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Konshens Explores ‘Jungle Justice’ In New Song, Talks Jamaica’s Crime Wave

Konshens explains his new song “Jungle Justice” amid concerning crime wave in Jamaica.

The issue of violence and crime has plagued Jamaica and other Caribbean islands for many years. However, in recent times the issues seemed to have escalated to a very dangerous point. For those suffering the effects and others who are just generally tired of the increasing crime rate, there has been a cry for something known as jungle justice.

It’s an issue that Konshens has decided to take on, though he does not implicitly state that he is for the practice. Jungle justice is also known as mob justice and is believed to have originated in Nigeria and Cameroon as a form of public extrajudicial killings.

The alleged criminal is humiliated, beaten, or in some extreme cases summarily executed by a crowd and/or vigilantes. Some of the common sentences carried out include something called the muddy treatment, where the perceived perpetrator is made to roll in mud for hours and in some cases severe beatings.

Most times countries that adopt this form of street justice do so because of what they think is a dysfunctional and corrupt judiciary system. Konshens tackles the topic in his latest track which is his first release for 2022 and was produced by Troyton Music.

The “Simple Blessings” deejay spoke with the Jamaica Observer and explained that while he understands the cry for jungle justice he thinks it can go both ways. He added that he thinks that the idea of jungle justice is kind of extreme because it opens up the possibility of people being wrongfully punished.

However, Konshens added that he does understand that in some cases, where the evidence is overwhelmingly clear, a clear message needs to be sent so that the next would-be criminal will think twice before even entertaining certain thoughts.

The track comes from him trying to break down both sides of the coin in the issue and was not inspired by a particular incident. That being said, Konshens did admit that he is quite concerned about the high level of unsolved crimes in Jamaica. It’s definitely a topic that makes people of the country think that they have no choice but to take the law into their hands, he continued.

Sadly the surging crime rate has been highlighted once again even as recently as the beginning of this year. The issue of jungle justice must have been reignited, among some, following the brutal murder of nine-year-old Gabriel King.

In a truly blood-curdling and harrowing murder, police reports indicate that the young boy was in the company of his mother in an Audi motor car driving towards Downtown Montego Bay. She slowed down to navigate a pothole and two men allegedly forced the woman from the vehicle and sped away with the child still aboard.

Unfortunately, he was found later on the rear seat of the vehicle with his throat slashed. Dancehall artists have been vocal about their disgust at the incident. Konshens himself commented on the incident.

“Its important that we know that no matter what Government and parliament talk bout if we dont change our stupid backwards destructive mindset as a culture and adopt and celebrate healthy ways of thinking nuttn nah go change,” he said in the comments of a post on Twitter questioning where Jamaica was heading.

“Me feel like it should be easer for good citizens to get firearms legally, since bad citizens have no problem getting them, mek it be shootout instead of people being sitting ducks and prey. That is the part im most tired of,” he added.

Bounty Killer used Instagram to get his point across as he called for more action from the citizenry, especially the younger generation to put a stop to this type of crime.

“When since we a murder kids ! And women! This a get outta hand! Wah uno a wait on! Somebody haffi dead fi uno fuss! When since JAMAICA badman ok wid dem type a killing yah!” part of his post read.

The murder is sure to cause some ripples among those who are tired of the violence towards children in Jamaica. A form of jungle justice is believed to have been meted out to 30-year-old Miguel Williams, of Sterling Castle Heights, St Andrew, on April 17, 2019.

Police reports on that incident state that an angry mob forced its way into Williams’ house, beat him. They then placed tyres around his body and lit him on fire inside the building. He was burnt beyond recognition. It is believed that his murder was prompted by the murder of eight-year-old Shantae Skyers, a student of the Red Hills Primary School.

Dancehall artist Quada, whose real name is Shacquelle Clarke, has since been arrested and charged for murder and arson in relation to that incident. He will reappear before the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston on May 22, 2023.

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System failures contribute to self-harm amongst imprisoned women who have been in care

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Women in prison who have experienced the care system as children report using self-harm as a way to communicate, alleviate and end the pain in their lives, new research, led by Lancaster University, finds.

Self-harm incidents in custody in England and Wales have recently reached a record high, increasing particularly in women’s prisons. This research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, highlights the prevalence of self-harm among women with prior experience of care who were interviewed in English prisons.

Using prior care experience as the underlying thread enabled the research team to explore the topic ‘through a different lens’ to gain a deeper understanding of women’s lives and highlight how they may have been failed across different systems, sometimes with devastating consequences.

Findings from the research are published today in Criminology & Criminal Justice, the journal of the British Society of Criminology, in an article written by the researchers at Lancaster University, Liverpool John Moores University, and the University of Bristol.

The research calls for urgent action to address system failures affecting those who have previously been in care.

Ministry of Justice data (2020) reveal that self-harm incidents in custody in England and Wales reached a record high of 63,328 incidents in the 12 months to December 2019, up 14% on the previous year.

These figures highlight a rate of 3,130 self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners in women’s establishments, compared with 650 incidents per 1,000 prisoners in men’s establishments.

Despite long-standing interest in the links between self-harm and being in care, and between self-harm and experiences of , little is known about the interconnections between all three.

Researchers carried out interviews with women, all of whom had been in care as children, across three closed women’s prisons in England.

Most women described backgrounds of abuse, serious violence and trauma, and had multiple experiences of victimization throughout their lives.

Of the 37 women interviewed, 17 raised self-harm and/or suicide as an issue: 14 reported self-harming and/or attempting suicide, and six women mentioned being ‘suicidal’, but it was unclear if they had attempted to take their own life.

Lead Author Dr Claire Fitzpatrick, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Lancaster University Law School, said: “We did not set out to explore the issue of self-harm, but it was an issue that many women chose to share. This evidence is deeply concerning and highlights the need for .”

Some women reported self-harming as a way of communicating distress.

For Marlene [not her real name] (38), self-harm became the method of communicating to prison officers that she was struggling and in need of support.

“I’ll start crying and then I’ll self-harm and then I’ll explain,” she said. “But I don’t know how to say, ‘look I’m feeling really low, I’m struggling, I need help’, like verbally. I do that through actions.”

Not feeling listened to was a common theme amongst women relevant to both care and prison experiences, which could be compounded by difficulties articulating pain.

“Self-harm may be a practical alternative to verbal communication for women who are suffering in some way – and care-experienced women with a history of being let down may be particularly reluctant to trust the latest authority figures involved in their lives,” says the journal article.

Mandy (46), who entered care aged 11 following sexual abuse by a family member, noted that after being “passed from pillar to post” in care, and sexually abused by a support worker in one children’s home, “I didn’t want to work with any authority figures at all”.

Mandy describes both her self-harm and offending as “a cry for help” and a way of communicating trauma.

A further function of self-harm highlighted by the women was to ‘alleviate pain’. An absence of timely mental health support could lead to an increase in individuals attempting to alleviate psychological pain.

Joanne (39) entered care aged 13 following domestic violence at home, and experienced six different foster care and children’s homes placements. She described her self-harm as a ‘control thing’ for when she got ‘angry or agitated’ and felt that she had more control over life in prison than she had in care.

“In the when you’re a kid you’ve got no choices,” she explained. “Nobody asks you what you want…you never get taught how to cope with stress, the stress you’re being put under being put in a new house or in a new group home.”

The research suggests that while self-harm might begin as a method of alleviating pain, it could become something more serious.

Five women reported attempting to take their own life on at least one occasion. Among these women there was a clear theme of wanting ‘things to end’ when pain became unbearable.

Inadequate support in care and custody was evident in many interviews, highlighting how responses to self-harm in prison may repeat experiences of movement and instability that women experienced in care.

A lack of mental health support, the absence of emotional support for the long-term impact of self-harm and the inability of the care system to provide safety were also common themes.

Mechanisms for tackling this must, say the researchers, involve listening to women without judgment, paying attention to their individual feelings and experiences, and crucially not creating further harm.

The study team call for far more investment in community-based alternatives to punishment for women who would not otherwise present a danger to others.

For those already in custody, work in prisons is ongoing to improve support for those with care experience.

“For it to make a real difference, this work must be appropriately resourced, supported with robust staff training, including on and mental health needs, and prioritized from the top to the bottom of the service,” the article concludes.


Increased green space in prisons can reduce self-harm and violence


More information:
Claire Fitzpatrick et al, Painful lives: Understanding self-harm amongst care-experienced women in prison, Criminology & Criminal Justice (2022). DOI: 10.1177/17488958211067914

Citation:
System failures contribute to self-harm amongst imprisoned women who have been in care (2022, January 17)
retrieved 17 January 2022
from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-01-failures-contribute-self-harm-imprisoned-women.html

This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no
part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

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Feds & states work on cannabis standards (Newsletter: January 17, 2022)

MS Senate passes medical marijuana; DE legal cannabis bill filed; New OH legalization signatures; MO GOP psychedelics bill

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/ TOP THINGS TO KNOW

The Mississippi Senate voted to legalize medical cannabis despite Gov. Tate Reeves’s (R) veto threat over patient possession limits he thinks are too high. The measure now heads to the House.

Marijuana Moment’s latest analysis looks at the large number of states that are poised to legalize cannabis—and potentially psychedelics—in 2022. Between ballot initiatives and bills in legislatures, advocates see a lot of targets for advancement this year.

Ohio activists say they are “confident” they’ve collected enough signatures to force lawmakers to consider a marijuana legalization measure.  An earlier submission was deemed insufficient but they’ve now turned in nearly 30,000 more signatures.

Delaware lawmakers introduced a newly revised marijuana legalization bill that includes key changes to equity provisions meant to help ensure it gets the supermajority level of support needed to pass.

A Missouri Republican representative filed a bill to allow patients with debilitating, life-threatening or terminal illnesses to use psychedelics like MDMA, DMT, ibogaine, LSD, mescaline, peyote and psilocybin under the state’s right-to-try law.

/ FEDERAL

The U.S. Sentencing Commission published a report on recidivism by people released from prison after serving time for drug trafficking convictions.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) tweeted, “The criminalization of cannabis has resulted in discrimination and injustice. Moreover, it has destroyed countless Black and Brown lives. It’s long past time for the federal government to catch up and move our country forward by leading on cannabis reform.”

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) tweeted about a study showing cannabinoids can protect cells from COVID, saying, “As if we needed another reason to legalize it.”

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) spoke about growing Republican support for marijuana reform.

Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-CA) tweeted, “January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month. With cases of human trafficking linked to illegal marijuana cultivation sites rising in our community, it is critical we put an end to this modern-day slavery.”

Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Gillian Battino tweeted. “When I am in the Senate, I will fight to legalize recreational marijuana. We can invest tax revenues in communities torn apart by the war on drugs, farmers can diversify with sustainable practices, and patients will have the access they require.”

Texas Democratic congressional candidate Arthur DIxon tweeted, “Rich white business owners profit $100+ Billions Dollars from the cannabis industry every year while here in Texas thousands of black and brown kids get thrown into prison for possessing a few grams… We have to do better! It’s time to legalize marijuana! 🪴”

Kentucky Democratic congressional candidate William Compton tweeted, “One thing I would want to do in congress is make sure Marijuana is legalized nationwide. A majority of people support it! It’s a no brainer.”

/ STATES

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam touted his signing a marijuana legalization bill in his final State of the Commonwealth speech,

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) pardoned more people for marijuana and drug convictions.

California’s attorney general continued to criticize local officials’ slowness to clear marijuana convictions as required by a law he authored.

South Carolina’s Senate majority leader said it’s “time to have the debate” on a long-pending medical cannabis bill, and the House minority leader said it should have been done a long time ago.

The chairman of the Louisiana legislature’s Medical Marijuana Commission said it’s time to expand the medical cannabis program “in every direction.”

Florida Democratic lawmakers held a press conference to promote marijuana legalization bills.

Kansas House Democrats tweeted, “Kansas is 1 of 4 states where marijuana remains fully illegal. It’s 2021. This is unacceptable.”

A Missouri Republican representative discussed plans to file a marijuana legalization bill.

Maine regulators proposed medical cannabis rules changes.

New York regulators proposed emergency hemp rules.

Nevada regulators are conducting a survey to collect demographic data on the cannabis industry.

Illinois officials are hiring reviewers for grant applications for the marijuana revenue-funded  Restore, Reinvest, and Renew grant program.

Pennsylvania regulators tweeted about eggs from hemp-fed chickens, saying, “Eating hemp eggs will not get you high, but you will be filled with a healthier egg.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

/ LOCAL

Denver, Colorado officials sent guidance on marijuana hospitality and unlicensed consumption businesses.

/ INTERNATIONAL

Costa Rican lawmakers sent President Carlos Alvarado a medical cannabis and hemp bill.

Grenada Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell said his government will introduce a medical cannabis bill ahead of the next election.

The French Assembly debated a marijuana legalization bill.

UK members of Parliament sent a letter asking London’s mayor to rescind a plan to reduce marijuana arrests.

/ SCIENCE & HEALTH

A study concluded that “consumers are interested in and are using [medical cannabis products] for dermatologic indications, most commonly for inflammatory skin disorders.”

A study demonstrated that “treatment with three infusions of ketamine was well tolerated in patients with alcohol use disorder and was associated with more days of abstinence from alcohol at 6-month follow-up.”

/ ADVOCACY, OPINION & ANALYSIS

The Michael J. Fox Foundation’s senior vice president for public policy joined the board of the Council for Federal Cannabis Regulation.

Supernova Women organized a rally at the California Capitol calling for tax and regulatory relief for marijuana businesses.

/ BUSINESS

Eaze opened its first dispensary storefronts.

Vangst completed a $19 million Series B funding round.

Charlotte’s Web Holdings, Inc. completed an organizational restructuring.

Canopy Growth USA is being sued over claims that its website violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by being inaccessible to visually impaired and blind customers.

Leafly has a new senior vice president of engineering.

/ CULTURE

Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert joked about a study showing cannabinoids can protect cells from COVID,

The Onion joked about rising COVID vaccine appointments in Quebec, Canada after officials made the shots mandatory to access marijuana and liquor stores.

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System failures contribute to self-harm amongst imprisoned women who have been in care

Women in prison who have experienced the care system as children report using self-harm as a way to communicate, alleviate and end the pain in their lives, new research, led by Lancaster University, finds.

Self-harm incidents in custody in England and Wales have recently reached a record high, increasing particularly in women’s prisons. This research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, highlights the prevalence of self-harm among women with prior experience of care who were interviewed in English prisons.

Using prior care experience as the underlying thread enabled the research team to explore the topic ‘through a different lens’ to gain a deeper understanding of women’s lives and highlight how they may have been failed across different systems, sometimes with devastating consequences.

Findings from the research are published today in Criminology & Criminal Justice, the journal of the British Society of Criminology, in an article written by the researchers at Lancaster University, Liverpool John Moores University, and the University of Bristol.

The research calls for urgent action to address system failures affecting those who have previously been in care.

Ministry of Justice data (2020) reveal that self-harm incidents in custody in England and Wales reached a record high of 63,328 incidents in the 12 months to December 2019, up 14% on the previous year.

These figures highlight a rate of 3,130 self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners in women’s establishments, compared with 650 incidents per 1,000 prisoners in men’s establishments.

Despite long-standing interest in the links between self-harm and being in care, and between self-harm and experiences of imprisonment, little is known about the interconnections between all three.

Researchers carried out interviews with women, all of whom had been in care as children, across three closed women’s prisons in England.

Most women described backgrounds of abuse, serious violence and trauma, and had multiple experiences of victimisation throughout their lives.

Of the 37 women interviewed, 17 raised self-harm and/or suicide as an issue: 14 reported self-harming and/or attempting suicide, and six women mentioned being ‘suicidal’, but it was unclear if they had attempted to take their own life.

Lead Author Dr Claire Fitzpatrick, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Lancaster University Law School, said: “We did not set out to explore the issue of self-harm, but it was an issue that many women chose to share. This evidence is deeply concerning and highlights the need for urgent action.”

Some women reported self-harming as a way of communicating distress.

For Marlene [not her real name] (38), self-harm became the method of communicating to prison officers that she was struggling and in need of support.

“I’ll start crying and then I’ll self-harm and then I’ll explain,” she said. “But I don’t know how to say, ‘look I’m feeling really low, I’m struggling, I need help’, like verbally. I do that through actions.”

Not feeling listened to was a common theme amongst women relevant to both care and prison experiences, which could be compounded by difficulties articulating pain.

“Self-harm may be a practical alternative to verbal communication for women who are suffering in some way – and care-experienced women with a history of being let down may be particularly reluctant to trust the latest authority figures involved in their lives,” says the journal article.

Mandy (46), who entered care aged 11 following sexual abuse by a family member, noted that after being “passed from pillar to post” in care, and sexually abused by a support worker in one children’s home, “I didn’t want to work with any authority figures at all”.

Mandy describes both her self-harm and offending as “a cry for help” and a way of communicating trauma.

A further function of self-harm highlighted by the women was to ‘alleviate pain’. An absence of timely mental health support could lead to an increase in individuals attempting to alleviate psychological pain.

Joanne (39) entered care aged 13 following domestic violence at home, and experienced six different foster care and children’s homes placements. She described her self-harm as a ‘control thing’ for when she got ‘angry or agitated’ and felt that she had more control over life in prison than she had in care.

“In the care system when you’re a kid you’ve got no choices,” she explained. “Nobody asks you what you want…you never get taught how to cope with stress, the stress you’re being put under being put in a new house or in a new group home.”

The research suggests that while self-harm might begin as a method of alleviating pain, it could become something more serious.

Five women reported attempting to take their own life on at least one occasion. Among these women there was a clear theme of wanting ‘things to end’ when pain became unbearable.

Inadequate support in care and custody was evident in many interviews, highlighting how responses to self-harm in prison may repeat experiences of movement and instability that women experienced in care.

A lack of mental health support, the absence of emotional support for the long-term impact of self-harm and the inability of the care system to provide safety were also common themes.

Mechanisms for tackling this must, say the researchers, involve listening to women without judgement, paying attention to their individual feelings and experiences, and crucially not creating further harm.

The study team call for far more investment in community-based alternatives to punishment for women who would not otherwise present a danger to others.

For those already in custody, work in prisons is ongoing to improve support for those with care experience.

“For it to make a real difference, this work must be appropriately resourced, supported with robust staff training, including on self-harm and mental health needs, and prioritised from the top to the bottom of the service,” the article concludes.

The open access article is part of a wider Nuffield Foundation-funded Disrupting the Routes between Care and Custody study.

All names have been changed to protect the identity of participants.

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.

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Governor Ricketts addresses current and ongoing Nebraska issues

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) – Governor Ricketts says he has the best job in the world, and he loves serving the people of Nebraska. And while it is unclear how he will continue to serve once a new year dawns, it is clear he has big plans for serving to the fullest until the end of his time as Governor.

On Thursday morning, Governor Pete Ricketts delivered his annual State of the State address in the George W. Norris Legislative Chamber. In the address, Gov. Ricketts overviewed his mid-biennium budget recommendation and legislative priorities to provide tax relief, strengthen public safety, and secure Nebraska’s water rights. He also set out his goals for the Legislature as it determines the use of $1.04 billion of federal funds available to Nebraska as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Additionally, he welcomed senators as they open the Second Session of the 107th Nebraska Legislature, (governor.nebraska.gov).

During the State of the State address, Governor Ricketts spent time laying out his plans for these many issues. At the end of his speech he said,

In an interview on Friday Governor Ricketts reminded Nebraskans that “Nebraska is an agricultural state.” This, in reference to the question asking him about his hopes for water issues in the state.

Governor Ricketts was asked to explain his reasoning behind supporting a new prison facility. He was asked for his thoughts on those such as the ACLU of Nebraska advocating against the new proposed prison ( aclunebraska.org/prison).

This includes addressing mental health issues. According to the governor, when a facility is modernized with a new one, the state will be able to maximize programs by having the space to be able to offer classes and all the enhanced services.

The abortion issue is another topic facing Nebraska and the Legislature. Senator Julie Slama from District 1 introduced Legislative Bill 781, requiring physicians, before they perform an abortion, to do an ultrasound and see whether they can detect a fetal heartbeat (cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac, or around 6 weeks of pregnancy). Amid contrasting legislation by Senator Megan Hunt of Omaha to expand abortion access in Nebraska, and a promise to fight any bans, Governor Ricketts was asked to weigh in.

He said, “So my favorite thing about being the governor is when the fourth-grade classes come to the Capitol and go on tours, and I catch up in the hallways and ask questions about Nebraska history, it’s a ton of fun. Fourth-grade-age, it’s a great age. And these school kids know so much about Nebraska History.”

“I think one of our biggest challenges is just making sure that we’re juggling all the different priorities. We’ve got a lot to get done in this very short legislative session. So we’re working hard with senators to be able to get done but is a short session, essentially we have two budgets to do – our regular budget adjustment plus our budget. We’ve got big issues we have to address with regard to protecting our water and protecting public safety. All those sorts of things. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. Of course, we got to continue to focus on tax relief, so that we can put the money people earned back in their pockets.”

That leads to the next question for the governor. It is the topic of property taxes, and how he hopes it is addressed.

Governor Ricketts addressed the money being allocated to Nebraska in the name of COVID-19 relief.

Then the governor was asked, “What motivates you to do all of this?” And that is when he said he has the best job in the world.

“Through the years, the guiding light of my administration has remained the same: to Grow Nebraska. And, despite weathering floods, fires, and a global pandemic, we have done just that. I was elected on the promise that I would bring tax relief to our state. It’s what the hardworking men and women of our state deserve. And, given our current financial situation, we must deliver,” said Governor Pete Ricketts.

Gov. Ricketts’ State of the State Address

President Foley, Speaker Hilgers, Members of the Legislature, Distinguished Guests, friends, my lovely wife and First Lady Susanne Shore, fellow Nebraskans – good morning!

Congratulations on the commencement of the Second Session of the 107th Nebraska Legislature. Welcome back to Lincoln. I look forward to working together to serve Nebraskans during what is certain to be a fast-paced, short session.

Eight years ago, I announced my run for Governor. I did so out of a love for my state and a desire to see her thrive. Through the years, the guiding light of my administration has remained the same: to Grow Nebraska. And, despite weathering floods, fires, and a global pandemic, we have done just that. In the face of unprecedented challenges, the State of the State is strong. We’ve been living with COVID-19 for nearly two years. It’s changed the way we do business, educate, learn, and go about our daily lives. And in some tragic cases, it’s taken lives. But, true to our collective character, we have kept moving forward. The development of vaccines, boosters, and new treatments has given us the opportunity to return to the pursuit of the Good Life. Nebraskans don’t need to be mandated to do the right thing. They just do it. Without lockdowns or mandates, businesses were able to stay open. Parents were able to return to work, and their children were able to return to school. Where authoritarian states are struggling, we are thriving.

Politico’s State Pandemic Response Scorecard confirms this. An in-depth, independent analysis of all 50 states shows Nebraska has weathered this storm better than any other state. We have the lowest unemployment rate in history – not only in the history of our state but of our nation – at 1.8 percent.

Last November marked the third month in a row with over one million Nebraskans employed. And, our manufacturing sector has come roaring back. In fact, today more Nebraskans are working in manufacturing than pre-pandemic. Our economic successes are a testament to Nebraskans’ desire to work hard and earn. From teachers to truck drivers, mechanics to medical professionals, farmers to fast food workers, and every profession in between, our state’s women and men invest their time and effort to better their communities and support their families. Last year, we supported their work and helped them grow Nebraska. Thanks to the leadership of Chairwoman Linehan and the Revenue Committee, the 2021 session ushered in a historic level of tax relief—relief that will deliver $2 billion to Nebraskans over the next two years. Many other great bills were passed into law thanks to your hard work.

Chairman Friesen, Speaker Hilgers, and the Telecommunications and Transportation Committee joined forces to secure passage of the Nebraska Rural Broadband Bridge Act. As a result, an additional thirty thousand Nebraska households will have access to high-speed broadband. Senators Brewer and Gragert shepherded through legislation that fully exempts military retirement pay from state income tax. Reforms like this are how we will keep talented veterans in our state. All this—and more—was accomplished while responsibly managing state spending and limiting expenditures to only 2.4 percent growth. Behind the numbers, we’ve experienced intangible growth as well. Throughout Nebraska, our people’s grit, drive, and selflessness were on full display in 2021. From North Omaha to North Platte, folks stepped up to solve problems in their communities.

In North Omaha, business and community leaders have been working to develop and revitalize Omaha’s historic North 24th Street. Through physical improvements such as providing high-speed fiber optic upgrades, and a comprehensive streetscape plan, the project’s work promises to bring businesses and customers back to the area.

In the home of famed Buffalo Bill Cody, North Platte ranchers felt the squeeze that comes with a lack of options for meat processing. Instead of accepting the status quo, David Briggs and others have launched Sustainable Beef, a beef processing plant that promises to bring nearly 900 jobs to the North Platte community and more than one billion dollars in annual revenue. More importantly, Nebraska’s ranchers will have more choice as they run their businesses.

Today, I’m joined by some of the people who are responsible for these incredible efforts: North Omaha’s Carmen Tapio, CEO of North End Teleservices; Pastor Ralph Lassiter, a leader with the North 24th Street Business Improvement District; and David Briggs, CEO of Sustainable Beef. Please join me in welcoming them.

Carmen, Pastor Ralph, and David: thank you for all you do to make our state better.

Other Nebraskans also continued to step up for one another. In 2021, over 200 of our men and women accepted the call to join the thin blue line that protects and serves our communities. They’ve earned that badge. They were trained, challenged, and tested – thanks, in part, to the work of instructors at our Law Enforcement Training Center in Grand Island. We are joined here today by Law Enforcement Training Center Director Brenda Urbanek and Deputy Director Mark Stephenson. They work to make sure our men and women in blue are ready to respond to the unique needs of their communities. Brenda and Mark, thank you for all you do.

Our students continued to pursue personal development. We enter 2022 with more than 3,900 Nebraskans in registered apprenticeship programs throughout the state—including through our six great community colleges. That’s 3,900 more Nebraskans who are pursuing growth and contributing to our diverse, skilled workforce.

And, Nebraska continues to serve as a beacon for life. This includes the amazing aid our crisis pregnancy centers and other organizations provide to new mothers and their babies. It also includes the work our people do for some of Nebraska’s most vulnerable—born and unborn.

I specifically want to recognize all that Attorney General Doug Peterson does to combat human trafficking in our state. During his tenure, the State of Nebraska has prosecuted 76 sex trafficking crimes, holding accountable those who are exploiting the vulnerable and delivering justice for victims of this modern-day form of slavery. Thank you, AG Peterson, for your leadership to ensure that all Nebraskans can expect justice and equality under the law.

We must also recognize all the doctors, nurses, and health care professionals, whose stalwart selflessness and excellent care has helped us weather this pandemic. Please help me thank our healthcare heroes. We’ve come a long way in one year. But there is still work to be done. Work that will help everyone in our state thrive. This legislative session, there are four priorities we must accomplish to keep Nebraska strong for years to come.

It’s likely not a surprise to any of you that I am starting with tax relief. It’s been a staple of my budget recommendations every year. I was elected on the promise that I would bring tax relief to our state. It’s what the hardworking men and women of our state deserve. And, given our current financial situation, we must deliver. Last year, we successfully passed a two-year budget that set priorities for this year and next. While there is an opportunity to fine-tune this plan, I expect state agencies and our partners to live within our existing budget and limit any budget growth to under three percent. By the end of the fiscal year 2023, the State of Nebraska is anticipated to have an estimated $1.5 billion in its Cash Reserve Fund. Let me say that again: 1.5 billion dollars. Folks, this is the people’s money, and we must support tax relief that puts this money back into the pockets of the people. To start, we can build on last session’s reforms by accelerating the phase-in of Social Security tax exemptions to five years, instead of the current ten-year period. This would allow our older neighbors and friends to keep more of their hard-earned money. We also need to ensure that we are building upon the historic amount of property tax relief provided during last session. This fiscal year – and next – $548 million in annual property tax relief will go back to our people through LB1107. And we must make sure it does not drop below this floor. Finally, over the next five years, we must reduce the top individual tax rate by one percent – from 6.84 percent to 5.84 percent. For those who may try to brand this as a tax cut for the rich, I challenge you to ask Nebraskans earning $33,180 a year, or families earning $66,360 a year, if they feel rich. They make up the 418,900 Nebraskans in this tax bracket who deserve relief. And we can offer that relief while aligning job creator rates to this new individual income tax rate. It’s imperative that we also remember our core responsibility: to protect public safety. After all, people are our greatest resource. There are several opportunities this session to strengthen our commitment to keep Nebraskans safe.

Historic agreements were struck to provide substantial pay increases for our 24/7 public health and safety positions. This will help us attract and retain quality corrections teammates. We’ve already seen a fivefold increase in Department of Corrections applicants since this announcement was made.

I am also requesting $16.9 million to enhance our state crime lab, which analyzes forensic and physical criminal evidence to better secure justice for victims of crime. And $47.7 million to go toward the expansion of our Law Enforcement Training Center in Grand Island.

Finally, we must fully fund the replacement of the Nebraska State Penitentiary. The existing penitentiary was built over one hundred and fifty years ago. Its walls are crumbling, and its infrastructure is aged beyond simple repair. For those wishing to pursue criminal justice reform, this should be a no-brainer. A modern facility will give our inmates a better quality of life. Modernizing our State Penitentiary will allow us to offer enhanced services and programming to prepare these men for life after time served. I am not asking anyone to choose between supporting a modern State Penitentiary and pursuing policies that aim to reduce crime and recidivism. These solutions are not at odds, and there is room for both as we work to strengthen Nebraska.

This year, we can also help secure our water resources for generations to come. After our people, water is Nebraska’s greatest natural resource. To secure Nebraska’s water supply, I am recommending $500 million to construct a canal and reservoir system from the South Platte River. Access to this water enables our farmers and ranchers to produce. It protects quality drinking water. It keeps electric generating costs manageable, and it ensures Nebraska remains the best place in the world to live, work, and raise a family. If we fail to secure our supply from the South Platte River, we could expect to lose 90 percent of the water that currently comes to us from Colorado. We must act to preserve, protect, manage, and steward our water supply for our future Nebraskans. I am also requesting $200 million be allocated to the water projects presented by the STAR WARS Special Committee. These projects will also secure our access to water—and they provide the additional promise to grow the Good Life in tourism and recreation.

In addition, I am recommending: $5 million to support repairs on the Peru Levee; $60 million to restore and protect drinking water systems in rural areas, such as Cedar and Knox Counties; and $23 million in repairs to the Fort Laramie Gering canal tunnel.

This year, we also have the rare task of spending the $1.04 billion that Nebraska has been allocated through the American Rescue Plan Act. These ARPA funds can help our state grow into the future. Today, I am releasing a second budget recommendation with proposals on how to spend this ARPA funding, and I look forward to the robust debate that will ensue as you work to determine where this money is best spent. I cannot stress it enough: ARPA funds are one-time funds. They must be spent as such. Each one of us has a responsibility to guard against spending this money in a way that grows government expenses. My proposal includes 29 qualifying initiatives that will better Nebraska. It will deliver nearly $200 million for public health emergency response. And, for areas that experienced negative economic impacts from COVID-19, I am requesting over $500 million. This includes assistance for economic development projects in North Omaha and funding for beef processing supply chain issues in North Platte. It secures funding for parents of low-income children who have experienced learning loss during the pandemic, and it provides Nebraska’s community colleges dollars to enhance their workforce development programs. It also funds behavioral health and nursing incentives to ensure continued access to excellent care throughout our state. In addition, my ARPA budget proposal includes over $284 million to water and sewer projects. This includes partial funding for the Perkins County Canal and Reservoir construction, funding for the STAR WARS Special Committee proposals, and other key water projects I’ve mentioned today.

Putting money back into the pockets of hardworking Nebraskans. Protecting public safety. Securing access to our natural resources. And investing in one-time projects that will enhance our state. These are the ways we can keep Nebraska strong and growing in 2022. I know that there will be tough debates. Long nights. And seemingly impossible time constraints. But I also know that we get the job done when everyone rolls up their sleeves and works together.

Thank you for your service to the people of Nebraska. Our work in the coming days will require a spirit of collaboration and cooperation and for each of us to do our part to keep Nebraska strong. I look forward to the challenge, opportunity, and honor of working with you. Remember: Nebraska is what America is supposed to be. God bless you all, and God bless the great State of Nebraska!

Copyright 2022 KNOP. All rights reserved.

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Virginia’s NAACP remains focused on criminal justice in 2022 legislative agenda

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) – Virginia’s NAACP leadership spent time Thursday afternoon to share what it is calling an aggressive schedule for the 2022 legislative agenda.

According to Virginia State Conference NAACP President, Robert N. Barnette, Jr., the State Conference represents more than 100 chapter and branches statewide.

And while criminal justice remains a top priority for the group, leaders are also focused on education, healthcare, workforce and economic empowerment, pandemic response, voting rights, environmental and climate justice, housing and juvenile justice.

During Thursday’s Zoom call, Region 1 Vice President Gaylene Kanoyton of the Hampton Branch began by laying out the priorities for education, healthcare and the pandemic response. She said the NAACP stands against cuts and repurposing of K-12 public school funding and is focused on the expansion of Black history in the public school system.

“Last year Black history was expanded in the public school system,” Kanoyton said. “We want to ensure that Critical Race Theory, which is taught in the third year of law school, does not dilute this effort that has worked last year and has expanded Black history in our public schools.”

As the NAACP continues to monitor the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on black and brown communities, Kanoyton said they remained focused on the expansion and accessibility of vaccines and tests in those communities. Beyond that, she said those same communities need general public health support.

“We also want to expand public health in the rural and urban underserved population areas as well,” she said.

The NAACP leaders also said they remain aggressively focused on voting rights. Avoham Carpenter spoke on that issue, highlighting several bills the committee is watching, including House Bills 46, 24 and 185.

“The political action committee is concerned with some introduction of pieces of legislation that would do everything from reduce early voting days to eliminating permanent absentee voter lists and putting additional constraints on voters who vote by mail,” Carpenter said.

Meanwhile, he indicated the committee was looking to support Senate Bill 21, which he said they believe could give Virginians a real second chance at voting.

Other legislation that would be a top priority for the state conference would include making sure the funding earmarked for affordable public transportation was maintained, and in some cases, increased.

Speaking on the topic of environmental and climate justice, Karen Campblin said the goal was to support legislation that would ensure the health and sustainability of black and brown communities across the Commonwealth.

“We know that greenhouse gas emissions, the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, is the transportation sector,” she said. “And increasing access to affordable transportation and moving people away from cars into public transportation will not only help lower vehicles among travel but will also decrease the air pollutants that I had mentioned earlier that we’re trying to combat.”

She emphasized concern for the equitable transition to a clean economy which supports schools and also bolsters black and brown entrepreneurs.

On the topic of juvenile justice, Valerie Slater spoke about the work NAACP plans to emphasize treatment for addiction and mental health in juveniles and end racial disparities at that level, aiming for results-based policies.

“There’s legislation that’s looking to place an SRO in every middle and high school,” Slater said. “And so that is an avenue that is left to jurisdictions and it needs to remain in the hands of jurisdictions to determine whether or not that is something that they need. And specifically we’re looking to make sure that we are stopping the reliance on police officers in schools and instead ensuring that there is enough support staff to meet the needs of children.”

Kanoyton also discussed a desire to expand affordable housing for black and brown communities as well as efforts to maintain rental assistance, expand broadband and maintain support for small, minority and women-owned businesses.

Criminal justice, however, remains among one of the group’s top priorities.

“Of course we want to amend the state constitution to guarantee the right to vote for all is a topic, is a number one priority for us,” Kanoyton said. “But also enacting automatic expungement of criminal records for individuals without subsequent convictions and ensuring that there are no barriers to obtaining an expungement.”

You can find an in-depth breakdown of the legislative priorities here.

Copyright 2022 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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Why crime is likely to be a big focus at the 2022 Minnesota Legislature

During the last two years, public safety was a top issue at the Minnesota Legislature, where conversation centered mainly on police accountability measures after the killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright.

Public safety again figures to be top of mind in St. Paul when the Legislature convenes on Jan. 31, but this time with a new focus: violent crime. Republican and Democratic state lawmakers say they will roll out a host of plans aimed at reducing crimes like carjackings and robberies that have plagued the Twin Cities metro area over the past year.

Lawmakers in both major parties often argue public safety should not be politicized. And both say they expect to work to find common ground on policy to address crime. At the same time, crime is expected to be a potent campaign issue later this year, a situation that could fuel a rancorous and partisan debate at the Capitol. The House is controlled by Democrats while the Senate is held by Republicans, and both legislative chambers will be up for grabs in November elections.

The first glimpse of what that debate might look like came this week. On Thursday, Republicans told reporters they will aim to stifle Minnesota’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission, as well as judges and liberal prosecutors in Hennepin and Ramsey counties for actions and policies they view as letting people who have committed crimes off too early or too easily.

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“The Sentencing Guidelines Commission is representative of a DFL, Democrat agenda to put criminals before victims,” said Sen. Warren Limmer, a Maple Grove Republican who chairs the Senate’s Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee. “We’re very concerned about this radical ideology.”

State Rep. Cedrick Frazier

Democrats, particularly from the Twin Cities suburbs, have also been outspoken about crime in recent weeks, though they haven’t criticized prosecutors and Gov. Tim Walz’s sentencing commission in the same way. Rep. Cedrick Frazier, a New Hope DFLer and vice chair of the House’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee, said in December that lawmakers can and should be able to address both crime and police reform. “We can talk about the real uptick in crime in the communities,” Frazier said. “That’s a real thing. People are impacted by that.”

The GOP approach to public safety

Crime has always been discussed at the Capitol, and Republicans in particular have criticized Democrats since 2020 over what they saw as an inadequate response to arson and looting in the aftermath of the Floyd murder. The GOP also hammered Democrats at the Capitol and on the campaign trail in 2020 for the push by some activists and DFLers to defund or dismantle police (though no such policies had been proposed by Democratic legislators).

But crime has risen to the top of the fold as officials report a near-record number of murders in Minneapolis and a wave of carjackings, gun violence and other crimes in the metro area. And at the Republican news conference Thursday, Limmer gave a rough outline for what the Senate will focus on in the upcoming legislative session.

That agenda includes examining laws “for loopholes and sentences that don’t make sense or that allow criminals just a slap on the wrist, such as for carjacking and robbery.” Limmer also said Republicans would “shed light” on decisions by county attorneys and judges to let out repeat offenders or not prosecute them. And he said the GOP would try to “rein in” Walz appointees on the Sentencing Guidelines Commission, potentially by requiring Senate confirmation for the positions.

The 11-member commission, which sets standards for criminal sentences given by judges, has drawn criticism from Republicans over a recent plan that could shorten sentences for people who commit a crime when they are on probation, supervised release or in custody. The state’s criminal history point system for determining sentences has an extra penalty for when people commit offenses when they’re in supervision, and supporters of the plan questioned why that should lead to longer sentences. They also argue the criteria impacts mostly people charged with less serious offenses, and say longer sentences don’t necessarily reduce crime.

Limmer, however, said “the last thing we need to do right now is to have lighter punishments.”  

The commission on Thursday postponed a vote they had scheduled for the proposal.

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The GOP also criticized the commission for a 2020 decision to cap probation at five years for people convicted of crimes.

Republicans have also taken aim at Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi as well as some judges for either not prosecuting certain cases or not handing out what they think should be long enough sentences. In September, Choi announced his office won’t prosecute many felony cases that stem from low-level traffic stops, arguing in part they have a disproportionate impact on people of color.

Limmer said Republicans hope to help police concerned about retention and recruiting, and said cops don’t like when prosecutors, particularly in the Twin Cities metro, don’t prosecute the “very laws the Legislature has put into the books and signed by governors.” (St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell supported Choi’s traffic-stop policy, though the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association has proposed requiring county attorneys to give data to the Legislature about felony offenses they don’t bring charges on.)

Separately on Friday, state Sen. Paul Gazelka, an East Gull Lake Republican running for governor, said he will propose legislation to toughen minimum sentences for carjacking, enforce minimum sentences for committing crimes with firearms that he said are being waived by judges and prosecutors, and offer signing bonuses for police officers, particularly in high-crime areas.

“This year it is my hope that myself and the rest of the Republicans move forward a pro-police agenda,” Gazelka said.

What Democrats hope to do to address crime

Democrats say they, too, hope to address crime in the state. Rep. Heather Edelson, an Edina DFLer elected in 2018, said on Twitter in late December that she is working with a group of suburban legislators, law enforcement and others to write new bills responding to crime.

State Rep. Heather Edelson

State Rep. Heather Edelson

“Public safety is probably one the most important things in my community right now and I think that’s true for a lot of suburbs,” Edelson said in an interview last week. “With the rising crime, people want to know what we’re doing to address it.”

Edelson said increasing criminal penalties alone won’t make people safer, because no matter how long you lock people up, they get out eventually. She said the criminal justice system, especially for youths, should be about rehabilitation and intervention.

Edelson said one potential measure would expand the authority of the state Department of Commerce’s Fraud Bureau — which currently has 15 officers charged with investigating insurance fraud — to help solve auto theft and carjacking crimes by helping understaffed police departments in the state. Edelson said Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, expects to introduce a bill to add more officers to the bureau.

Another proposal would require a period of house arrest for youth who steal a vehicle before they’re released into a diversion program specific to auto theft, Edelson said. Right now, young people aren’t always booked into juvenile detention with just auto theft alone, or they might be booked and quickly released, she said. “What we’re seeing is this kind of churning of a lot of the same repeat offenders,” Edelson said.

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Edelson said she also hopes to fund state grants for police departments to recruit in high schools and then hire graduates for part time work at the station while attending school for law enforcement, a program she said could help diversify the police force.

State Rep. Kelly Moller

State Rep. Kelly Moller

Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, said she is working on a bill that would allow police to use mobile tracking devices on cars reported as stolen, an idea brought to her by the Ramsey County sheriff’s office. The technology would allow law enforcement to track a car without a dangerous high-speed chase, she said.

Last month, Frazier said he plans to carry a bill that would pay for community crime prevention programs, invest in ways to improve the intelligence gathering of police to help solve crimes and law enforcement strategies like “community policing with foot patrol.”

“So officers being embedded in the community, getting to know the community,” Frazier said. “That often comes up a lot around this whole idea that many officers don’t live in their communities. It doesn’t mean that those officers can’t get to know the community. It doesn’t mean those officers can’t build relationships. This may not be a popular thing, but there is some data that shows that when that type of policing is in place, it does deter some crime and it brings down crime rates.”

Walz hasn’t released any public safety plans yet ahead of the legislative session but he held a virtual meeting with West Metro police chiefs Friday morning.

Election year implications

Lawmakers in both parties say they’ll work across the political aisle to find common ground on public safety legislation. 

Edelson said she’s made an effort to gain bipartisan support for all her legislation, and said she had just left a public safety call with Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.

Legislators who want to make progress on the issue can’t vilify each other, Edelson said, adding she also anticipates a lot of conversations with legislators from Minneapolis and St. Paul who may have a different vision of public safety.

Limmer told reporters he expects to seek Democratic support for legislation such as Senate confirmation of Sentencing Guidelines Commission positions. “I would imagine with the backdrop of rising violent crime, and an agency that has the authority to alter criminal sentences that, they too would want to make sure that they would be in support of such a bill,” Limmer said.

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Still, Edelson said moving bipartisan legislation is “going to be incredibly challenging in an election year.”

“It’s really hard to make things bipartisan where we agree on the exact public safety bill,” Edelson said. “And working with law enforcement and making sure that we’re going to get support also from community advocates, it’s complicated.”

Crime and support for police has been a central campaign theme already for Republicans who hope to take control of the Legislature and the governor’s office. Polling shows Democrats may be vulnerable on the issue, as many voters say public safety has gotten worse in the Twin Cities. Republicans also ran on public safety issues in 2020, especially in close suburban races.

House Deputy Minority Leader Anne Neu

House Deputy Minority Leader Anne Neu Brindley

At the GOP press conference, Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, a North Branch Republican and deputy minority leader, portrayed Democrats as reticent to tackle crime until legislators are faced with a tough election over the issue. Their push on the topic has nothing to do with campaigning, she said.

“Public safety is the top issue for Minnesotans right now … because again we just ended a year of record crime in the state of Minnesota,” Neu Brindley said. “Certainly we will be talking to Minnesotans about what they care about. Fortunately for us as Republicans, we align with that issue.”

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Fresh thinking needed on fighting crime

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman remembers when a rash of violent crime, including record homicides, earned Minneapolis the unfortunate nickname “Murderapolis” back in the 1990s.

Now, nearly 30 years later, a steep wave of violent crime — including hundreds of carjackings, often at gunpoint — is again threatening not just Minneapolis, but St. Paul and surrounding suburbs. In Minneapolis alone police recorded more than 640 carjackings and attempted carjackings last year, a rate of almost two per day. That’s up from 170 recorded in 2020. Before that, the numbers were so small that they were not broken out separately.

Freeman told an editorial writer that there is a misperception that his office is not aggressively prosecuting such cases. “We charge 85% of the carjacking cases brought to us,” he said. However, Freeman remains deeply troubled by the steep rise in violent crime and is proposing to resurrect and improve a solution he said worked last time, a program from the ’90s known as Minnesota Hope, Education, and Law and Safety, or MN HEALS.

“What we need now is MN HEALS 2.0,” Freeman said. First launched in 1997, MN HEALS promoted partnerships among police, probation officers, community leaders, the faith and business communities, and youth employment programs. The result, Freeman said, was a 62% decline in violent crime in the following decade.

Freeman said he wants to improve that version, and is already building a coalition around it. “We want it to be even more broad-based, comprehensive,” he said. In a recent meeting with Hennepin County mayors and law enforcement officials, Freeman said the focus should expand to include violent crime in the suburbs, which have suffered particularly from a spate of violent carjackings.

Whether the new wave of crime is the result of societal fraying from the pandemic or lingering effects of last year’s unrest that fostered a short-lived “defund the police” movement, it requires just such a wholesale evaluation of how we target our resources to combat it.

Paul Schnell, Minnesota commissioner of corrections and a former police chief, said he values resurrecting and improving MN HEALS in part because it can serve as a neutral forum for engaging a broad variety of viewpoints on next steps. One of the most troubling aspects that sets this crime wave apart from earlier ones is the way it has divided the criminal justice community, Schnell told an editorial writer, turning police chiefs against prosecutors and prosecutors against judges.

“Right now the system is turning on itself,” he said. “We’re eating our own. Everyone is blaming everyone else. That’s not something we’ve really seen before. We have to start coming together on this and figure out how the system itself responds to this threat.”

The Hennepin County Chiefs of Police Association recently sought major revisions in the handling of violent juvenile offenders after arrest. As noted in a previous editorial, the chiefs are seeking stricter prosecution, bail reform, the ability to arrest and take into custody those who have missed court dates and changes that would enable them to detain repeat juvenile offenders rather than release them.

That was followed by a Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association letter that accused county attorneys of sometimes being unwilling to pursue felony cases. The association is seeking state legislation that would require counties to track felony-level cases that go uncharged. The criminal justice system was under massive stress even before the pandemic. As with so many things, the pandemic has exacerbated existing problems even as it diminishes our ability to tackle them.

That makes it all the more important to find a way to listen to all sides and bring all sides together. Earlier this week the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission put a sensible pause on a proposal to reduce sentences for repeat offenders. The topic, Schnell said in an interview, is one that warrants renewed scrutiny, if only to avoid sending the wrong message.

Former Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, who is running for governor, said in a news conference Friday that he will introduce bills in this legislative session to impose minimum sentences for carjacking, ranging from two to six years, depending on whether a weapon was used or bodily harm committed, along with a ban on judges waiving mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders who use a gun. He also wants legislation for signing bonuses for new police officers, an incentive that has become common in other industries experiencing labor shortages.

All these ideas, along with whatever comes out of MN HEALS 2.0, are worthy of consideration, hopefully with a minimum of partisan bickering. Schnell noted in talking to an editorial writer that the situation in Minneapolis is particularly dire, that police staffing levels have fallen so low there aren’t enough officers to follow through on investigations, resulting in abysmally low clearance rates for crimes.

“I don’t want to be Pollyannaish about this,” Schell said. “We have to do more aggressive and very targeted enforcement. But that’s not all of what we need to do. This surge in violent crime is happening in urban areas around the country.”

No single individual or entity will have all the answers needed to combat this latest wave. Efforts like the relaunch of MN HEALS are needed to keep key leaders and agencies working together to make our communities safer.

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Artistic Justice

((PKG)) VALENTINO DIXON
((TRT: 10:56))
((Topic Banner:
Artistic Justice))
((Reporter/Camera: Aaron Fedor))
((Producer: Kathleen McLaughlin))
((Editor: Kyle Dubiel))
((Map: Buffalo, New York))
((Main Character: 1 male))
((Sub Character:
1 male))
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

Well, I’ve been given many nicknames when I was in prison, you know. Most of the inmates called me “The Prison Picasso”, you know. And they kind of ran with that because they would see me drawing all day long. I drew up to ten hours a day every day and I never took a day off.
((MUSIC/NATS))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

I was arrested at 21 years old. I was hanging out at a popular hangout in Buffalo, New York, a restaurant and a shooting occurred. I took off, ran to my car and shortly thereafter, I was arrested and taken into custody and questioned. I was charged with shooting three people and within days, eight people came forward to clear me of the crime and the person responsible confessed to the crime. All of those witnesses and the confession was disregarded. I was found guilty of all charges, given a 39 years to life sentence. I found myself in Attica Correctional Facility and I didn’t know what to do. And all I was asking myself is, “How are you going to survive this? You know, who’s going to help you? Who’s going to believe that you’re innocent of this crime?” you know. I had written numerous letters, hundreds of letters and all of them were ignored. And you know, I had to make a choice, a conscious decision, you know, if I wanted to live or if I wanted to die. And when I watched the movie, Shawshank Redemption, the main character had two choices because he was innocent for the crime he was in jail for: “Get busy living or get busy dying.” This is the favorite, famous quote. And that kind of resonated in my spirit. And it wasn’t until my uncle told me, “Hey!” he said, “Hey, you need to, maybe, you need to start drawing again because if you could reclaim your talent, you could reclaim your life.” And I had lost all my appeals. I had no hope to, you know, regain my freedom because I didn’t have any help. He sent me some color pencils and some paper and I started drawing after that.
((MUSIC/NATS))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

I first started drawing at the age of about four years old. And my grammar school art teacher, Mrs. Ross, she took, you know, her time to kind of mold me and take my talent to another level. And she got me into performing arts in eighth grade, which I went all the way through my senior year. And so art was always in my spirit. It’s what I liked to do most.
((Donald M. Thompson
Lawyer for Valentino Dixon
Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin, LLP))

I’d heard of him by reputation because I have a number of other clients in Attica and they knew him. And they just knew him to be a great guy. He was kind of a mentor
((Courtesy: Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative))
((Donald M. Thompson
Lawyer for Valentino Dixon
Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin, LLP))

for some of the younger guys. He had a lot of street cred [credibility] when he went in. So, when he would, you know, say things or describe things, people put some stock in it. And he was kind of a, almost a guidance counselor for some of the others. And they would come and he would draw eight or ten hours a day. They’d come just to watch him draw. And it’s almost like meditation, I think. But really, his art was one of the keys to obtaining his release.
((Courtesy: Valentino Dixon))
((Valentino Dixon, Artist
Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

I remember drawing a rose, you know. And I was kind of rusty because I hadn’t drawn in so many years. And the inmates loved the rose. They all was like, “Wow, that is such a beautiful rose!” And so that gave me the inspiration to keep drawing. Before I started drawing the golf courses, I drew greeting cards. And I drew over 500 greeting cards over a 15-year period. These are all hand-drawn with colored pencils. The warden and the rest of the staff, they knew me as this artist that whenever they walked by, you know, the area, the housing area, they would see me drawing. So this is what everybody had come to know me to do with my time.
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

So one day, the warden comes in. He says, “Hey, Valentino. I’m going to be retiring in a couple of months. Before I leave, could you draw my favorite golf hole?” I says, “I don’t know anything about golf. I’m a Black kid from the inner city, you know, but bring the picture in.” And it was the 12th hole of Augusta. The warden brought the picture in. I drew it for him. He loved it. That was supposed to be the end of it. And my neighbor says, “Hey, Valentino. You should draw more golf holes.” I said, “I’m not going to draw more golf holes. I know nothing about the sport.” He forced it on me and brought me some old Golf Digest magazines, tossed them on my bed. He said, “Hey, you know, you might find some interesting golf courses to draw.”
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

And after that, I started drawing golf courses every day, you know, never stopped. And after about six months, I had about 40 drawings, 40 golf drawings. And I started reading the columns in the golf magazine. And I came across a column called, “Golf Saved My Life” by Max Adler in Golf Digest.
((Courtesy: Golf Digest))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

So I took a chance and I took one of the drawings and I sent it to the Golf Digest magazine and I said, “Hey, Max”. I said, “This is what’s going on with me. I’m in prison for a crime I didn’t commit. I have all of this evidence, you know. But I don’t have, you know, no help or no support.”
((Courtesy: Golf Digest))
((Donald M. Thompson
Lawyer for Valentino Dixon
Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin, LLP))

Because of his drawing and his artwork, he came to the attention of Golf Digest. And they launched on to this investigation, re-investigation of the case, which they’d never done before. And which resulted in a wonderful article in Golf Digest, which in, sort of an indictment of the criminal justice system, was the best encapsulation of the case.
((Courtesy: Strong Island Films))
((Donald M. Thompson
Lawyer for Valentino Dixon
Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin, LLP))

There was also a student investigation from Georgetown involved and they also interviewed witnesses and obtained other information. All of it contributed.
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

So five years go by and Georgetown gets involved. Marty Tankleff, who was a paralegal working on my case years earlier, had now become a Georgetown adjunct professor. And so his students decided they wanted to do a, use my case as a class project and do a documentary.
((MUSIC/NATS))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

This is the 12th hole of Augusta. This is the most famous, iconic hole in golf. This is the one that I gave to the warden and I gave it to him as a gift. A lot of people look at my work and they say, “Painting, painting, painting.” But these are all pencil drawings. Everything I do is a color pencil drawing. So it takes many, many hours to layer so many colors on top of each other to give it that paint look, you know, to give it that, that photographic paint look. That’s the goal. And I love it when people say “painting” because it’s a compliment.
((MUSIC/NATS))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

Well, the first thing I do is, I have to like the course. It has to be a golf course that, you know, resonates with me and it captures my spirit. And then after that, I decide what color I’m going to do this course because I might want to do it in grays or I might want to do it in reds or I might want to do it in your traditional green golf course. You know, sometimes you want to be artistic. So I’ll lay out all the colors. I’ll take the color pencils, you know, and I’ll pick which ones I believe, you know, I want to draw all the golf course in. And then I may take a yellow and put a yellow under the green and then use a darker green. So it’s many layers to what I do in order to get this effect.
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

I did an interview with HBO, which [former First Lady] Michelle Obama saw. And it captured her attention and she reached out to buy a piece of golf art for [former President] Barack Obama for Christmas.
((Courtesy: Instagram))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

The Instagram post of [former President] Barack Obama with the drawing that I drew was just awesome. I mean, it was the greatest feeling in the world.
I played golf about ten times since I’ve been released from prison. I’ve been to the Masters. I’ve met Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and…but I’m no good. I mean I’ve tried. I’ve taken lessons and I’m awful. But, you know, it’s fun to do.
((Donald M. Thompson
Lawyer for Valentino Dixon
Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin, LLP))

Despite his circumstances, he’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever met.
((Courtesy: Valentino Dixon))
((Donald M. Thompson
Lawyer for Valentino Dixon
Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin, LLP))

He is unrelentingly, aggressively positive and refuses to be otherwise, which I think has saved him. It’s why he’s notable today. You know, I don’t know anyone else that has gotten out after that period of wrongful incarceration. And maybe there are people, I just haven’t had contact with them, who don’t have some bitterness and some anger. But he legitimately doesn’t. And he is always looking to the next opportunity.
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

I make my living doing commissions. You know, I have a show called, “Draw and Talk with Me”
((Courtesy: Valentino Dixon))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

where I’ll draw for just regular people and I teach them how to draw. And we talk about their careers. We talk about life, okay. So I have drawn with, you know, kids, policemen, school teachers, 20 people that have Parkinson’s disease.

I started a foundation called the “Art of Freedom” to fight against wrongful conviction and sentencing guidelines in America, okay, which is the reason why we have mass incarceration because our sentencing guidelines are too harsh and excessive and it violates our Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.
So what I’ve tried to do is connect people with lawyers, good lawyers, and to give them the direction that they should take with the issues that they have.
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer of all time, when he met me, he said I reminded him of Nelson Mandela because of my spirit, you know, because I’m not bitter, I’m not angry. You know, in life, we’re all going to be tested with something and we don’t get to decide the test.
((MUSIC/NATS))
((Courtesy: Valentino Dixon))
((Valentino Dixon
Artist, Exoneree, Prison Reform Advocate))

Artwork was a therapy for me in prison but for you it may be something else. We have, all have a gift. We all have a talent. Find out what your talent and your gift is, you know, and embrace it wholeheartedly. But this is what keeps the spirit alive in this world. It’s a lot of challenges and you need something to keep that spirit going.
((MUSIC/NATS))

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