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Jail Population Overlooked in Reform Efforts

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African Americans account for 25 percent of the 12 million jail admissions every year. (Wikimedia Commons)

African Americans account for 25 percent of the 12 million jail admissions every year. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

By Freddie Allen
Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In a system that is often overlooked by the public and misused by law enforcement, Blacks account for more than one-third (36 percent) of the jail population, according to a new report from the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonpartisan research and policy group.

The report titled, “Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America,” details the practices and policies that funnel a disproportionate number of Black men and women in and out and back into jails.

In the introduction to the report, Nicholas Turner, the president and director of the Vera Institute wrote that jails are necessary for some people, but too often ordinary people are “held for minor violations minor violations such as driving with a suspended license, public intoxication, or shoplifting because they cannot afford bail as low as $500.”

The report said that roughly 75 percent of sentenced offenders and those awaiting trial in jail were there on nonviolent traffic, property, drug, or public order offenses. And while they sit, life goes on without them. Bills pile up, rent goes unpaid and hourly wage workers watch paychecks shrink or they just get fired.

Turner added: “Single parents may lose custody of their children, sole wage-earners in families, their jobs – while all of us, the taxpayers, pay for them to stay in jail.”

In everyday dialogue, people often use “jails” and “prisons” interchangeably, but these tools of the criminal justice system serve distinct purposes.

“Unlike state prisons, which almost exclusively hold people serving state sentences, jail populations are heterogeneous, making them particularly challenging to manage,” the report said.

Pretrial detainees, locally and state sentenced inmates, apprehended pretrial or sentenced inmates from other jurisdictions and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees all bunk in local jails, while local jurisdictions collect fees. Sentences can range from a few hours to months for more serious offenses or overcrowding at other facilities.

But just like mass incarceration in prisons was sparked by the War on Drugs, the growth in the jail population also soared because of drug arrests.

“From 1981 until 2006, when they peaked, total drug arrests more than tripled, from 560,000 to 1.9 million, and the drug arrest rate (per 100,000) grew 160 percent,” according to the Vera report. “The share of people in jail accused or convicted of a drug crime increased sharply in the 1980s.”

Even though, state and federal prisons house more inmates, jails record about 19 times more admissions. African Americans account for 25 percent of the 12 million jail admissions every year.

“Black males, in particular, are arrested at a younger age and at higher rates than their white counterparts, often giving them a longer ‘rap’ sheet regardless of the charges or the eventual dispositions of the cases,” the report explained. “Schools in minority neighborhoods are more likely to have law enforcement officers on site and to embrace ‘zero tolerance’ policies.”

The report continued: “With arrest records on file at earlier ages, subsequent contacts with police result in more severe case outcomes as these young men come of age.”

When people suffering from mental health disorders find themselves homeless, unemployed, or on drugs they are arrested for minor crimes at higher rates than other offenders and spend time in jail where their conditions deteriorate.

“Serious mental illness, which includes bipolar disorder, schizophre¬nia, and major depression, affects an estimated 14.5 percent of men and 31 percent of women in jails – rates that are four to six times high¬er than in the general population,” the report said. “According to the [Bureau of Justice Statistics], 60 percent of jail inmates reported having had symptoms of a mental health disor¬der in the prior twelve months.”

On the inside, jailed inmates with few options pay private phone companies exorbitant fees to stay in touch with loved ones on the outside. Some jails also charge for laundry services, room and board, and medical care.

“Add to this child support payments, credit card debt, rent, and other living expenses that can accumulate during incarceration – often with late charges or compounded interested tacked on – the financial picture for many leaving jail is very bleak,” said the report. High bail amounts often contribute to that bleak financial picture and “combined with overloaded courts, a situation arises in which defendants can spend more time in jail pretrial than the longest sentence they could receive if convicted.”

The report recommended introducing debt payment plans, making basic re-entry tools available for everyone leaving jail, and problem-solving courts that address socioeconomic issues surrounding incarceration including substance abuse, mental illness and homelessness.

While some jurisdictions have made modest gains in steering individuals away from jails and curbing the length of sentences, the report said that systemic reform would take significant cooperation among all local law enforcement officials.

“The misuse of jails is neither inevitable nor irreversible,” the report said. “To both scale back and improve how jails are used in a sustainable way, localities must engage all justice system actors in collaborative study and action. Only in this way can jurisdictions hope to make the systemic changes needed to stem the tide of people entering jails and to shorten the stay for those admitted.”

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Events

Ella Baker Center Turns 25

Community members will have the opportunity to join the celebration virtually or in person at Restore Oakland at 1419 34th Ave, Oakland, CA 94601.

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Michelle Alexander/Photo via pbs.org

Alicia Garza

Co-founder of Black Lives Matter (BLM) Alicia Garza and Michelle Alexander, acclaimed author of “The New Jim Crow,” will join youth justice leader Xochtil Larios to discuss a collective vision for liberation at the Ella Baker Center’s 25th Anniversary Celebration, 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 27.

After 25 years of working to empower Black and Brown communities and fighting for a world without prisons and policing, the event will seek to inspire organizers, community members and changemakers to reflect on past victories in the movement for social justice and imagine how to continue moving toward a world based on justice.

The event will include entertainment by musicians, poets as well as comments by founders of the Ella Baker Center, Dianna Frappier and Van Jones. Community members will have the opportunity to join the celebration virtually or in person at Restore Oakland at 1419 34th Ave, Oakland, CA 94601.

The in-person event will be held outdoors and available to vaccinated guests only. 

To RSVP for the virtual event, please email ashley@ellabakercenter.org by Oct. 14 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Black History

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis Pioneered Diversity in Foreign Service

UC Berkeley Grad Continues to Bring International Economic Empowerment for Women

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Ambassador Ruth A. Davis (left) is meeting with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis was recently named as a distinguished alumna by the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. 

She also has been honored by the U.S. State Department when a conference room at the Foreign Service Institute in Virginia was named in honor of her service as director of the Institute. She was the first African American to serve in that position.

Davis, a graduate of Spelman College received a master’s degree from UC Berkeley in 1968.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, also a graduate of the School of Social Welfare, now chairs the House Appropriations Committee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. She praised Ambassador Davis as “a trailblazing leader and one of the great American diplomats of our time. Over her 40-year career, she had so many ‘firsts’ on her resume: the first Black director of the Foreign Service Institute, the first Black woman Director General of the Foreign Service, and the first Black woman to be named a Career Ambassador, to name just a few.

“She served all over the world, from Kinshasa to Tokyo to Barcelona, where she was consul general, and to Benin, where she served as ambassador,” Lee continued. “ I am so proud of her many accomplishments. She has represented the best of America around the world, and our world is a better place because of her service.”

During Davis’ 40-year career in the Foreign Service, she also served as chief of staff in the Africa Bureau, and as distinguished advisor for international affairs at Howard University. She retired in 2009 as a Career Ambassador, the highest-level rank in Foreign Service.

Since her retirement, Ambassador Davis has served as the chair (and a founding member) of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC), an organization devoted to promoting women’s economic empowerment by creating an international network of businesswomen.

She also chairs the selection committee for the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship at Howard University’s Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center, where she helps to oversee the annual selection process. Finally, as vice president of the Association of Black American Ambassadors, she participates in activities involving the recruitment, preparation, hiring, retention, mentoring and promotion of minority Foreign Service employees.

Gay Plair Cobb, former Regional Administrator of the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor in the Atlanta, and San Francisco offices, was Ambassador Davis’ roommate at UC Berkeley. Cobb said, “Ruth always exhibited outstanding leadership and a determined commitment to fairness, equal opportunity and activism, which we engaged in on a regular basis.”

Davis has received the Department of State’s Superior Honor Award, Arnold L. Raphel Memorial Award and Equal Employment Opportunity Award; the Secretary of State’s Achievement Award (including from Gen. Colin Powell); the Director General’s Foreign Service Cup; two Presidential Distinguished Service Awards; and Honorary Doctor of Laws from Middlebury and Spelman Colleges.

A native of Atlanta, Davis was recently named to the Economist’s 2015 Global Diversity List as one of the Top 50 Diversity Figures in Public Life and is the recipient of the American Foreign Service Association’s Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award.

 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Community

Local Governments Can Lead in Public Safety Movement

Negotiations on a federal police reform bill have collapsed because Congressional Republicans are willing to stand in the way of lifesaving changes to policing.

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Police Car/iStock

Negotiations on a have collapsed because Congressional Republicans are willing to stand in the way of lifesaving changes to policing. It is time for state and local governments to take the lead in reimagining public safety. And it is time for all of us to support local leaders who are willing to show leadership and take risks to make it happen.

Change is not going to come from Congress, at least for now. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act earlier this year. It would have been a good first step. Like other good legislation, though, the bill was stopped by Republican obstruction in the Senate.

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has spent months negotiating with Republican Sen. Tim Scott on a reform bill. As recently as August, Scott said they were getting close to an agreement. But talks fell apart in September, and Scott dishonestly blamed Democrats for the failure to reach agreement, accusing them of wanting to “defund the police.”

Scott’s claim is shameful. New York Magazine recently noted that just last year Scott himself proposed that police departments lose some federal funding if they do not ban deadly practices like choke holds or no-knock warrants. But now he is telling the media that requiring police departments to meet such federal standards in order to receive federal money is the same as “defunding the police.”

You can’t make this stuff up. Well, if you’re Sen. Scott, I guess you can. Even two major police groups rejected Scott’s claims, saying in a statement that “at no point did any legislative draft propose ‘defunding the police.’”

I don’t know what political calculations led to Sen. Scott’s change of heart or his dishonest spin. And I don’t really care. What I do care about is saving lives by making policing safer and more accountable.

Fortunately, there are local leaders who are willing to think creatively and work collaboratively to reimagine public safety.

In Ithaca, New York, Mayor Svante Myrick worked with Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino on a plan designed to deliver accountability, transparency, and excellence in public safety. They came up with a plan that would replace the current police department with a new department of public safety.

The new department would be civilian-led, and it would employ both armed officers and unarmed community solution workers trained to respond to situations that do not require an armed response. The proposal won unanimous approval from the Ithaca City Council, which created a task force to develop a plan for implementing it.

Ithaca’s plan is meeting resistance from some state Republican leaders. They’re trying to convince the public that you can’t have accountability and safety. That’s a false tradeoff. Making policing more just and accountable will make communities safer for everyone.

I believe there is a critical mass of elected officials who are ready and willing to begin the process of transforming policing in this country from the bottom up. Last year, 100 young progressive candidates ran for office as part of a slate committed to ending police killings of unarmed civilians. There are mayors and city council members around the country looking at Ithaca’s plan and making their own.

Reimagining public safety has become a movement. Congress can’t stop us.

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