edge of one bed, her eyes closed. But the hour didn’t matter.
“Half the time I’m scared to go outside the door,” said Gibbs, 61, a former construction worker jailed twice since late 2013 after he couldn’t pay hundreds of dollars in probation fees for driving on a suspended license. Despite a court order barring the county and a private probation company from jailing him again, those fears lingered.
“I don’t trust none of them anymore,” Gibbs said, in late January. The company continued charging him fees until last week, when a judge agreed to put him on a new plan, supervised instead by the court, to pay down fines he owes the county.
Probation is supposed to substitute for jail or prison, requiring offenders to report regularly and maintain good behavior. But in this fast-growing county outside Nashville and more than a dozen states, probation for misdemeanors is a profit-making — and increasingly contentious — venture.
The for-profit prison industry is estimated at as much as $7 billion to $8 billion, and both Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., have spoken forcefully — Sanders even more so than Clinton — about a desire to phase out private prisons as part of the U.S. criminal system.
“In my view, corporations should not be allowed to make a profit by building more jails and keeping more Americans behind bars,” Sanders recently said. “Criminal justice and public safety are, without a doubt, the responsibility of the citizens of our country, not private corporations, and they should be carried out by those who answer to voters, not those who answer to investors.”
On the campaign trail, Clinton said that “we should end private prisons and private detention centers.”
Read the entire story on cnbc.com.
NPR Story by Carrie Johnson
A bipartisan task force created by Congress issued “an urgent call to action” Tuesday to overhaul the nation’s federal prisons and reduce the number of U.S. inmates by 60,000 over the next decade.
A new report from the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections found that punitive mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes represent “the primary driver” of prison overcrowding. The report recommends they be reserved for the most violent offenders.
The report said almost 80 percent of inmates convicted of drug crimes had no prior criminal history. And it urged Congress to create a path for prisoners who have served more than 15 years to apply for shorter sentences by giving judges a “second look” at their cases.
“The federal government, the Congress and the Bureau of Prisons need to take a hard look at how sentencing and prisons really operate in this country,” task force member Laurie Robinson told NPR in an interview. “We think the federal criminal justice system suffers from a one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing and rehabilitation, and that doesn’t really serve the interests of public safety.”
The report also urges more oversight and resources for the Federal Bureau of Prisons — and for programs that return inmates to their communities and foster bonds with their families.
“We certainly can’t continue to do what we’re doing now,” said another task force member and former public defender, Cynthia Roseberry. “We need to ensure that once a person serves their sentence, we stamp that ticket paid in full, and part of that means preparing them for re-entry.”
The task force consists of former lawmakers, corrections officials, academics and other people who’ve long interacted with the justice system. Despite the wide variety in background and political outlook, three people on the task force told NPR the group easily reached consensus.
Recommendations in the report go far beyond legislative proposals to overhaul the corrections system in the House and the Senate. It’s not clear whether the bills will pass before the presidential election intensifies this year.
That doesn’t bother Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who’s been raising concerns about efforts to be more lenient on drug criminals.”These defendants are for the most part very serious offenders,” said Sessions, a former U.S. attorney. “Federal prosecutors … they don’t focus on petty crimes and small cases.” Sessions said the administration and lawmakers need to be careful not to “retreat” from criminal justice policies that helped bring crime to near-record lows. He pointed out a recent case in Ohio, where a man who had benefited from changes to the federal sentencing guidelines has been charged with killing his ex-girlfriend and two of her children earlier this month.
Advocates who want to see changes to the justice system acknowledge that some offenders will commit new crimes if they’re released. But they say research gives prison officials more and better tools to identify inmates who pose the most danger. And they say the system locks up too many people for too long, producing overcrowded prisons where administrators don’t have the resources to offer drug treatment, education and family interactions.
The task force is named after Colson, who served time in prison for Watergate-era misdeeds and later went on to found an advocacy group for inmates called the Prison Fellowship.
Craig DeRoche, senior vice president for policy and advocacy, said a central principle of the organization is that after people pay their debt to society, “they are capable of being transformed and making significant contributions in their communities.”
Members of the task force said they visited a federal prison in Atlanta, where they met groups of elderly or ill inmates, some of whom had applied for compassionate release. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has found the program is little-used, in part due to resistance from prosecutors and a nettlesome bureaucracy. Robinson said she heard from those inmates who could barely talk about their “lack of hope. “Certainly this is an area where more requests could be granted without risk to public safety,” she said.
On Monday, President Obama is announcing a new order to reduce potential discrimination against former convicts in the hiring process for federal government employees.
It is a step towards what many criminal justice reformers call “ban the box” – the effort to eliminate requirements that job applicants check a box on their applications if they have a criminal record. While the rule was once seen as a common sense way for employers to screen for criminal backgrounds, it has been increasingly criticized as a hurdle that fosters employment discrimination against former inmates, regardless of the severity of their offense or how long ago it occurred. Banning the box delays when employers learn of an applicant’s record.
President Obama is unveiling the plan on a visit to a treatment center in New Jersey, a state where Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed a ban the box bill into law last year. Hillary Clinton endorsed ban the box last week, while Republican Sen. Rand Paul also introduced similar federal legislation, with Democrat Cory Booker, to seal criminal records for non-violent offenders.
The White House says it is “encouraged” by such legislation in a new statement, but emphasizes the president’s order will take immediate action, mandating that the federal government’s HR department “delay inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process.”
President Obama spoke to several federal prisoners about that very approach in July, when he was the first sitting president to visit an American prison.
“If the disclosure of a criminal record happens later in a job application process,” he told them, “you’re more likely to be hired.” Obama described what many studies show – that when many employers see the box checked for an applicant’s criminal record, they weed them out without ever looking at their qualifications.
“If they have a chance to at least meet you,” the president continued, “you’re able to talk to them about your life, what you’ve done, maybe they give you a chance.”
About 60-to-75% of former inmates cannot find work within their first year out of jail, according to the Justice Department, a huge impediment to re-entering society.
Research shows the existence of a criminal record can reduce an employer’s interest in applicant by about 50%, and that when white and black applicants both have records, employers are far less likely to call back a black applicant than a white one. As a 2009 re-entry study in New York city found, “the criminal record penalty suffered by white applicants (30%) is roughly half the size of the penalty for blacks with a record (60%).”
Obama’s move also comes in the wake of a growing movement for criminal justice reform – from broad calls by groups like Blacks Live Matter to a specific campaign on ban the box that ranged from half the Senate Democratic caucus to civil rights groups to artists like John Legend.
On Monday, Legend told MSNBC, “We applaud the President’s decision to end this unfair bias against people who have served their time and paid their debt to society. We hope that Congress and state legislatures across the country will follow suit.”
The President is announcing several other measures Monday, including public housing and money for re-entry programs, and he is speaking about prison reform in a speech and an exclusive interview with NBC Nightly News Anchor Lester Holt.
Free At Last!
The 2014 regional documentary, “Outcasts: Surviving the Culture of Rejection,” is now available for free viewing online on at cultureofrejection.org.
Since its regional premiere, four film festival selections, and its broadcast debut on East Tennessee PBS, “Outcasts: Surviving the Culture of Rejection,” has continued to send ripples of new awareness through audiences about today’s criminal justice system. Aditionally, Governor Haslam appointed a 27-member task force to explore recommendations to reduce recidivism and urge sentencing reform. The topic of criminal justice reform has escalated to a national discussion and become an important 2016 presidential campaign issue.
In order to continue informing the issues surrounding the film, producer Jane Hillhouse, and writer/director Stephen Newton , have made the complete version of “Outcasts” available for free online.
Please share the link below with friends and family, or with anyone you think needs to see the film.
To schedule a screening for your organization, college, or church, please visit cultureofrejectoin.org