Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Congratulations Coalition Member Leticia Forrest, 2015 Southern Prince George's Business and Professional Woman of the Year (SPG-BPW) Woman of the Year

The Prince George’s County Drug Policy, Inc.  congratulates Coalition member Leticia Forrest on her selection as the recipient of the 2015 Southern Prince George's Business and Professional Woman of the Year Coalition (SPG-BPW). Coalition President, Valencia Campbell, nominated Leticia for the 2015 SPG-BPW award.  She was selected to receive the award based on her broad experiences mentoring young women, her commitment in supporting nonprofits in the community, her efforts to successfully operate a business for more than 15 years and her work managing the prestigious service academy nominations which allowed young women and men to gain access to these institutions. 
In addition to receiving awards from the local SPG-BPW chapter, Leticia also received a proclamation from the Prince George's  County Council, as well as citations from the Governor,  and U.S. Senator for Maryland Barbara Mikulski. Please join us in congratulating Leticia and saying thank you for her years of dedicated service to our communities. Also, please take a moment to view the pictures of the commemoration events below.

  Leticia Forrest speaking at  the County Council ceremony
in the hearing room in Upper Marlboro Maryland.


Award recipient Leticia Forrest poses for a photo with Prince George’s County Councilmembers,  Southern Prince George's Business and Professional Women and the SPG- BPW Employer of the Year Virginia Callas, who is the Executive Director of Unity Economic Development Corporation

Leticia Forrest, with Coalition President Valencia Campbell,
showing her citations and proclamations at the Maryland Business and  Professional  Woman of the Year (BPW/MD 2015) Fall Conference in Hagerstown, MD.




Saturday, December 5, 2015

Delegate Tony Knotts Hosts Annapolis Day for Students

On Saturday, November 7, 2015 Maryland District 26 Delegate Tony Knotts, former County Council Chairman and Council Member for District 8, hosted a 2015 Legislative Day for youth in in Annapolis, Maryland from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m . 

The goal of the event was to encourage more students to learn how the legislative process works and become more aware and involved in the political process. Through a mock session in Annapolis, students had the opportunity to discuss selected bills, cast their votes, and understand the importance of having their voice heard on issues of critical concern to them and their community. Schools invited to participate included Crossland High School, Friendly High School, Oxon Hill High School, and Potomac High School. Delegate Knotts wanted the focus to be on high school students who may not normally be interested in government, “Our goal is to provide greater exposure for youth in the areas of policy and government.”              

The 2015 Legislative Day for youth in in Annapolis was held in conjunction with the National Harbor Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc., Henry’s Soul Café, and The Prince George’s County Drug Policy Coalition, Inc.

Please take a few moments look at the photographs taken of the event, courtesy of Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald.
 Students on Their Way to Vote on Their Bills

Coalition Members Valencia Campbell, Cheryle Mines,
Volunteer Jennifer Shanks, and National Harbor Chapter 
of Jack and Jill Leader Colette Gresham Listening  to  Mock Teen Leader


Teen Students Gather to Listen to Delegate Tony Knotts
National Harbor Chapter of Jack and Jill Cosponsors

MD State Delegate Michael Jackson Advising Teen Participants 
Coalition Members with Volunteer Helper Jennifer Shanks

Teen Participants Voting on Their Leadership

Delegate Tony Knotts with wife, Mrs. Wanda Knotts
More 2015 Mock Teen Participants

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Forum on Police Accountability in Prince George’s and the State of Maryland: NEXT STEPS

October 1, 2015

LARGO, MD – On October 1, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, the Prince George’s County Branch of the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Prince George's County, and the Prince George’s County People’s Coalition will host a forum, “Maryland Police Accountability: NEXT STEPS.”

Members of the public are invited to join experts and community leaders to discuss the next steps to address police accountability in Maryland. How should we address police brutality cases? How should we educate the community? What legislation should we introduce and advocate for in the 2016 Maryland General Assembly session?

WHAT: Forum on police accountability in Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland.

WHO: Moderator: Wilmer Leon, Sirius XM Radio Host; 

            Speakers: Cary Hansel, Hansel Law, PC; 
                             Toni Holness, ACLU of Maryland; 
                             Dorothy Elliot, Victim Advocate; 
                             Christian Gant, Next Step Coalition; 
                             Matthew Fogg, Congress Against Racism and 
                                                                   Corruption in Law Enforcement;
                             Bob Ross, Prince George’s NAACP; 
                             Dr. Johnnie Jones, Professor

WHEN: Thursday, October 1, from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

WHERE: Prince George’s Community College, Rennie Forum, 301 Largo Rd, Largo, MD.

Contacts: Walakewon Blegay, wblegay@gmail.com, 202-441-7650
                 Meredith Curtis, ACLU, media@aclu-md.org, 443-310-9946


Friday, September 11, 2015

"Crisis of confidence with justice system" examined by Michael Brown attorney, panelists

Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Walter Scott. Sandra Bland. Samuel DuBose.
Those are a few of the most recent names of African-Americans seared into the collective memory of much of America over the last few years, following their untimely deaths either while in police custody or whose suspicious deaths were not perceived as being investigated or adjudicated fairly by the criminal justice system.
A panel of legal experts at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago claimed these most recent examples along with the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon present a lurid new visibility to the ongoing challenges to the rule of law in much of the minority community.

The perception of a dual justice system gets reinforced with every perceived miscarriage of justice, said Daryl D. Parks, whose law firm represents the family of teenager Michael Brown, who was shot multiple times and killed by former Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson last August. The 18-year-old unarmed youth became engaged in a confrontation with the officer over his walking in the middle of the street with a friend, which turned in to a violent altercation.
“Black Americans are in a crisis of confidence with the Justice Department,” said Parks, a managing partner with the Tallahassee law firm of the Parks and Crump LLC. He said many feel that the “politics of color, class and race” are all leveled against them.
Parks was joined on the panel titled, “It’s Not Just Ferguson: Promoting the Rule of Law and Other Solutions at Home,” by Arthur L. Burnett, Sr., a retired Washington, D.C. Superior Court judge who is now the executive director of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc.; Melanca Clark, chief of staff at the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the U.S. Department of Justice; and Bernice B. Donald, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati.
The most recent cases have been an impetus for extra scrutiny of policing policies and widespread sentiment among people of color that there is a double standard of justice in America, especially with its youth, panelists said.
Donald noted that in far too many instances police are now the disciplinary figure in inner city public schools. “Schoolyard infractions are now being catapulted in to the criminal justice system,” she said.
Donald said given the proliferation of security guards, metal detectors and zero tolerance policies in the often highly segregated and poor inner city schools that many have taken on the characteristics of prisons rather than educational institutions.

“It wasn’t all that long ago when punishment meant coming to school early and attending mandatory study hall,” she said.
But now with children as young as five and six years old being introduced to the criminal justice system, Donald and others on the panel feared that a negative relationship with the law sets in for the remainder of their lives. Such dynamics, they agreed, hardens the perception in minority communities that the rule of law does not apply to them when it comes to finding justice for their communities.
Burnett said he certainly understood and sympathized with the concerns about the over-policing of the African-American community and the feelings of being disrespected by police by so many young people. However, he said the smartest thing young people could do was to be compliant when encountering the police.
“Don’t be defiant and belligerent,” the retired judge said. “Go to lawyers to deal with the problems of abuse and to hold police accountable.”
Burnett said as hard as it may be to hear, nothing constructive can come out of an individual challenging the authority of a police officer. However, he added that it is also imperative for white police officers to “treat black people with the same respect they show white people.”
Parks’ firm previously represented the family of 17-year-old teenager Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed in 2012 by security guard George Zimmerman while walking to his father’s home from a store in Sanford, Fla.  Zimmerman, who confronted Martin and shot him during an altercation, was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in 2013 by a predominantly white jury.

Parks said the issue is not black youth’s attitudes, but the failure of police departments to adequately train its officers to respect the public. Also problematic, he said, is the knee-jerk reactions from so many departments, unions and prosecutors to automatically back bad officers when their behavior has been challenged by a civilian.
He said for every death following an encounter with the police, there are hundreds of people who have been beat up, unlawfully detained and hurt by officers, but aren’t hurt enough to make for a successful case in court.
“One of the worst parts of fighting a law enforcement agency is that they pretty much have unlimited budgets and clients don’t have much money,” Parks said. “I feel read bad about people who don’t die, but have been humiliated, hurt and have to dismiss their case because they don’t meet the threshold.” 
It’s Not Just Ferguson: Promoting the Rule of Law and Other Solutions at Home” was sponsored by the Judicial Division.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Real Talk With Dr. Valencia Campbell: Becoming Equipped To Take Action Now chats with Dr. Alvin

              Dr. Valencia Campbell, author of “Advice From the Top: What Minority Women Say about Their Career Success,” speaks with Dr. Alvin concerning the climate of activism and protest surrounding the police brutality that led to the deaths young people like Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD and others around the country like Eric Garner in New York. The discussion can be heard at:  Dr. Valencia Campbell chat with Dr. Alvin on Real Talk


One of the important conferences coming up this September include National African American Drug Policy Coalition (NAADPC) Fall Conference on September 14-15 at Howard University School of Law. The theme will be: ACHIEVING SOLUTIONS TO RACIAL DISCRIMINATION IN HEALTHCARE, JUSTICE AND EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES. The Conference Registration can be found at NAADPC 2015 Conference Registration Form.  Some issues discussed will including, achieving solutions to problems of police contact, as well as problems of police contact. These dynamic discussions will include Prince George’s County Drug Policy Coalition members Duke Haggins and Chayla Jackson, J.D.


Dr. Campbell also mentioned the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference which will be held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington DC from September 15, 2015 to September 18, 2015. There will be a number of sessions addressing pertinent issues of the day, including the Black Lives Matter Movement, the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, and police reform legislation.


September should be a month of action and there are many opportunities and forums for concerned and engaged folk to get involved. Once again, the discussion can be heard on Dr. Valencia Campbell chats with Dr. Alvin on Real Talk.  For more information, Dr. Campbell can be reached at campbell@advicefromthetop.com or pgcdpc@hotmail.com  as well as 240-416-0435.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc. FALL 2015 CONFERENCE



        The National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc. will be holding its FALL 2015 CONFERENCE September 14-15, 2015 at Howard University School of Law located at 2900 Van Ness St NW, Washington, DC 20008. The Theme is   “ACHIEVING SOLUTIONS TO   RACIAL DISCRIMINATION IN HEALTHCARE, JUSTICE AND EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES.”

        As the Summit Conference Program below indicates, we will be dealing with some of the most critical issues surrounding healthcare, education and justice. It will be a highly engaging conference that you will absolutely not want to miss. The Summit Conference program, as well as the Registration form, are provided below.

        Additionally, we are extending an invitation to all of you to join the National Coalition as an individual member. To facilitate this, an Individual Membership form has been provided below.



Please share this important information with family, friends, and colleagues. We look forward to see all of you at Howard University Law School located at 2900 Van Ness St NW, Washington, DC 20008, on September 14-15, 2015.


Friday, August 14, 2015

With Clemency From Obama, Drug Offender Embraces Second Chance

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Rudolph Norris walked out of Morgantown federal prison two weeks ago carrying a duffel bag like no other. First, he had spent six months hand-stitching it himself from dozens of mottled leather scraps, symbolizing the shards of his life he longed to piece back together. Then he unzipped it and pulled out his invitation to try.

“Dear Rudolph,” the letter began, “I wanted to personally inform you that I have granted your application for commutation.”

It was signed “Barack Obama.”

Mr. Norris’s 22 years behind bars over with the stroke of the president’s pen, he showed off the letter to his receiving crowd of siblings, in-laws and, mostly, his all-grown-up daughter, Rajean, who had wondered if she would ever again see her father out of an orange jumpsuit. (“That’s my daddy!” she said as he came into view, sounding like the 8-year-old she had been back when he was sentenced.) Mr. Norris hugged and cried and fist-bumped.

Then the former inmate, a newly minted symbol of second chances, rode the family’s rental van from West Virginia back to Maryland.

Mr. Norris, 58, was one of 22 federal prisoners released on July 28 through a continuing bipartisan push to shorten the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders who, during the war-on-drugs fervor of decades ago, received punishments far lengthier than they would have drawn today. The mass incarceration of those days crowded prisons at great expense, and was found to have disproportionately penalized minority crack-cocaine offenders like Mr. Norris, who was convicted of possessing and selling the substance in 1992 and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The commutations, announced on March 31, preserve the conviction but end the sentence.

One commutation went to a 65-year-old Kentucky man who had drawn a life sentence for running a massive marijuana farm; six others were freed from life sentences for cocaine-related offenses. President Obama announced another round of 46 commutations on July 13 — prisoners must wait three months for their actual release — and is considering more.

Mr. Norris’s winding, six-prison path to freedom followed early resentment over his long sentence, fatalistic acclimation to a middle age lived behind bars, and then 10 years in which he spent dozens of hours a week in prison libraries learning federal drug law and pursuing legal avenues to release.

His efforts foundered before Mr. Obama’s clemency initiative saw his case routed to a George Washington University Law School clinic and a student who received it as a class assignment. Their serendipitous work together, culminating in Mr. Norris’s release, led prisoners and wardens alike to call him the Miracle of Morgantown.

During his first days of freedom, Mr. Norris delighted in slurping his first chocolate shake and fixing his granddaughter’s Barbie playhouse. He goggled at technology he had never used, from the Internet to hands-free bathroom sinks.

But he also recognized the challenges that so many recently released prisoners face: finding work despite his criminal record; getting his own home rather than crashing in his brother’s basement indefinitely; and generally convincing a skeptical society that he is a changed man.

Not everyone will fly the yellow happy-face balloons that greeted him at his big sister’s welcome-home party the afternoon he arrived.

“He’s going to be fighting for his life,” said Courtney Stewart, the founder of the Reentry Network for Returning Citizens, a volunteer organization based in Washington that helps recently released prisoners pursue employment, housing and mental health services. “It’s going to be hard as hell, but he has to be willing to do whatever it takes. It’s not going to be up to him what that is. He won’t decide how long he’s going to have to do it. He’ll have to have some faith.”

Mr. Norris immediately called his parole officer to learn his responsibilities and pledge to follow them. (His clemency does not vacate the eight years of probation to which he was originally sentenced.) He applied for food stamps and, because all he had was his Morgantown inmate card, pursued a more marketable driver’s license.

His commitment to playing by the rules was so strong that he avoided a day-labor landscaping opportunity because it paid in cash, and he wanted to pay taxes like everyone else.
“As I navigate my way back to society and begin a productive life,” he wrote to Mr. Obama in April, “one of the first and foremost thoughts on my mind will be my solemn commitment to prove to you that your faith in me was not at all misplaced.”

Getting Out

Mr. Norris fit the requirements of the Obama administration’s clemency program almost perfectly: He had demonstrated model behavior while serving at least 10 years for a relatively low-level, nonviolent drug crime. The court’s 1993 presentencing report stated flatly, “There was no victim in this offense.” Still, sentencing standards of the time called for 30 years in prison.

Not that Mr. Norris’s record had been exemplary before that. A lifelong resident of hardscrabble northern Washington, D.C., he had been convicted of seven crimes since he was a teenager, from possession of marijuana to check forgery to robbery; none involved violence or a weapon. He was in and out of prison until the mid-1980s, when he held legitimate jobs — painting and rustproofing cars, delivering water bed mattresses — but also made $7,000 a month dealing crack cocaine, a drug so pervasive that even Washington’s mayor, Marion S. Barry Jr., was caught smoking it.

In 1992, police officers targeting Mr. Norris found 291 small bags of crack totaling 29 grams in his Chrysler LeBaron convertible.

“I wasn’t addicted to the drugs,” Mr. Norris said during his van ride back to Maryland, adding that he has not used any illegal substance or alcohol since 1983. “I was addicted to the lifestyle.”

Having had discipline issues during several earlier incarcerations — including a fight in which he stabbed an inmate with half a pair of scissors — Mr. Norris, now in his mid-30s, committed himself to clean time and the development of work skills. He took a 4,000-hour course as an electronics inspector, worked jobs like making furniture and packaging recyclables, and had only three minor disciplinary violations in 22 years, according to prison records. His behavior earned him a 2012 transfer to the minimum-security prison in Morgantown.

Ribbed by younger inmates there as “Old Gangsta,” Mr. Norris spent several hours a day in the law library, poring over the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and case law that might suggest some way to shorten his sentence. (He said he received tutoring from a fellow inmate, Matthew Kluger, a corporate lawyer serving 12 years for insider trading.)

In April 2014, when the Obama administration announced its clemency initiative, he sensed an opportunity.

But federal public defenders were not allowed to handle clemency applications, so the lawyers who had represented Mr. Norris forwarded his case to George Washington University Law School’s Neighborhood Law and Policy Clinic, which allows 10 students per semester to assist inmates for class credit. A third-year student, Courtney Francik, got the assignment last fall.

Ms. Francik, a 27-year-old Harvard graduate from the Baltimore suburb of Cockeysville, had heard from friends who had gone to law school that their most valuable experience came from handling real cases in a clinic, she said in a recent telephone interview. She signed up and soon found herself engrossed, taking the unusual step of staying on for the spring semester as well.

“I almost moved into the clinic building for Mr. Norris’s case,” Ms. Francik said. “I couldn’t wait to get to the clinic building in the morning and start working.”

Working closely with two lawyers at the clinic, Ms. Francik prepared 182 pages of legal and personal material to support Mr. Norris’s clemency application. Her enthusiasm and confidence during their one face-to-face meeting at Morgantown, in November, along with phone calls and numerous letters, so encouraged Mr. Norris that he began sewing the leather bag he hoped to carry out of prison.

His application was submitted in mid-February, joining thousands of others from inmates nationwide. They were evaluated by Department of Justice attorneys, who then recommended top candidates for White House officials to cull. Mr. Obama reviewed information on each finalist, a White House spokesman said, before using his constitutional authority to commute their sentences.

In the early afternoon of March 31, a White House lawyer called the clinic to say that Mr. Norris had become one of 22 people who would be getting letters of congratulations from Mr. Obama. Ms. Francik received a text and bolted from her class — Professional Responsibility — to join the phone call alerting Mr. Norris, who naturally was in Morgantown’s law library. He burst into tears.

“I’m not going to die in prison,” he recalled saying as he cried once more. “I’m on my way home.”
Mr. Norris spent the three-month wait for his release making sure he did nothing to jeopardize his good fortune. (Although most inmates were happy for him, a few resented his special treatment and tried to provoke altercations, he said.) On the morning he left for good, he told a crowd of hundreds of inmates seeing him off: “I’m not better than you. I just had to grow up.”

Getting Started

Walking toward his family in the parking lot, Mr. Norris wore heavy gray sweatpants and heavier gray whiskers, some pounds having migrated from his barrel chest to his belly, but still with the muscular shoulders of his distant youth. (His brother-in-law remarked, “Man, he looks good.”) Mr. Norris’s younger son, Raymond, who could not travel to the reunion from New Mexico, received Mr. Norris’s first phone call and a promise: “It’ll be my last game of basketball — I’m going to show you what Daddy’s got left and then retire.”

The five-hour ride home, during which he took 34 calls on six different family cellphones, included crucial stops for a Wendy’s chocolate Frosty and some outlet-mall sneakers. Having never used a cellphone, he officially entered the 21st century when spotty reception on Interstate 68 caused him to plead, “Can you hear me now?”

Family members fought over who would buy him a wallet, a watch and a jersey of his beloved Washington Redskins.

“Don’t buy anything for me — wait till I work, I’ll buy it for myself,” Mr. Norris pleaded. “I don’t want to be no burden. I been y’all’s burden for 25 years.”

At the welcome-back barbecue among two dozen family members in his older sister’s backyard, Mr. Norris destroyed a crate of hard-shelled crabs brought just for him. He met his daughter’s three children, including 2-year-old Zuri, whom he hoisted on his shoulder and told: “Can I have some sugar? I’ve been waiting to see you. This is all your family. It’s my family, too.”

Mr. Norris’s younger brother, Bruce, brought him back to his house in Upper Marlboro, Md., where a new, full-size mattress and several sets of clothes awaited in the made-up basement room he will use until he gets on his feet. The next morning, he showed that his playful side had survived prison; he phoned Bruce and said frantically, “I messed up the alarm and the police have me in cuffs outside the house!” only to bellow in laughter afterward.

Mr. Norris then met his probation officer to learn the terms of his supervised release: He may not leave the District of Columbia, Maryland or Virginia for 60 days, must check in with her regularly, and is subject to drug testing. A violation could bring its own punishment, which could include jail, but would not affect his commutation.

A growing number of state and federal officials from both parties are supporting measures to decrease the prison population by lightening punishments for some drug-related offenders, who according to federal data make up roughly half of the 1.5 million federal and state prisoners. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 eliminated the five-year minimum sentence for first-time possession of crack, and decreased higher mandatory punishments for dealing crack with a prior criminal record.

The day after visiting the probation office, Mr. Norris met with a social services agent who briefed him on more than a dozen state assistance programs, including ones that offer free interview clothes and health exams at the Wellmobile, a clinic on wheels that drives around Maryland. Applying for food stamps meant his first attempt at a technology forbidden in prison: the Internet. “I feel like a 5-year-old trying to learn this stuff,” he said, poking hesitantly at a keyboard.

As for the critical job hunt, the social services representative told Mr. Norris that he has more skills than many people in his position. Besides his experience painting cars and delivering packages, she said, his electronics-inspection classes and exemplary work record in prison would encourage potential employers willing to look past his incarceration.

The question is how many of those there will be. Mr. Stewart, of the association that assists former prisoners, said that initial job searches typically last between nine months and two years and tend to lead to work that is custodial, or related to the restaurant or lodging industries. One of Mr. Norris’s brothers-in-law is a shuttle-bus driver for a local hotel and will try to get him a job there, while another is looking into some gardening work.

“I’ll take the lowest honest job out there — I just want to get started,” Mr. Norris said. “Society doesn’t owe me anything. I owe society for dealing drugs.”

Getting On

A few nights after his release, Mr. Norris phoned the person he credits most for his coming home: Ms. Francik, the law student with whom he had not spoken since she delivered the news of his clemency three months ago. She graduated in May and just started work as a public defender in Shelby County, Tenn.

“Miss Courtney, y’all kept telling me I was a primary person the clemency was about,” Mr. Norris told her. “I kept hearing how confident y’all were. That’s what made me make it. Y’all were the vessels to get me home.”

“It was an honor, Mr. Norris — it really was,” she replied. “I believe in you.”

“I’m trying to get gainfully employed in a hurry,” he said, “so I can be able to provide and get my own place. I have the freedom to do what I want to do as long as I do it right.”

The two spoke for an hour. As the conversation wound down, Ms. Francik told him, “I’m going to be back in a few weeks and the whole clinic team wants to take you out to dinner. Wherever you want.”

“I’ll be dressed, pressed and at my best,” he said.

Then he paused for drama, as if his story lacked any.

“But one thing,” he said.


“I’ll have a job by then,” he vowed. “And I’m paying for you.”

Monday, August 10, 2015

Crime rate not main reason prison population exploded: It was sentencing policy

Suppose that in 1972, in response to a rising crime rate, then-President Richard Nixon announced plans to build 1 million new prison cells, reserve 60 percent of them for blacks and Latinos and put 3,000 people on death row, said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project.

Suppose that in 1972, in response to a rising crime rate, then-President Richard Nixon announced plans to build 1 million new prison cells, reserve 60 percent of them for blacks and Latinos and put 3,000 people on death row, said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project.

Such an announcement, which never happened, would have provoked widespread outrage, Mauer said. But the nation’s criminal justice policies over the past 40-some years have had that very effect.

That scenario helped set the stage on Saturday for a wide-ranging discussion of the nation’s criminal justice and sentencing policies at a Presidential Showcase Program at the ABA Annual Meeting. “Mass Incarceration: A Nation Behind Bars” was sponsored by the ABA Criminal Justice Section.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund.

Mauer was one of four panelists who explored the social, political and financial costs—as well as the collateral consequences to individuals, families and society—of the explosion in lengthy prison sentences over the past 40 years or so. Other panelists included former Deputy Attorney General James Cole; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund; and John Hagan, a professor of sociology and law at Northwestern University.

Mauer said the explosion in the prison population has come about primarily through changes in policy, not crime rates. Sentencing policies adopted in the 1980s and ’90s were designed to send more people to prison and to keep them incarcerated for longer periods of time.

The good news, he said, is that we’re finally seeing the beginnings of a shift away from such harsh sentencing policies in Congress and in many states. “Many of us are more optimistic about the prospects for reform now than we’ve been in a long time,” he said.

Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project.

Cole, now a partner at the Washington, D.C., firm Sidley & Austin, said the root of the problem was the idea that by taking all criminals off the streets for a long period of time we would solve the crime problem. “Crime did go down,” he said, “but we have to ask ourselves at what cost and with what unintended consequences that we now have to live with.”

Hagan said that half of all the adults incarcerated in America have kids, which has all sorts of negative consequences for those children, who are the innocent victims of the crimes of their parents. He said he too sees hope for the future, but that “it’s going to take a lot of hard work by a lot of people to get it done.”

Ifill said it is not only time for a careful look at what caused the current crisis, it’s also the time to initiate an affirmative effort to eradicate implied or perceived racial bias from the criminal justice system. And she said lawyers have a special role to play in that process.

“We must take immediate action,” she said, “to begin the process of rebuilding trust and confidence in the criminal justice system, and fulfilling the promise of equal justice.”

Drug crime is No. 1 reason offenders in Maryland are sentenced to prison

Possession of drugs with the intent to distribute remains the No. 1 reason people in Maryland are sentenced to state prison, according to figures presented on Wednesday (July 29, 2015) to a panel charged with finding ways to reduce incarceration and recidivism.

The Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council, which consists of a bipartisan group of lawmakers, senior-level government officials, attorneys and law enforcement representatives, received data about who is sentenced to prison, how long they stay and what impact the trends have on the state’s overall prison population.

Felicity Rose, a senior associate for the Crime and Justice Institute, said prison admissions have dropped by 19 percent over the past decade, from 11,078 in 2005 to 8,928 last year. The institute was hired by Pew Charitable Trust, which is partnering with the state to look at the data.

In 2014, 58 percent of the prison admissions in Maryland were for nonviolent offenses. And although there was a 52 percent decline in people going to state prison for possession with intent to distribute over the past decade, the offense was still at the top of the list of reasons newly sentenced prisoners were sent to prison. Drug offenders make up 19 percent of the state’s prison population.

Christopher B. Shank, chairman of the council and head of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, said the data provide the panel with some of the information it will need to make its recommendations to the governor and General Assembly.

“We have to look at what is driving the systems,” Shank said as he opened the meeting. “That’s the question that we will look at at future meetings.”

The panel plans to look more closely at what has caused the number of prisoners from Baltimore City to drop while the overall number from other parts of the state has increased. Panel members also expressed interest in examining sentencing decisions and digging deeper on the 14 percent increase in burglary offenders sentenced to prison in the past 10 years.

The panel plans to release its recommendations in December. It is one of three panels exploring reforms of the criminal justice system. The other panels are looking at best practices for police cameras and police training, and improving community relations.

By Ovetta Wiggins

Drug crime is No. 1 reason offenders in Maryland are sentenced to prison

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Advocates Praise Federal Move to Restore Pell Grants For Prisoners

After serving six years at New York's notorious Rikers Island jail and the Wyoming Correctional Facility for robbery, Glenn Martin reentered society in 2000 with an associate degree.

Martin's education was covered by state funds, but prisoners after him lost that opportunity when President Bill Clinton signed a 1994 omnibus crime bill that revoked inmates' access to federal grants, a move that triggered a ripple effect across the country.

"The degree was valuable to me to get a job after I got out and [I could] celebrate my moral compass," Martin told NBC News. "I started to think differently about the world and myself in it."

Martin, who is now a criminal justice reform advocate, witnessed the unveiling of a three-year pilot program on Friday that will make some federal and state prisoners eligible to get federal aid in the form of Pell Grants.

Eligible inmates will be able to pursue an associate's or bachelor's degree while incarcerated, a move that Martin requested last year through the 'Education from the Inside Out Coalition,' nonprofit he co-founded.

"It is a step in the right direction and I hope it is a prelude to the full reinstatement of Pell Grant eligibility by congress," he said. "This would help congress better understand the impact of full reinstatement."

The Department of Education announced a pilot program that will make 
some incarcerated people eligible for Pell Grants.

According to the Education Department, the intent of the experiment, dubbed the Second Chance Pell Pilot, is to examine whether restoring access to Pell Grants for prisoners reduces recidivism rates and leads to jobs.

Courses will be taught by a select number of colleges as soon as fall 2016. Colleges that are interested must apply by Sept. 1 to participate during the 2016-17 academic year.

"Giving people who have made mistakes in their lives a chance to get back on track and become contributing members of society is fundamental to who we are—it can also be a cost-saver for taxpayers," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement Friday.

Prison reform advocates lauded the federal experiment and called it a step in the right direction. "We are advocates for the access of higher education for everyone," said Bianca van Heydoorn, director of Education Initiatives at John Jay College of Criminal Justice's Prison Reentry Institute in New York. "This step would help people to rebuild their lives, have them more likely to be employed and get the American dream."

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, third from left, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch 
visit inmates in Jessup, Md. on July 31, 2015.

According to a 2013 Department of Justice funded study from RAND Corp., inmates who participated in correctional education programs were 43 percent less likely to return to prison. And inmates were also 13 percent more likely to have a job after finishing their sentence.

The John Jay program, which started five years ago, offers liberal arts courses at the Otisville Correctional Facility in New York. It relies on private funds for operation. van Haydoorn said 21 former inmates who were recently released and graduated from the program, are now in college or doing internships. This Fall, a new set of 32 inmates will join the reentry institute and pursue a postgraduate degree, she said.

The federal pilot plan comes on the heels of a bipartisan consensus in congress, with the desire to tackle criminal justice reform. But the Pell Pilot has already gotten some pushback from Republicans, who claim that the administration has overreached its authority.

President Barack Obama speaks during the NAACP’s 106th 
National Convention July 14, 2015, in Philadelphia.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York, introduced the "Kids Before Cons Act" on Thursday to block the administration's pilot plan. And Rep. John Kline, R-Minnesota, chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said in a statement, "If the administration wants to see meaningful change take place, it must stop governing through executive fiat and start working with the people's elected representatives in Congress.

Bart Gordon, a former Democratic congressman from Tennessee who championed the 1994 bill to end Pell Grants for prisoners, told NBC News that providing college education for inmates is a "good step, but Pell Grants is not the right way to do so."

During his time in congress, Gordon recalled that for-profit schools were taking advantage of the funds they were getting. "I suspect that if the program is closely supervised, it could probably be successful," said Gordon.

Martin, who is leading a campaign for New York to restore its program, hopes Obama's administrative action will encourage Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reintroduce a similar plan he proposed last year. The Democratic governor was forced to abandon the plan amid opposition from state GOP lawmakers.

"He should take a swing," Martin said.