LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The Summit of the Americas has come and gone, but another gathering of big names will occur at Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park Monday, with former first lady Michelle Obama set to deliver the keynote address at the Culture of Democracy Summit.
What You Need To Know
The Culture of Democracy Summit will culminate Monday with a daylong series of speeches and panel discussions featuring entertainment and sports notables, highlighted by Obama’s speech
The overall goal of the gathering is to bring together people from various walks of life to discuss “the role different industries play in protecting and strengthening democracy through voter registration, education, mobilization and culture change”
Among the topics up for discussion during the day will be the history of democracy in the U.S. and its current state, the spread of disinformation and ways to counter it and reproductive rights in light of the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade
The entire summit, including Obama’s speech, will be livestreamed here
Organized by When We All Vote — the nonprofit organization co-founded by Obama and an array of celebrities in 2018 — the summit began with a series of online discussions Friday, then continued Saturday with various invitation-only “community-building” events, with similar events planned for Sunday.
The four-day event will culminate Monday with a daylong series of speeches and panel discussions featuring entertainment and sports notables, highlighted by Obama’s speech.
The overall goal of the gathering is to bring together people from various walks of life to discuss “the role different industries play in protecting and strengthening democracy through voter registration, education, mobilization and culture change.”
Monday’s event will begin with introductory remarks by leaders of When We All Vote and its nonprofit parent agency, Civic Nation. A formal welcome will then be provided by Laker legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
A series of discussions will follow, featuring celebrities such as Selena Gomez, Janelle Monáe, Wanda Sykes and Tracee Ellis Ross. NBA players Chris Paul and CJ McCollum will also take part, along with former Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who now coaches the Philadelphia 76ers.
Among the topics up for discussion during the day will be the history of democracy in the United States and its current state, the spread of disinformation and ways to counter it, reproductive rights in light of the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade, social responsibility in the entertainment industry, the criminal justice system and the impact professional sports have on society and democracy.
Gomez, a co-chair of When We All Vote, will introduce Obama for her keynote address to close out the day.
When We All Vote was founded in an effort to increase voter participation by helping “close the race and age gap,” working with community organizations to register voters and promote civic education.
Among the founders of the group with Obama were Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lopez, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Monáe, Gomez, Stephen Curry, Paul, H.E.R., Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes.
The entire summit, including Obama’s speech, will be livestreamed here.
In the introduction to his 2009 GraceKennedy Lecture, ‘Controlling Violent Crimes: Models and Policy Options’, Professor Anthony D. Harriott argued that “in the liberal use of incarceration as simply the separation of convicts from the society without much thought to the conditions of the incarceration, may reinforce criminality by facilitating the transmission of the patterns of moral thinking that neutralise any societal disapprobation of their criminal careers”.
“It may also facilitate the transfer of technical know-how and expertise in crime. Excessive punishment and illegal crime control methods may affirm already existing views of the unjust nature of the criminal justice system, and justify non-cooperation with it as well as self-help alternatives to it,” he said.
The Inter-American Development Bank published a technical note about crime and violence in Jamaica seven years later. The co-authors were Anthony Harriott and Marlyn Jones. Both are professors at The University of the West Indies.
The note describes “the main victims and perpetrators” of violent crimes as “young males between the ages of 16 and 24”; also that “greater emphasis is needed on crime prevention. The Ministry of National Security has recognised the importance of crime prevention, but there does not seem to be the requisite financial outlays for these programmes”.
About 16.5 per cent or $99.4 billion of the allocations to ministries and departments in the government’s 2022/23 budget of $604.5 billion went to the national security ministry. It was not disclosed how much of that amount was earmarked for crime prevention.
Former Minister of National Security Robert Montague was quoted in this newspaper in 2017 as saying that the annual economic cost of crime was running at five per cent of GDP or $68 billion.
The occurrence of violent crimes is, predictably, a regular topic of conversation throughout the island. Strategies for dealing with this problem range from states of emergency, zones of special operations, the construction of a high-security prison, the enactment of new legislation, to the development and implementation of a crime plan. Often missing from these conversations are interventions to address the root cause: the thinking that contributes to these forms of anti-social behaviours.
My late wife, a psychologist, introduced me to cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT. It is a treatment approach that is used to help others recognise their negative or unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. When connections between thoughts, emotions, and actions are understood, this type of intervention can bring about permanent behavioural changes.
USAID, according to the Jamaica Information Service, says it, like the World Health Organization and others, recognises “the role of CBT as an effective intervention to help youth adopt new ways of thinking and improve their decision-making skills, resulting in changed behaviours”.
The minister of national security did not discuss CBT during his contribution to this year’s sectoral debate. However, according to an article published by American media company Vox, ‘A study gave cash and therapy to men at risk of criminal behaviour. 10 years later, the results are in’, on May 31, he should have. The bottom line: The Republic of Liberia, a country located in western Africa, 10 times the size of Jamaica, “found a stunningly effective way to reduce violent crimes that authorities in the US are now trying out”. CBT and cash giveaways are at the centre of that strategy.
Research conducted by Chris Blattman, Margaret Sheridan, Julian Jamison and Sebastian Chaskel, according to the article, found evidence that “offering at-risk men a few weeks of behavioural therapy plus a bit of cash reduces the future risk of crime and violence, even ten years after the intervention”.
“Blattman ran a big randomised controlled trial with 999 of the most dangerous men in Monrovia, recruited on the street. The 999 Liberian men were split into four groups. Some received CBT while others got $200 in cash. Another group got the CBT plus the cash, and, finally, there was a control group that got neither.
“A month after the intervention, both the therapy group and the therapy-plus-cash group were showing positive results. A year after the intervention, the positive effects on those who got therapy alone had faded a bit, but those who got therapy plus cash were still showing huge impacts: crime and violence were down about 50 per cent.
“Ten years later, Blattman tracked down the original men from the study and re-evaluated them. Amazingly, crime and violence were still down by about 50 per cent in the therapy-plus-cash group,” Vox reported.
Statistics recently disclosed by the commissioner of police, according to this newspaper, indicate that “major crimes dipped by 0.2 per cent”.
Given the ‘stunningly effective’ results that were achieved by Liberia involving the use of CBT for over a decade, shouldn’t the local authorities consider conducting an experiment funded by the Ministry of National Security and involving CBT in Jamaica?
– Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Law Abiding Citizen may not have seen much critical praise, but the 2009 flick generated over $120 million at the box office, making it relatively successful. It came at a time when Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx were among the most sought-after stars in Hollywood, so it made sense the action-thriller resonated. It also tied into a period when revenge films were on the upswing, appealing to fans of the ’80s and ’90s with its simple plot. That said, it’s surprising a sequel is now in development after the property went dormant for so long. However, there’s a lot of intrigue to mine, given that this franchise could become the next Saw.
Law Abiding Citizen focused on Butler’s Clyde, an engineer who worked for the CIA on death traps and impossible assassinations. After losing his family to a criminal, he got arrested for killing a ton of folks he held responsible, including his former lawyer, Nick. It turns out that Clyde had a secret tunnel from the prison all along, but the finale had Nick switching a bomb out into Clyde’s cell, blowing him up.
Fans enjoyed Clyde’s anti-hero/Punisher energy because he was such a sympathetic, tragic character and someone who realized the judicial system was flawed. However, the film ended in a cheesy fashion, with Nick missing the point of Clyde’s crusade, even after the father pointed out so many flaws and points of corruption. This now provides an opportunity for Clyde to become a Jigsaw-like entity.
In the Saw series, Jigsaw killed many people with his engineering skills, becoming a vigilante of sorts. In fact, he’d transcend into a symbol after he died, inspiring copycats like Amanda and others who felt he saved them. Law Abiding Citizen 2 could also look at spiritual successors who want to carry on Clyde’s gory, explosive mission the same way Jigaw’s was extended. This could allow Butler (who’s only been announced as producer) to return in flashbacks, making the sequel more believable. Nick could be targeted, or he could be brought in to solve the new case, creating continuity and allowing Foxx another lead opportunity after he shocked the world by how well his Electro got rebooted.
The follow-up can even take a social justice edge, with someone sticking up for minorities and people of color against a system that incarcerates, kills and prides itself on police brutality. A series of these revenge-driven films would modernize the property and make it relatable. Admittedly, Saw did get silly with the way personal vendettas kept getting entrenched in each film, but this way, Law Abiding Citizen can stay relevant and topical.
Apart from racism, there are many governmental and business issues to look at, such as legislation for school shootings, tax evasion by big corporations, capitalism and other advantages the one percent have — especially seen during the COVID-19 era. These provide topics to bravely explore, but again, exposing these stories is what daring art aims for. Ultimately, this direction of martyring Clyde fits the actors and the current time and also produces a thought-provoking sociopolitical narrative amid all the horror, bettering what Jigsaw did with his legacy.
A recent study from a conservative criminal justice reform group is advocating for Florida to restore its parole system back to what it had before 1983.
On Tuesday, Right on Crime released a study that identifies Florida as one of 16 states without a full-fledged parole system. Furthermore, it calls for the Sunshine State to gradually reintroduce parole or to create a class of non-violent crimes that could let rehabilitated inmates out sooner.
Right on Crime is affiliated with an Austin-based conservative think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The organization supports conservative solutions for reducing crime, restoring victims, reforming offenders and lowering taxpayer costs.
“Risk and cost analysis of re-instating parole deserves consideration, but the benefits of parole are far too great to ignore,” writes Right on Crime Florida Director Chelsea Murphy, the paper’s author. “A moderate reintroduction of parole is long overdue, and modifying Florida’s truth in sentencing thresholds, even gradually, will provide incentive for productive behavior and supervision.”
As part of a national movement in the 1970s to scrap parole in favor of pre-World War II release policies, Florida began reviewing its parole system. After the Legislature ordered a review in 1978, the Commission on Offender Review issued sentencing guidelines that effectively abolished parole in 1983.
Florida does not parole offenders unless they committed a crime prior to 1983 or parole was court appointed for serious offenses. However, inmates whose crimes were committed prior to Oct. 1, 1983, are still eligible for parole consideration.
Florida currently has a gaintime structure that requires offenders of both violent and non-violent crimes to serve at least 85% of their sentences.
Not only does parole cost the state less to monitor parolees than it does to house inmates — $11.69 with electronic monitoring or $7.18 with versus $76.83 in prison, per a Florida Department of Corrections 2020-21 fiscal year report — parole gives incentives to rehabilitate and reduces recidivism. It could help with overcrowding.
To handle the risk factors of parole, Florida could exclude sexual and child-related crimes from eligibility, like Tennessee.
As an alternative, Right on Crime suggests creating a class of non-violent crimes that only require 60% time served.
Lawmakers should also add two more panelists to the Florida Commission on Offender Review Florida, a victim and a formerly incarcerated individual both appointed by the Governor, the report argues.
“Since Florida currently only has three board members, two former assistant state attorneys, and one former law enforcement officer, expanding the current makeup will provide a unique perspective on the challenges both victims and offenders face,” Murphy writes.
Coming up, the usual assortment of news, intel, and observations from the week that was in Florida’s capital city by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Christine Jordan Sextonand the staff of Florida Politics.
But first …
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Christina Pushaw registers as foreign agent — Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, registered as a foreign agent who worked for two years on behalf of Mikheil Saakashvili, former President of the Republic of Georgia and a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Less than a year after her stint volunteering for Saakashvili, for which she disclosed $25,000 in housing compensation, she was hired as DeSantis’ press secretary in May 2021. Her attorney says she only learned recently that she had to disclose the work to the federal government. DeSantis brushed off the scrutiny, adding that she does a great job calling out legacy media’s “lies and phony narratives.” “I would be much more concerned with my press secretary if the Washington Post was writing puff pieces about her, then I would think something was wrong.”
DeSantis vetoes Lake O water bill — DeSantis on Wednesday vetoed legislation to address water quality in Lake Okeechobee, a priority of Senate President Wilton Simpson. DeSantis, who issued a rare policy statement during the recent Legislative Session criticizing the initial version of the bill (SB 2508), said he vetoed the proposal after complaints from environmental groups. Critics claimed the bill would have prioritized the sugar industry to the detriment of the environment and other water users. Those opponents made a strong showing during legislative committee meetings this year. “I’ve heard you. We have vetoed that today,” DeSantis said.
SCOFLA hears gun preemption enforcement arguments — The Florida Supreme Court sought answers Thursday to whether the state has the authority to punish local lawmakers for passing ordinances that violate the state’s gun law preemption. Justices heard oral arguments in a case challenging a 2011 state law that provides financial penalties to local officials for enacting or enforcing gun legislation that is more restrictive than the state’s. “This is a legislative fire hose to put out a birthday candle,” attorney Edward Guedes told Justices. Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice John Couriel were most vocal in their apparent resistance to Guedes’ argument that local lawmakers have legislative immunity. Daniel Bell, representing the state, asserted that if the Legislature prescribes legislative powers to local governments, it also has the ability to restrict legislative immunity.
DeSantis signs school safety package — DeSantis on Tuesday signed an update to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act to bolster school crisis intervention and include charter schools in some safety requirements (HB 1421). The new law aims to improve earlier legislation passed in response to the 2018 MSD High School shooting in Parkland. Testimony during this year’s Senate and House hearings on the update revealed none of the state’s 67 school districts were entirely in compliance with the law that aimed to improve school safety. “Every child needs a safe and secure learning environment,” DeSantis said in a statement. When asked about gun safety measures recently, the Governor pointed to that proposal and school safety funding.
Dems’ Special Session call falls flat — As the clock struck 3 p.m. on Friday, Democratic lawmakers’ hopes for a Special Session on gun violence ran out after the deadline to find the votes came and went without support from a single Republican. The call, spearheaded by Rep. Joe Geller, was limited to regulating high-capacity rifle magazines, mandating universal background checks and expanding red flag laws. For their slate of proposals, DeSantis criticized Democrats as “leftists” who were going after the Second Amendment. Meanwhile, video surfaced Tuesday of House Speaker-designate Paul Renner issuing his support for permitless carry, a measure DeSantis promises to pass before he leaves office.
Fount of cash
DeSantis eclipsed his four-year goal for Everglades restoration and the protection of Florida’s water resources with the signing of the state fiscal year 2022-23 budget assembled by the Legislature this spring.
Since taking office in 2019, DeSantis has signed budgets that in the aggregate have directed more than $3.3 billion for Everglades restoration and the protection of water resources.
DeSantis issued Executive Order 19-12 on his first day in office, laying out his goal to spend $2.5 billion on Everglades restoration and water. The $2.5 billion figure would have topped what former Gov. Rick Scott spent on the initiatives during his second term as Governor.
“Protecting Florida’s natural resources has been a top priority since my first day in office,” DeSantis said in a release trumpeting his accomplishment. “The health of the Everglades, Florida’s springs, and so many other resources are the foundation of our communities and economy and play an important role in the everyday lives of Floridians. I am committed to leaving our natural resources better than we found them so that future generations can experience what brings people from around the world to our state.”
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton lauded the appropriation and in a statement credited the Governor, but not the Legislature, which assembles the budget.
“Since taking office, Governor DeSantis has demonstrated his continued commitment to protect Florida’s waters and natural resources, which are the foundation of Florida’s communities, economy, and way of life,” Hamilton said in the prepared release. “Thanks to Governor DeSantis’ leadership and the historic amounts of funding his administration has secured, the state is in the best position it has ever been to take strategic action to improve our water quality, and Florida is continuing to do just that.”
Hope springs eternal for Casey DeSantis’ Hope Florida — A Pathway to Prosperity campaign has helped more than 30,000 Floridians toward becoming economically self-sufficient, the First Lady said Friday.
The program, led by the First Lady and the Department of Children and Families, assists Floridians in need with the help of care navigators. Care navigators identify goals and barriers to economic self-sufficiency through community-based partners, including the private sector, faith-based institutions and nonprofit organizations.
“I am extremely proud of the work that has been done to help Floridians find hope for a better life and realize their potential,” Casey DeSantis said in a statement. “It is heartening to see needs across the state being met by Floridians for Floridians with the expansion of Hope Florida — A Pathway to Prosperity. In the months ahead, we will be looking at ways to build off this momentum and continue to grow the program to connect individuals across the state with entities that seek to serve others in their community.”
The program began as a pilot in August 2020, and the First Lady and DCF expanded it in September 2021.
“This program provides an opportunity for the department to partner with Floridians in need on their journey to economic self-sufficiency through the thoughtful and customized activation of local resources,” DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris said. “We are front-loading our service array to prevent families and individuals from finding themselves in a crisis situation further down the road. We see every interaction as an opportunity to help.”
The First Lady even shared a positive review one hopeful Floridian had for her care navigator:
“Her kind heart and professional assistance kept me sane and helped me gather all the information needed for these services,” Shari G. said. “I am forever grateful and pray these services continue so they are able to help those in need.”
She keeps fighting
Fried submitted written testimony to Congress this week asking it to pass the Defending Domestic Produce Protection Act.
“Our state’s fruit and vegetable farming industry alone supports 68,700 jobs and creates $5 billion in annual cash receipts. In this time of heightened food insecurity both at home and abroad and with food costs skyrocketing, protecting the domestic food supply chain is a matter of national security. Our producers work tirelessly to feed our families and communities; we need to have their backs,” Fried said in a letter on Thursday containing her testimony to members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management and Trade.
Fried said the legislation addresses unfair foreign trade practices that for decades have harmed Florida farmers and that Congress “can and should” take it up without further delay. Fried said the legislation would “protect the strength of our domestic industry while we continue to work together to navigate the current challenges facing the industry.”
Fried has advocated for the domestic seasonal produce industry since 2019 after taking the helm at the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). In August 2020, she testified at a virtual hearing held by the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
In August 2021 she shared with the federal government a report conducted by her office that shows the harm the policies are having on Florida farmers and the state’s economy.
FDACS was awarded a $2.5 million grant to improve the food distribution infrastructure and underserved areas.
The “Reach and Resiliency” grant, funded with American Rescue Plan dollars, was awarded to the department’s Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness to find creative solutions to addressing gaps in the federal program called The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
“Every Floridian should have access to nutritious food, and TEFAP is a critical program in our fight against food insecurity – especially in rural communities,” Fried said in a prepared statement. “I thank our federal partners at the USDA for this additional funding that will allow us to bolster our current food banks and create new in-state partnerships to assist families in this trying time.”
FDACS will use the funds to support two separate subgrant opportunities. Fried’s office wants to direct money to TEFAP food banks and their ability to procure, receive, store, distribute, track and deliver time-sensitive or perishable food products.
Fried’s office also will award money to any organization interested in implementing, improving or expanding its food distribution program in a remote rural tribal or low income area of the state. The money will be awarded via a competitive bid, details of which were not included in the press release.
Save the date
Registration for the 2022 Human Trafficking Summit is now open, Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office announced Wednesday.
The annual event, which will be held virtually on Oct. 4, brings together local and national leaders to discuss various strategies and measures to prevent human trafficking, protect victims, prosecute perpetrators and cover recent updates and developments in the fight against human trafficking.
Moody’s office said that more than 11,000 attendees have registered for the annual summit over the past two years. Last year, more than 4,000 people from 40 states attended the summit and engaged in breakout sessions.
This year, breakout sessions will include subject matter experts who will discuss aspects of human trafficking prevention through the lens of law enforcement, service delivery, policy, research and health care.
“The Human Trafficking Summit brings together people who share our determination to end human trafficking — in Florida and across the nation. The summit is free, and registration is now open. I encourage anyone who wants to join this important fight to sign up now and help us build a Stronger, Safer Florida,” Moody said in a news release.
Additionally, Moody’s office is accepting nominations for four awards: Survivor Advocate of the Year, Community Advocate of the Year, Prosecutor of the Year and Law Enforcement Official of the Year. Nominations can be submitted online and must be sent on or before Aug. 15.
Worried that supply chain issues could hamper the state’s recovery efforts following a hurricane Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis sent a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asking for the Biden administration’s plans for acquiring hurricane supplies and pre-positioning them in advance of storms.
“I have been through enough hurricanes to know that following disasters, families try desperately to get back to their homes to begin the hard work of rebuilding. That’s why it is so important that federal officials not allow for the lack of available supplies of both building materials, and medical devices, to impede recovery efforts. Moreover, as the price of diesel remains at historic highs, I am concerned about trucker availability as their margins continue being squeezed,” Patronis wrote.
In addition to requesting the plan, Patronis requested that the Biden administration make available to the public any details about arrangements that the Department of Homeland Security may have with the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Department of Transportation.
Patronis references in the letter the baby formula shortage and Biden’s remarks about not being briefed on the issue prior to the shortage.
“With hurricane season, we cannot tolerate the same incompetence that allowed the baby formula shortage to occur, to again rear its ugly head for a storm. The availability of these supplies are often the difference between life and death, and we cannot rebuild our communities with excuses,” Patronis wrote in the letter adding, “I look forward to your response.”
Instagram of the week
The Week in Appointments
18th Judicial Circuit Court — DeSantis on Friday appointed Jigisa Patel-Dookhoo to the court. Patel-Dookhoo, of Rockledge, has served as Assistant State Attorney since 2016. Currently, she is the Division Chief in the Domestic Violence Unit. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and her law degree from Western Michigan University. Patel-Dookhoo fills the judicial vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Lisa Davidson.
Sumter County Commissioners — The Governor named Donald Wiley to the Commission. Wiley, of The Villages, is the owner of Gold Wingnut Productions. He previously served as the District Supervisor of the Villages Community Development District 10. Wiley is a U.S. Navy veteran and was honorably discharged after 20 years of service.
Alzheimer’s Disease Advisory Committee — DeSantis appointed Matthew Eaton and Samantha Ferrin to the committee. Eaton, of Kissimmee, is the vice president of communications for the Florida region at the Alzheimer’s Association. Eaton earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. Ferrin, of Tallahassee, is the director of government law and policy practice for Greenberg Traurig. She formerly served as the Interim Secretary as well as the Chief of Staff of the Florida Lottery. Ferrin earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology from Florida State University
Florida Healthy Kids Board of Directors — The Governor named Andrea Gary and Jason Weida to the Board. Gary, of Tallahassee, is the Bureau Chief of the Florida Department of Health and the chief administrator for the Children’s Medical Services Health Plan. Gary earned her bachelor’s degree in business and her master’s degree in communication from FSU. Weida, of Tallahassee, is the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Medicaid policy and quality at the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. He is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney at the Justice Department, where he received the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Latin and history from Gettysburg College and law degree from the University of Connecticut.
Elections and history
Secretary of State Cord Byrd is praising DeSantis and the Legislature for spending on election security and integrity and other State Department priorities.
“I want to thank Governor Ron DeSantis and the members of the Florida Senate and Florida House of Representatives for their steadfast leadership and dedication to serving the people of Florida,” Byrd said in a statement. “Due to their generous support and collaborative efforts, the Florida Department of State will have the necessary resources to protect Florida’s election infrastructure, preserve Florida’s unique history, fund libraries, support cultural programming and invest in our communities and businesses.”
The 2022-23 budget includes $24.3 million for state-level election oversight activities, with $1.2 million to create the Office of Elections Crimes and Security. The budget also approved 15 new positions to ensure the integrity of Florida’s voting rolls and $8 million for election security grants through the Help America Vote Act, better known as HAVA.
The budget also includes $36.1 million for Florida’s libraries and library systems, more than $35 million for the Historic Preservation and Exhibition in the Division of Historical Resources, $46 million for the Division of Arts and Culture Cultural and museum grants, and $8.3 million for consumer safety and protection through the Division of Corporations.
The Division of Arts and Culture also received $1 million for the Champlain Towers South Memorial in remembrance for those impacted by the Surfside Building Collapse.
More budget praise
Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said this week that the fiscal year 2022-23 budget ensures Florida’s communities are prepared for future disasters because of investments in first responder training, recovery funding and mitigation projects.
“I want to thank Governor DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for remaining committed to building a more resilient Florida and maintaining the Division’s position as a national leader in emergency management,” Guthrie said in a prepared statement. “This year’s budget provides funding to enhance our ability to respond and recover from disasters, but it also empowers Florida’s communities to become resilient against the impact of future disasters.”
The 2022-23 budget provides $1.6 billion in funding for federally declared disasters that remain “open” to reimburse eligible response recovery and mitigation costs; $10 million to support training for the state’s eight Urban Search and Rescue teams as well as replacing equipment; $10 million for the Hurricane Loss Mitigation Program, which supports the construction or retrofit of public hurricane shelters and the “Manufactured Housing and Mobile Home Mitigation and Enhancement Program;” and $2.7 million to streamline the division’s grant management system.
The Legislature also earmarked a whopping $80 million to continue construction of a new state Emergency Operations Center. The state EOC in Tallahassee serves as the communications and command headquarters for disaster response activities.
Department of Corrections Secretary Ricky Dixon said this week he has never seen so much support for correctional and probation officers and the law enforcement inspectors who work at the agency and thanked DeSantis for being the impetus behind it all.
“Governor DeSantis understands our needs and took bold action to provide vital pay increases for our officers, The Governor’s steadfast support for the courageous men and women of this agency, combined with the backing from the Florida Legislature, have secured a pathway for our success,” he said in a budget statement that was issued this week.
The fiscal year 2022-23 budget that takes effect July 1 provides the funding necessary to increase correctional officer and probation officer pay to $20 an hour and law enforcement inspectors to $23 an hour.
Lawmakers also agreed to earmark $10.2 million to begin the upgrade of its offender based information system, called OBIS. The management information system is the repository for inmate management, classification, work assignments, disciplinary information and custody status.
The budget also targets $3 million to the department to purchase emergency management equipment, drone detection systems, electronic key systems, drone support for K-9 operations, body scanner and camera equipment for surveillance. The budget also provides $1.9 million and 12 employees for a statewide recruitment effort and authorizes the department to enter a contract with a marketing firm to develop the plan.
DeSantis has signed a measure offering retired corrections and law enforcement dogs health care coverage in their golden years.
Sponsored by Sen. Bobby Powell, the new law sets up the “Care for Retired Law Enforcement Dogs Program,” which ensures that canines that have assisted in protecting public safety throughout Florida will be provided with veterinarian care as they are retired from service.
“The years of intense training and demanding requirements can take a heavy toll on law enforcement K-9s,” said Powell, a West Palm Beach Democrat. “This legislation is a small repayment for the years of service these dogs have given. It ensures that a modest amount of funding is available to help pay for veterinary care as the canines retire and physical ailments due to aging or previous on-the-job injuries begin to appear.”
The program, which takes effect July 1, will provide reimbursement for up to $1,500 of annual veterinary costs associated with caring for a retired law enforcement or corrections dog by the former handler or qualified adopter who incurs the costs.
The program will be administered and managed by a not-for-profit corporation in a contractual arrangement with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement after a competitive grant award process. The legislation unanimously passed both the Senate and the House during the 2022 Legislative Session.
Florida is also lending a hand to its bipedal veterans. Four bills aimed at improving educational and career opportunities for veterans were signed by DeSantis this week.
Sponsored by Rep. Daisy Morales and co-sponsored by Rep. Christopher Benjamin, HB 45 allows disabled veterans who are attending state college, university or technical school on the GI Bill to waive any tuition and fees not covered by the GI bill beginning the 2022-23 academic year. Colleges and universities must report the number and value of all fee waivers granted under the program to the Board of Governors and the State Board of Education.
Economists estimated that less than 140 people would qualify and that in all about $141,402 in tuition and fees would be waived by state institutions helping disabled veterans pursuing career training.
“I’m grateful that disabled veterans will now get the help they need to fulfill their educational goals without any additional financial barriers,” Morales said in a prepared release following the bill signing. “They have given so much for our country and deserve every opportunity to empower themselves and create a better and stronger future for their family.”
Other veteran friendly legislation signed by DeSantis this week includes: SB 430, which reenacts the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which ensures strives to improve the school transfer experience of active-duty military families; SB 896, which allows a veteran’s military service to count toward the requirement for a temporary educator certificate under the mentorship of a certified teacher; and SB 562, which requires the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to expedite license applications of active-duty military spouses.
For more than 14 years, Florida’s Clerks and Comptrollers have collaborated on industry best practices but it wasn’t until last year that it established its “Best Practices Excellence Program.”
The program allows Clerks that complete educational assessments to receive recognition with the issuance of “Recognition of Excellence” certificates in 12 different areas, five of which were new topics: eviction, evidence storage and destruction, public records requests, requests to redact exempt personal information and exploitation of vulnerable adult injunctions.
Initial best practices areas included: bail bonds; compliance services; confidential judicial records; guardianship audits; marriage licenses; recording fundamentals; and service of documents by clerks for pro se litigants.
“The Best Practices Excellence Program has exceeded our expectations as a means to showcase Clerk’s commitment to continuous improvement and greater consistency across standard processes,”FCCC CEO Chris Hart IV said in a prepared statement.
“I’m thrilled with the new categories implemented under the leadership of FCCC President Angel Colonneso and FCCC Best Practices Chair Laura Roth, and I’m excited to see the program’s continued growth and participation from members engaged in achieving these carefully crafted professional standards.”
Fifty five of the 68 clerks offices across the state participated in the program and 30 clerks and comptrollers received certificates for completing best practice training in all the areas that apply to their designated offices.
A new law that aims to improve Florida’s probation system, increase success rates for people on supervision, and ultimately strengthen public safety was praised this week by groups dedicated to changing the criminal justice system.
The new law encourages people to maintain employment and pursue education by allowing those who attain certain milestones to receive reduced probations. People in community control who complete an academic degree or receive a high school equivalency diploma can have 60 days shaved off their probation. Those who have worked 30 hours a week on average for six months can shave 30 days from their probation.
The new law also allows for remote reporting to a probation officer so long as it wasn’t specifically excluded as an option for the offender.
“This is a big win for public safety in Florida,” said Jessica Jackson, chief advocacy officer and chief operations officer of REFORM Alliance, a non profit organization dedicated to replacing the existing civil justice system with one that is fair, accountable and invested in rehabilitation.
“Our goal is for people to reenter society with dignity, create meaningful pathways to work and equip them with the tools to succeed all while making families and communities safer and stronger.”
The law also is supported by a citizen-led organization that includes the Faith & Freedom Coalition, American Conservative Union, Alliance for Safety and Justice, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Americans for Prosperity Florida, Florida Policy Institute and Operation New Hope.
MoFA exhibits Pride
In recognition of Pride Month, Florida State University’s Museum of Fine Arts is hosting a collaboration between FSU Libraries and the FSU Honors Program titled, “It’s A Lot Like Falling in Love: Legacies of Naiad Press and the Tallahassee Lesbian Community.”
Through this exhibit, Michael Franklin, a specialized faculty member in the Honors Program, and students in his LGBTQ Oral History Methods class showcase interviews with women involved with Naiad Press, a woman-run and Tallahassee-based publishing company of lesbian fiction and non-fiction.
Franklin said the exhibit draws heavily from 12 oral history interviews and from personal photographs, local news coverage and an exhibition-lending library, plus other historical documents and objects.
“This exhibition looks at what Naiad meant to the people involved with it and how Naiad provided lifelines to women-loving women,” he said.
Naiad Press opened in 1973 as one of the earliest publishers of lesbian literature in the United States. When it closed in 2003, the company stood as one of the largest publishers of lesbian literature in the world.
“This is an opportunity to underscore the importance of not only talking with people who are older than you as a way to learn about history but also the security of not losing histories that aren’t represented in archives,” Franklin said.
“It’s A Lot Like Falling in Love” explores three general themes — discovery, work and community — and provides visitors the opportunity to experience content on a personal level through dedicated spaces for reading and listening.
The exhibit will be on display June 9-Oct. 29. It was created with funding from the Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. Franklin also received a Project Enhancement Network & Incubator grant from FSU Libraries for the purchase of the Naiad Press books in the exhibition library.
Ron DeSantis — Down arrow — Most of his power grab ideas are essentially Prequel memes.
Christina Pushaw — Up arrow — It doesn’t matter what she does as long as DeSantis is defending her.
In-person learning — Crossways arrow — 60% of the time, it works every time.
Inflation — Up arrow — We gave it a down arrow, but it shot up overnight.
Jason Pizzo — Up arrow — The days of living your life a quarter-mile at a time are over.
Audrey Gibson — Crossways arrow — The Jax Democrat is taking her record of losing all those Senate races to the 2023 Mayor’s race. Good luck with that.
Jay Trumbull — Up arrow — Next stop, Florida Senate.
“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.
A bipartisan group of senators in Washington has spent weeks searching for an agreement on legislation that could help curb America’s enduring epidemic of gun violence. While it’s unclear what provisions might end up in the final deal, if one is reached at all, some of the more far-reaching reforms championed by gun control advocates — like an assault weapons ban — will almost certainly not be included.
“We are not talking about restricting the rights of current, law-abiding gun owners or citizens,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is leading the negotiations for Republicans, Monday.
The United States is unique among high-income nations in both the large number of guns owned by its citizens and the scale of gun violence they experience. Though mass shootings like the recent massacres in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, N.Y., draw the most attention, they represent a small fraction of annual gun deaths in the U.S. More than half of the in 2020 were suicides. The bulk of homicides each year stem from street crime or domestic violence.
Despite for a range of gun control measures, unified Republican opposition has meant that repeated efforts to impose new limits on gun access in the wake of mass shootings have failed.
Why there’s debate
While many assert that the prevalence of guns is the core of the problem, experts say there are proven ways to reduce America’s extraordinary levels of gun violence even without new gun control laws.
Researchers have spent decades studying the types of interventions that can lower levels of violence in the neighborhoods that experience the greatest burden of gun crimes and homicides. Many say there’s strong evidence that violence intervention programs run by community members, schools and medical professionals can steer young men — who are disproportionately likely to both commit and be the victims of gun violence — away from future violence.
Many conservatives, on the other hand, argue that any realistic plan to reduce gun violence must include an aggressive campaign to get the countless number of illegally owned guns off the streets through targeted enforcement in high-violence areas. Others say relatively uncontroversial reforms, like safe-storage mandates, can significantly lower rates of suicide and domestic gun violence.
Many also make the case that gun violence is a symptom of much deeper problems in American society, in particular the stark inequality in the U.S. They argue that truly addressing the root causes of gun violence will require increasing economic opportunity, improving health care access, reforming the criminal justice system and countering cultural forces that predispose young men to violence.
Inequality is the primary root cause of U.S. gun violence
“Systemic inequality creates the underfunded schools that produce criminals. It also creates communities without adequate resources and disparities in health, wealth, housing, and employment. Perhaps most damning, systemic inequality creates people who believe that their only way out of their current situation is with a gun.” — Solomon Jones,
Gun violence should be treated as a public health crisis
There isn’t a single solution to reducing the disease of gun violence. However, when risks seem pervasive and cures seem impossible, the health care community focuses on what can be done for the patient, the family, and the community. Maybe it’s time to bring health care logic to the gun violence conversation.” — Alex Johnson,
Neighborhood revitalization has a measurable impact on community violence
“In large cities, a small number of streets account for an outsize number of violent crimes. Those streets are usually in segregated Black neighborhoods that, because of structural racism, have suffered from decades of disinvestment and physical and economic decline. … Without changing these physical spaces in which crime occurs, violence-prevention efforts are incomplete.” — Eugenia C. South,
Offering help, not punishment, to troubled kids can get them off a violent path
“By treating mental health problems and improving would-be attackers’ educational, employment, or living circumstances, threat assessment teams have prevented dozens of potential shootings at schools and workplaces throughout the country, including a variety I learned about from leaders in the field and confidential case files.” — Mark Follman,
Gun violence is directly tied to lack of health care access
“Expanding access to health care, including through Medicaid, reduces crime, particularly violent crime. The mechanisms are likely access to mental health care and substance abuse treatment. … So really simple changes, like increasing access for kids that were getting this kind of treatment, could be extremely effective.” — Jennifer Doleac, violent-crime researcher, to
Promoting safe storage of guns will save lives
“Safe storage is one of the most important things that we can do to reduce risk of firearm suicide and homicide. Most youths who kill themselves with a gun use a family member’s gun. … In order to get folks to store guns safely, policies can make a difference. But more important is the firearm-owning community standing up for how important safe storage is.” — Megan Ranney, public health researcher, to
People who live in the hardest-hit communities must be at the center of anti-violence programs
“Community gun violence, the everyday gun violence that accounts for the vast majority of homicides in our country — most of that violence is perpetrated with guns that are already illegal, so there you need partnerships and community groups to identify those at the highest risk for violence and engage them and give them a series of carrots and sticks to change their behavior.” — Thomas Abt, violent-crime researcher, to
Reducing gun violence requires more policing, not less
“You get illegal guns off the street, including, yes, using stop-and-frisk tactics. You bust people who hop turnstiles or commit other petty crimes. You check for outstanding warrants. … It all adds up to putting fear into the hearts of would-be criminals again, to make people think twice about committing crimes. A little enforcement can go a long way sometimes.” — Tom Wrobleski,
Lawmakers must break the cycle of violence created by our criminal justice system
“Gun violence and mass incarceration are both propagated and reinforced by policies that punish lower-income communities of color. In other words, the solution to one problem cannot be achieved by exacerbating the other.” — Taylor King,
Kids need much better access to mental health care
“Adolescents in particular are really struggling from a mental health standpoint, and they need a lot more than they’re getting. Those public health approaches can go a long way in preventing these horrible tragedies.” — Daniel Webster, public health researcher, to
Young men need stronger family and community support
“What I do know … is that children need fathers, and they need to be a part of a community that will protect and care for them and, most importantly, hold them accountable — whether that’s a church, a soccer team, or a close-knit neighborhood. They need to be surrounded by adults who will teach them the importance of individual responsibility and who will step in when necessary.” — Kaylee McGhee White,
Schools must recognize their students’ humanity and teach them to recognize it in others
“First, educators at all levels must create inclusive educational settings. It is imperative that every student feels valued and affirmed. Further, all students need to feel a sense of belonging to the school culture. Secondly, educators must teach empathy.” — Joseph R. Jones,
Is there a topic you’d like to see covered in “The 360”? Send your suggestions to email@example.com.
The House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot released never before seen footage of the riot during its first hearing on Thursday.
The new footage shows riots smashing windows and forcing their way through barricades.
“I need support,” one officer can be heard saying in body camera footage of another officer being pushed by crowds. “We lost the line.”
One clip showed a rioter reading a newly-posted tweet from then-President Trump attacking then-Vice President Mike Pence. As the rioter read the tweet over a bullhorn, some began to chant, “hang Mike Pence.”
Representative Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) said Thursday that, according to testimony from former White House staffers, Trump said that his supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, were “doing what they should be doing.”
“This is what he told his staff as they pleaded with him to call off the mob, to instruct his supporters to leave,” Cheney said Thursday evening during the first hearing of the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot.
Cheney went on to say that the committee’s hearings will feature testimony from staffers that Trump “did not really want to put anything out calling off the riot or asking his supporters to leave” and that he was yelling and “really angry at advisers who told him he needed to do something more.”
“Aware of the rioters’ chants to ‘hang Mike Pence,’ the president responded with this sentiment, ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea. Mike Pence deserves it,” she said, confirming previous reporting.
Cheney’s opening remarks laid out what the committee plans to unveil in its upcoming hearings, including what she said was a “sophisticated seven-part plan” that Trump had to overturn the presidential election — though she did not immediately disclose what steps were included in that plan.
“On the morning of January 6th, President Donald Trump’s intention was to remain president of the United States, despite the lawful outcome of the 2020 election and in violation of his Constitutional obligation to relinquish power,” Cheney said.
She went on to claim that Representative Scott Perry (R., Pa.) and “multiple other Republican congressmen” sought presidential pardons “for their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election.”
The committee also introduced testimony that suggested several people in Trump’s inner circle disagreed with the former president’s claims that the election had been stolen.
The hearing featured a clip of recorded testimony from ex-Trump senior adviser Jason Miller saying that the campaign’s lead data aide told Trump “in pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose.”
Additionally, the committee played video testimony of Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, saying she “accepted” it when then-Attorney General Bill Barr dismissed her father’s stolen election claims.
Cheney said Trump did not make any calls to any U.S. governmental forces to secure the Capitol, including the Department of Justice or the National Guard. Instead it was then-Vice President Mike Pence who made the calls.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley testified that then- White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told Milley on January 6, “We have to kill the narrative that the Vice Presidentis making all the decisions. We need to establish the narrative that the president is still in charge and things are steady.”
The Sycamore Institute is taking aim at Nashville with a report, released Tuesday, about the underwhelming impact of public subsidies for sports stadiums.
The Tennessee-focused think tank joins the stadium fray amid city budget hearings and ongoing negotiations, both public and private, between the Titans and Mayor John Cooper’s office.
Sycamore’s study synthesizes reporting, government analysis, economics research and data, examining five stadiums across the state. Its conclusions are consistent withdecadesof economic researchcriticalofpublic subsidiesfor stadiums. Sycamore argues that pro sports venues redirect existing tax revenue rather than attract new spending and incur hard-to-quantify opportunity costs — money that might otherwise go elsewhere. They also require associated public expenses not included in a stadium’s price tag, like infrastructure and overruns — two topics still under scrutiny in Nashville’s project. Associated jobs often come with low wages, precarious employment and lots of turnover.
Sycamore provides direct counterpoints to apress releasefrom the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp, the most visible nongovernmental organization generating numbers behind a new stadium push. In February, the NCVC referenced a study, which has been criticized for specious methodology, that hosting a World Cup would bring a $695 million economic impact to Nashville. Economic benefits of big events like a FIFA World Cup or NCAA Final Four have been favorite proxy arguments for proponents of a new domed stadium.
Launched in 2015, Sycamore regularly issues reports on Tennessee-specific policies. In the past year, it has published white papers on health care, public education, the state budget and the criminal justice system. The think tank bills itself as nonpartisan; members of senior leadership share backgrounds working with conservative administrations and elected Republicans. Conservative-leaning groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Beacon Center have also questioned the prudence of subsidizing the stadium, as have more liberal Nashville-based organizations.
Sycamore gets into the weeds on Nashville’s financing methods, debunking some of the confusing semantics around tax earmarks and the general fund. The study does not address the legal realities of the city’s obligations under its current lease, the leverage that the Titans have over Metro.
Writing aboutNashville’s NFL ambitionsfor TheNew York Times in 1996, Kevin Sack observed an intracity divide along lines of big-city ambition and prudent government decision-making. Cited by the report, Sack’s summary holds 26 years later: “The anti-stadium movement has been stoked, leaders on both sides of the debate say, by an underlying sentiment that Nashville is growing too quickly. Although studies suggest that professional football would have negligible direct impact on the city’s economy, many here see it as a symbol for progress that is not universally embraced.”
Crime concerns play major role in California primary
The issue of crime was consistently one of the top issues for California voters in polls ahead of the June primary, and it was the major topic in nationally watched races in the state.
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – The issue of crime was consistently one of the top issues for California voters in polls ahead of the June primary, and it was the major topic in nationally watched races in the state.
Before flying to Los Angeles, President Biden chimed in on the primary elections in seven states, including California. “I think the voters sent a clear message last night,” said Biden. “Both parties have to step up and do something about crime as well as gun violence.”
The president went on to call for state and local governments to use money from the American Rescue Act to hire, retain and train more police officers. The remarks coming in the wake of San Francisco voters recalling District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
“It’s ideology amongst the Democrats,” said University of San Francisco political science professor, James Taylor. “Part, it’s in anticipation of the reliable pushback and backlash that will come in Republican campaigns highlighting soft-on-crimes Democratic policies as they’re perceived.”
Taylor said President Biden, in part, is trying to steer the Democrats’ messaging heading into November’s general election. California voters continually name crime and homelessness as major issues of concern and Republicans up and down the ballot honing in on it. “California voters are sick and tired of these soft-on-crime policies,” said CA GOP chair Jessica Millan Patterson. “They want to bring their streets back to safe a place, where they can live and thrive and build their families, in their communities.”
However, supporters of the progressive prosecutor movement and those calling for criminal justice reform say Boudin’s recall is not indicative of a greater trend. “This is a very mixed sort of result, difficult to draw conclusions from it–based on what we saw in San Francisco and statewide; reformers’ wins in Contra Costa county, Santa Clara and Alameda as well,” said Max Szabo, a democratic strategist who works with progressive prosecutors like former San Francisco and current Los Angeles district attorney George Gascon.
Szabo points to strong showings from other progressive Bay Area prosecutors and incumbent attorney general Rob Bonta, as proof that many voters support criminal justice reform, despite Boudin’s ouster. “A lot of vitriol over candidates and personalities is getting us away from more meaty debate around policy and important issues for criminal justice system, safety, victims, and certainly for justice,” said Szabo.
A “tough on crime” message also a major part of the closely watched Los Angeles mayoral race. Billionaire developer Rick Caruso used the approach and millions of his own dollars in his campaign. He will face progressive Rep. Karen Bass in the runoff in November. “They’ve sent a message, we are not helpless in the face of our problems, we will not allow this city to decline,” Caruso told supporters on primary night.
“This is a campaign about the strength and power that must be marshaled against the so-many crises that we face,” said Bass. “Strength and power can only come from the power of the people.
Few places in America illustrate the inequalities of the US prison-industrial complex better than California’s San Quentin State Prison.
The fortress-like facility sits by the water, surrounded by the million-dollar homes of tech executives, across the bay from the glittering wealth of San Francisco. Inside, San Quentin houses some of the state’s highest-security prisoners, and, until recently, California’s death row. It was in this prison where the fight for ending mass incarceration got an unlikely ally from the other side of the bay: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
In 2015, he and Priscilla Chan, his wife, visited San Quentin to see a coding class for incarcerated people and learn more about the sprawling US prison system and its disproportionate impact on people of colour.
“Making our criminal justice system fairer and more effective is a huge challenge for our country,” Mr Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook at the time. “I’m going to keep learning about this topic, but some things are already clear. We can’t jail our way to a just society, and our current system isn’t working.”
A few months later, the couple’s baby daughter Max was born, and the pair announced the $45bn Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), a philanthropic vessel through which the billionaires would donate 99 per cent of their Facebook shares. Over the years, the CZI has poured more than $160m into tackling criminal justice work. The billionaires are making it one of their signature issues, in the same way their contemporaries have in other areas, such as Marc Benioff and ending homelessness, or Bill Gates and public health.
In 2021, the initiative announced its biggest investment in justice work yet, a $450m commitment over the next five years split between FWD.us, an existing immigration and criminal justice reform group under the CZI, and a new outfit called The Just Trust.
Facebook’s corporate profile may be growing more complicated in the wider culture—is it a site that brought people together worldwide, or accelerated the increasing polarization, radicalization, and misinformation of American life? But Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are betting, and betting big, that criminal justice is the rare area where a variety of people can come together for something unequivocally good: keeping more Americans out of the prison system and giving them a chance for something better.
The thesis of this investment, and in particular The Just Trust, is that Americans of all political stripes are unhappy with the present system of mass incarceration and open to changing things. The group, now one of the largest funders of criminal justice reform in the country, says it aims to support efforts that “work across the country and across political divides.”
“That’s why criminal justice reform is so unique. We can really bring a broad coalition of folks that might disagree on literally everything else,” Ana Zamora, CEO of the Just Trust, told The Independent. “It is a huge system that takes a lot of taxpayer money and is not delivering on its promise of safety.”
A test case of this approach can be found in Kentucky. The state, with Republican control of both houses of the legislature, is more conservative than most.
But it has also been ravaged by the opioid crisis, having the second-highest drug overdose mortality rate in the country, according to the CDC. This makes many leaders in Kentucky more amenable to a criminal justice approach focused on treatment and rehabilitation than punishment.
Beth Davisson, a senior vice president at the Just Trust-supported Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Foundation, said that the state’s extremely low workforce participation rate, combined with the opioid crisis and the pandemic, have made the normally more-conservative business community eager to get involved in criminal justice.
“In Kentucky we have an exorbitant amount of individuals that are going into the system because of substance use disorders and nonviolent crimes,” she said. “In our state, we have a lot of compassionate legislators that really understand the disease of addiction, and the role that incarceration and recidivism plays in the disease of addiction. That comes from both sides.”
The chamber has helped lobby for automatic “clean slate” record clearance after prison sentences, opening professional licensing requirements for people with past felony convictions, and raising the felony theft threshold to avoid over-incarcerating the poor.
It supported 2020’s Kentucky Comeback programme, which has trained over 2,000 employers on fair-chance hiring, and opened up nearly 30,000 jobs to formerly incarcerated people.
Of course, framing mass incarceration as a business issue isn’t the only way to approach the problem.
The Just Trust has also supported the Kentucky branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which runs a programme called Smart Justice Advocates that trains formerly incarcerated people to become criminal justice reform advocates.
“Most legislators don’t really get it until they have a loved one that’s impacted by these issues, and the large part of the public as well,” Marcus Jackson, the initiative’s organising coordinator and a participant in the programme himself, told The Independent. “It’s like that light has to go off. They have to see that loved one, that person that they know, they see it’s a good person to end up in some of these situations, before they really understand this is not a bad person. These are just mistakes.”
He’s seen how effective this approach can be first hand.
He remembers one state legislator who once claimed that incarcerated people should have their limbs cut off so they couldn’t be used to commit crimes. The Smart Justice Advocates programme met with him, and he eventually became a sponsor on a bill that opened up the opportunity for people with past felony convictions to access the state’s KEES education funding programme.
The group has also thrown its narrative muscle behind a 2021 bill that stopped the automatic transfer of juveniles to adult court, and another about bettering conditions for pregnant people inside prison.
Their next priority is SB 379, a bill that would narrow the ability of courts to label people as “persistent” felony offenders, a practice that often ends up doubling prison sentences for those convicted of as few as one previous felony.
It’s a law that would’ve drastically impacted Mr Jackson’s own life.
He was sent to prison in 1992 for a shooting he didn’t commit, setting off years of recidivism and pain for his family before someone else signed an affidavit in 2014 saying they’d committed the assault.
“My daughter was five when I left and she was 15 when I came home,” he said.
A beloved grandmother, an “old Tennessee woman” as he put it, who had always supported him and reminded him of the dignity in all people, passed away while he was still inside.
“Her words just stuck with me,” he said. “They just lived inside of me. To never allow anyone to make me feel a certain way about myself.”
This emphasis on the dignity and perspective of those in the justice system is behind another Just Trust-supported project, the Prison Journalism Project, which publishes professional-quality reporting from currently incarcerated journalists.
Those in the justice system may feel the full weight of the state, but most people rarely hear from them directly, according to founder and editor-in-chief Yukari Kane, a former Wall Street Journal reporter.
“There’s always a filter there. People outside can never get into those communities unless they’ve been there themselves. First of all, prisons and jails have actually physical walls around them meant to keep people out,” she said. “Most access, when you try and write a story about criminal justice, has to have the approval of the administration, which means that you’re seeing a very filtered view of what ‘s going on inside.”
The project is in 37 states and Washington DC, and has published almost 500 writers. It’s also training many more individuals, who have circulated the project’s training materials among incarcerated people. Their reporters have written on everything on from Covid outbreaks behind bars to personal essays on running.
“How much is missed when people inside communities aren’t able to tell their own stories?” Ms Kane added.
This type of coalition, bringing together business leaders, directly impacted people, storytellers, and more, could be threatened by a cultural return to Tough on Crime-style ideas as places experience pandemic-era increases in crime.
“As a result of that uptick in crime, we are seeing a media explosion of really scary high profile violence, and that is being pulled into the political space,” Ms Zamora said. “That is inevitable, these kinds of shifts are going to happen. What we’re trying to do is invest and build a movement of advocates, despite inevitable shifts. That’s how you make durable long-term change.”