Category Archives: formerly incarcerated person

End the criminalization of poverty

We have the opportunity to end the criminalization of poverty and “Fine Time” curing the 2017-18 session of the Massachusetts State Legislature.  Sen. William Brownsberger has introduced a comprehensive bill to prevent people from imprisonment because of inability to pay fines.

Read more in this opinion column published in USA Today.

Suspending driver’s licenses creates a vicious cycle: Column

Some states are recognizing the injustice of linking to the ability to pay court-imposed fines and fees.

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Though our nation feels more divided than ever, there is a common concern that cuts across party lines and entrenched ideological silos: a pervasive sense that we have failed to give all Americans an equal opportunity to attain the American dream.

Despite our best efforts, government policies too often create obstacles that prevent Americans from climbing the ladder of opportunity. Nowhere is this disparity more evident than in the criminal justice system.

It is universally understood that the justice system should be fair — and that those who violate the law should be held accountable, pay their dues, and move on. But too often, justice comes only for those who can afford it. And all of us pay the price.

Consider the case of Damian Stinnie. A product of Virginia’s foster care system, Damian graduated from high school with a 3.9 grade point average and went right to work, making close to minimum wage. Then he lost his job. In the four months it took for him to find a new position — another low-paying job in retail — he received four traffic citations. The total owed on the resulting fines and four sets of court costs was just over $1,000.

Making only about $300 a week, Damian could not pay his fines and fees in 30 days. The court gave him no other payment options. Instead, with no notice and no inquiry into his ability to pay, his driver’s license was automatically suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

As a result, Damian was caught between two untenable choices: risking more fines and possible jail time if caught driving with a suspended license, or losing his job because he didn’t have a way to get to work. Months later, when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, he then had to choose between breaking the law and making his doctors’ appointments.

Second, license suspension for conduct other than drunken driving makes us less safe by diverting resources from critical public safety concerns to arresting, prosecuting, adjudicating and sometimes incarcerating defendants for license suspension cases.

How can we stop this troubling and growing trend?

 

This type of commonsense criminal justice reform has strong bipartisan support. Even in a divided nation, we can agree that our criminal justice system must dispense justice fairly and equally, and that policies disproportionately punishing the poorest among us have no place in our courts.

Marc Levin is policy director of Right on Crime. Joanna Weiss is director of Criminal Justice Reform, The Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

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Gourmet dinner in … Prison

NEW YORK TIMES

Italian Cuisine Worth Going to Prison For
By JIM YARDLEY    MARCH 5, 2016
Prison movie posters on the walls at InGalera, at the Bollate penitentiary in Milan, as an inmate serves patrons. Credit Gianni Cipriano for The New York Time

MILAN — The waiters glided through the crowded dining room of InGalera, a restaurant that opened recently to rave reviews. Dinner reservations are almost fully booked for March, and the Milanese elite have taken note. A former bank president came a few weeks ago. So did a former Miss Italy. Families come on weekends.

For Silvia Polleri, the restaurant’s manager and visionary, InGalera is a dizzying triumph, if more because of the locale than because of the food.

It is inside the Bollate penitentiary, a medium-security prison with 1,100 inmates on the outskirts of Milan. The waiters, dishwashers and cooks have been convicted of homicide, armed robbery, drug trafficking and other crimes.

“May I take your plate, sir?” asked a waiter, Carlos, an inmate dressed in a tie, white shirt and black vest as he cleared a table on a recent night.

It is hard to imagine a less likely culinary success story than InGalera, or a more intriguing experiment in rehabilitating inmates — and confronting public attitudes about them.

Few people think of prisons as a place for a nice night out, yet the novelty of going to the prison grounds for food and drink has resonated, and even become something of a marketing tool.

Ms. Polleri decided that the best way to reassure patrons was to take a wink-wink approach. The name, InGalera, is Italian slang for “In Prison.”

The restaurant’s design is sleek, airy and modern, but the walls are decorated with posters from famous prison movies, including “Escape From Alcatraz” with Clint Eastwood.

Curiosity about a forbidden and feared world has turned a night at InGalera into a daring adventure, with a fine meal as a bonus. (It has a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor.)

“We wanted to see the reality here,” said Carla Borghi, who came with a group of couples from the nearby town of Paderno Dugnano. “It is not the classic restaurant. But it is a classic restaurant. The food is excellent.”

For years, Italy has struggled with its prison system, as well as how to balance punishment with rehabilitation. Overcrowding had become such a problem that in January 2013 the European Court of Human Rights ordered the country to fix the system.

Amuse-bouche dishes of cheese mousse with mustard, curry and dill awaiting customers. Credit Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times
Italian lawmakers responded with more alternative measures for minor crimes. In 2014, Italy also repealed harsh drug sentencing laws enacted during the 1990s, similar to the “three strikes” laws in the United States. In 2014, Italy began releasing 10,000 inmates (of roughly 60,000) who had been convicted of minor offenses.

But the issue of how best to rehabilitate offenders — and lower the recidivism rate — remained difficult. Italy has long allowed inmates in medium-security prisons to move around the facilities during the day.

“The main problem has been that they do little during the day, which doesn’t help them at the present, nor for their future outside prisons,” said Alessio Scandurra, who works for Antigone, a nonprofit group focused on the rights of detainees.

The Bollate prison was at the vanguard of experimentation even before opening the restaurant. Under the director, Massimo Parisi, the prison offers an array of programs. Companies have work programs on prison grounds. Volunteers teach theater and painting. Carpentry skills are taught in workshops equipped with power drills and saws. Inmates maintain a stable of horses in the prison yard.

 

There is also an initiative involving a carefully vetted group of 200 inmates who are allowed to leave each day for jobs with an outside firm. Inmates travel without supervision on public transportation; they must check in upon arrival at work, and at other points during the day.

Mr. Parisi said only one inmate had failed to return at the appointed time, and he showed up a few days later.

InGalera, Italian slang for “In Prison,” represents an experiment in rehabilitating inmates and confronting public attitudes about them. Credit Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times
But sending out inmates is different from asking law-abiding citizens to come in for a meal.

“Our first worry was: Who would come?” Mr. Parisi said. “But many people are coming. People are curious about prisons. It is an unknown world to many people. That creates interest.”

The force behind the project is Ms. Polleri, who spent 22 years teaching kindergarten before becoming a caterer and later founding a social co-op in 2004 to help inmates. She hired select inmates from Bollate for catering jobs outside the prison. Once, she took a convicted bank robber to wait on tables at a reception in a bank.

But the idea of starting a restaurant was an altogether different challenge.

“People looked at me like I was crazy,” she said. “They also thought I was crazy when I said I wanted to name it InGalera. But I wanted to stop talking about this in a sweet way.”

She solicited grants from sponsors, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm, and a local architect designed the restaurant’s interior for free. It is on the ground floor of the dormitory for prison guards; inmates are housed in a different part of the prison. She hired a maître d’ — who seats guests and handles the money — and a professional chef, Ivan Manzo, who was unfazed by working with convicts.

“I’ve seen a lot of crazy people working in kitchens outside of here!” Mr. Manzo said.

In the kitchen, inmates were busily preparing dishes as one, Mirko, was showing another how to make tarts. Inmates are paid up to 1,000 euros a month to work in the restaurant, and share tips.

“It is a matter of pride, a way to make people happy and show them that even inmates can change and evolve,” said Mirko, who like the other inmates wanted to be identified only by his first name.

Ms. Polleri says that she realizes the restaurant may bother some people and that she does not want to offend victims of crime. But she argued that prisons must train inmates to become responsible citizens capable of re-entering society, and noted that the recidivism rate of inmates in similar programs is far lower than average.

Before the dinner crowd arrived on a recent night, Ms. Polleri hovered over the waiters, reminding Carlos to “walk straight.” Her most nerve-racking moment came in early December when she learned that a food critic for one of the country’s most important newspapers, Corriere della Sera, had secretly come for dinner one night and was preparing a review.

“I couldn’t sleep for a week,” Ms. Polleri said. The critic praised the food, the waiters and the “convivial atmosphere.” He even praised the prices, which are more reasonable than most Milanese restaurants. “To have honest prices,” he wrote, “you have to come to jail.”

Looking across the dining room, Ms. Polleri pointed to the guests enjoying their meals. “This is the revolution,” she said. “A lot of these people before didn’t know where the prison was.”

Life after life

Mass. commissioner of Corrections Luis Spencer says his biggest expense, after staff salaries,is medical care for an aging population.

NPR did a story, Life After Life, on how Colorado is handling this giant problem, that’s only going to further bloat our corrections costs. For every 14 people released, it saves the state an estimated $1 million. 

See more here: http://www.npr.org/2014/06/04/317055077/life-after-life-aging-inmates-struggle-for-redemption

See you in the Beacon Hill lobby Tuesday June 10

The term “lobbyist” originated in Massachusetts when people who wanted to influence legislators waited in the “lobby” outside of the Senate and House chambers.

On Tuesday, June 10, from 10 am to 3 pm, a group of activists will be hanging around the Statehouse lobbies, elevators and stairwells to ask, “Do you work here?”

If the answer is “yes,” we want to know:

For which legislator do you work?

Did your office receive the “New Jim Crow” on April 30 when volunteers delivered a copy of the landmark book by Michelle Alexander to every member of the Mass. House and Senate?

Did s/he read it? Did the legislator read it?

What did you think of it?

Did you know you can view videos of Michelle Alexander on you tube?

5 minute Colbert interview

23 minute TedX Talk

52 minute address to Riverside Church

Does the legislator know about the bipartisan Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform caucus led by Rep. Sannicandro and Sen. Eldridge?

Will anyone from the legislator’s office be attending the June 24 briefing in Room 437 of the Statehouse, 11:30 am to 1 pm, featuring a speaker who recovered from drug addiction? EMIT, End Mass Incarceration Together, a Unitarian Universalist Task force of UU Mass Action, provides a free lunch. Hope to see you there.

Contact me if you want to join us in our informal lobbying on June 10. susan . tordella @ g mail . c o m   978-772-3930. Come for as much time as you can spare. We’ll be going in pairs.

Imagine life without a driver’s license

What would you do without a driver’s license if you lived outside of a city with transit? How would you get to work?

Massachusetts state law mandates that people convicted of a drug crime lose their licenses for five years after release from prison, and must pay $500 to reinstate it. Both hardships for formerly incarcerated people add to the struggle to become employed taxpayers.

EMIT is working to change this injustice. State senators need to hear from across the state, to support the amendment to the Senate Budget proposed by Sen. Harriet Chandler, D-Worcester. Laws sometimes get passed by amendments to other bills.

We are targeting 22 state senators on May 16, 19 and 20, who need encouragement to return justice to those who want a second chance. We especially need callers to join the phone blitz who live outside of Route 128, from all over the state. 

Below is the “ask” and a list of senators who need to hear from us. Ideally, people will call who live in those senators’ districts. Don’t let that stop you! Ask friends who live in those districts to make a call. Find state legislators here.

You can also call your senator, as well as Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, 617-722-1500, and Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven Brewer, D-Barre, 617-722-1540.

Five to 10 calls get a legislator’s attention. Your call will impact this campaign. Please take five minutes to help. Ask five friends to do the same. It’s a small change that makes a big difference to returning citizens.  CALL on May 16, 19 and 20.

Here’s the info. THANKS!

Friend,

I’m calling to ask you to take a minute to advocate on behalf of people who have few advocates, to remedy an unjust law.

 Imagine how difficult your life would be if unable to drive. How would you work or do much else? Formerly incarcerated people convicted on a drug offense must pay at least $500, often more, to reinstate their driver’s license.

Would you take a minute to join a statewide movement to correct this injustice and make it easier for returning citizens to become employed taxpayers?

I am calling to urge Sen. _________________ [see list below] to support budget amendment 659 by Sen. Harriett Chandler to eliminate three sanctions against returning citizens who have been convicted of a drug offense: a license suspension of one to five years; an RMV* fee of $500 or more to reinstate the license; and references to drug offenses and warrants on an individual’s driving record.

The exorbitant fee of $500, (often more), is a hurdle for a returning citizen to re-join the ranks of employed taxpayers.

Obtaining a driver’s license without a $500 penalty increases the likelihood that a returning citizen will find a legal job and avoid returning to prison. Mass INC** estimates that for every 5 percent reduction in recidivism, the state saves $150 million per year.

Please join your Senate colleagues to restore justice by eliminating this RMV fee.

*Registry of Motor Vehicles

**Page 6, Mass INC free report: Crime, Cost and Consequences, Is it time to get smart on crime?

Senators to target

All numbers begin with 617-722
Stephen Brewer 1540 Barre
Gale Candaras 1291 Wilbraham
Eileen Donoghue 1630 Lowell
Benjamin Downing 1625 Pittsfield, all Berkshire county
Barry Finegold 1612 Andover
Jen Flanagan 1230 Leominster
Don Humason 1415 Westfield
Brian Joyce 1643 Milton
John Keenan 1494 Quincy
Thomas Kennedy 1200 Brockton
Joan Lovely 1410 Salem
Mike Moore 1485 Worcester & suburbs
Richard Moore 1420 Worcester & south
Therese Murray 1500 Plymouth
Kathleen O’Connor Ives 1604 Newburyport
Anthony Petruccelli 1634 E. Boston
Michael Rodrigues 1114 Fall River
Richard Ross 1555 Wrentham
Mike Rush 1348 W. Roxbury
Bruce Tarr 1600 Gloucester
James Timilty 1222 Walpole
James Welch 1660 W. Springfield