April Newsletter 2019

The April IAHR newsletter contains these articles.  Rabbi Feinberg has written an opinion piece on the theme of Reparations for Slavery.  That is followed by a report on IAHR’s advocacy for legislation for the just concluded session of the Maryland General Assembly.  You will also find the second letter from MarQui Clardi, Jr who is incarcerated in a Virginia state prison.  We have also included an important article from Prison Policy Initiative reviewing important information about mass incarceration in America in 2019.  There is a notice about two upcoming IAHR events.  The newsletter concludes with good wishes for the upcoming spring holidays.

Reparations for Slavery 
2019 IAHR- Maryland Restrictive Housing Report
Monthly Letter from MarQui Clardi, Jr.
Prison Policy Initiative: Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019
Upcoming events in May, + Passover, Easter, and Ramadan Greetings

 

Reparations for Slavery

What is the essential teaching of the Jewish holiday of Passover?    On Passover are we supposed to remember how God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian oppression thereby cementing the bond between Himself and the Israelites?  Is Passover a celebration of the founding and creation of the Israelite nation later to become the Jewish nation?  Or is Passover a celebration of freedom from slavery and oppression?  Is that oppression external or internal? The Jewish prayer book calls the holiday, “the season of our freedom.”  Or is Passover the celebration of the change of seasons from winter to spring?  Passover is also called the holiday of spring.  

Passover is all of these things and more.  Yet this year, I cannot help but be drawn to theme of being free from slavery and oppression.  For this year is the 400th anniversary since the introduction of slavery into North America.  In August of 1619, twenty Africans who had been forced to cross the Atlantic Ocean arrived in the Virginia colony on board a Dutch ship.  While it took almost a century for white supremacy to become ratified by law, many consider 1619 as the beginning of forced African migration into North America. 

Once again, some people are raising the question whether reparations should be given to descendants of African slaves in America.  As it happens the Hebrew Bible does take up the issue of reparations in the Exodus story.  When God first approaches Moses at the burning bush, God makes this promise to Moses: “I will make this people graceful in the eyes of the Egypt; when you go out, you will not go empty handed.  Each woman will ask her neighbor and the sojourner in her house ornaments of silver and ornaments of gold and robes, and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters and you shall despoil Egypt.”  Indeed, when the Israelites leave Egypt, they despoil Egypt by asking for silver and gold vessels and getting them because God made them graceful in the eyes of the Egyptians.  It is possible that deep down the Egyptians felt they owed the Israelites something for their many years of enslaved service. 

Moreover, we learn in Deuteronomy that when a person releases his or her indentured servant, that servant should not be released empty handed.  Clearly, the events of the Exodus became the basis of this law.  

What is our debt to African-Americans?  Do we owe them anything?  Even if we do, how can we repay them now many generations later?  Given the Torah’s clear teaching that reparations for slavery is a moral and legal obligation, we should consider a way of fulfilling “this mitzvah” even at this late date.

One way would be a thorough reform and rebuilding of our country’s criminal justice system. There is ample evidence that since emancipation, African Americans have suffered grievously and unfairly in their encounters with police, courts, judges, prisons, and with probation and parole officers.  Although African Americans make up only 13% of the population, they often consist of 60 to 70% of the prison population.  They often get arrested and convicted of crimes that are often ignored when committed by white people.  When imprisoned, they often receive extraordinary long sentences.  The racism in prisons is brutal.  When released from prison, they receive little assistance in finding employment and housing.  

African Americans have suffered terribly from our criminal justice system. For many it has become another enslavement.  We could begin to repay our debt to them by reforming and rebuilding criminal justice. 

Let us remember how the ancient Israelites were treated when they left Egypt by being graceful to the descendants of slaves.  

This essay will be published in the April 18 edition of the Washington Jewish Week.

2019 IAHR- Maryland Restrictive Housing Report

Submitted by Kimberly Haven – Legislative Strategist

Recap

We introduced 2 bills this year with Delegate Jazz Lewis as our lead sponsor in the House, and Senator Will Smith in the Senate.  Additionally, IAHR supported several other pieces of legislation which are recapped at the end of this report.

What Worked

This was a strong year for IAHR – we were able to build a strong presence in Annapolis and build strong relationships with legislators that will help us moving forward.

While we were ultimately not successful in getting HB 1002 passed, we gained a lot of ground around the issue, engaged legislators in ways that we have not before, garnered media attention, and built our ground game.  This year we had support on the Senate side from Senators Waldstreicher (D-Mont. City) and Senator Hough (R-Frederick City) both who helped get our bill up and out of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.  We had the votes that we needed to move the bill for passage – this was a significant win for IAHR.

What Hampered Effort

This year, there were a variety of things that happened in Annapolis that impacted efforts – ours as well as the efforts of other advocates and good legislation simply did not move.  There were significant delays in getting bills back from legislative drafting, fiscal notes were quite literally off the chart, and this year, perhaps more than ever, personal politics played a significant role.  Bills were also held by both chambers in negotiation attempts, and bills that had fiscal notes never gained traction. 

HB 1002 – Direct Release - Our specific bill (HB1002) did not make it past 3rd reader on the Senate floor at the 11th hour due to the actions of Senator Cassilly (R-Harford City).  The clock ran out before our bill could come back up for a vote.  We learned later that he was acting on the request of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.  What makes this particularly difficult, is that we worked with and amended our bill to reflect the input of the department right up to the vote. 

HB 1029 – Serious Mental Illness – This bill failed to move as it had a large fiscal note and we ultimately amended it from its original intent to only impact SMI and the amendments came too late in the session to garner support or traction. 

Other legislative updates:

  • SB 809/HB 745 – SB 809 PASSED – Pregnant Women Restrictive Housing (RJI)
  • HB 1001/SB 774 – PASSED – Youth Restrictive Housing (ACLU)
  • HB 116/SB846 – PASSED – Opioid Disorder Examination and Treatment (Public Policy Partners)
  • HB 710/SB821 – PASSED – Prerelease for Women Study Bill
  • HB 1112 – DID NOT MOVE – Correctional Healthcare Task Force (MD Prisoners’ Rights Coalition)
  • HB 715/SB 491 – DID NOT MOVE – Prerelease Center for Women (Out for Justice/MD Justice Project)
  • HB 775 – UNFAVORABLE – MCIW Reforms
  • HB 947 – UNFAVORABLE/WITHDRAWN – Female Life Transitional Work Release

Looking Ahead

The 2020 Legislative Session is only a mere 8 months away and we are already working on building on the momentum that we achieved this year.  We will be continuing to build our base of support for our legislation, engage new constituents, and creating large-scale public awareness campaigns and activities.  We will also be working on our legislative agenda for the upcoming session and our specific legislation for pre-filing.

Thank you for your support

All of the work and the successes that we garnered would not have been possible without the incredible support of IAHR members and supporters. Each call, each email, each time you responded to and forwarded out our Action Alerts, played a significant role in our efforts this session.  

I would like to especially recognize the following organizations and individuals who submitted written testimony in support of both HB 1002 and HB 1029 and who also came to Annapolis and testified before the House Judiciary Committee.  Your words and your support had a tremendous impact on our effort this year and I thank you.

  • Maryland Attorney General                           
  • National Assoc. of Women Judges   
  • Baltimore Monthly Meeting of Friends Stony Run
  • National Assn Social Workers-Maryland Chapter-special thanks to Daphne McClellan                 
  • Jews United for Justice – special thanks to Molly Amster
  • Maryland Catholic Conference
  • Maryland State Conference NAACP – special thanks to Jo St. George
  • Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of MD - special thanks to Candy Clark              
  • Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP)–special thanks to Neill Franklin and Wendell France
  • Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (MAJR) – special thanks to Phil Caroom
  • Dr. Natalie Spicyn MD, MHS
  • Reproductive Justice Inside

The board and the executive director of IAHR thanks these special people:
Delegate Jazz Lewis for his heroic efforts on behalf of those incarcerated and for being an effective sponsor of IAHR’s legislation;
Kimberly Haven, IAHR’s Legislative Strategist and Advocate for her tireless efforts on behalf of the incarcerated and IAHR’s legislation. 

Suzanne O’Hatnick, founding chair of the IAHR Board, for her continued work on behalf of the incarcerated in Maryland, for her work on IAHR’s legislation, and for her deep commitment to human rights

Monthly Letter from MarQui Clardi, Jr.

Solitary confinement essay 4/4/2019

Researchers estimate that, on average, at least 30% of all U.S. prisoners held in solitary confinement are mentally ill (*1). Jail and prison correctional officers aren't medically trained to treat mentally ill individuals, so when these inmates display problematic behavior, the officers' first reaction is usually to place them in solitary confinement, either as a means of punishment, or simply so they won't have to deal with them. My first time in segregation made this notion crystal clear.

This incident occurred in 2008 while my case was still being adjudicated. After my trial - which resulted in me being convicted on all thirteen of my charges - the Commonwealth's Attorney had explicitly promised me that she was going to recommend a LIFE sentence, further adding that the judge always went with her recommendations. I'd already been in jail for about six months, and the thought of spending the rest of my life in such an awful environment, away from my children, my family, my career, my life...it was more than I could handle. I'd been previously diagnosed with poor mental health during my enlistment in the military, and all the stress I was under in jail likely triggered my disorder. I began rationalizing that my life was over anyway, so it would be best if I just ended it. Suicide seemed to be the obvious solution to my problems.

Razors were passed out every evening so we could shave. On this particular day, I signed out a razor, then went to my bunk, removed the blade, and sliced both of my wrists several times. I then got under my blanket so everyone would think I was asleep while I bled out. I figured I'd pass out and die peacefully while I was unconscious. Fortunately, the officer who'd handed out the razors returned to collect them quicker than he normally did. After collecting all the other razors, he noticed that I hadn't returned mine, so he came into the cellblock to look for me. That's when he found me in my bunk, under my blanket with blood everywhere. He radioed a medical emergency, whereupon the nurses rushed in and took me to the medical triage. I was kept there until the bleeding stopped and my vitals improved. However, after having my wrists bandaged, I was told I was going to be placed on "suicide watch" for two weeks while my mental health was monitored. Boy oh boy was I in for a surprise.

In jail and prison, suicide watch is nothing more than an especially cruel form of solitary confinement. I was placed in a single cell which was MUCH colder than the rest of the jail. It was freezing! All of my clothes and shoes were taken from me, as well as my sheets, blankets, and mattress. The only possession I was given was green Kevlar vest which served absolutely no purpose. I wasn't allowed to get visits from my family; there were no other inmates around for me to talk to; it was impossible to adequately sleep with my bare skin on that cold, metal bedframe; and I had no books, TV, or music to stimulate my mind. Living under those conditions and being alone with nothing but my thoughts drove me mad to a degree that I could never adequately convey. It was obvious that I wasn't being helped at all; I was being PUNISHED for attempting suicide. I realized that that was the whole point of suicide watch...to make inmates so uncomfortable and downright miserable that we'd fear attempting suicide again and ending up back in there.

The ACLU has reported that solitary confinement causes and exacerbates mental illness, leading prisoners in solitary to attempt suicide at significantly higher rates than those in the general prison population (*2). This couldn't be more true! While I was on suicide watch, not one minute passed that I didn't contemplate more ways of killing myself! All I wanted was to escape the horrible conditions in that cell, even if death was my only escape. After my two weeks were up, the jail's mental health specialist brought my mattress, clothing, and the rest of my belongings to the front of the cell where I could see them. She told me that she'd release me back into general population only if I agreed to sign some papers promising that I was okay, and that I wouldn't attempt suicide again. Of course, I wasn't genuinely okay, but the sight of my belongings sitting outside that door, and the prospect of being warm again, being able to see my family, watch TV, eat a hot meal, get a good night's sleep, and actually talk to other people made me all too eager to sign those papers and get out of that cell.

My punishment for attempting suicide was essentially a punishment for having poor mental health. Maybe this is why mentally ill prisoners are far more likely to spend time in solitary confinement than other prisoners (*3). Correctional staff don't want to deal with us - nor are they trained to - so for them, isolating us in a cell away from everyone is the solution. But for us, solitary confinement is not a solution at all. It only serves to make the underlying problems of our behavior (poor mental health) exponential(ly) worse.

SOURCES:

*1. The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty & The ACLU of New Mexico, "Inside the Box: The Real Costs of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico's Jails and Prisons", p.5, October 2013

*2. ACLU, "End the Use of Solitary Confinement," p.1

*3. Treatment Advocacy Center and National Sheriff's Association, "The Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails: A State Survey," p.1, April 8, 2014

Click here to read more from MarQui Clardi, Jr.

Prison Policy Initiative: Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019

By Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner 
March 19, 2019

Can it really be true that most people in jail are being held before trial? And how much of mass incarceration is a result of the war on drugs? These questions are harder to answer than you might think, because our country’s systems of confinement are so fragmented. The various government agencies involved in the justice system collect a lot of critical data, but it is not designed to help policymakers or the public understand what’s going on. As public support for criminal justice reform continues to build, however, it’s more important than ever that we get the facts straight and understand the big picture.

This report offers some much needed clarity by piecing together this country’s disparate systems of confinement. The American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories. This report provides a detailed look at where and why people are locked up in the U.S. and dispels some modern myths to focus attention on the real drivers of mass incarceration.

This big-picture view allows us to focus on the most important drivers of mass incarceration and identify important, but often ignored, systems of confinement. The detailed views bring these overlooked systems to light, from immigration detention to civil commitment and youth confinement. In particular, local jails often receive short shrift in larger discussions about criminal justice, but they play a critical role as “incarceration’s front door” and have a far greater impact than the daily population suggests.

While this pie chart provides a comprehensive snapshot of our correctional system, the graphic does not capture the enormous churn in and out of our correctional facilities, nor the far larger universe of people whose lives are affected by the criminal justice system. Every year, over 600,000 people enter prison gates, but people go to jail 10.6 million times each year. Jail churn is particularly high because most people in jails have not been convicted. Some have just been arrested and will make bail within hours or days, while many others are too poor to make bail and remain behind bars until their trial. Only a small number (less than 150,000 on any given day) have been convicted and are generally serving misdemeanors sentences under a year.

Click Here to read the rest of the article.

Upcoming events in May

Pen Pal Program Wednesday, May 8 at 7 p.m.

All of IAHR’s pen pals are invited to attend a conference at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church, 1 Chevy Chase Circle, Washington, DC on Wednesday, May 8 at 7 p.m.  Warren Rymes, whose sentence was commuted by Governor Hogan in August 2018 will be our featured speaker.  There also will be time for pen pals to share what they have learned about their experience.  Refreshments will be served.

On Friday, May 10, Rabbi Feinberg, Kimberly Haven, and Warren Rymes will be making a presentation on “Solitary in Maryland’s Prisons’ at the annual conference of the Maryland Episcopal Church.  The conference is being held at the Turf Valley Resort in Ellicott City.  The IAHR presentation on solitary will be at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 10.

Passover, Easter, and Ramadan Greetings

The Board of Directors extends its blessings and good wishes to our Jewish, Christian, and Muslim colleagues, friends, and neighbors as they will be celebrating their holy days in the next weeks.  Good Friday is on April 19 while Passover begins that night.  Easter is on Sunday, April 21 and Ramadan begins on Monday, May 6. 

Happy Holidays!


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