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Posted by on Apr 29, 2017 in Activism | 0 comments

Connecticut law enforcement officials urge employers to consider ex-offenders

Connecticut law enforcement officials urge employers to consider ex-offenders

NEW HAVEN >> It’s been just over two months since Patrick Mortley, 53, left prison for what he says will be the last time.In a matter of weeks since his release on Feb. 20, Mortley got a job as the safety officer on the Green, and he couldn’t be prouder.“It’s uplifting when I can walk someone to their car at night,” he said, adding that the same people he helps now may have been scared of him on the Green in the past. “When (someone) sees my uniform now, they feel safe,” he said. “Do you know what that feels like?”

Mortley spoke on the final panel at a second chance event held for employers at Gateway Community College Thursday morning as someone who could give witness to the power of giving an ex-offender a second chance.

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Hire One: Give Someone with a Criminal Record a Second Chance was hosted by the U.S. attorney’s office and was an opportunity for employers in the private sector to hear about the work being done by law enforcement to help former offenders re-enter society, as well as testimony from people who have hired people who have previously been incarcerated.

“This is not just about doing the right thing, it’s about creating safer communities,” Deirdre Daly, U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, said in her opening remarks. “We support reentry. We believe in reentry.”

Daly said approximately 600,000 people leave state and federal prisons every year across the country and within a year of release roughly 60 percent are arrested again.

“This is not sustainable from any perspective you want to look at it,” she said.

From a law enforcement perspective, Daly said the U.S. attorney’s office has undergone a transition in the last few years to be more focused on reentry and not just processing cases of convicted felons and moving on.

The U.S. attorney’s office has a Reentry & Community Outreach Coordinator, retired New Haven police Capt. Holly Wasilewski, to assist ex-offenders.

Assistant U.S. attorneys in her office are also a part of the state’s first Reentry Court, run by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Meyer. The program is meant for people leaving prison with a history of violent crime and provides them with resources and support in looking for jobs, managing family relationships, and readjusting to the community.

Meyer said that during Reentry Court meetings, held every other Wednesday in open court at 4:30 p.m., he does not wear a robe or take the bench. He said it’s important for him not to do that so they know that he’s not talking to them as a judge, who is tasked with determining the sentence of a criminal, but rather as a person who is concerned about their future.

“Our goal is to show them honor, dignity, and respect,” Meyer said.

At the local level, New Haven Acting Police Chief Anthony Campbell said the department is aware of when former offenders are reentering the community from prison. He said it’s a goal of the department to reach out to those individuals and support them on their journeys.

Campbell said he often tells his officers that if former offenders are arrested again, the department has failed them.

“We can be a source of hope for them,” he said. “When we talk about reentry, we’re not just talking about statistics. We’re talking about people’s lives.”

On the employer side, the event’s keynote speaker, Kevin Myatt, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Yale New Haven Health, said it’s up to employers to be willing to give people a second chance.

“The people who have been incarcerated … those individuals are looking for an opportunity,” Myatt said. “What if we said to them, ‘We believe in you.’”

Yale New Haven Health has the Having an Opportunity to Prepare for Employment (H.O.P.E.) Program that Myatt said has helped more than 400 people get trained in various jobs. About 10 percent of those participants have been former offenders, he said.

Dan Jusino, executive director of EMERGE Connecticut, also spoke at the event and said that he hires former offenders because he gets a high return on his investment. He said people coming out of prison have something to prove, families to work for and support, and are highly motivated to get their lives back on track, and all of those qualities make for good employees.

EMERGE staff are all former offenders, Jusino said, and they are willing to do work that others will not — including planting trees in the pouring rain this week or cutting concrete to help make bioswales for the city in frigid temperatures this winter.

“The more I invest in these folks, the better return I get,” Jusino said. “There’s a genuine desire and motivation to work.”

Prior to going on stage for a panel discussion about getting out of prison and trying to reenter society, Mortley said he has been in and out of prison since 1988 because of criminal activity mostly fueled by substance abuse. He said his biggest fear, even now after he has already gotten a job, is that someone will throw out a job application because he is a former offender.

“I still fear that question,” Mortley said prior to taking the stage. “It’s a stigmatization that can run you back to jail.”

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Posted by on Apr 28, 2017 in Activism | 0 comments

WORK OVER PRISON: ILLINOIS SHOULD EXPAND RECORD SEALING

WORK OVER PRISON: ILLINOIS SHOULD EXPAND RECORD SEALING

Research shows that recidivism rates drop for ex-offenders who are able to find steady employment.More than 90 percent of employers in the U.S. conduct criminal background checks for some applicants, and more than 70 percent of employers conduct criminal background checks for all job applicants, according to a 2012 study from the National Consumer Law Center.

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Posted by on Apr 8, 2017 in Activism | 0 comments

When a Name Has Meaning

When a Name Has Meaning

GUESS WHAT? I feel compelled to explain why I named the computer coding class Past & Future Corp. Awhile back I wrote an article titled, “Every Saint has a Past & Every Sinner has a Future” to pour out my heart on issues that are relevant to the area I reside–hoping to let those who can hear such a cry to respond. In other words, I am referring to the church. Indeed, there were responses that showed it hit home and there were responses that showed the opposite. But what compelled me to title the article  “Every Saint has a Past & Every Sinner has a Future” is because that is what I heard the judge say right before I had got sentenced when I was a sinner dead in my trepasses and sin.

 

In 2010, I had got sentenced to ten years in prison. The judge showed mercy to the defendant who got sentenced right before me by departing from the sentence that the law said was her just due. The state attorney was upset and argued vehemently that he could not do that. Then I heard the judge say, “Every Saint has a Past & Every Sinner has a Future” and pronounced a reduced no jail time sentence. Well, I took that as he was in a good mood. My name was called and the judge sentenced me to the statutory maximum. Ironically, mercy and justice appeared that day (Reason for the Image above). Back in the jail, I was pondering in my mind as usual and came to the decision that I would just intentionally be evil. I did not care about who it would harm or any consequences. When I share things about me I am cautious because I know where I was at, and it was truly in a dark place entangled in a web of sin, sorcery, hate, rebellion, hating Jesus, etc. Throughout my life I explored the idea of other religions and as I a kid I wanted to learn black magic. Now here I am sitting in a jail cell and up to that point in my life at 33 years old, it has been wasted. However, my future graciously appeared a few weeks later. I wrote about that too, and so I can share this link where you can read about how God opened my heart Changed Man. I will make a note that once I knew I was forgiving I was trying to get everyone in my jail pod to get the message (Gospel). But I was an infant in the Lord, and I had no idea that the reason I could not see Jesus is was because I was spiritually dead.

 

For some reason, due to all type of events, circumstances, and attempts I ended up having to try and create a job for myself. Certainly, I worked various jobs since I have been home, but I realized another issue. I was in the same position just as if I did not have a job where the jobs was not paying the bills. After I had got saved back in 2010, I trained to become a law clerk, started learning skills and taking classes. Once I came home in 2013, I continued to push to learn. In fact while I was in prison as a law clerk, I was told that I was a pretty good law clerk by my co-workers. Looking back, at the cases that I argued (including my own which I won a reversal of the ten year sentence, by the grace of God) overall I had success in litigation even getting an inmate a conditional grant of a writ of habeas corpus with the federal circuit court which corrected his sentence. It was not me, but it is God who created me with a mind. So I began to apply for jobs I knew I was competent in and that would pay better. That was a dead end. As I began to research, I was seeing a trend across the world in technology and people from all walks of life taking advantage of whatever program they went through by learning coding skills that made them in demand or at least giving them the skills to earn additional income. Long story short, (that is a inside joke for the ones that know me 🙂 ) after months of researching and networking the program was developed and there is no better name to call it than Past & Future Corp. It is not just about me but for whoever else catches the message about his or her future. It is my earnest prayer that the Lord will bless this endeavor and help me build the right team because I realized helping others with the gifts God gave me is not for me to keep to myself. I have to give acknowledgment to my wife, family, and kids who is remaining strong while I fervently spend hours being in the matrix working.  

God bless.

Anthony W. Brown

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Posted by on Apr 1, 2017 in Activism | 0 comments

Recidivism drops, but so has ex-offenders’ employment rates

Recidivism drops, but so has ex-offenders’ employment rates

BOSTON — Recidivism dropped slightly after the state banned employers from inquiring about job applicants’ criminal records but the employment rates of ex-offenders has also dropped since the legal reform was adopted, according to Federal Reserve Bank of Boston researchers.

A new research report, presented Tuesday during a breakfast at the John Adams Courthouse, “has arrows that go in both directions” reflecting positive and negative trends, Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Will Brownsberger said.

“The question of how we can help people transition back and start over their lives is just one of the central questions of our time,” Brownsberger said. He said there is “quite a distance still to go” in helping released prisoners re-integrate into society.

Darrin Howell of the health care workers union 1199 SEIU, who was incarcerated for a year at age 21 on a firearm possession charge, said making it easier for people coming out of prison to obtain jobs — through efforts including criminal record access reform and job training programs during their sentences — can help them avoid returning to crime.

“Unfortunately, it was easier to find guns and drugs in the community than it was to find a 9-to-5, and that’s just a harsh reality for folks with a criminal record, that the streets is ready to employ,” he said.

Massachusetts passed laws in 2010 and 2012 to limit employer access to criminal history information, policies aimed at reducing recidivism rates and making it easier for ex-offenders to get jobs.

The 2010 law — which prohibited employers from asking about criminal history on an initial job application — resulted in an 8 percent decline in three-year reconviction rates and an 11 percent decrease in a former prisoner’s probability of recidivism, according to the report.

Lowering recidivism rates has been a target of state government leaders, who last year reached out to the Council of State Governments for help conducting a review of the Massachusetts criminal justice system and identifying policy fixes. The CSG analysis found recidivism drives most new conviction activity, with 79 percent of state prison sentences and 84 percent of sentences to county houses of correction given to people with previous convictions.

Two-thirds of people released from houses of correction in 2011 and more than half of people released from Department of Correction custody were arraigned again within three years of their release, the CSG report found.

The Boston Fed report said the state’s “high recidivism rates may be partly explained by the difficulties ex-offenders, particularly those who served time behind bars for more serious crimes, may face when seeking legal employment.”

The average employment rate of people without criminal records was 5.5 percent higher than for those with criminal records before the 2010 law, according to the report. That gap grew to 8.1 percent after the law took effect.

Researcher Bo Zhao offered two possibilities for why employment rates fell for ex-offenders after the reform. People with criminal records may have gotten more optimistic about their prospects, he said, leading them to search out more selective jobs or wait for positions with higher wages or better conditions. Alternatively, employers might have changed their hiring practices to otherwise screen out applicants with criminal backgrounds, potentially by requiring job applicants to meet higher levels of education or work experience.

 

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Posted by on Mar 18, 2017 in Activism | 0 comments

From Felon to PhD

From Felon to PhD

Stanley Andrisse is a 33-year-old provost post-doctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins, possessing both his MBA and PhD and participating in research about Diabetes, a disease that plagues millions, Andrisse is what most Americans would call extremely successful, and he is also an ex-felon.

Andrisse was born in Ferguson, Missouri and first took an interest in the medical field while in prison.

Stanley Andrisse. (Courtesy photo)
Stanley Andrisse. (Courtesy photo)

“While I was away my father’s health started to plummet and his condition worsened pretty quickly…while I was still in prison I’d get information through phone calls and letters and pictures of how they were amputating his legs piece by piece, up to his torso, due to complications from diabetes. That was the driving motivation behind me wanting to learn more about diabetes, the effect that it had on my dad,” said Andrisse. “While I was away I dove pretty deep into wanting to learn more and I was fortunate enough to have a professor who I met before I went away, who sent me research on the topic…while I was away I was already gaining a passion and an understanding.”

After serving his time due to drug related charges Andrisse went on to receive his PhD and MBA, however, the road was not easy.

“I’ve been denied from a number of jobs whether it was just coaching or a department store job,” said Andrisse. “I had been rejected from several PhD programs possibly due to the question…I finished my PhD in four years (a program that usually takes 6 years to complete) and I finished at the top of my class and I was getting my MBA in the process, I’m pretty sure I was qualified to get in those other programs but they chose not to let me in, I could only get into a program where I had a professor vouching for me.”

The question Andrisse is referring to is the check-off box for felony convictions. Majority of the states within the US require this question to be answered on both job and college applications. This limits the employment and educational opportunities available for ex-offenders.

Although Andrisse has faced discrimination and bias due to his conviction, it doesn’t stop him from telling his story.

“I enjoy being able to help others and it’s also therapeutic… On a day to day basis I hear so many biases and what people think of criminals and for the most part nobody knows my background so I have to just suck it up. Things come up and you have to suck it up as a convicted felon because no one really knows for the most part at your job because it may affect your being there so you kind of just don’t talk about it,” said Andrisse. “There’s a psychological part that affects you aside from the obvious things, I can’t vote, I can’t own a firearm, I have all these barriers against employment and education, there are psychological and structural barriers to deal with.”

Andrisse is currently working with the Ban the Box organization which is an international campaign geared towards helping ex-offenders with job placement and persuading corporations and employers to remove the check box inquiring about whether applicants have a criminal record. One of the reasons Andrisse chose to pursue a fellowship at Johns Hopkins was their leniency towards ex-convicts.

“I did a biomedical PhD and I strategically chose to do that coming out of prison because it not only gave me my education coming out of prison but they also paid me to do research. I got out of prison and was able to get a job and my education through having my PhD. When it was coming to an end I was a little nervous as to what I was going to do. I had tried to get some other employment and I had been denied so then when I was trying to get a job pertaining to my PhD I was a little worried about whether I was going to be able to do that.” I searched for jobs and universities that are lenient towards ex-offenders and Hopkins is actually the leading employer of returning citizens in the state of Maryland.”

The term “returning citizen” is used often in political circuits to describe ex-offenders but Andrisse believes it is rather ill-fitting.

“I don’t like using (returning citizen). I chuckle but I stop you know because I don’t think we are returning citizens because we don’t have certain rights, we’re looked at as convicts, we’re looked at as criminals and we’ll continue to be looked at in that way until that stigma is broken…I think returning citizens are not what we currently are I think it would be nice to eventually be at that stage but I think right now society still sees us as ex-convicts”

Andrisse is currently involved with several organizations seeking to advocate for prison reform and the less discrimination against ex-offenders, although the road has not been easy he remains hopeful.

“I have hope that sharing my story will have people talking about it and bring more attention to it…I think it’s good for people to see that these people, us, me, we’re just regular people. I’m just a person that has dreams and aspirations and I’m just trying to meet those.”

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Posted by on Mar 18, 2017 in Activism | 0 comments

Out of prison, then back in? Unique plan aims to break cycle

Out of prison, then back in? Unique plan aims to break cycle

Over the past two years, 91 percent of the young men enrolled in the program have not been re-arrested and 85 percent have held a job at least six months

BOSTON — Tykeam Jackson’s mellow voice and warm smile give little hint of how the 21-year-old spent his youth: in and out of juvenile detention and jails, leading a life in Boston’s mean streets centered on gangs and guns.

“I just kept getting caught,” he said. “I was hanging around the wrong crowd.”

Yet even as a pending criminal case looms over him, he’s gaining hope that he can break the cycle that has entangled him — with the help of a unique organization called Roca.

“Since I’ve been with Roca, my whole life has done a 360,” he said.

Roca is a nonprofit seeking to steer hundreds of Massachusetts’ highest-risk young men away from a return behind bars. Even the most troublesome participants are exhorted to persist with its multi-year education and job programs; Roca is loath to give up on any of them.

If its unorthodox approach works — and private investors are betting millions it will — it might show a path forward for other states and cities yearning to lower stubbornly high rates of re-incarceration.

With more than 2.1 million people held in America’s prisons and jails and the annual bill around $80 billion, according to a Brookings Institution study, there has been bipartisan action on many criminal justice reforms — but no breakthrough on recidivism. Within five years, 77 percent of ex-prisoners in a 2014 federal study were arrested again; more than half returned to prison.

Recidivism rates were highest for inmates 24 or younger at release — the age range of Roca’s target group. Nearly all have arrest records; the vast majority are school dropouts involved in street gangs. They are, in Roca’s words, young men “not ready, willing or able to participate in any other program.”

“My guys are not going to be Boy Scouts,” said Jason Owens, a Roca assistant director. “It’s Last Chance University for them. It’s either Roca, or jail, or death.”

Roca’s program, with its pledge that investors will be repaid for its success, is unusual in many ways, yet it reflects changing attitudes nationwide. Politicians and corrections officials are increasingly vocal about stopping the revolving door back to prison. Efforts are intensifying to better prepare inmates for release with job-training and education programs.

Yet obstacles abound, from the reluctance of many legislators to pay for re-entry programs to the barriers ex-inmates face in obtaining jobs, driver’s licenses and public housing. There’s also the problem of “technical violations” of parole and probation terms; many former inmates return to prison not because of a new crime but because they broke a rule.

How does Roca, which operates only in Massachusetts, help ex-offenders build a new life?

It begins with dogged recruiting by outreach workers. A recruit is then assigned to a work crew and paid minimum wage for tasks such as landscaping and snow removal.

“We have to show them how to work,” said Aaron Bray, who coordinates the crews. “We expect them to fail sometimes.”

This outlook contrasts with many other programs that are selective about whom they recruit.

“The cops hated us when we first started — they saw us as a ‘hug a thug’ program,” said Jason Owens, who served prison time himself before joining Roca’s staff 10 years ago. He’s on a first-name basis with police and troublemakers alike in Chelsea, home to Roca’s headquarters.

Chelsea Police Capt. David Batchelor now views Roca as valuable ally.

“Most programs, if you violate the rules, you’re out,” Batchelor said. “Roca’s the only one I know of — if you break the rules, they’ll take you back.”

Behavioral therapy sessions help Roca participants with anger management. Many take courses leading to a General Education Development diploma.

The GED classes are taught one-on-one by volunteers, sometimes in a university library or hospital cafeteria. With gang rivalries, it’s deemed too dangerous for many participants to attend classes at Roca’s building.

“Any rival might kill them on sight,” said Roca’s Boston director, Shannon McAuliffe. In fact, in February 2015, 21-year-old Kenny Lamour was shot dead by an adversary while working with a Roca snow-clearing crew.

Tykeam Jackson also was targeted recently by a rival’s gunfire, suffering a leg wound, McAuliffe said. Since he enrolled in Roca in January 2015, he’s had two stints in jail and faces charges in a pending carjacking case.

“Yet he’s still showing up,” McAuliffe said. “I’ll say, ‘You don’t have to be here,’ and he’ll say, ‘If I’m not here, Shannon, I’m going to die.'”

___

With its motto “Less jail, more future,” Roca aims not just to save young men from wasting their lives but to save taxpayers from wasting money. Roca says the annual cost of incarceration in Massachusetts is about $53,500 per person, while its program costs about $26,000 per person for four years.

“No business would be allowed to run as poorly as our prison systems are run,” said Molly Baldwin, Roca’s CEO and founder.

Does Roca’s approach really work? Signs are positive. Of young men with the program at least two years, 91 percent have not been re-arrested and 85 percent have held a job at least six months.

A more definitive judgment will come in about two years, when outside evaluators assess whether Roca has saved taxpayers’ money by curtailing the time its participants are incarcerated. The outcomes of 1,000 Roca participants will be compared with a control group of other high-risk young men.

If Roca can reduce prison bed days by 40 percent compared to the control group, the state will repay investors who gave Roca more than $18 million in grants and loans. If Roca reduces prison time by 60 percent, the state’s savings will be huge, and the investors will get bonus payments.

Meanwhile, participants like Tykeam Jackson look toward their personal future; he’d like go to community college to study business.

“When I got to Roca, I felt, ‘Take the chance,’ because I messed up so much,” he said. “I felt it was my last chance.”

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