November 15, 2016
A New Chapter: Amplifying the Voices of Impacted Individuals
By Miea A. Walker, MSW
Happy Fall everyone! My name is Miea Walker and I am the Engagement Coordinator for the NC Second Chance Alliance. I am excited to share this new edition of our newsletter.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” The vision of our Alliance is to amplify the voices of directly-impacted individuals. We believe those who have experienced the pain and struggle of the criminal justice system should be leading and crafting its reform. The tentacles of mass incarceration are far reaching and often leave devastation in its wake. There is a feeling of displacement as we return to unfamiliar communities that treat us differently.
As a woman of color who experienced incarceration, the shame of being labelled a “felon” became overwhelming. As I fought to be “seen” beyond my criminal record, I discovered the value of my own voice. Yet it was a struggle to use and trust that voice as I navigated a path of exclusion and uncertainty.
Our experiences returning home and rebuilding our lives are both personal and shared. As members of the Second Chance Alliance, we uplift these personal and common experiences and call for local, state, and national leaders to restore opportunities for inclusion and prosperity by dismantling unnecessary barriers to reentry and enhancing community-based resources. Please consider contributing your voice and your experiences to our collective call for change. You can start by sharing your story here. As always, you can also provide us with any updates of events happening in your community or organization. Email updates to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Youth Justice Awareness Month
Thousands of children across the U.S. are suffering at the hands of our criminal justice system. In the article The Steep Costs of Keeping Juveniles in Adult Prisons, author Jessica Laney notes, “Juveniles constitute 1,200 of the 1.5 million people housed in federal and states prisons in this country, most for non-violent crimes. On any given day, 10,000 juveniles are housed in adult prisons and jails."
October is Youth Justice Awareness Month. Across the country, people are organizing events to increase awareness and support to prevent children from being pushed into the adult criminal justice system.
Children exposed to physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence, and poverty are at greater risk for engaging in unhealthy behaviors. Due to their limited capacity to manage their emotions, they become an easy target. Ultimately, their focus shifts to survival mode, which can lead to illegal behavior. As we continue to provide solutions, let’s start by advocating to Raise the Age. Take a moment to read the blog post below. For more information on Youth Advocacy Month, click here.
Raise the Age: Saving the Life of a Child
Do you remember Kalief Browder? In 2010, he was sent to Riker’s Island jail at the age of 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack. While awaiting trial, without any finding of guilt, Kalief spent three years at Riker’s—shuffled between the risks of solitary confinement and general population. Eventually, the courts disposed of his case and Kalief was released in June 2013. But ultimately, the pain and unspeakable horror he experienced during his time at Rikers became too much to bear and on June 6, 2015, Kalief Browder took his life.
Why is this case important? It reflects the urgent need to reform our criminal justice system; specifically, the impact of charging 16- and 17-year olds as adults, as only New York and North Carolina still do.
In October 2016, the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice released its final report recommending the NC General Assembly raise the maximum age of juvenile jurisdiction from 15 to 17 for all crimes except Class A through E felony offenses and traffic offenses. Under this recommendation, 16- and 17-year olds charged with misdemeanor offenses would be charged as juveniles and would remain in the juvenile system. 16- and 17-year olds charged with A-E felony offenses would, after a finding of probable cause, be automatically transferred to Superior Court and prosecuted as adults. 16- and 17-year olds charged with F-I felony offenses would also be subject to transfer, but only at the discretion of the juvenile court judge.
The unanimous recommendation came from the NCCALJ’s Committee on Criminal Investigation and Adjudication which is comprised of several stakeholders, including representatives of the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association and the NC Conference of District Attorneys which have traditionally opposed efforts to raise the age. The support of these stakeholders is contingent on full funding for the adoption of these changes. Credit must be given to the NC Department of Public Safety Division of Juvenile Justice for, as described in the report, already identifying “cost savings of over $44 million that can be used to pay for raise the age.”
The NCCALJ’s recommendation and report can be found here. In it, the committee details several benefits of raising the age, including a reduction in recidivism which will make communities safer; significant long-term cost savings due to better outcomes in the rehabilitation-focused juvenile justice system; the positive experiences of other states that have recently raised the age; and eliminating the competitive disadvantage currently confronting North Carolina youth with criminal records seeking employment, education, and other opportunities and resources.
Members of the Raise the Age Coalition, which includes several organizational members of the NC Second Chance Alliance, voted to support the NCCALJ recommendation and assist the judicial branch’s efforts to garner broad support among members of the NC General Assembly for raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 15 to 17 for all crimes except Class A-E felony offenses.
Raise the Age legislation is just one of several bipartisan bills the NC Second Chance Alliance will be supporting during the 2017-2018 legislative session. Other bills will expand eligibility for expunctions and certificates of relief, Ban the Box for public employment in North Carolina, and otherwise restore opportunities for men and women with criminal records to provide for their families and contribute to their communities. Look for a full overview of our legislative advocacy efforts in the next newsletter.
Women in Prison: The Untold Story
The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration. In fact, some researchers speculate our numbers have increased from 2.3 to 2.4 million. In Nov. 2014, the Pew Charitable Trust predicted a 3% growth in our prison population by 2018. However, one of the largest growing populations who are most often overlooked? Women. In 2014, Forbes reported that the U.S. had become the world’s leader in incarcerating women.
Why? Because women are incarcerated at nearly double the rate of men. In terms of race, two-thirds of women in prison are of color. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, “Women in jail have increased 14-fold from under 8,000 to 110,000." The road to incarceration for women is a stark contrast to men. Women are more likely to have experienced poverty, intimate partner violence, and sexual trauma. Thus, their engagement with the criminal justice system is intrinsically linked to relationships (family/significant other). While incarcerated, women are prone to revictimization due to the social norms of prison culture, which makes them less likely to report. Furthermore, the lack of mental health and substance use treatment is a common predictor to the imprisonment of women. As such, our justice system criminalizes the behavior of those who struggle with mental health disorders. However, one of the most problematic issues for incarcerated women is their inability to maintain connection with their family.
In a report by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, one of the top barriers to incarceration for women and children were the costs associated with phone calls and visitation privileges. Many women behind bars are the primary caregivers to their children. Most children are able to stay with a family member while their mother is incarcerated but others are not so fortunate. The lack of connection not only strains the relationship between a mother and her child but severely limits her ability to parent from behind the walls.
As we work to strengthen our efforts in criminal justice reform, remember the untold story of women. They are important too.
Reentry Resources: Videos, Articles & Website
The House I Live In
Slavery by Another Name (PBS)
Frontline: Prison State (PBS)
A Nation of Women Behind Bars (20/20)
Children Behind Bars: American Youth Violence
Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families
6 Million Lost Voters: The Sentencing Project
Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform
The Debt Penalty: Exposing the Financial Barriers to Offender Reintegration