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Criminal Justice

VOICE-IAF Delivers Justice to 627,000 Virginians Drivers Licenses Restored for people with unpaid court debt

VOICE Team in Richmond

In October 2018, VOICE convened 1,400 of its members to ask Governor Ralph Northam to end Virginia’s draconian practice of suspending driver’s licenses over unpaid court debt, which almost exclusively impacts the poor and people of color.  Specifically, VOICE challenged Gov. Northam to allocate money in his budget to replace revenue lost from reinstatement fees, roughly $9 million per year, which in the past was a major roadblock to passage of the legislation.  In December 2018, Gov. Northam followed through on his commitment to VOICE and allocated the needed funding in his FY 2019-2020 budget.
On Wednesday April 3rd, as a result of Gov. Northam’s action, VOICE helped deliver a major victory to the 627,000 Virginians who have their licenses suspended over court debt with the passage of a budget amendment that bans the practice. This victory will enable thousands now to drive to work so they can provide for their families, as well as, contribute millions in new tax revenue. In the preceding months, VOICE sent teams of leaders from local congregations to discuss this issue with dozens of key lawmakers including House Speaker Kirk Cox, whose support proved crucial. VOICE also helped to organize key Virginia allies such as business and denominational leaders, who have helped organize support for the bill in key Virginia districts.
In 2018, VOICE won an increase in the felony level in Virginia. These victories are the beginning of VOICE’s multi-year fight on local and statewide criminal justice reform in Virginia.  VOICE is now focusing its non-partisan power on the upcoming 2019 local and statewide elections, where VOICE will hold candidate accountability actions and undertake non-partisan voter engagement organizing, mobilizing more than 500 experienced non-partisan voter engagement volunteers from its member institutions who participated in similar work in 2017 & 2018 elections.
Press coverage of VOICE’s work on this issue may be found HERE and HERE and HERE.

Clean Slate Campaign Picking Up Steam

CONECT Leaders Asti Jackson & Lonnie Spaulding questioning Gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont about the Clean Slate proposal
CONECT’s Criminal Justice Reform Team is leading a legislative campaign to create a new system of automatic expungement of criminal records in Connecticut. Recently Hugh Bailey wrote a column in the CT Post & New Haven Register about the campaign and the New York Times ran an Opinion piece on Clean Slate nationally.
The Connecticut “Clean Slate” plan would build off of Connecticut’s existing Board of Pardons and Paroles system, making expungements of criminal records 3 years after a misdemeanor and 5 years after a non-violent felony automatic. 
Speaking at CONECT’s recent press conference was Rev Anthony Bennett and Rick DelValle, a former drug addict who now operates five recovery houses for addicts in New Haven.
“This important legislation will help level the playing field for Connecticut’s racial minorities,” said Rev. Anthony Bennett of Mt. Aery Baptist Church in Bridgeport and Co-Chair of CONECT. “Despite important gains in criminal justice reform here in Connecticut, racial minorities are still far more likely to have a criminal record, even surpassing national averages. That’s just unacceptable here in Connecticut.”   
See CONECT’s Fact Sheet and FAQ for more background information.

Powerful Day of Action Leads to GBIO Victories on Criminal Justice Reform, Healthcare, Affordable Housing and a Continued Fight for Education Funding.

GBIO’s Criminal Justice Reform Chair, Beverly Williams, poses questions to the candidates for District Attorney at GBIO’s Primary Accountability Action.
On August 23rd, dubbed a “GBIO Day of Action,” GBIO leaders ran multiple actions within a 6-hour period, pushing forward the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization’s priorities on Criminal Justice Reform, Healthcare, Affordable Housing, and Education.
At a Primary Accountability Action, 537 GBIO leaders secured commitments from both Democratic candidates for Governor, Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie, to contribute $50 Million to a Homeownership fund and to stop a healthcare merger estimated to cost taxpayers $230 million annually.
The merger, between healthcare giants Beth Israel Deaconess, Lahey and others was announced in 2017. Earlier this year, the MA Health Policy Commission came out with a report concluding that the merger would conservatively cost the state’s citizens $230 million per year.  
The two candidates were asked: “Will you direct the Public Health Commissioner and Council Members to oppose and stop any mergers or other market transactions that are found by the HPC to increase costs for consumers?” Both Massie and Gonzalez answered Yes.
The two candidates also agreed to increase funding for home ownership by at least $10 million per year for at least 5 years, for a total of $50 million and (if elected Governor) to attend a 2000 person action in the fall. Jay Gonzalez won the primary and will face off against Governor Charlie Baker in November. 
GBIO leaders also engaged candidates for District Attorney from Suffolk and Middlesex counties in a series of questions about Bail Reform, Sentencing Reform with a focus on mandatory minimums, and Data Transparency, securing public commitments of Yes on all questions from both candidates vying for Suffolk County DA in November. 
7 candidates for DA attended the GBIO event, including Evandro Carvalho, Linda Champion, Mike Maloney, Shannon McAuliffe, and Rachael Rollins of Suffolk County (in the first contested race in decades) and Donna Patalano and incumbent Marian Ryan of Middlesex County. The candidates were asked to provide yes/no answers to a series of questions and were also given time to present their views in an open format. 
Greg Henning, the frontrunner in the race, had committed to attend the event in April, but changed his mind just days before the event, objecting to the “yes/no” format. On September 4th, Henning lost the race 20,719 to 35,188 to Rachael Rollins, who answered YES to all of GBIO’s questions. 
GBIO’s questions included:
Will you institute a policy prohibiting every prosecutor from seeking bail unless it carries the possibility of a state prison sentence?
Mandatory Minimums
  1. Will you institute a policy requiring every prosecutor in your office NOT to charge Mandatory Minimum sentences for any drug offense, and instead to seek charges that can be overseen by a judge?
  2. Will you institute a policy requiring every prosecutor to seek diversion, including restorative justice practices, before arraignment, when a diversion alternative exists?
  3. Will you publicly support elimination of ALL mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses?
  4. Will you institute a policy mandating racial bias training within the first six months, and within the first six months of every subsequent Asst. DA and lawyer hire, as a step to eliminating racial disparities?
Data Transparency
  1. Will you institute a policy mandating the collection and recording of race and ethnicity data for all offenders in your existing and future database systems?
  2. Will you institute a policy to report, and make publicly available, data showing:
    • Disposition (diversion, plea deal, trial, dismissal, CWOF, sentence imposed)
    • Plea bargain deals offered
    • Initial charging offense
    • Length of time defendants are held pretrial
    • Age, Gender, and Race and Ethnicity of offender
  3. Will you commit to holding public forums each year where you present this data to the public?
Earlier that same day, at Mayor Marty Walsh’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $73 million Dearborn School, which GBIO fought to create, nearly 200 GBIO leaders demanded full funding for the STEM school’s staffing.
GBIO had hoped that the Dearborn ribbon-cutting ceremony would be an opportunity to celebrate the school’s opening, the culmination of an almost decade long effort. GBIO leaders, including then-President Rev. Hurmon Hamilton, fought to replace the Dearborn’s deteriorating middle school building with a state-of-the-art grade 6-12 STEM Academy that could provide a top-notch education to students in its under-served Roxbury neighborhood.
Rev. Hamilton returned to Boston from California to attend the ceremony, but the celebration became a demand for action when, just a few days prior to the school’s Sept opening, many key staff positions remained unfunded. “It’s really an abomination to have this amazing STEM building and not have adequate staffing,” said the Rev. Burns Stanfield, current president of GBIO. “It really sets kids up in this neighborhood for failure.”

GBIO Fights for Criminal Justice Reforms – and Wins – as Governor Baker Signs Historic Massachusetts Bill

GBIO Criminal Justice Reform team co-chairs Beverly Williams and Alan Epstein at the end of the day, but on to another chapter. 
 “When We Fight, We Win!”
Leaders from the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, and allies, chanted in victory at the Massachusetts Statehouse on April 13th as Governor Charlie Baker signed a sweeping criminal justice bill into law – the first of its kind in decades. Since 2015, GBIO has fought for strong reforms by targeting four issues designed to reduce barriers to a fair criminal justice system that have disproportionately affected poor people and people of color. All four of GBIO’s priority issues were included in the recent law.
GBIO’s priority issues include:
  • Reduction in the use of Mandatory Minimums for drug sentencing
  • Reduction of fines and fees for probation and parole
  • Changing bail requirements for those unable to pay
  • Regulation and reduction in the use of Solitary Confinement
Beverly Williams, co-chair of GBIO’s Criminal Justice Team said, “The new law is not perfect, but it is meaningful legislation for Massachusetts. Reform leaders worked tirelessly for 3 years to make this happen.”  Through legislator meetings, relationship building, and a series of large actions, GBIO helped shape comprehensive Criminal Justice reform bills that, despite early resistance, passed the House and Senate by veto-proof majorities in late 2017. A reconciliation bill proceeded behind closed doors for 4 months. 
The ultimate bill still included GBIO’s four issues, as well as many other issues of interest to GBIO and other allies including: CORI reform, raising the felony threshold from $250 to $1200, decriminalizing youth below 12 years of age, allowing juvenile records to be expunged after a period of time, medical release, and most importantly, data collection and reporting for more transparency. The final bill passed unanimously in the Senate (37-0) and nearly unanimously in the House (148-5) and was signed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. 
Co-Chair Alan Epstein said, “It is a huge step forward for the state in our efforts to reduce mass incarceration, eliminate racial disparities, reduce costs and introduce fairness, compassion and intelligence into our criminal legal system. Everyone in Massachusetts will benefit from what we did.”

Lake County United Builds Strong Support to Win Approval of 146-bed behavioral hospital in Waukegan

Vista Medical Center West in Waukegan, IL will be transformed into a 146-bed psychiatric hospital

Lake County United continues the fight to prevent those who are mentally ill from unjustly entering the criminal justice system and instead, helping those individuals get the treatment they need. Towards that effort, LCU has established a relationship with the CEO of U.S. HealthVest to continue to work together on broader mental health needs such as affordable housing and long-term treatment. In January, U.S. HealthVest was given unanimous approval to purchase a Waukegan, IL medical center and transform it into a state-of-the-art 146-bed psychiatric hospital that will provide services ranging from children to seniors as well as substance abuse treatment. Having all the elements of a crisis stabilization unit, this hospital is a key component to diverting mentally ill from jail.

FRVI’s Work on Crisis Intervention Leads to First Countywide Police Officers Crisis Intervention Training in Kane County

Kane County State's Attorney completed its first Crisis Intervention Team training for police officers.
For the past three years the Fox River Valley Initiative (FRVI) in Kane County, Illinois has been working with the Sheriff and State's Attorney to create a countywide Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training program. In the summer of 2017, the States Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department submitted a proposed curriculum for Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training to the state agency responsible for certifying law enforcement training. 
The County-developed curriculum allows CIT classes to be scheduled as needed in the county and in closer proximity for the officers participating. In October 2017, 26 officers from a variety of County law enforcement agencies completed their 40-hour training experience. Another class was scheduled for November and six classes are planned for 2018.
These 8 classes represent training for approximately 20% of the law enforcement personnel in the county, and it’s possible that nearly all of the 1,200 police officers in the Kane County jurisdictions will receive CIT training within the next five years. This victory is part of IL Metro IAF’s 3-part strategy for criminal justice reform in Illinois by overhauling CIT training, creating Crisis Stabilization Units, and expanding affordable permanent supportive housing.

United Power Wins Commitment from Evanston Chief of Police, Department of Health & Human Services to Help Move Forward on Creation of a Crisis Stabilization Center

Leaders of United Power join to announce results of the annual Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) review of four local police departments.
156 leaders from five United Power member organizations in the northern Cook County region gathered to announce the results of the annual Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) review of four local police departments and to align key allies to advance a crisis stabilization site in the northern Cook County region. 
As a result, The Evanston Department of Health & Human Services committed to co-convene a strategy with key players to create a crisis stabilization center, especially engaging the two major hospitals in the region. The Chief of Police in Evanston and Glenview agreed to participate in strategy sessions and announced their support for a crisis center. Turning Point, a local community mental health center, also announced their willingness to help establish a demonstration project to get the crisis center started. These commitments were made to United Power members and two key people from the two area hospitals who have yet to commit to advance the crisis stabilization ahead.
This effort is part of United Power and IL Metro IAF's overall fight to reduce incarceration for people with mental illness by seeking to increase CIT training of local police departments, improve access to crisis stabilization and increase affordable and supportive housing for long-term stability.