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House Judiciary Committee Passes Second Chance Act March 28, 2007

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Just a week after the re-introduction of the bill, today members of the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 1593, the Second Chance Act of 2007. The bill will now be sent to the House floor for consideration, which sponsors say will take place in mid-April. During the mark-up of the bill, members voted down several amendments that would have jeopardized the bipartisan support for the bill.

The Second Chance Act would authorize a $65 million re-entry grant program administered through the Department of Justice for state and county re-entry initiatives, and a $15 million re-entry program for community and faith-based organizations to deliver mentoring and transitional services. The bill also retains a number of drug treatment provisions that were added to the legislation last session. Last week, the Second Chance Act was reintroduced by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) and Chris Cannon (R-UT) and has a growing list of bipartisan co-sponsors. The Senate plans to reintroduce their version of the bill later this week.

For more information on the Second Chance Act click here or contact Sara Paterni.


At Oregon State Penitentiary, OSU students and inmates compare lives as they attend class together March 27, 2007

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They sit in a circle in a lemon-colored room framed with thick steel bars that stripe the view of the sky. The fresh-faced students in Oregon State University sweat shirts fill folding metal chairs between men wearing jeans and shirts stamped INMATE in bright orange letters.

“There’s nothing special about the fact that I didn’t end up a criminal,” Sarah says.

Several of the men in prison blues lean forward, shaking their heads in disagreement.

“No,” Bob says forcefully. “There is something special about not being in here. Some people are weak; some people are strong.” Sarah, he says, showed her strength by going to college.

Fellow inmates nod. The college students seem unsure. Over the past nine weeks, they’ve felt this way a lot — filled with new doubts about things they once thought true.

Past the looming guard tower and between the razor wire-topped fences of the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, the unusual course — among the first such classes offered on the West Coast — is coming to an end. Students expected to learn about the sociology of crime. But the lesson that sticks with them most was utterly unexpected: It is often just one choice, one decision, that separates the students who are free to leave the penitentiary at the end of the night and those who stay to be locked in cages.

That, says OSU professor Michelle Inderbitzin, is the amazing thing about the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. It’s transformative for everyone involved.

Read the entire story here: http://www.oregonlive.com/oregonian/stories/index.ssf?/base/news/117388230734540.xml&coll=7&thispage=1


Resources to Provide Tutoring to Children in Need

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Under President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, faith-based and community organizations are eligible to receive federal funds to provide extra academic help to students in certain schools that need improvement. These supplemental educational services are additional academic instruction designed to increase the academic achievement of students in low-performing schools. Services must be provided outside of the regular school day and may include academic assistance such as tutoring, remediation, and other educational interventions.
Providers of supplemental services may include nonprofit entities, for-profit entities, local educational agencies, public schools, public charter schools, private schools, public or private institutions of higher education, and faith-based organizations. Organizations must apply to state departments of education to become an approved provider. The funding for this program is not a grant, but organizations receive a fee-for-service through a contract with local school districts.
Many states are currently accepting applications or will be accepting applications in the next few months. If you are interested in learning how to become an approved provider in your state, please contact your state SES coordinator. Some state deadlines have already passed; however, you may be able to obtain information about the next application window.
In an effort to provide technical assistance to organizations interested in becoming approved providers of supplemental educational services, the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives has posted a comprehensive Web site that includes:
If you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
U.S. Department of Education
(202) 219-1741

New report offers solutions for police facing language barriers

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Police agencies serving new immigrant populations can choose from a range of policy options to overcome language barriers, according to a new report just released by the Vera Institute of Justice.

Overcoming Language Barriers: Solutions for Law Enforcement, from Vera’s Center on Immigration and Justice, provides practical tips and advice for law enforcement personnel who interact with communities that don’t speak or understand English well. The report draws upon the Center’s experience developing language access strategies with law enforcement agencies in California, Nevada, and Ohio.
“More and more police departments across America–not just in major cities–are serving people with limited English proficiency,” explains Anita Khashu, director of the Center on Immigration and Justice. “Having worked with different size agencies that serve different immigrant populations, we know what steps police can take to be more effective, safer, and fairer, even when resources are limited.”
Read the entire story here: www.vera.org/overcomelangbarriers

Until proven innocent

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On the morning of July 25, 1984, 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton headed outside to do what so many children do on hot summer mornings. She went looking for friends to play in the sunshine.

She met 7-year-old Jackie Poling and 10-year-old Christian Shipley fishing at Bethke’s Pond in Fontana Village, near Baltimore. They had caught a turtle and were showing it to a strange man. Dawn asked the boys if they had seen her friend, Lisa Helmick, 4.

“Lisa and me is playing hide-and-seek,” the strange man said. “Let’s go find her.” Together they walked away into a wooded area. [Read the entire story online]


Pew Charitable Trusts Unveils National Prison Population Projection March 13, 2007

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On Wednesday, February 14, 2007, the Public Safety Performance Project, an operating project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, unveiled a new report, Public Safety, Public Spending: Forecasting America’s Prison Population 2007 – 2011. The report offers a national prison population projection with a state-by-state assessment of prison growth over a five year period as well as the financial implications of this growth.

According to the report, state and federal prisons will grow by 13 percent to more than 192,000 prisoners over the next five years at a cost of about $27.5 billion to build and operate new facilities to accommodate this growth. Stricter sex offender laws, mandatory minimum sentences, and declining parole grants rate are identified as factors driving the increase in the prison population.

In addition to releasing the “Public Safety” report, the Public Safety Performance Project held a panel discussion to identify correctional challenges facing states and highlight innovative approaches to managing prison growth and increasing public safety. U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and State Representative Jerry Madden (R-TX) were on hand to speak at the press conference and participate in the panel discussion, respectively.

The Public Safety Performance Project helps states advance fiscally sound, data-driven policies and practices in sentencing and corrections that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable and control corrections costs. The project works closely with the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a national project of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and other partners to provide nonpartisan research, analysis and expertise to states.

To view the full press release, click here (pdf). For more information about Justice Reinvestment, contact Crystal Garland.


The Safe Return Initiative recently released two new publications

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Copies of both publications can be downloaded from Vera’s web site at www.vera.org/safereturnpreventingdv or www.vera.org/safereturnexperiences. Additional hard copies can be ordered from the Vera Institute of Justice at (212) 334-1300. For more information about the Safe Return Initiative, contact the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community at nidvaac@umn.edu.

The Vera Institute of Justice is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing safety and justice, promoting fair and efficient policy and practice, and working with leaders of government and civil society to improve the systems people rely upon for safety, security, and justice. Vera is a founding member of the Altus Global Alliance.


Barbara Parker’s Lecture at Vera [Audio and presentation slides available]

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As part of Vera’s Speaking of Justice Series, Dr. Barbara Parker from the University of Virginia School of Nursing presented the preliminary findings from her team’s qualitative research gathered from extensive interviews with adults who, as children, lost one or both parents to a fatal act of domestic violence homicide or homicide/suicide. The audio and presentation slides are now available to listen and download at:


For more information on this issue contact Nancy Cline at (212) 376-3041 or by email at ncline@vera.org.

The Vera Institute of Justice’s Speaking of Justice Series explores issues of justice and fairness through ongoing discussions with some of the most thoughtful and knowledgeable government officials, scholars, and nonprofit leaders from around the country. The series is funded through a gift by the Lucille Lortel Foundation.


Faith Based Leaders to Host Special Interfaith Symposium March 24-25 in Portland March 12, 2007

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The Seattle group NICO (Northwest Interfaith Community Outreach) is co-hosting an Interfaith Convocation at the Madeleine in Portland on March 24-25. The attached flyer gives a few more details about the gathering, called “In the Beginning”.

In brief:

NICO is co-hosting a weekend gathering for the Portland community designed to deepen individual spiritual awareness and connect that awareness with a commitment for social/political/environmental justice. This will be an interfaith event drawing on the wisdom of sacred texts of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions. The community is invited to come together on March 24-25 to look into the heart of the Abrahamic traditions and the New Universe Story, searching for the common themes that guide our lives. We will explore the context of our faith traditions and celebrate the unity of spirit through acts of compassion and justice. Attendees will be re-acquainted with their own tradition’s creation stories, will discover common threads in the creation stories, and will experience the convergence of science and spirituality in the New Universe Story. The event is co-sponsored by the Interfaith Network for Earth Concerns (a program of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon), the Islamic Society of Greater Portland, Bilal Mosque, and NICO. Presenters include Rabbi Ted Falcom, Ph.D., Paul Fitterer, SJ; Muslim Sufi Minister Jamal Rahman, and Alexandra Kovats, CSJP, Ph.D.

Address/Registration Info: The Madeleine Church, 3123 NE 24th Ave., Portland, 97212; $65. Make your reservation by contacting John Hale, 425-865-0659 or jehale@earthlink.net.


Tennessee Considers Innocence Commission

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Tennessee introduced legislation in February that would create an innocence commission to review wrongful convictions and recommend systemic reforms preventing them in the future. The “Tennessee Innocence Commission Act of 2007 (HB1333/SB538)” is currently being reviewed by both the state House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

Noting that “a number of people across the country have been exonerated and released after serving several years in prison,” the bill creates a nine-member innocence commission with the ability to issue subpoenas and administer oaths in the investigation of wrongful convictions. The bill also notes that exonerations in a number of states have resulted in unbiased review of state criminal justice systems and “recommendations for significant reforms,” but that Tennessee has not undertaken such a review.

The innocence commission would be comprised of members appointed by Tennessee officials and would include a law enforcement officer, a prosecutor and a public defender. Each member would serve a two year term and the chair of the commission would be appointed by the Governor. In addition to reviewing cases, the commission would be required to submit an annual report of finding and recommendations for reform, including possible legislation to prevent future wrongful convictions.

Clark McMillan was exonerated in 2002 after spending 22 years in a Tennessee prison for a crime he did not commit. His wrongful conviction was largely a result of a mistaken eyewitness identification.