FICPFM National Conference: Welcome from the Hosts

Dear Comrade:

As hosts of the 1st National Conference of the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People & Families Movement, and on behalf of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and All of Us or None, we thank you for registering for the conference, and welcome you to Oakland and the SF Bay Area.

We already have over 400 hundred activists & allies from over 30 states committed to coming to the Oakland Airport Hilton on September 9-10 to attend powerful panels, diverse workshops, and a day of activism all focused on recognizing the successes and challenges of the Movement to date, and charting out our future course to dismantle mass incarceration, restore our rights, and strengthen our families and communities.  We’re excited for you to join us!

Given the overwhelming interest in the National Conference, we are no longer able to assist with travel or lodging scholarships.  However, Free Registration is still available to formerly incarcerated people and family members: please send in your application so we can send you a link!  Please contact us if you’d like recommendations for lodging near the Conference.

TIMES:

  • Friday 9/9: Breakfast & Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. Friday
  • Friday 9/9: Opening Remarks begin at 8:30 a.m., program concludes at 6 p.m.
  • Saturday 9/10: Panels & Workshops begin at 9:00 a.m., conclude at 11:30 a.m.
  • Saturday 9/10: Justice Fair & #SchoolsNotPrisons concert begin at 1:30 p.m., conclude at 6:30 p.m.

REGISTRATION:

Please register at the Registration Table upon arriving to the Conference. You do not need to print out a ticket. Just give your name and you will be given a name tag that will be your access ticket for both the panels as well as the meals.

PLEASE MAKE SURE TO REGISTER: If you do not register, we will not be able to provide you with meals!

FOOD:

On Thursday night, light snacks will be served at an informal reception for early arrivals from out of town. Friday and Saturday, Breakfast and Lunch (including Vegetarian and Vegan meals) are provided for Conference registrees.  Friday night dinner will also be available for Scholarship Awardees at a separate location, and for those who wish to purchase dinner.  In addition , Oakland is  home to some of the most diverse and inventive cuisine in the world: please don’t hesitate to ask us about our own favorite local restaurants, taco trucks, or watering holes.

WEATHER:

Oakland in early September has lovely weather—currently projected to be 75 and sunny with a little wind—but the Bay Area has many “microclimates” and you can experience sun and fog, calm and wind, and 20+-degree variation just by passing through a tunnel or travelling a couple of blocks! While the Hilton Oakland Airport is air conditioned, people traveling around the Bay Area are encouraged to bring “layers” to adjust to the extreme temperature variations—mornings & nights can be quite chilly even when the day is a sunny and warm upper 70’s.

TRANSPORTATION:

In addition to Hilton Oakland Airport’s own shuttles, FICPFM will also have vans on call starting Thursday night to transport people to either the Oakland Airport or the Coliseum BART Station (both 5-minutes travel from hotel).  AC Transit Line 73 also runs past the Hilton on route between BART and Oakland Airport. BART also runs directly from the San Francisco Airport to the Coliseum Station (about 30-40 minutes).  Car parking is available at the hotel for $8/day.

JUSTICE FAIR:

On Saturday, September 10th, the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples’ and Families’ Movement will be hosting a Justice Fair from 12pm to 5pm at the Hilton Oakland Airport. We will be providing free advice from attorneys, advocates and organizers on issues like housing and benefits rights, expungement and Prop 47, parole support, and immigration. You will also be able to apply for a FREE copy of your California statewide record of criminal convictions.

We at LSPC / All of Us or None are excited to host one of the largest gatherings of Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People & Families in American history! When members of FICPFM leadership organizations first met in Selma, Alabama in 2011, we dreamed that the Movement would grow, but having so many hundreds of formerly incarcerated people, family members and allies gather together is a wonderful reality and testament to the incredible hard work of everyone involved.

This Conference is proof that we can create our own Movement and lead effective change in our communities. The seven organizations that planned, developed, and produced this National Conference—LSPC/AOUON, ANWOL, TOPS, VOTE, CCF, JLUSA, and SCSJ are all led by formerly incarcerated people, and are committed to mentoring,  empowering and assisting formerly incarcerated leaders and organizations.  For example, LSPC/All of Us or None provides “Ban The Box” Toolkits,  and is currently offering several Policy Fellowships for 2017, and JLUSA currently has openings for advanced leadership training. Please connect with activists from all groups to find out how to best create, support, and advance FIP-policies and organizing in your own area!

We hope you enjoy the Conference and embrace all the opportunities: connect with comrades from all over America, learn myriad organizing and legislating methods, and build upon all the work that’s been accomplished. Work that must be done by those impacted the most: formerly incarcerated people and our families.

QUESTIONS?

For any questions about Registration, please contact Mark Fujiwara at 415-625-7050 or: mc@prisonerswithchildren.org

For any questions about the National Conference events & programming, please contact Manuel La Fontaine at 415-225-7036 ext. 328 or: manuel@prisonerswithchildren.org

We look forward to seeing you in Oakland soon!

Dorsey Nunn
Executive Director, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
Co-Founder, All of Us or None

 

We need to keep in-person visitation!

In-person visitation is crucial to the well-being of incarcerated people and their families. And there are many benefits for our communities too: in-person visitation has been shown to reduce recidivism, increase the chances of securing employment post-release, and facilitate successful reentry.

Yet, 11 California counties have eliminated, or plan to eliminate or severely restrict in-person visits in at least one of their jails. These counties have decided that video calling an incarcerated loved one from the jail lobby allows for the same human connection as an in-person visit. We know that’s not true.

That’s why we are co-sponsoring California SB 1157 (Mitchell) – Strengthening Family Connections: In-Person Visitation. SB 1157 would allow counties to install and use video visitation as a supplemental option but would prevent them from eliminating in-person visitation.

Can you help us protect the rights of families to see and communicate with their loved ones during incarceration?

If you have any experience with video visitation or jail/prison visitation in general and want to share your story with us, please visit our campaign page and check out the different ways to take action: Nation Inside Campaign: Strengthening Family Connections.

SB 1157 is co-sponsored by: Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in ConfinementThe Ella Baker Center for Human RightsThe Friends Committee on Legislation of CaliforniaLegal Services for Prisoners with Children,The Prison Law OfficeProject WHAT!, and the Women’s Policy Institute.

Thank you!

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

Why We’re Talking to Uber: Our Need to Work, Feed Our Families, and Speak In Our Own Voices

Dorsey_head shot with AOUON capBy Dorsey Nunn
Last September I attended an Uber roundtable discussion on public safety standards, representing Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) and All of Us or None. Uber held the discussion because background checks have become an issue for them – some taxi unions and government officials are demanding all Uber drivers be required to go through Live Scan fingerprinting checks.

It should come as no surprise to anyone following our work on Ban the Box and ending structural discrimination for formerly incarcerated people that we would be invited. I, for one, welcomed the discussion. After all, Uber has done something most other corporations fail to do: invite formerly incarcerated experts to the table to discuss the use and impact of background checks within our community.

My preparation for the meeting included research of news stories and social media, as well as talking to friends, allies and comrades. Someone said Uber would misuse me, and I needed to be careful. Another said the “real” issue was the litigation to determine if the workers were employees or private contractors. Someone else implied our involvement was somehow undercutting the transportation labor movement. I ran into people questioning if I should even be meeting with Uber at all. But most disconcerting was when an ally suggested we would be better represented by professionals like lawyers or union representatives.

In the first Uber meeting we discussed Proposition 47, at that time recently passed. Months later, I attended a gala in Southern California where Uber announced changes in their policies:

  1. Revise their background check process to focus only on relevant criteria related to driving, and remove convictions for irrelevant misdemeanors like check fraud. Uber also went a step further, and removed convictions like evading and resisting arrest – a catch-all that tends to disproportionately impact minorities.
  2. Notify people who don’t pass Uber’s pre-screening process that they may be eligible for getting felonies on their records reclassified under Prop 47, and pointing them to resources to help them do that.
  3. Referring people who still don’t qualify to an organization called Defy Ventures to get work counseling and learning opportunities. Uber’s partnership covers the cost of the program.

It is also important to note that Uber is a corporation where formerly incarcerated actually have opportunities to earn a living. I could easily rattle off a list of friends currently driving for Uber, which I cannot do in the case of taxi companies or other car sharing services. LSPC and All of Us or None have always valued and will continue to value our allies and collaborative partners. Still, I want to take a moment and consider some of the complicated issues raised by these conversations.

  • As a movement for basic civil and human rights for formerly incarcerated people, it would make no sense at all for us to turn down a meeting with a major corporation considering background checks policies on formerly incarcerated people.
  • While we appreciate the concern that some have voiced about Uber taking advantage of us, it should also be clear that we never could have come as far as we have as a movement without abundant amounts of political and organizing savvy.
  • Our primary goal in these meetings is to expand access to meaningful work for formerly incarcerated people. We have the right to feed our families and to pay our rent. I was not there to determine the conditions under which people worked but to insure that we had at least the same access as others to work. Marginalized communities need something other than crime to make a living. If we are not working at all, the question about whether Uber workers are employees or independent contractors loses urgency.
  • From the very beginning, All of Us or None demanded the right to speak in our own voice. It is no different for us than it was for the African-Americans who founded Freedom’s Journal, one of the first Black newspapers. Their lead editorial in 1827 stated “We wish to plea our own cause, too long have others spoken for us.”

Many see employment, housing, education and voting rights as individual issues – but taken collectively, for formerly incarcerated people they are the civil and human rights struggle of our day. It is imperative that formerly incarcerated people engage in this struggle in a manner that will allow us to identify and own our power. Our struggle goes beyond who gets to drive the car. We are also looking at how we can present our demands so employers are able to see our human potential not just as workers, but also in management positions.

People do have a tendency to differentiate between those with a non-violent conviction history and those with a violent conviction history. And we seem to be moving in a direction where we are willing to provide greater opportunities for people with non-violent convictions. However, people with violent conviction histories are being released, and they need to feed their families and have housing too. They are equally in need of meaningful work.

Many formerly incarcerated people know that there is no statistical or rational basis for many of the decisions being made about us as individuals or as a part of a community. In fact, research shows that formerly incarcerated people convicted of violent offenses are actually less likely to commit another crime than people convicted of non-violent offenses. Food, housing, and employment are at the root of public safety, and everyone is entitled to it, even people we fear.

Because of the politics of respectability not everyone is willing to make the argument that they be given a chance. It is in this gap that formerly incarcerate people must speak in our own voice, and maintain our solidarity and unity.

John Legend Speaks Out for Ban The Box Campaign

By Dorsey Nunn
We are proud to share a Ban the Box video made by singer John Legend, who has chosen to use his celebrity status to speak out against mass incarceration and in favor of community-generated solutions. His staff recognized that Ban the Box originated with All Of Us Or None, and so they contacted me. I told them about our national campaign for an executive order to Ban the Box.

I am extremely grateful to John Legend, not simply because he released this powerful video, but also because he recognized that this call comes from the heart and soul of our community. The Ban the Box campaign has our DNA all over it, and the voice we raised on this demand was our common voice.

We are also proud to share the op ed John Legend wrote in Time, titled “We Must Help Former Prisoners Get Jobs”. In the article he links to our Ban the Box campaign’s website, and makes the case for President Obama to use his executive order to Ban the Box now. He also joins us in encouraging Congress to make sure it passes legislation that really protects our rights.

So check out the video on his Let’s Free America website and also his op ed in Time magazine. The video links to our petition on ColorofChange.com, so please sign and share widely!

Ending the Racial Caste System Through Reentry Reform

PRISONhttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/dorsey-nunn/ending-the-racial-caste-s_b_8214318.html

By Dorsey Nunn and Meredith Desautels

On the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” a group of formerly incarcerated people took a 2,400-mile van ride from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. They joined thousands of others to commemorate the historic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, and to raise their voices against the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated people.

The action was particularly meaningful at this moment, as criminal justice reform has become the new frontier of the civil rights movement. Today, more African Americans are under the control of the criminal justice system–in prison or jail, on probation or parole–than were enslaved in1850. As Michelle Alexander so aptly describes in The New Jim Crow, while many Americans think race discrimination in housing, education, employment, and voting rights were eliminated by the civil rights laws of the 1960s, this discrimination now abounds under the exclusionary laws and practices mounted against anyone branded with the label “felon.”

Racial disparities exist at every stage of the criminal justice system, with people of color policed, arrested, charged, sentenced and incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates than whites. African Americans and Latinos, who currently make up 70 percent of California’s prisoners and parolees, have been disproportionately targeted and penalized. Those entangled in the criminal justice system face the impact of these racist policies throughout their lifetime, with millions denied equal access to education, housing, voting, and employment because of their records. This systemic disenfranchisement has thwarted reentry, belying any possibility of meaningful community reintegration and tearing apart generations of families and entire communities.

In order to end discriminatory reentry barriers and move towards true reintegration, we must treat formerly incarcerated people as people and community members first–people who are on the verge of success with the right support, and people who are critical assets to their families and our communities. Challenge the dominant narrative about formerly incarcerated people, and you begin to change the paradigm that governs what opportunities they are offered. That’s why we have to bring in formerly incarcerated people to speak in their own voices about their reentry efforts and the barriers they face. Right now, there are some 60 to 70 million formerly incarcerated people in the U.S. They hold the answers to how to significantly improve reentry; they have to be at the center of reform.

Done right, the reentry process represents an important opportunity to help people exit the system for good. The twin goals of reentry reform are to end discrimination and increase opportunities for formerly incarcerated people.

Employment is one of the most important factors in helping formerly incarcerated people reclaim their lives, reunite with their families, and reintegrate into our communities. However, most people with prior convictions find themselves severely limited by their records and struggling to land work, their hopes for the future shackled by their past. More than one in four Californians has an arrest or conviction record that can show up on a routine criminal background check for employment. The vast majority of them have not recently served time; their convictions may be decades old. Yet, once out, those with prior records will have a tough time finding employment, and are often barred from many occupations due to licensing laws.

One of the most visible and successful reentry initiatives in the country, the Ban the Box campaign, was started in 2004 by the Bay Area advocacy group All of Us or None, which puts the voices of formerly incarcerated people front and center. Ban the Box seeks to remove the question that asks about conviction history from initial applications for employment. Over 100 cities and counties, and 17 states have removed questions about conviction history from their public employment applications. In 2014, San Francisco adopted the Fair Chance Act, which also applies to private employment and affordable housing. Six states, Washington D.C., and 25 cities and counties now extend the Ban the Box policy to government contractors or private employers. Our next step is urging President Obama to issue an executive order to Ban the Box for federal contractors.

To expand Ban the Box and related protections, policymakers must call on employers to take a seat at the table of reentry reform. Employers have to view themselves as having a meaningful role to play–not their historical role of exclusion, but one of inclusion of formerly incarcerated people in the economic landscape of the country. And that pivot isn’t just about employers asking job applicants about their record later in the hiring process, a practice that can still lead to a rejection of qualified workers with records. Rather, employers also must begin to incorporate the new paradigm where formerly incarcerated people are viewed as individuals first, with talents to contribute if given the opportunity.

Another important policy milestone is the implementation of Proposition 47 currently underway in California, the nation’s largest record-change effort in history. Passed by voters in November 2014, the law gives people until 2017 to reduce six low-level, nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors, helping to mitigate barriers to jobs, housing, education, and more. More than one million Californians can benefit from this new law.

Removing barriers to reentry is not just good policy; it is also about human and civil rights, and affording people basic dignity as they seek to support themselves and their families. Reentry is not just a criminal justice issue: it is an economic and moral imperative. The population of people with prior records represents too great a wave of human potential to leave behind. Now, more than ever, it is clear that real progress is possible. Our recent policy successes prove that safety and justice can be achieved without sacrificing equality and fairness. Working together, we can continue to build on these reforms and begin to restore the communities that have been torn apart by the failed policies of the past.

Dorsey Nunn is the executive director of LSPC, and Meredith Desautels is a staff attorney in the Racial Justice program at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Major Legal Victory for Incarcerated Fathers

ACP victory_Steve Czifra

Steven Czifra with his son. Steven graduated from UC Berkeley this past May and is now the director of the Underground Scholars Initiative for formerly incarcerated students at Cal. He is a survivor of Pelican Bay Prison SHU.

By Jesse Stout

Yesterday, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) helped win a major victory for family reunification in California. The judge’s order in Sassman v. Brown allows some male prisoners to go home to care for their families through the Alternative Custody Program (ACP).

“This case is vital: we receive numerous letters from fathers parenting children at time of arrest,” says LSPC Executive Director Dorsey Nunn. “In my 25 years of doing this work, I’ve learned there are many fathers in prison who love their children. If they really want males to be participatory parents, they should make available every opportunity for us to do that.”

The Legislature created ACP in 2010 to allow incarcerated parents to finish their sentences outside prison, on electronic monitoring with their children. In 2012 legislators amended ACP to allow only women to apply.

In July 2014, LSPC and co-counsel firm Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld filed Sassman v. Brown in federal court, challenging ACP’s exclusion of male prisoners on the grounds that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. William Sassman is a male state prisoner who meets the ACP’s requirements except for his gender, and wants to finish his sentence at home to care for his young children.

In October 2014 Chief Judge Morrison England of the Eastern District of California denied our preliminary injunction, but wrote that the “primary objectives of the ACP are family reunification and community reintegration,” and invited us to file our motion for summary judgment on an expedited basis so he could reach the case’s merits.

On September 9, 2015, Judge England granted our motion and ordered CDCR to “immediately cease denying admission to the ACP on the basis that the applicant is male.”

The court order to expand the ACP stated that, “The State cannot use gender as a basis to grant or deny its citizens their freedom.” Judge England went on to say that if the court accepted CDCR’s argument, it would have to “categorically view male defendants as dangerous and aggressive, with no real regard for their families, punishing them for their perceived inferiority with respect to the potential for rehabilitation and family reunification.”

The Sacramento Bee published articles when the case was filed and when the judge ruled.

Obama won’t reform prisons by focusing only on those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses

http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/judicial/249549-obama-wont-reform-prisons-by-focusing-only-on-those-convicted-of

Dorsey Nunn_close-up with plantThis week, formerly incarcerated people and their families will march to the White House to push the president to sign a federal order that gives people who have served their time in prison a fair chance at employment when they get out.

The rally follows a week of firsts. President Obama became the first commander in chief to visit a federal prison. He spoke passionately in support of a national campaign to “Ban the Box” on job applications so the formerly incarcerated can find work. He questioned the overuse of solitary confinement in America’s prisons. He commuted the sentences of 46 people convicted of drug crimes in the most extensive use of his executive powers to help address the unfair sentences of those convicted of nonviolent offenses.

The president’s views are evolving when it comes to the rights that should be extended to the formerly incarcerated. But he has farther to go.

He has focused only on the rights of those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, maintaining that the reason our prison population is so high is because more people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses are serving longer sentences.

That is political expediency.

If the president wants to solve this crisis, he has to address the rights of all incarcerated Americans.

About half of the 200,000 people in federal prison have been convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. But state prisons hold the majority of incarcerated people, about 1.3 million, and only 16 percent have been convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, according to federal statistics.

Meanwhile, a small army – more than 650,000 people – is released every year from prison, tens of thousands of whom have been convicted of violent crimes. About two-thirds of those released are doomed to failure, ending back in the prison system.

We’ve wasted enough money – $80 billion a year – on short-sighted solutions to crime that are rooted in a thirst for revenge and only leads to the meaningless repetition of an action that expects a different result each time – the imprisonment of millions.

It’s time for a new vision for the formerly incarcerated that is based on forgiveness and can shatter the misconception that relentless punishment, even after these men and women served their time, actually works.

I know the reality of life in prison. I know the reality of life coming out of prison. These are the realities that bind me, like the shackles I once wore. I know the struggle to find a job, to reconnect with loved ones, to succeed when the system is set up for us to fail.

I’ve spoken to many a friend who couldn’t stay out of the clutches of the criminal justice system because he couldn’t find work or opportunities to make ends meet on the outside. Over and over, these friends told me that crime was not a first choice but a last option that stood between them and hunger, homelessness and despair. These friends made me acutely aware of the role that structural discrimination played in their failure.

Their failure is society’s failure. We have made no commitment to rehabilitate the formerly incarcerated or invest in jobs and opportunities in the distressed communities where they are destined to live upon their release.

In recent years, formerly incarcerated leaders, such as myself, have pushed the Obama administration for employment rights for those released from prison. We have pursued an executive order to Ban the Box for federal contractors. Current policy demands immediate disclosure of conviction history, which keeps jobs out of reach for millions of formerly incarcerated people. Banning the box would delay the question until an applicant receives a conditional offer of employment, making the hiring process fairer.

We have won Ban the Box measures in more than 100 counties and cities in 18 states and in corporations, such as Koch Industries, Wal-Mart and Target. Our effort enjoys bi-partisan support, but more importantly, it has created a movement of formerly incarcerated people who demand to be heard.

It would be a reach to think that one speech, visit or executive action will erase decades of oppression that targets people of color, especially black men, for prison at higher rates than other groups. Or that the president’s actions will erase stereotypes of incarcerated people or change notions of crime and punishment.

But our movement for the dignity and respect of incarcerated people is at a turning point.

The president should sign an order banning the box for contractors. But to do that, he has to see the waste of human potential. He has to see the people occupying prison cells as assets, not liabilities.

That’s why we march this week. So he sees us as human beings.

Nunn is the executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. He is also a co-founder of All of Us or None, which initiated the national Ban the Box campaign.