LSPC and AOUON Standing Strong in the Fight for Housing Rights and Justice

By Sabina Crocette, LSPC Policy Manager

LSPC and AOUON have recently expanded our areas of focus beyond the concerns of currently and formerly incarcerated people to also include the underlying conditions that bring people into contact with the criminal legal system, including the lack of safe and affordable housing.

This legislative season brought a number of important housing bills to the forefront. Two of those that LSPC and AOUON have been working to address are AB 53 and SB 50. On Wednesday, April 24, 2019 a group of us showed up at the capitol to testify to ensure both bills address the needs of our communities.

AB 53 is sponsored by Assembly Member Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-59, South Los Angeles) and claims to create a “ban-the-box” in private housing for people with conviction histories. AB 53 was not a substantive fix to the severe problems facing our community in terms of access to housing because it did not mandate that people with conviction histories be afforded the right to housing regardless of their criminal records. Across the nation, formerly incarcerated people are 10 times as likely as others to be homeless and face enormous hurdles to get housing. AB 53 would have eliminated the question about criminal convictions on the housing application, but, once an offer of housing was to be made, an inquiry could be made into your conviction history. Under the bill, owners got legal protections against suits by third parties based on a theory of negligence in renting.

AB 53 was a modest first step. Unfortunately, the bill’s author started pushing amendments to the bill which effectively disadvantaged folks with conviction histories, shielded landlords who discriminated against those with convictions histories from suit, and, finally, provided only two days for folks to provide evidence of errors on criminal records, rehabilitation, or mitigation. We fought back against all but one of those changes. Jones-Sawyer tried to move forward with the two-day period to respond to inquiries about criminal history without our agreement or support. We mounted a campaign to withdraw support, and LSPC and AOUON members showed up at the hearing, ready to oppose unless amended, or to ask that the bill not be voted on by the Housing and Community Development Committee. Before we could stand in our truth, the bill’s author took the bill off calendar. Right now, the bill is dead.

SB 50, the single most sweeping housing bill being considered right now, will change the way development is done in California. Senator Scott Wiener (D-11, San Francisco), authored a massive bill that has been described by many as a “give-away” to developers. Under the bill, developers will have a “right” to develop in communities where there is significant public transit infrastructure, such as buses, Bart and train service. While sounding innocuous, this bill targets market rate development in the communities where Black, Brown, and very low- and moderate-income people live now, and who now are struggling to remain in their homes of many years.

A number of housing and economic justice advocates and a few of our staff at LSPC and AOUON have joined forces to take Senator Wiener to task by addressing numerous inequities in the bill and demanding the inclusion of a number of complex but crucial components. Some of the biggest concerns around affordability include the need for a value-added recapture process. That refers to new value given to developers based on the ability to build higher and denser buildings without paying more in taxes and fees to build them. Developers are allowed to keep that value and not reinvest it (recapture) into those communities through projects for low to very low- and moderate-income units.

Other areas of disagreement include:

  • the need for broader definitions of “sensitive communities,” which will give those communities more control over how developments projects are done,
  • the continued use of in-lieu of fees by developers who make promises to create units for low and very low-income people and then renege and pay a paltry fee instead and keep all of the units market rate,
  • the retention of the local planning commissions and community input into the process of development.

At the committee hearing last week, LSPC and AOUON were proud to join the group of over 200 organizations, individuals, and elected officials who spoke against the bill unless the changes we identified above take place. Ultimately, SB 50 made it out of the committee and is now going to be heard in the full Senate. The battle continues on this bill.

Kim Carter, founder of A Time for Change Foundation, once said, “We would rather die on the battlefield than stand on the sidelines or bargain away our rights before we ever fight for them.” Thanks, Ms. Kim, we couldn’t agree more. Thank you to everyone who called, wrote, or showed up to the hearing!

Join us in the fight!

Call or Send an email to Senator Wiener and the other members of the Senate Governance & Finance Committee on this Friday, Monday and/or Tuesday, and tell them:

SB 50, as currently written, doesn’t go far enough to address inequities, gentrification, and displacement, while it gives developers more and more rights and privileges to build. They will build many of us, who are Black, Brown, immigrant, and poor, out of the communities we have lived in for generations.

Please include provisions to:

  • address value-added capture,
  • better definitions of “sensitive communities” to include those already devastated by gentrification,
  • craft stronger protections and verification processes for developers to avoid building on spaces where renters have lived for the previous 7 years,
  • not eliminate or severely weaken the ability of communities where development is targeted from having a say in what their communities through the planning commission process,
  • get rid of in-lieu fees or make them completely financially undesirable to use so developers can keep their promises to build for low-, very-low, and moderate-income folks to include them in housing developments.”

We oppose the bill unless it is amended as described.”

Thank you for your support!

For more information, contact LSPC Policy Manager, Sabina Crocette:sabina@prisonerswithchildren.org / 415.625.7040

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.