Tag Archives: prison reform

Reentry updates: prison reform, women ex-offenders and the perils of Facebook

There’s a lot going on in the justice/reentry arena these days.  Here’s a quick update of what I’ve been following:

 Justice reform: will we or won’t we?

Last month, I wrote about Senator Jim Webb’s newly updated prison reform bill.  Alas, soon after, Webb announced he wouldn’t be running for a second term.  Which leaves me wondering: will a combination of  the Senator’s lame duck status and Congress’ need to focus on more pressing issues (wars, spending cuts, etc.) , push national justice reform again to the back burner?

Or will the action, as some – like the folks at Right on Crime – suggest, come more at the state level?  That’s certainly been the trend lately.    Last week, Georgia approved a bill that would set up a similar commission that will recommend reforms to that state’s prison system.   Meanwhile, the House in Oklahoma passed what’s being called the “most significant prison reform package in decades.”  Among other measures, the bill would make terms run concurrently and enhance the ability for sentences to be served within the community.

In addition, Ray Hill’s  the Prison Show  in Houston will be putting some artistic emphasis behind the need for change in our justice system when he hosts the Prison Reform Film Festival next month.

Women’s issues

I’ve worked almost exclusively with female offenders over the past couple of years.  So  I know their experiences in the justice system are very different than those of men, who make up the majority of offenders.   So I was happy to see NPR’s Kojo Nnamdi Show devote a segment recently to the unique challenges women face in terms of serving sentences and reentrying society.  There was also an interesting piece on Russian prison reforms are helping women. 

Facebook Follies

In my employment skills classes I caution students to be careful about the personal information they share on sites  like Facebook or Myspace. It’s standard procedure for many employers to turn to social networking pages or places like  Twitter  to find out more about a job candidate or who they’re  hanging out with.   Everyone’s heard stories about how ill-advised boasts or drunken photos have cost people jobs .

Nor are  employers or job recruiters the only people who might be looking at what you post.   As a recent article suggests supervision officers may soon find it easy to track someone’s post-release behavior online, including whether he or she is still associating with criminals.   This particular article even goes so far as to suggest how probation and parole officers might document what they find  in order to have evidence in a revocation hearing.

Another reason it might be worth keeping an eye on your site, and what you and others post there.

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Filed under background checks, employment ex-offenders, job search ex-offenders, prison reform, reentry, starting over, women ex-offenders

A problem too big to ignore: U.S as a land of “selective” opportunity

Class issues have been very much on my mind this week.  So you’ll have to forgive me if I carry on a bit here  about the yawning gap in the U.S between the haves and the  have-nots. 

I just finished watching the  HBO documentary, “Homeless,” about the families who live in the motels around Disneyland in Anaheim, California because they can’t afford a real home.  As a newspaper reporter  covering Disneyland in the early 1990s, I was well acquainted with  these seedy motels just footsteps from “The Happiest Place on Earth.”  But I had no idea the extent to which they’ve become the last resort for so many really young  kids and their parents.  The documentary, which was produced by Alexandra Pelosi, was heart-wrenching as it illuminated the lives of these children crammed in single rooms with their families and  playing in parking lots and alleyways rife with drug addiction and gang violence.  The kids even go to a special school, Hope School, that runs all year so that they can get regular meals and be kept off the streets.  Watching it, I kept thinking of  how I’d been less shocked to see poor kids in third world countries, than in a rich country like the U.S., where everyone is supposed to have a chance.

And yes, Ms. Pelosi is the daughter of the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.  But regardless of your politics, this program is eye-opening.   What was most jarring to me was that most of these people were working full-time if not overtime ( though often minimum wage jobs at places like Target, Wal-Mart and even nearby Disney), yet they still couldn’t afford to rent a house in Orange County.

The majority of people Pelosi interviewed were also white, which made me think of a great piece I read recently in the Wall Street Journal that argued how affirmative action had failed America because it’s not helping the folks who really need it.  It was written by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), who has also gone out on a limb backing prison reform.  For my money, there are few legislators who have a better fix on the problems ailing the U.S. – or more courage in confronting them – than Webb.   He asserts that as affirmative action has been expanded to include all people of color and other protected groups, it has shortchanged the African-Americans it was designed to help.  And that’s not all.  As Webb writes:

Those who came to this country in recent decades from Asia, Latin America and Africa did not suffer discrimination from our government, and in fact have frequently been the beneficiaries of special government programs. The same cannot be said of many hard-working white Americans, including those whose roots in America go back more than 200 years.

The fact that Webb’s editorial has more than 1,000 commenters, many in support of what he says, suggests that a lot of us are seeing the disconnect.    In essence it’s not about race or ethnicity — it’s about economic and social disadvantage.  Americans who fall or are falling into the lower class are the ones most in need of assistance. 

This is also highlighted in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” which I recently picked up when I saw an 11-year-old boy reading it at the pool.  (I’m assuming for the chapter on what it takes to succeed in sports, since he’s typically carrying a football.)   In the book, Gladwell basically skewers the Horatio Alger myth of the self-made man, by illustrating many of the extraordinary advantages our up-by-their-bootstraps heros have actually had.   He also cites class in explaining why being a genius doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a success, pointing out that there are certain things well-off parents teach their children about making their way that children from poorer families often  don’t know. 

Any way you look at it, it’s a tough problem.  Readers, what are your thoughts?

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Filed under class issues, homelessness, jobs, UVA Lacrosse, wages