Bill Aimed at Easing Employment Barriers for PA’s Returning Citizens Goes to Governor’s Desk

PennLive: Charles Thompson - June 24, 2020 A bill aimed at helping people with past criminal records find open doors to work in occupations directly regulated by the state received final passage in the Pennsylvania General Assembly on Wednesday and is now headed to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk for adoption. Wolf is expected to sign it. The bill, sponsored by Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin County, breezed through the House and Senate with no opposition. DiSanto’s effort is the latest in a set of bills aimed at removing employment barriers for ex-offenders that have gotten traction in Harrisburg in recent years, including a separate 2018 act that automatically clears the criminal records of most non-vio

New Report: Trauma ‘A Way of Life’ for Returning Citizens

Michael Gelb - The Crime Report: June 19, 2020 A striking 47 percent of former inmates experienced at least one traumatic event in the eight months after they were released from prison, according to a study conducted at Florida State University’s Institute for Justice Research and Development (IJRD). Of those who experienced trauma, 18 percent lost a loved one to homicide, 23 percent were violently assaulted, 31 percent witnessed a serious injury or death, 31 percent were diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or sustained a serious injury, and 60 percent learned of the serious injury or death of a loved one. Incidents like these led one participant to describe the post-release “mental an

How Federal Prisons Became Coronavirus Death Traps

Keri Blakinger and Keegan Hamilton - The Marshall Project: June 18, 2020 He sounded like he was dying. That was Sonia Rodriguez’s first thought when her fiancé called her from federal prison near Cleveland. The gravelly voice she had known since high school had turned into a wheeze. He could barely finish a sentence without pausing to catch his breath. He said he was coughing up blood. Rodriguez, a 49-year-old who handles accounting at a bakery, knew she was taking on a lot when she reconnected with JJ—officially Johnny Joe Desilva Jr.—while he was serving time. She knew his past involvement in gangs and drug trafficking would make the road to married life long. But now she feared she would

As COVID-19 Spreads In Prisons, Lockdowns Spark Fear Of More Solitary Confinement

Joseph Shapiro - NPR: June, 15, 2020 Prisons across the country have placed prisoners on lockdown — they're kept in their cells mostly around-the-clock — as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Now prison reformers are worried that the response has increased the use of a practice they've long fought: solitary confinement. "We're starting to see an alarming trend in light of COVID-19," says Jessica Sandoval of Unlock the Box, a coalition of groups fighting solitary confinement, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. That trend is outlined in the coalition's new report, Solitary Confinement Is Never the Answer. Before the coron

Coronavirus Cases Rise Sharply in Prisons Even as They Plateau Nationwide

Timothy Williams, Libby Seline and Rebecca Griesbach - The New York Times: June 16, 2020 Cases of the coronavirus in prisons and jails across the United States have soared in recent weeks, even as the overall daily infection rate in the nation has remained relatively flat. The number of prison inmates known to be infected has doubled during the past month to more than 68,000. Prison deaths tied to the coronavirus have also risen, by 73 percent since mid-May. By now, the five largest known clusters of the virus in the United States are not at nursing homes or meatpacking plants, but inside correction institutions, according to data The New York Times has been collecting about confirmed corona

Mass Decarceration, COVID-19, and Justice in America

Deanna Van Buren & F. Javier Torres-Campos – Stanford Social Innovation Review, June 9, 2020 With the highest incarceration rate in the world, US prisons and jails are drivers for the catastrophic outbreak of COVID-19. Because of dense living conditions, limited soap and hand sanitizer, poor access to quality healthcare, and an increasingly elderly population, the outbreaks we’ve seen so far may be just the beginning. It’s no surprise that hundreds of municipalities are already working to meet the crisis by reducing prison populations, whether by identifying those incarcerated for misdemeanors, near the end of their sentences, or with special risk (pregnant inmates, those over the age of 60,

Small Business Owner with a Criminal Record? Share Your Story with CLS

The CARES Act is providing federal funding to help our nation’s small businesses get through the COVID-19 pandemic. But thousands of small business owners are finding themselves blocked from receiving this critical aid because they have a conviction or arrest record in their past. Are you a small business owner with a record, or do you work for a small business owner with a record? CLS wants to hear from you! Click here to share your story. The Small Business Administration (SBA), which is administering the federal aid, has put in place restrictions that automatically exclude business owners who: Are serving probation sentences Have a felony conviction from the last 5 years Entered a diversi

Six Percent of Asymptomatic People in Philadelphia Jails Tested Positive for COVID-19 As Jails Move

Jeremy Roebuck - June 5, 2020 Nearly 6% of asymptomatic people in Philadelphia’s jails tested positive for the coronavirus during mass testing conducted over the last two weeks, city officials announced Friday, the same day they cemented a settlement in a federal class-action lawsuit guaranteeing greater protections for inmates at risk of contracting the disease. The results announced Friday came after corrections officials reversed course last month on calls to universally test everyone in their custody — a measure used with increasing frequency at other detention facilities as the pandemic takes an especially heavy toll in corrections institutions. It was also a measure that the 10 prisone

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance | Think You Can't Get Unemployment? Now You Can!

Think you can’t get unemployment benefits? Now you can! The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, or “PUA,” has now started. During 2020, PUA will provide benefits to people who usually do not qualify for unemployment benefits, known as “UC,” in Pennsylvania. People eligible for PUA benefits include: · Gig workers, like Uber drivers. · Independent contractors. · Self-employed people. · People who lost jobs with religious organizations. · Workers without enough work history to qualify for UC. Anyone who does not qualify for UC should apply for PUA if they have lost their job, lost business, had their hours reduced, or have been unable to work because of the pandemic. PUA will provide: · U

“Juvenile Lifers” Were Meant to Get a Second Chance. COVID-19 Could Get Them First

Eli Hager - June 3, 2020 Darnell Johnson long believed that he would die alone in a prison cell. In 1998, a Michigan court sentenced him to life behind bars without the possibility of parole for killing a woman and shooting two others during a botched armed robbery when he was 17, court records show. Johnson had been in prison for more than a decade when the U.S. Supreme Court issued two rulings, one in 2012 and another in 2016, that said “juvenile lifers” like him must have their sentences reviewed, taking into account that they were not yet adults when they committed their crimes. In many states, hundreds saw their prison terms shortened or were released. But Johnson and nearly 1,000 other

Opinion: Don’t Bar Ex-Offenders From Coronavirus Aid Funds

Cyrus R. Vance Jr. - June 2, 2020 Six weeks after the Paycheck Protection Program began pumping hundreds of billions of dollars in lifelines to businesses affected by shutdowns, one group of entrepreneurs remains frozen out of resources: those who have previous criminal history. The Small Business Administration’s decision to exclude these members of our community from the payroll loans has caused great harm — damage that will linger long after the pandemic, resulting in long-term economic damage to our communities and greater recidivism. The bill passed by Congress and signed by President Trump to establish the Paycheck Protection Program — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security

Recidivism Will Only Decrease if Successful Reentry is Embraced as an Antidote for Mass Incarceratio

Lewis Conway - May 29, 2020 While there are many policies drafted and bills legislated, really the only components that comprise successful reentry to the community are skills, support, and shelter. Thinking about what I needed when I came home from prison looks much different now than it did 20 odd years ago. Back then, I thought serving my time in prison was my punishment; I didn’t know I was facing a life sentence after leaving prison. And for many people reentering society after leaving incarceration, that’s what reentry is — a life sentence. When the corrections officer stopped by my bunk to tell me I was being paroled, my world stood still, and my head spun. All of a sudden life aft

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