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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Announces Resignation

Posted by Janice L. Bailey on August 10, 2021 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (8)

By Jack Phillips August 10, 2021 Updated: August 10, 2021

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, announced Tuesday he will resign effective in 14 days after allegations of sexual harassment that were detailed in a state attorney general’s report last week.


Cuomo’s resignation came as the New York Assembly started deliberations Monday on an impeachment inquiry into his conduct and as top Democrat officials, including President Joe Biden, called on him to resign.


“The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to government,” Cuomo said in a televised speech.


But Cuomo said that he did not intentionally show disrespect toward any female staffers or women, asserting that the claims against him were “politically motivated.” An impeachment, however, would thrust New York into a state of turmoil for months, the three-term governor said, explaining that’s why he’s resigning.


Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a 62-year-old Democrat and former member of Congress, will become the state’s 57th governor and the first woman to head New York state.


“It is a matter of life and death. Government operations and wasting energy on distraction is the last thing government should be,” Cuomo also remarked. “I cannot be the cause. New York tough means New York loving. And I love New York and I love you. Everything I have ever done has been motivated by that love and I would never want to be unhelpful in any way.”


And speaking to his three daughters, Cuomo told them, “I want them to know from the bottom of my heart that I never did and I never would intentionally disrespect a woman, treat any woman differently than I would want them treated and that is the God’s honest truth.”

It came about a week after New York Attorney General Letitia James, also a Democrat, wrote in a lengthy report that he engaged in sexual harassment and his chamber mishandled allegations against him. She did not charge the governor with a crime, although several sheriff’s offices and prosecutors have announced they’re investigating.


“Specifically, we find that the Governor sexually harassed a number of current and former New York State employees by, among other things, engaging in unwelcome and nonconsensual touching, as well as making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women,” her report said, adding that Cuomo’s office was filled with “fear and intimidation.”


James’s office received criticism for how she handled the case, with even some Republicans saying she failed to issue criminal referrals against the governor.


“Letitia James dropped the ball by not making immediate criminal referrals when her investigation described numerous criminal acts against women,” said New York attorney general candidate Michael Henry, a Republican, in a statement.


Cuomo, separately, is also accused of mishandling the state’s response to the pandemic, namely that his administration concealed thousands of COVID-19 deaths among nursing home patients.


That comes in stark contrast to how he was praised during the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, with some pundits lauding his daily press conferences as being a counter to former President Donald Trump’s daily pandemic updates. Cuomo’s briefings won him an international Emmy Award, and he went on to write a book on leadership during the crisis.

Girls Embracing Mothers

Posted by Janice L. Bailey on August 10, 2021 at 3:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Camp offers a chance for formerly incarcerated moms to rebuild relationships with their daughters!

By Julianna Morano


9:00 AM on Jun 22, 2021

“No running!” says Diana Lopez, a volunteer at a summer camp organized by the nonprofit Girls Embracing Mothers.

Diana Lopez and her daughter Ariel Lopez, 14, pose for a photo during a Girls Embracing Mothers camp the non-profit held at the STEM Center of Excellence in Dallas, Saturday, June 12, 2021. Girls Embracing Mothers provides services for girls with currently or formerly incarcerated mothers.(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)

You can’t blame the young campers as they make a break for their cabins: The summer heat is finally kicking in, and swimming is the next activity on deck. They’ve already enjoyed archery and spoken-word poetry at the STEM Center of Excellence at Camp Whispering Cedars in southern Dallas.


All the girls wear matching T-shirts. Each one has GEM’s diamond-shaped logo emblazoned on the front and the words “Embrace/Encourage/Empower” in hot pink on the back. These shirts hint at what else they have in common:


They all, at some point, have been separated from their mothers by the walls of a prison.


Girls who grow up with an incarcerated mother can become isolated in more ways than one. Their mothers are literally behind bars, often many miles away and with limited opportunities to visit. On top of that, the stigma of incarceration can make them feel alone in their experience and hesitant to talk about it.


That’s where GEM comes in, offering programs to help girls build stronger relationships, not only with their mothers but also with one another.


The organization partners with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to offer girls enrolled in their Pearl Program longer, more consistent visits with their mothers in prison. GEM also provides transportation to these visits in Gatesville, where four of Texas’ women’s prisons are located, and activities like facilitated discussions and art therapy for the mothers and daughters.


Summer camp is an example of GEM’s Diamond Program, which provides educational activities for the daughters outside of prison. This program is meant to empower the girls by teaching social and practical skills with a focus on exploring science and performing arts.

Brittany K. Barnett, a Dallas lawyer, founded GEM following the incarceration of her own mother when she and her sister were in their early 20s. Barnett said this motivated her in 2013 to form a community that would support young girls with incarcerated mothers and help “break the cycle” of incarceration, both for the mothers and daughters.


This cycle is trapping more and more women, both in Texas and nationally. A 2016 study by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, an organization that researches issues in the criminal justice system and alternatives to incarceration, found that the population of women incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice increased by 908% between 1980 and 2016. An estimated 81% of the population of incarcerated women surveyed for the study in 2014 were mothers.


This rate parallels a growth in incarcerated women around the country. The Sentencing Project, a research organization that tracks incarceration trends nationwide, identified a 700% increase in the number of incarcerated women between 1980 and 2019, and ascribes many of these convictions to drug charges and other nonviolent crimes.


“When girls succeed, so does society,” Barnett said. “I really want to empower women and girls impacted by the justice system to know that they matter. They are valued.”

From program participant to director

Angelica Zaragoza, left, and her daughter Jalyssa Zaragoza, 17, posed for a photo during a Girls Embracing Mothers camp the nonprofit held at the STEM Center of Excellence in Dallas. Girls Embracing Mothers provides services for girls with currently or formerly incarcerated mothers.(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)

Angelica Zaragoza plans events like this year’s summer camp, which took place earlier this month. Before becoming program director in 2020, Zaragoza was a GEM mom herself. She said the program inspired her to be better, for herself and her daughter Jalyssa.


During one GEM-sponsored visit with her daughter in 2014, Zaragoza said she had a breakthrough rebuilding her relationship with Jalyssa. It was in an art therapy workshop; the moms and daughters were making a craft out of a sock.


Before that, Zaragoza said their visits consisted of “complete silence.” Her daughter was hurt, which Zaragoza said was understandable.


But that day, “She just turned to me and [said], ‘Mama, I can’t do this, can you help me?’” Zaragoza said. “When she told me that, I just knew. … If I just kept fighting and kept doing just the next right thing for the next hour, then I knew that I would get through this.”


Jalyssa, now 17, will graduate from high school next year. Zaragoza credits GEM for helping transform their relationship to become “99% better than what it ever has been.”


“Today, she counts on me. She depends on me. She turns to me for advice,” Zaragoza said. “We have a bond that’s beginning to be unbreakable, you know, even though it’s not perfect.”


Stories like Zaragoza’s are not uncommon among GEM moms, whom Barnett calls the program’s “most dedicated volunteers.”


But GEM draws external volunteers, too. One such volunteer is Sharanda Jones, whom Barnett helped free from a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole for a first-time drug-related offense in 2015.


Jones said she wishes she and her daughter had a program like GEM when she was first incarcerated, especially to alleviate the alienation her daughter felt.


“At the beginning, when my daughter was 8, [if she’d] had GEM girls around her, we both would have understood our situation better,” Jones said. “My daughter could understand [there were] more girls like her.”


The girls feel these impacts, too. Ariel, Lopez’s daughter, was the first girl to participate in GEM when her mother was still incarcerated. She said the program has played a “big role” in her and her mother’s lives. Her favorite part has been “the friends that I make here,” she said.

Scratching the surface

Over eight years, GEM has grown to enroll a maximum of 25 girls in its Pearl Program and over 60 in the Diamond Program. The Pearl Program now has a waitlist and will continue to expand.


That’s not without its challenges, however. Evelyn Fulbright, Barnett’s mother and a board member of GEM, said she recalled the days when the organization consisted of just her, Barnett and a van they rented to transport the girls. Funding in particular remains an obstacle. This likely stems from the organization’s association with incarcerated people, she said.


“The stigma is so … thick,” Fulbright said.


People who have recently been released from prison face a whole range of difficulties — from searching for housing to getting hired. Even GEM, which offers a reentry stipend for mothers, struggles to meet all of these needs.


“You need a team when you get out,” Jones said of her experience with reentry. Without a support system, “you go back to your old ways, or you just waste away. That’s when you have no hope. But to keep that hope is to know somebody out there has your back.”


For some of these moms, GEM was that support system — and even though the group couldn’t provide everything, it was a start.


You can see it at camp. The moms and adult volunteers huddle around the tables during workshops as closely as the girls do, cracking jokes and stifling laughter in quiet moments.


And for the moms, there’s no feeling quite like volunteering at camp and accompanying their daughters for the first time, Fulbright has observed through the years.


She calls it “happy ending stuff, right there.”

Push continues in Texas to a Raise the Age for Juvenile Offenders

Posted by Janice L. Bailey on August 10, 2021 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Texas News Service July 9, 2021

AUSTIN – Texas is one of only three states to automatically treat 17-year-olds as adults when they are arrested, and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition said that can often lead to a lifetime of involvement with the justice system.

Since 2007, advocates to “Raise the Age” have encouraged state policymakers to change laws, so teens can go through the juvenile justice system instead.


Alycia Castillo, policy analyst for the Coalition, said in Texas, most 17-year-olds don’t get rehabilitation services when they go into the adult system, because treatment can only be accessed by those 18 and older.


“So, we just have this huge gap,” Castillo explained. “If you’re a 17-year-old, and you are caught committing a crime, it’s just a black hole of a lack of resources. But also, they’re stuck with this adult record that follows them wherever they go.”


A new report from The Sentencing Project looked at 11 states that have raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18. It found the change contributed to diverting more than 100,000 young adults into the juvenile system.


Many Texas lawmakers have argued raising the age would require building more detention facilities.


Marcy Mistrett, senior fellow at The Sentencing Project and the report’s author, said the theory has largely been proven false.


“States that raised the age overall did not need to build new facilities,” Mistrett reported. “And even those that initially built extra were able to close them down after a couple years.”


Georgia and Wisconsin are the only other states to automatically prosecute 17-year-olds as adults.


Author: Roz Brown – Texas News Service

The vulnerability of females in the juvenile system, Central Texas and beyond

Posted by Janice L. Bailey on August 10, 2021 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

By: Khadeeja UmanaPosted at 10:19 PM, Aug 06, 2021 and last updated 10:47 PM, Aug 06, 2021

As the number of juvenile females rises, experts are calling for a closer look at juvenile facilities and their poor resource management in addressing the lack of services this population has.


The number of girls in U.S. detention centers has risen by 49 percent, according to a report by the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice; but systems are ill-equipped to address their needs.


One survey conducted at a Central Texas facility in 2012 revealed the trauma and serious mental health issues that juvenile women typically face, and provided recommendations for statewide reform.


The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition survey looked at the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood and found that 46 percent of surveyed girls reported that the staff, programs, and treatment were unable to help them cope with past trauma. In fact, according to the survey, four percent said their time in the facility did more harm than good.


“Counselors, staff, the legal system – they can’t understand where we’re coming from and what we need," said one Ron Jackson youth in the survey. "They’re always trying to judge us for our trauma.”


The survey recommended that the state, and Texas counties, increase funding and conduct further surveys to support rehabilitation and avoid re-traumatizing youth. One key finding of the survey was that therapeutic programs are the most effective in recovery for the girls.


“I’m close to going home, and I’m almost through the drug program," said one Ron Jackson youth. "Now I’ve realized I need to do this to change my life – I don’t want to live a drug life all my life.”


According to one study, 30 percent of females with a substance use disorder also had a serious mental disorder; and incarcerated juvenile females are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and PTSD.


"While gender disparities also exist within normative samples, the rates of disorder and co-morbidity appear to increase exponentially for girls within juvenile justice settings; leading some to suggest that a gender paradox exists," said the study.


In fact, in addition to high rates of drug and alcohol use, women in the juvenile justice system are 3.5 times more likely to deal with child-birth and 30 percent have been pregnant at least once or more.


One Baylor researcher, Danielle Parrish, recently received $3.1 Million from the National Institutes of Health to test an Intervention Program that would tackle these issues. With all of the data compiled over time regarding the vulnerability and lack of resources for females in the juvenile system, Parrish and other experts believe this is a much-needed effort for this population.


"Historically, juvenile courts primarily dealt with boys under delinquency jurisdiction and girls under status offense jurisdiction," said a study by the U.S. Department of Justice. "This distinction has often led to different processing of female status offenders in courts and in mental health and juvenile justice institutions."

First Step Act is a Good Start

Posted by Janice L. Bailey on January 13, 2019 at 8:50 PM Comments comments (0)

By George Kevin Jordan

Published: January 2, 2019 - originally appeared on Afro-American Newspapers.

In 2019 organizations that supported the recently passed First Step Act, which helps reform the prison system, are calling for proper implementation and transparency, officials said.


“I think the take away from folks supporting and opposing this bill is that it’s well titled – in that it’s the first step,” said Ryan King, director of Research and Policy at the Justice Policy Institute. “I think it’s been a contentious piece of legislation even within the community of people working in criminal justice reform.”


On Dec. 18 after a rare bipartisan push from senators across the aisle the First Step Act was passed.


“Tonight the Senate took an important first step to reform our broken criminal justice system. The First Step Act is backed by a diverse group of supporters – from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Fraternal Order of Police,” said U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md), in a statement. “ It includes crucial reforms to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes, end juvenile solitary confinement, and provide more people with a second chance. While we’ve got much more to do, I was proud to support this bipartisan bill, and I will continue working to implement more reforms in the days ahead.”


The bill – co sponsored by Van Hollen, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D- RI) and Sen. John Cornyn (R – TX), would do several things including:


Hike earned credit up to 54 days per year per inmate rather than the current standard of 47 days that the Bureau of Prisons has in place.

Provide over $250 million in educational classes and training to assist with transition for returning citizens.

Ban the shackling of female inmates when they are pregnant and up to three months after their pregnancy

Institute home confinement for low risk prisoners

Provide proper ID to individuals released from prison.

While there has been debate about how substantive the bill is to the entire prison population and system, King pointed out the real time benefits can be had from the legislation.


“These are positive reforms where thousands of people will be impacted by them,” King said. “There are a number of people who have the opportunity to be released immediately. There is no question that that’s a positive.”


According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons there are about 180,000 federal inmates in the system now. This number is compared to more than 2.3 million people in the entire prison system in the U.S., according to numbers by the Prison Policy Initiative.


King noted that legislation tends to help push more legislation in the long run.


“You will see these smaller reforms have led to more ambitious reform,” King said. “People who were reluctant later become supporters.”


Some critics are wary of the Risk Assessment part of the bill, which some would say may leave an opportunity for racial and other biases to creep into who is deemed a risk to the public.


“Risk is linked to race and earned time would disadvantage people of color,” King said. “How is the risk decision being made? Those are the points of debate.”


“The reality is this is where people and organizations need to be pushing for transparency making sure they are holding hearings with folks from the Sentencing Commission and the Bureau of Prisons. For me, those are the two agencies we need to be pushing for transparency from.”


Kara Gotsch, director of Strategic Initiatives at the Sentencing Project worked with legislators on the bill. Her organization is not only focused on reduced sentencing but making sure the educational components are actually working and make sense.


“Sentencing reform was a critical piece,” Gotsch said, “The success of the bill will depend on implementation.”


Implementation is key not only because of all the moving parts but because there is no permanent Attorney General in place as of yet of oversee all the processes associated with the bill.


Gotsch added that the system’s current educational program for those incarcerated is lacking.


“It’s a basic common sense issue,” Gotsch said. “Programming isn’t going to materialize unless we reduce the prison populations.”


Officials at the Attorney General’s Office could not be reached for comment.

Paroling Elderly Inmates is Humane Solution to Costly Mass Incarceration

Posted by Janice L. Bailey on January 13, 2019 at 8:40 PM Comments comments (0)

By Marc Schindler Original article published on The Hill

As the United States enters its fourth decade of the mass incarceration crisis, state and federal policymakers are taking steps to push back against a wasteful system that costs billions of taxpayer dollars and does little to deliver on promises of public safety. It has put enormous strain on state budgets, while disproportionately impacting people of color and destroying lives, families and communities. The number of people serving life sentences is four times what it was in 1984 — currently imposed on one of every seven people in a U.S. prison.

This growth in long prison sentences has done little to improve public safety, with states that have reduced incarceration levels experiencing larger drops in crime than states that continue to incarcerate people at very high rates. But it has contributed to a rapidly expanding population of incarcerated elderly people, so that our prisons now essentially function as expensive yet inhumane nursing homes. In 1993, there were 45,000 incarcerated individuals over 50 years old; with the continuous growth, it is estimated that number will reach 400,000 by 2030.

For policymakers to significantly reduce the growing and costly prison population, strategies must include reform to long sentences for violent crimes. Focusing reforms on reducing incarceration of geriatric people is an effective way to safely reduce the prison population. Research indicates they are the least likely to pose a risk to public safety; criminal behavior typically peaks at 17 years old and then drops as an individual develops into adulthood. While many states, such as California, Texas and New York, have expanded geriatric parole eligibility, it is infrequently used.

A naturally-occurring experiment, just a few miles from the nation’s capital, provides a roadmap for this strategy to safely reduce incarceration, create a more humane justice system and save significant taxpayer dollars. A landmark court ruling — Unger v. Maryland — and the opportunities it created, offer powerful lessons for policymakers and stakeholders in tackling mass incarceration. The 2012 case, centered on remedying improper jury instructions, applied to a cohort of 235 people sentenced prior to 1981. In the six years since the decision, 188 people have been released; at release, the average age of the Ungers was 64, and the average term served was 40 years.

As with everything in America’s justice system, the issue of racial disparity is deeply intertwined and ever-present. The Unger group were deeply impacted by racial discrimination: almost 90 percent of the Unger group are black, despite only 18 percent of Maryland’s population being black at the time of their convictions. Almost all were convicted by all white judges, juries and prosecutors.

In the six years since the decision, we have learned a number of important lessons, the most significant of which is that the Unger experience proves we can safely release people who have committed a serious, violent offense. And since they’ve been home, the Ungers have been contributing to their communities; as volunteers and mentors they help keep us all safer by encouraging youths to avoid the mistakes they made when they were younger.


One of the things that make the Ungers unique is that, thanks to an investment by the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, they received specialized reentry programming before and after release. With that individualized support, the Ungers have had a less than 3 percent recidivism rate, a fraction of the Maryland rate of 40 percent. This support is a significant advance over what most people receive and should be a model for governments across the country to replicate.


The Ungers were primarily convicted of homicide and rape, yet they have safely returned to the community. Too often we fail to take into consideration a research-based assessment of the risk of reoffending when making release decisions. It is time to reconsider parole policies and assessment tools that disregard rehabilitation and continue to keep people locked up based solely on the severity of their underlying offense.


Imposing extremely long sentences, alongside low rates of parole, serves political motivations, not increased public safety. By pivoting away from a parole approach focused solely on the crime committed, to one that assesses the current risk of re-offending and provides tailored re-entry services, states can safely reduce their prison population, save taxpayer money and create a fairer and more effective justice system in the process. There are hundreds of thousands of geriatric-aged individuals in prisons across the country, many with the same profile as the Ungers. Maryland alone could save over $100 million in the first year by reducing its low-risk geriatric population.


Extreme sentencing has been justified in the name of public safety, but the evidence demonstrates it is a failed policy. Even crime victims have said long sentences don’t serve their needs, and that money could be better spent on crime prevention and victims services. Keeping someone locked up when they are elderly and infirm, in a wheelchair or on oxygen, until they die alone and far away from loved ones, doesn’t create a safe and healthy society.The Unger experience demonstrates that we can safely release older individuals. It is long past time we rethink our approach to preventing, and responding to, violent crime.

Gun Deaths Dropped in 2018, Excluding Suicides

Posted by Janice L. Bailey on January 13, 2019 at 8:25 PM Comments comments (0)

For the first time in Gun Violence Archive’s 5-year history, it recorded a decline in fatal shootings.


At least 14,611 Americans were killed by guns last year, excluding most suicides, according to data collected by Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks shootings through media and law enforcement reports. That’s a nearly 7 percent drop compared to last year, and the first decline recorded by GVA in its five-year history.

GVA records and publishes data on gun incidents in real time, and this figure represents one of the earliest estimates of gun violence in 2018. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks firearms mortality, typically takes almost a year to release data on gun deaths. Since 2014, when GVA launched, its tallies of firearm deaths have been within 5 percent of the CDC’s.

The GVA data is not without caveats, however: Because of the nonprofit’s reliance on police and media reports, its final estimate may change as more detail becomes available. The data also excludes most suicides, which account for the majority of annual gun deaths — and which are rising. Last month, the CDC reported that 39,773 people in the United States died from gunshot wounds in 2017, the most single-year gun deaths in half a century. The increase was driven by suicides.

GVA recorded 28,159 firearm injuries in 2018, a 10 percent decrease over 2017. Unlike its gun death counts, GVA’s tallies of nonfatal shootings are significantly lower than estimates produced by the CDC. GVA director Mark Bryant said the discrepancy can be chalked up to issues with the CDC’s methodology.

Child shootings were down in 2018. But even with a 12 percent drop, at least 3,493 kids under 18 were shot last year. Mass shootings, which GVA defines as incidents in which at least four people are shot, registered a very slight drop between 2017 and 2018: GVA tallied 340, six fewer than in 2017. The number of people killed in mass shootings also fell, from 437 to 373, while the number of people injured in such incidents dropped sharply to 1,347 — a 25 percent decline. Mass shooting deaths represent a mere 1 percent of annual gun deaths.

Unintentional shootings dropped 21 percent year-over-year, to 1,597; such incidents also dropped 9 percent between 2016 and 2017. Murder-suicides, however, were up slightly, from 602 in 2017 to 613 last year, a 2 percent increase.

It's not exactly known what has caused the apparent drop in gun violence. We have some indication of why gun violence is falling in cities like Chicago, where police have teamed up with crime analysts to employ data-driven policing in several violent hotspots. New Orleans’s homicide rate was down for the third year in a row in 2018; police credit the drop to an increase in the use of surveillance cameras and the launch of a tactical team tasked with arresting repeat violent offenders, while crime analysts say a population decrease is partly responsible. At the same time, shooting deaths have risen in places including Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.