July 2021 Newsletter

July 2021 Newsletter

Welcome to the July issue of the IAHR Newsletter. This issue includes a welcome to Natasha White, the new coordinator for the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement, an update on how parole is stalled in the District, a letter from prison from Marqui Clardy, and an essay on Prison Public Health by IAHR Supporters, Dr. Ray Scaletter and Steven Salky.

Welcome to Natasha White 
Update on Parole in the District of Columbia
"Barriers to Parenthood Behind Bars"
"Prison Population and Public Health"
Save the Date: 3rd Annual "Human Rights at the Prison Door"

Welcome to Natasha White

This spring the Unlock the Box Foundation awarded a special grant to the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement. IAHR, which is one of the founding members of the Coalition, was asked to administer the grant.  The Coalition includes the ACLU-VA, Social Action Linking Together (S.A.L.T.), Virginia-CURE, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, IAHR, and a number of concerned Virginia residents. 

The Coalition decided to use the grant money to hire a coordinator who would staff the coalition. A number of outstanding candidates applied for the position.  We decided to offer the position to Natasha White, who has extensive organizing experience in New York.  Natasha was an organizer for the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, for the Freedom Agenda, and for Just Leadership USA. 

Natasha will be responsible for expanding the coalition, for raising public awareness about solitary confinement in Virginia, and for teaching volunteers how to be effective advocates. Natasha created the Coalition publicity that accompanies this article. 

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Update on Parole in the District of Columbia

The transfer of the authority over parole from the federal government to DC is stalled. While Mayor Bowser issued a statement a year ago on July 5 that DC is ready to assume responsibility for parole, the Mayor and the Council are doing little to make this a reality. The Mayor put a nominal amount of money ($100,000) for the parole authority in the 2022 budget. The deadline for taking over the agency is September 30, 2022. If the District Government does not have its act together by then, Congress will most likely renew the US Parole Commission. The District will have lost once again an opportunity to take back a criminal justice function from the federal government.

The DC Government’s seeming lack of interest in assuming authority over parole makes many of us wonder how sincere the Mayor and the DC Council are about statehood. Taking back parole would be a small but significant step toward DC becoming the 51st state.  

If you are interested in creating a Parole Authority focusing on restorative justice and reentry and if you are supportive of DC becoming the 51st State, please write the Mayor and the DC Council urging them to significantly increase the budget ($8 million) for a parole authority in DC’s 2022 budget. 

Here are the names and email links of the Mayor and the members of the DC Council. 

Mayor Muriel Bowser

 Chairman Phil Mendelson

Chair Pro Tempore, Ward 5 Councilmember 

Kenyan McDuffie

At-Large Councilmember

Anita Bonds

At-Large Councilmember

Robert White, Jr.

 At-Large Councilmember 

Elissa Silverman

At-Large Councilmember

Christina Henderson

Ward 1 Councilmember

Brianne Nadeau

Ward 2 Councilmember

Brooke Pinto

Ward 3 Councilmember

Mary Cheh 

 Ward 4 Councilmember

Janeese Lewis George

Ward 6 Councilmember

Charles Allen

Ward 7 Councilmember

Vincent Gray

Ward 8 Councilmember

Trayon White, Sr.

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Barriers to Parenthood behind Bars
By Marqui Clardy

June 17, 2021

One of my proudest moments as a father occurred three days ago when my youngest son graduated from high school with honors. When I was incarcerated in 2008, he was just four years old. At the time, the gravity of my prison sentence had yet to take root. I didn't know that I would be behind bars when he started his first day of school; or even worse, that I'd still be here 13 years later when he graduated. I was never able to take him to school or pick him up, attend PTA meetings, help him with his homework or projects, show up to his plays, talent shows, music events or sports games, or do anything that normal students do with their parents. Throughout the years, I always worried that my absence would eventually begin hindering his academic performance, but by the grace of God, it never did. I'd like to believe this is because, despite my physical absence, I remained in constant communication with my son through phone calls, letters, and emails, and did my best to be there for him in every capacity that I could be. But I'm also aware that despite my efforts, the fact remains that my son got lucky. Statistically, the odds are against children of incarcerated parents excelling through school. He was an exception to the rule.

Trying to have an instrumental role in your children's education from behind bars is unimaginably difficult due to the many barriers that being incarcerated present. For example, prison schedules are highly unpredictable, making it next to impossible to make plans to call our children on specific dates or at specific times. We never know when we'll be locked down and unable to use the phones, or when the phones will be turned off "for security purposes." Add this to the fact that there are usually no more than 6-8 phones in housing units with around 80 offenders, and you can see that even when we are allowed to use the phones, we still may not be able to because there aren't enough of them. Even the most committed parents may be forced to spend days without getting an opportunity to call their children.

Click here to read the rest of the essay.

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Prison Population and Public Health
Methods to Reduce Incarceration

By Steven Salky and Dr. Raymond Scalettar

Fortunately, the morbidity and mortality related to COVID-19 has declined significantly. The CDC guidelines are now less prohibitive. However, we should focus our attention on prisons as a future source of serious infections that can affect the entire population.  It is apparent that there is no such thing as social distancing in prison. “COVID-19 in Prisons and Jails in the United States” (1) focused on this serious challenge, high risk prisoners, and attempts to reduce harm in prisons and jails. In a recent Perspective article “Vaccination vs Decarceration,”[1] the authors explain why to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we must reduce excessive prison and jail populations, and offer vaccines to all those housed in such facilities. However, they do not elaborate how best to achieve this objective. We have been involved in cases by which federal prisoners vulnerable to COVID-19 can seek early release from prison via the “compassionate release.”  Here are proposals to reduce prison populations.  

First, both the federal and state executive branches need to revitalize their use of clemency to commute excessively long periods of imprisonment. There have been recent recommendations by a bi-partisan group of advocacy organizations that the White House should reactivate the process for considering applications for federal clemency.  This effort was deactivated during the Trump administration and there is now a backlog of more than 15,000 cases. As was demonstrated during the 2014 Clemency Initiative used by the Obama Department of Justice,[2] there are thousands of non-violent federal drug offenders serving sentences that are much longer than would be imposed today. The President should consider many of these people for immediate release through a grant of clemency. But federal prisoners are only a small fraction of drug offenders serving disproportionately long sentences; larger numbers of low-level drug offenders are serving time in state prisons. Governors should also make use of their power to grant clemency. Although the number of sentence commutations granted by many governors in 2020 exceeded those granted in prior years, the numbers remain paltry, especially when compared to the imperative created by the pandemic.

Click here to read the entire essay.  

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1    Hawks, L, Woolhandler,S, McCormick,D. Covid-19 in Prisons and Jails in the United States. jamainternmed 2020; 180(8);1041-1042

[1]     Barsky, BA, Reinhart, E., et al, Vaccination pus Decarceration---Stopping Covid-19 in Jails and Prisons N Engl J Med 2021;384;1583-85.

[2]     U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Office of the Inspector Gen., Review of the Dep’t Clemency Initiative (2018), available at https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2018/e1804.pdf.

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