"Knowledge To Empower"
RIHD Director Speaks Out - June, 2012
Richmond Peace Education Center NEW
A Voice for the Voiceless
By Robin Farmer
Lillie Branch-Kennedy, founder and director of the nonprofit Resource Information Help for the Disadvan-taged (RIHD), works to help ex-inmates make a positive transition into society. Her efforts have led to local and national recognition, including selection as a 2011 Petra Fellow, a honor which "champions unsung leaders who are making distinctive contributions to the rights, autonomy and dignity of mil-lions who are marginalized in America." Branch-Kennedy shared her thoughts about the work of RIHD, the role of volunteers and why prisoners are viewed as an economic opportunity.
What is the mission of RIHD?
RIHD’s goals are to reduce crime and reduce recidi-vism by providing self-help information and legislative support. Our legislative agenda includes increased year-round youth programs, increased prisoner literacy, educa-tion, therapeutic and vocational rehabilitation, increased re-entry assistance programs and a constitutional amend-
ment restoring civil and voting rights to over 350,000- plus lifetime disenfranchised Virginians.
What kind of help is needed?
We need every type of help possible — volunteers to perform office work, researchers, paralegal work, grant-writing to get funded, donations, in-kind donations. It’s a great opportunity for retirees or college students for com-munity service. Most importantly we need public support to be proactive in helping the Community Restoration Campaign pass "fair and common-sense" laws that deter youth violence, reduce crime and reduce recidivism. To help call (804) 426-4426 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our web site: www.rihd.org
What is the RIHD Youth Initiative?
RIHD Youth Initiative is an all-volunteer, non-profit center providing direct services to area young people. Services and programs include after-school homework, mentoring, non-traditional sports, nutritional education, and a community garden with community service.
RIHD has provided transportation so families can visit incarcerated loved ones.
Why do so few prisoners receive visitors?
Distance and cost are the primary two reasons why so few prisoners receive visitors. In an effort to keep prison-ers and their families connected, in 2002, RIHD began providing 16-hour round-trip transportation service to fara-way Virginia prisons high in the Appalachian Mountains.
In the past three years, there has been a significant de-cline in private donations used to defray the cost from our ridership. This has resulted in a cost increase, led to fewer trips and visits. RIHD is a nonprofit advocacy; a donation of $25 is fully tax-deductible.
You mentioned that you are reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Is it a must-read?
I strongly recommend the reading of Ms. Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. It provides a wake-up call and educa-tion in what drives America’s mass incarceration and it’s connection to Jim Crow. In her book she makes a crucial assessment that mass incarceration is driven by a racial caste system and not crime prevention; that our black youth are to be labeled as "black criminals."
What did your selection as a Petra Fellow in 2011 mean to you?
Petra Fellows are "Soaring Spirits" working together and individually to combat racism, poverty, class discrimi-nation, violence, ignorance, and the lack of public engage-ment in many pressing issues of our time. Receiving the Petra Fellow award from this elite foundation was an awe-inspiring once-in-a-lifetime weekend experience at Harvard University. It was an honor to have been nominated, and then selected as a Petra Fellow in 2011. I will do my best to transform to a "soaring spirit."
You have described Virginia as on its way to becoming a prison state. Please elaborate.
Since 1995, when crime in Virginia was on a decline, nine new prisons were built at the cost of hundreds of mil-lions in taxpayer dollars, all in rural or small town commu-nities. As Virginia crime continued to decline, the need to fill the new cells raised. When Virginia cannot fill all of it new cells, it imports inmates from over-crowded facilities as far away as Connecticut, Pennsylvania and the Virgin Islands. These prisoners are seen as an economic opportu-nity. A footnote, with the continued decline of crime and the return of prisoners to their home state, eight state cor-rectional centers have closed in Virginia. One was built and has remained un-opened.
The "national cost to imprison a person for one year is $29,041," and the cost to educate averages less than $2,000. The 2013 annual Virginia Department of Corrections budget is $1.2 billion, in addition to the separate budget for Virginia Correctional Education services.
You co-founded the Community Restoration Campaign to lobby the state legislature for cost-effective, best-practices reform. What was the impact this year? How can the pub-lic help with this effort?
The Community Restoration Campaign was formed by several Virginia reform advocates in 2011 under the guidance of ThousandKites.org to develop and host com-munication strategies to end the prison industrial com-plex. The campaign has resulted in national and statewide awareness and support towards reforming Virginia’s no-parole law and its effect. To date over 2,000 Virginians have signed up, taken the pledge and continue to be pro-active advocates in their districts and communities.
What are your thoughts about initiatives to strengthen suc-cessful prisoner re-entry from the administration of Gov. Bob McDonnell?
I commend any and all efforts to strengthen successful prisoner re-entry. Successful prisoner re-entry should afford the returning person an "earned" second chance, strengthen the family and restore the community. An earned second chance should not restrict, nor hinder em-ployment, housing opportunities (except when minors are concerned), and eligibility for TANF benefits (except when minors are concerned). It should include restoring civil and voting rights to more than 350,000 lifetime dis-enfranchised Virginians.
Your schedule is crammed. How do you unwind?
I enjoy quiet time, aquatics, and volunteerism.
The New Jim Crow
Excerpts from the book by Michelle Alexander,
recommended by Lillie Branch-Kennedy:
"Jim Crow and slavery were caste systems. So is our current system of mass incarceration. . . .
"In 1972, fewer than 350,000 people were being held in prisons and jails nationwide, compared with more than 2 million people today. . . . "The term mass incarceration refers not only to the criminal justice system but also to the larger web of laws, rules, policies, and customs that control those labeled criminals both in and out of prison. Once re-leased, former prisoners enter a hidden underworld of legalized discrimination and permanent social exclu-sion. They are members of America’s new undercaste. "And in major cities wracked by the drug war, as many as 80 percent of young African American men now have criminal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives."
Congressional Hearing "Solitary Confinement" & Richmond VA Call to Action
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights will hold the first-ever Congressional hearing on solitary confinement on Tuesday, June 19 at 10am in Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 226.
We in Richmond are joining the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in a nationwide fast for 23 hours prior to the hearing - symbolizing the 23 hours prisoners spend in solitary confinement cells per day. Join people across the nation in fasting from 1pm on Monday, June 18 until 12 noon on Tuesday, June 19. We will gather at the John Marshall Court House (400 N. 9th St) at 5:30pm with a short rally and march to the Richmond City Jail and back. We will march chain gang style, meaning two by two with homemade shackles (see event page for detail), bring pots and pans. We encourage those with police or guard-uniforms to wear them. This is not manditory but recommended.
Here is the link for the national call
Here is the link for the Richmond actions
The United States is a world leader in holding prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement. There are 44 state-run super-max prisons and one federal super-max prison -- each of which holds inmates exclusively in solitary confinement. At least 80,000 people in the U.S. criminal justice system are held in solitary confinement on any given day. From 1995 to 2000, the growth rate of segregation units significantly surpassed the prison growth rate overall: 40% compared to 28%.
We act in solidarity with the courageous hunger strikers at Red Onion State Prison, one of Virginia’s own supermax prisons, who are organizing at great risk to themselves for rights that are already theirs under Virginia State law. Among their demands are fully cooked food with adequate nutritional content, access to grievance forms and a knowledge of why they are being held in solitary confinement and what is required of them to get out.
Prison-to-Poverty Cycle A New Jim Crow
October 8, 2010: Governor McDonnell Selection for Director of the Department of Corrections
Harold Clarke, Director of the Department of Corrections
Harold Clarke joined the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services as a counselor in 1974. Mr Clarke rose through the ranks in the department becoming a unit manager, deputy warden, and then warden at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in 1987. In August of 1990, he was appointed Director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, a position he held until 2005. As the Director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services Clarke developed and implemented a community focused re-entry plan for the department. In 2007, Mr Clarke left Nebraska to become the Secretary of the Washington State Department of Corrections where he was instrumental in obtaining accreditation for 22 of the 30 facilities in less than three years.
Virginia prisons' reading policy overturned,
LARRY O'DELL Associated Press Writer
September 3, 2010
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) A federal judge has declared unconstitutional a Virginia prison policy that denies inmates access to classic literature with sexually explicit passages but allows them to peruse Playboy magazine.
U.S. District Judge James C. Turk in Roanoke ruled Wednesday that there is no rational connection between the restrictions and the state's legitimate interests in rehabilitating inmates and maintaining safety and order in the prisons. The ruling was a victory for Augusta Correctional Center inmate William R. Couch, who represented himself in a lawsuit challenging Virginia Department of Corrections Operating Policy 803.2 after he was denied access to the novels "Ulysses" by James Joyce and "Lady Chatterly's Lover" by D.H. Lawrence.
Inmate convicted of Amherst murder linked to 2nd prison death
August 02, 2010
A Virginia inmate who warned prosecutors that he would kill again if not given the death penalty for strangling his cellmate was involved in the death of another inmate, authorities said.
A Hopewell man serving a life sentence for murdering a Madison Heights man and facing a possible death-penalty sentence this month for murdering his cellmate last year was implicated in the death of a second inmate last week. Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ron Elkins confirmed late Saturday that Robert Gleason Jr. was “involved” in the death of Aaron Alexander Cooper, though Elkins refused to elaborate. Gleason has not been charged in the death, he said Saturday. Cooper, 26, died Wednesday in the recreation yard for inmates housed in segregation at the maximum security Red Onion State Prison in southwestern Virginia. Staff writer Chris Dumond contributed to this report. http://www2.newsadvance.com/news/2010/aug/02/virginia-inmate-linked-2nd-death-ar-358212/
Spring/Summer 2010 - Virginia Defenders Newspaper
Page 6 --THE 864 RASTA OF VDOC
--Prisoner advocacy groups target sentencing disparity
Feel free to print and send to your incarcerated loved one!
Va. inmates file suits to stop prison violence:
Thirty-five inmates at a Virginia prison, fed up with rape and sodomy at the institution, have filed federal lawsuits seeking an end to prison violence. The lawsuits come at the same time a group of prisoner advocates are demanding that the U.S. attorney general implement regulations, ordered by Congress, to eliminate sexual attacks in prisons. http://hamptonroads.com/2010/06/va-inmates-file-suits-stop-prison-violence
Va: Rasta Inmates Spend 10 Years in Isolation for Hair: He has now been in isolation nearly 4,000 days. He begins each one with prayer, reading scripture and meditation. "Kendall Gibson, Virginia Prisoner - JARRATT, Va. -- Kendall Gibson would seem to be one of Virginia's most dangerous prisoners. For more than 10 years he has lived in segregation at the Greensville Correctional Center, spending at least 23 hours every day in a cell the size of a gas station bathroom. In a temporary home for the worst of the worst - inmates too violent or disruptive to live among the rest of society's outcasts - he has been a permanent fixture. He is there, he says, not for his crimes but for a crime he will not commit - a crime against God. The only thing imposing about Gibson is his long black dreadlocks, resting on the front of his shoulders so they won't drag the ground as he shuffles along in his orange jumpsuit. It is his hair - winding locks he considers a measure of his Rastafarian faith - that makes him a threat, according to Virginia Department of Corrections Operating Procedure No. 864.1 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/07/AR2010050703559_pf.html
American Friends Service Committee: The American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch Project is planning to update the Fall 2001 "Torture in US Prisons – Evidence of US Human Rights Violations." We are seeking testimonies from men, women and children relating to the use of extended isolation and devices of torture (use of force, chemical and physical restraints, other living conditions, forced double celling in isolation, etc.). We will also be accepting drawings and photos. Our deadline is June 15th. We will only be able to acknowledge by form letter. Unless otherwise authorized the publication will use first name, last initial and facility only. Please send to Bonnie Kerness, AFSC, 89 Market St., 6th floor, Newark, NJ 07102. Please make this message available to people concerned with the prison system and send it to friends and loved ones in prison. Without your input, this publication would not be possible. Our gratitude. Sincerely, AFSC Prison Watch Project Bonnie Kerness <BKerness@afsc.org
Va. inmate: 'Only way to stop me' is death row: DENA POTTER, Associated Press Writer= POUND, Va. (AP) — For seven days, Robert Gleason Jr. begged correctional officers and counselors at Wallens Ridge State Prison to move his new cellmate. The constant singing, screaming and obnoxious behavior were too much, and Gleason knew he was ready to snap. On the eighth day — May 8, 2009 — correctional officers found 63-year-old Harvey Gray Watson Jr. bound, gagged, beaten and strangled. His death went unnoticed for 15 hours because correctional officers had falsified inmate counts at the high-security prison in southwestern Virginia. Now, Gleason says he'll kill again if he isn't put to death for killing Watson, who had a history of mental illness. And he says his next victim won't be an inmate. "I murdered that man cold-bloodedly. I planned it, and I'm gonna do it again," the 40-year-old Gleason told The Associated Press. "Someone needs to stop it. The only way to stop me is put me on death row." http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/9124611/print
PA. will transfer 2,000 inmates to Virginia
Pa. will transfer 2,000 inmates to Virginia & Michigan. HARRISBURG -- The state Department of Corrections, faced with a worsening problem of prison overcrowding and the protracted process of building new prisons, has decided to move 2,000 inmates to lockups in two other states. Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09356/1022675-454.stm#ixzz0acu6KSGgVirginia Prisoners Sues Parole Board:Eleven state inmates convicted of violent crimes filed a lawsuit against the Virginia Parole Board this morning, challenging what they allege are rote, automatic parole denials. The class action suit filed in U.S. District Court claims the inmates are repeatedly rejected for parole because of the “serious nature and circumstances of the crime,“ wrongly and unnecessarily prolonging their prison terms and burdening taxpayers. Parole ended in Virginia for crimes committed on or after Jan. 1, 1995. http://www2.wsls.com/sls/news/state_regional/article/11_va._inmates_sue_parole_board/78870/
Innoncent NYC Man Freed After 16 Years in Prison:
This is becoming all too common. A man, usually a black man, is freed from prison after spending decades behind bars for a crime that is later discovered he did not commit.
Sometimes DNA evidence is the reason these men are freed. Other times, it's witnesses who recant theirtestimony, false witness identification and coerced confessions. http://www.bvblackspin.com/2010/06/10/nyc-man-freed-after-16-years-in-prison/?icid=main|htmlws-bv-n|dl3|link6|http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bvblackspin.com%2F2010%2F06%2F10%2Fnyc-man-freed-after-16-years-in-prison%2F
The Graying of America’s Prisons
By James Ridgeway
The “tough on crime” posturing and policymaking that have dominated American politics for more than three decades have left behind a grim legacy. Longer sentences and harsher parole standards have led to overcrowded prisons, overtaxed state budgets, and devastated families and communities. Now, yet another consequence is becoming visible in the nation’s prisons and jails: a huge and ever-growing numbers of geriatric inmates. http://thecrimereport.org/2009/12/07/the-graying-of-americas-prisons/
VA LEGISLATORS HAVE TWITTER
The Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia now have Twitter accounts,
Video of Event:
Jobs With Justice Chicago Illinois Rally/March:
Florida man exonerated, freed from prison after 35 years: James Bain, 54, talks to the media Thursday after his release in Bartow, Florida. Bartow, Florida (CNN) After more than three decades in prison, a man in florida was set free Thursday after a DNA test showed he did not kidnap and rape a 9-year-old boy in 1974. James Bain, 54, was 19 when he was convicted on charges of kidnapping, burglary and strong-arm rape. Now he will be allowed to go home for the first time in 35 years. http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/12/16/florida.dna.exoneration/index.html
Denied religious CD, Va. inmate sues:Associated Press - February 4, 2010 - RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A Virginia inmate who says prison officials wouldn't let him order a sermon on CD is suing the state Department of Corrections. The Rutherford Institute filed the lawsuit Wednesday in federal court in Norfolk on behalf of Kyle Mabe. He claims a directive allowing inmates to receive music CDs but not spoken word CDs violates his right to exercise his religious beliefs. According to the lawsuit, Mabe tried to have a CD with a Christian sermon delivered to him at St. Brides Correctional Center in Chesapeake. He says prison officials refused to process his request. A Department of Corrections spokesman did not immediately return telephone or e-mail messages Thursday. http://www.nbc12.com/Global/story.asp?S=11934567
Prison Legal News (PLN) Censorship Suit Against Virginia DOC
New questions on censorship
By The Daily Progress
Published: February 10, 2010
The state corrections department is at it again.
Last year, you’ll remember, the department gained notoriety first for banning a local program to send books to inmates and then for a broader censorship issue in which prisoners were denied material ranging from James Joyce’s classic "Ulysses," to The Daily Progress, to Reader’s Digest. Also banned were issues of Prison Legal News, a 7,000-circulation monthly magazine. It filed a lawsuit in October against a handful of officials at the state corrections department, claiming that they violated the First and 14th amendments. Now comes a lawsuit alleging another violation of the First Amendment, this one involving religious expression. An inmate says he was denied a copy of a CD containing a sermon because the department does not allow inmates to receive spoken-word CDs, only music disks. http://www2.dailyprogress.com/cdp/news/opinion/op_ed/article/new_questions_on_censorship/52063/
Judge Mathis Calls Prison System Modern-Day Slavery:By Boyce Watkins, PhD - Two years ago, I went to the Rainbow/Push Coalition Convention as a guest of Rev. Jesse Jackson. I was there to discuss the state ofAfrican American male athletesand how they are continuously used by the NCAA. When asked about the NCAA, the only system I considered to be more exploitative is the prison industrial complex. Judge Mathis (aka Greg Mathis) was one of the speakers on prisons, and I was impressed. During that speech, he gave the kind of bold, empowered and intelligent message that will resonate with every black male athlete, entertainer, politician, businessman and power broker in America. Mathis challenged the prison system head on, linking it with the sad state of the American educational system. Mathis reiterated his comments this week on BET's '106 & Park,' stating that the prison system is modern-day slavery.