Monday, February 24, 2014

NNJCTF Gears Up for the Louisiana 2014 Legislative Session

On February 23rd, ten people braved the downpour to attend the Northshore New Jim Crow Task Force's first meeting of the year at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Lacombe. The group was very happy to welcome two new faces, and after introductions, Bonnie Schmidt opened the meeting with a review of recent activities in which members had participated, specifically the PICO-LA meeting in New Orleans and the Together Louisiana meeting in Baton Rouge. The focus of the meeting, however, was on upcoming legislation in the Louisiana legislature and on making our voices heard in the legislative process. Bonnie reminded the group that legislators have until February 28th to file legislation and that the 2014 session begins on March 10th. Although there are many bills worthy of attention, the NNJCTF is focusing on:
  • Ban the Box for State Contracts Act (eliminating the felony conviction check-box on employment applications for certain state contractor jobs--HB 217, Smith)
  • Reclassifying marijuana possession as a misdemeanor  and reducing mandatory sentencing for marijuana possession: HB 130, Honore; HB 14, Badon (At the time of this writing, the link to the bill of HB14 was incorrectly directed on the Legislature's website; the link here is to the digest or abstract of the bill.)
We hope that passage of these bills will be a step in reducing the high incarceration rates in Louisiana, will allow for fairer and more equal sentencing, and will help ex-offenders returning to the work force.

During the remainder of the meeting, the group discussed ways to communicate our concerns effectively. As part of that discussion, we viewed a Ted Talk by Omar Ahmad, an activist and former mayor of San Carlos, California (link here: and shared the personal experiences that motivated each of us to become involved in the grass roots movement of prison and sentencing reform.

It is very important that we, as citizens, become informed and active in the political process. Please let your legislators know how you stand on these bills--and others--by writing, e-mailing, or calling your legislators.

Useful links:
  1. To find your Louisiana and U. S. Legislators:
  2. To find links that will direct you to the web page of your state senator and contact information:
  3. To find links that will direct you to the web page of your representative and contact information: 
  4.  To access an index of House and Senate numbered bills:
  5. To follow the Louisiana House of Representatives on Twitter:
  6. To follow the State Legislature on Twitter:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Corrupting Influence of Incarceration for Profit

Recently in a short piece in the business section of The New York Times, Eduardo Porter provided some cautionary advice about privatizing state-owned companies and government services. Caution is particularly important, he writes, in an age when loud voices in federal legislatures, state houses, and city halls are suggesting "privatizing everything from Medicare to the management of state parks as a possible solution to their budget woes." While privatization can sometimes "help achieve broad social goals," the profit motive can "directly undermine public policy goals." This is important to remember especially as so many of our states are privatizing prisons, ostensibly to save money. What seems to be happening, however, is that savings are ephemeral, non-existent, or lead to unethical or even criminal outcomes.

Here are stories, research, investigations that can perhaps help us--and convince others--to resist the loud and seductive voices of profit and privatization in the criminal justice system.

1. The story of the Pennsylvania judges who took millions of dollars in kickbacks in a juvenile detention scheme:
2. The Cash for Kids documentary that tells the story of the juveniles whose lives were ruined by  greed: showing 4:00 p.m., Saturday, March 8, at the Zeitgeist Theater in New Orleans.(See, also, our Events page for more information.)

or Amy Goodman's interviews with the young people and/or their parents affected by the profit scheme that two justices had with builders and owners of private prison facilities: "Kids for Cash: Inside One of the Nation's Most Shocking Juvenile Justice Scandals,"  Democracy Now!, 4 February 2014.

3. An exploration of how private prison profits impact people of color: "Higher Profits Explain Why There Are More People of Color in Private Prisons," Joshua Holland, Bill Moyers and Company, 7 February 2014.

4. Information on how the private prison industry lobbies for harsh penalties and longer sentences: "Private Prison Companies Want You Locked Up," Press Release, Justice Policy Institute, 22 June 2011.

 5. Reports on how contracts guaranteeing 80% to 100% occupancy affects profits and behavior of private prisons and the local and state governments that support them: "This is How Private Prison Companies Make Millions Even When Crime Rates Fall," by Andy Kroll, Mother Jones, 19 September 2013.
An editorial on the same, in the conservative Washington Times: "America's For-Profit Prisons: Greed over Justice," by Kevin J. Wells, 4 December 2013.

6. The ACLU's report "Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration," 2 November 2011.

7. A CNBC investigation: Billions Behind Bars: Inside America's Prison Industry

These are just a few sources that demonstrate the serious problems of privatizing the criminal justice system. If the information here doesn't completely convince those who are ideologically committed to privatization, perhaps it can at least promote caution, careful re-consideration, and more just outcomes in how we deal with incarceration.