Meaningful Prison Reform

Originally posted at

Corrections officer Travis Conklin, right, looks on as prisoners move through the state prison Thursday, March 3, 2011 in Jackson, Ga. Conservative legislators who once heralded strict three-strikes laws and other tough measures that led to bloated prisons are now considering what was once deemed unthinkable: Reducing sentences for some drug and non-violent offenders. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Corrections officer Travis Conklin, right, looks on as prisoners move through the state prison Thursday, March 3, 2011 in Jackson, Ga. Conservative legislators who once heralded strict three-strikes laws and other tough measures that led to bloated prisons are now considering what was once deemed unthinkable: Reducing sentences for some drug and non-violent offenders. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Senators Seek to Curb Federal Prison Sentences for Drug Crimes

October 1, 2015, 4:09 pm ET by Sarah Childress

A bipartisan group of senators unveiled a comprehensive proposal on Thursday that would reduce federal prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and seek to cut down on recidivism.

The bill would be among the most significant criminal justice reform legislation in decades. It comes as support for reform has been growing on both sides of the aisle, both because of the overwhelming financial burden of mass incarceration and a push among legislators towards rehabilitation rather than punishment for drug offenses.

The bill’s major provisions would:

  • Reduce enhanced mandatory-minimum sentences for repeat drug offenders, including removing mandatory life sentence for three-strike offenders.
  • Limit offenses that trigger mandatory minimums to serious drug felonies.
  • Offer more discretion for judges to sentence low-level offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum.
  • Limit — though not prohibit — solitary confinementfor juveniles in federal custody.
  • Allow some nonviolentjuveniles to seal or expunge their convictions.
  • Apply several sentencing reforms retroactively.
  • Require the Bureau of Prisons to come up with research-based programsto reduce recidivism.

The bill doesn’t do away with mandatory minimum sentencing entirely, something that a full 77 percent of Americans say they support. The federal prison population has boomed over the past 30 years, from 24,600 in 1980 to more than 200,000 last year, in part because of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses.

The bill also introduces new mandatory minimum sentences for other crimes, such as violent felonies, some violent firearm offenders, those who commit interstate domestic violence or provide weapons or other materials to terrorists.

That’s one critique of the bill from some reform advocates, who say that minimum sentences are costly and mostly end up targeting low-level, nonviolent offenders.

“We believe that punishments must fit the crime and that a cookie-cutter approach too often gets in the way of justice,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement.

The senators said the bill would impact at least 6,500 people in the federal prison system. The bulk of the roughly 2.2 million people who are incarcerated today are in state prisons and jails.

Molly Gill, government affairs counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said the bill could go further, but added: “There’s going to be a lot of families who will benefit from this law and a lot of people who are going to get a lot of years back.”

The bill still must pass the Senate before moving to the House of Representatives for consideration. The White House hasn’t yet weighed in on the bill, but President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for comprehensive criminal justice reform.


Prisons should not be money making ventures by business. Minor crimes should allow a person to have a real second chance.

Cleveland to Overhaul Police Department

I saw this at, and felt that I should share, as this is my town at least for now. This problem is everywhere and must be fixed. Protests have been peaceful so far and I hope that continues but the investigation into Tamir Rice’s death is ongoing. He was twelve and playing with a toy gun and the police shot and killed him.

Cleveland to Overhaul Police Department in Agreement With Justice Department

An 18-month investigation by the Justice Department concluded that the Cleveland Police Department exhibited a pattern of “unconstitutional policing and excessive use of force.”

Posted: May 26 2015 7:18 AM

People march in protest May 23, 2015, to the Cuddell Recreation Center in Cleveland, where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by police. The march was in reaction to Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo’s acquittal on manslaughter charges in a separate case in which he shot two people in a fatal 2012 incident during which police officers fired some 137 shots at the pair.RICKY RHODES/GETTY IMAGES

Updated Tuesday, May 26, 5:45 p.m. EDT: Specifics of the agreement between the Department of Justice and the city of Cleveland over abusive and excessive use of force by police have been released, according to Yahoo News, and they include a substantial overhaul of police procedures and policies.

An independent monitor will oversee changes in the Cleveland Police Department, which include community policing and getting officers more involved in their neighborhoods; modernizing technology; training to avoid racial stereotyping; and implementing new procedures to investigate misconduct allegations.

According to the website, Mayor Frank Johnson says that he hopes the agreement will be a model for other cities. Groups, including the NAACP and the police union, are still reviewing its details.


The Justice Department has reached a settlement with the city of Cleveland after an 18-month investigation into the city’s Police Department found “a pattern of unconstitutional policing and excessive use of force,” the New York Times reports.

According to the Times, specifics of the settlement have not been disclosed, but the investigation, which ended in December 2013, was prompted after a 2012 shooting involving several officers who fired more than 130 shots at two unarmed people—Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams—inside a vehicle.

News of the settlement comes just days after Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo was acquitted for his role in the 2012 shooting. The Times notes that while several officers fired some 137 shots into the vehicle after a high-speed car chase, Brelo was charged with manslaughter for reportedly waiting until the car came to a stop and then jumping onto the hood and firing another 15 shots into the car’s windshield. Both Russell and Williams died from gunshot wounds.

Some 71 demonstrators were arrested after hundreds of people gathered Saturday to protest the officer’s acquittal.

According to the Times, the most damning portion of the Justice Department’s investigation cited several incidents during which officers used excessive or deadly force.

“Investigators said officers unnecessarily used deadly force; used excessive force against mentally ill people; and inappropriately resorted to stun guns, chemical sprays and punches,” the Times reports.

The investigation was concluded before the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was fatally shot by police while he played with a toy gun in a Cleveland park near his home.

The Times notes, “The Justice Department has opened nearly two dozen investigations into police departments under the Obama administration. Federal investigators found patterns of unconstitutional policing in cities including Seattle, Newark, Albuquerque and Ferguson.” An investigation has been launched in Baltimore in the wake of the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died from injuries suffered while in police custody.

The list of the Unarmed killed by Police keeps growing

What I’ve found out in the days since the murder of Freddie Gray is that people are being killed every day by police in America.  A friend has told me that there is a least one such death a day.

Looking for more information about this, I found this video, which documents the deaths of unarmed people killed by Police in 2014.  Most of these deaths were not reported on the news, and yet they were killed at the hand of police.

It’s important for all people in America to be aware of two things:

  1. People from EVERY race are being killed by police
  2. This is being largely being kept a secret

If it weren’t a secret, more people would be marching and protesting and maybe we could make a change to this horrific trend.

My condolences go out to the families and friends of all these victims.  May they rest in peace.

May our country give them justice, however long it takes.


What leading feminists hope to accomplish in 2015

By Ruth Tam January 2

In 2014, modern feminism faced more scrutiny than ever before. But women writers and activists could not be silenced. In discussions about campus sexual assault, street and online harassment and race, women dominated the streets and the Twittersphere. From the creators of #BlackLivesMatter to a MacArthur genius fighting for women’s labor rights, we asked 16 of the year’s most influential voices for what they hope to accomplish in 2015.

‘So Popular’
host | @JanetMock

My hope is that feminist, racial justice, reproductive rights and LGBT movements build a coalition that centers on the lives of women who lead intersectional lives and too often fall in between the cracks of these narrow mission statements.





Lux Alptraum, 32 | BinderCon co-founder | @luxalptraum

I’d love to see publications make a greater effort to include the voices of women, gender non-conforming people, and people of color – and put programs and policies in place that will help to level the playing field.




Leigh Stein, 30 | BinderCon co-founder | @rhymeswithbee

I would like to see less digital dualism, which perpetuates the fallacy that online harassment isn’t “real” harassment when in fact so many women writers face threats just for doing their job -writing- on the Internet.



Ai-jen Poo, 40 | National Domestic Workers Alliance director, Caring Across Generations co-director, created #dwdignity, #caringamerica, #womentogether | @aijenpoo

I would like to see the creation of 2 million new, living wage ($15 or more) caregiving jobs, and more affordable options for quality care for working families, particularly in light of the numbers of women in the workforce and the rapidly growing older population in America.


Elizabeth Nyamayaro, 40 | Senior Advisor to Executive Director of UN Women, heads HeForShe campaign | @e_nyamayaro

We have an amazing opportunity with @heforshe for one half of humanity (men) to join in solidarity with the other half of humanity (women) in creating a shared vision of gender equality that benefits all of humanity.

Jessica Pierce, 29 |  Black Youth Project 100 National Co-Chair | @JFierce

I hope that 2015 brings a focus on turning the anger and frustration around the issues of police brutality and violence against black people in this country into concrete policy changes being led by the diversity of leaders I’ve seen and continue to see in the 2014 actions. We want to convene the table of change, not have a seat at it.

Charlene Carruthers, 29 |  Black Youth Project 100 National Coordinator | @CharleneCac

I hope to see a continued resurgence of young Black people owning their power to end police and domestic violence. 2015 will be a year of fresh ideas mixing with tried and true organizing tactics in the tradition of leaders like Ella Baker.


Lindy West, 32 | Writer, performer, I Believe You | It’s Not Your Faultfounder and editor  | @thelindywest

I want to see Twitter, Facebook and YouTube set up coherent standards and effective block/report tools to protect users from abuse, and hate speech–particularly rape victims being harassed and doxxed for speaking out about their rapes.

Mikki Kendall, 38 | co-editor, created#solidarityisforwhitewomen#fasttailedgirls#NotJustHello @karnythia

I want to see a mass realization that police brutality is a feminist issue and for mainstream feminist organizations to help change those policies.

Feminista Jones, 35 | Social Worker, writer, activist, created #YouOKSisand #NMOS14 | @FeministaJones

In 2015, I’d love to see more representation of women of color in sociopolitical actions, and I’m doing my part by organizing a Women’s Freedom March centering on women of color and our stories.


Mia McKenzie, 38 | Award-Winning Writer, Black Girl Dangerous founder | @blackgirldanger

I want to see queer and trans people of color with radical social and political analyses dominate independent media by creating and growing our own platforms, so we can centralize and control our own narratives.


Alexandra Brodsky, 24  | Know Your IX founding co-director; editor; The Feminist Utopia Project co-editor, Yale Law School student | @azbrodsky

I hope we can channel the energy around campus gender-based violence toward creating more options outside the criminal justice system for all survivors, not only students.


Patrisse Cullors, 31 | Dignity and Power Now executive director, co-created #BlackLivesMatter | @osope

In 2015 I hope for a movement that is fighting for ALL black lives, and that allows for the stories of ALL black women to be in the forefront of our fight.


Alicia Garza, 33 |  National Domestic Workers Alliance Special Projects Director, co-created #BlackLivesMatter @aliciagarza@blklivesmatter

My 2015 resolution is to make sure that black women, especially black queer and trans women, are playing a strong leadership role in the growing movement for black lives and black liberation–because black women are the portals to the future, we can do a lot to shape a new economy and a new democracy for all of us.


Opal Tometi, 30 | Black Alliance for Just Immigration Executive Director, Co-Founder, co-created #BlackLivesMatter, |@opalayo

In 2015 I want to see our communities continue to rise up to challenge the criminalization of our people. At the national and local level my organization BAJI and the national network we coordinate, the Black Immigration Network, will be campaigning to end mass incarceration, detention and deportation.

Brianna Spacekat Wu, 35 | Giant Spacekat head of development |@spacekatgal

In 2015, I want fewer speeches about supporting women in games and more concrete action – it’s time to open up gamedev to the rest of us.


The is the time for all of the feminists in the world to accept the challenge to demand ensure equality for all human beings and the end of women and children having to live in fear and violence. Let’s make 2015 the year for justice for minorities and children.

In Darren Wilson’s Testimony, Familiar Themes About Black Men

In Darren Wilson’s Testimony, Familiar Themes About Black Men
November 26, 2014 3:11 PM ET

Sid Hastings/AP
After Michael Brown was shot dead in August, his mother, Leslie McSpadden, said, “My son was sweet. He didn’t mean any harm to anybody.” He was, she said, “a gentle giant.”

But when police officer Darren Wilson fired the shot that ended Brown’s life, he saw things differently. “I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” he said in his testimony to the grand jury. “That’s just how big he felt and how small I felt.” Wilson said “the only way” he could describe Brown’s “intense aggressive face” was that it looked like “a demon.” He feared for his life.

Many observers, such as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie and Vox’s Lauren Williams, pointed out that Wilson’s testimony has historical echoes of the “black brute” caricatures that portrayed black men as savage, destructive criminals.

After the Civil War, many white writers argued that the institution of slavery was what kept the supposed savagery of black men in check and also justified the punishments that they met. In the Reconstruction-era novel Red Rock, for example, Thomas Nelson Page wrote of a black politician — a “repulsive creature,” Moses — who tried to rape a white woman: “He gave a snarl of rage and sprang at her like a wild beast.”

But these depictions haven’t just been banished to old books. On Twitter, the hashtag #Chimpout started trending this week as tweeps used it to describe those protesting the grand jury’s decision. Again, drawing upon animal imagery, Urban Dictionary defines the term as “used to describe the bad behavior of black people, especially when they behave like animals.”

Contemporary studies suggest that language like this, as well as the language in Wilson’s testimony, has deeper psychological roots.

Take, for example, research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology earlier this year. The report, titled “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children,” found that African-American boys as young as 10 were significantly less likely to be viewed as children than were their white peers. Philip Atiba Goff, an assistant professor of social psychology at UCLA and one of the lead authors of the report, spoke to NPR’s Michel Martin when it came out. “In black boys’ lives, what we know from developmental psychology is there are more situations that demand that they be adults than there are in the average white boys’ lives,” he said. “And the problem is we rarely see our black children with the basic human privilege of getting to act like children.”

As an example, Goff mentioned the death of Trayvon Martin after he was shot by George Zimmerman. “All of a sudden a 17-year-old boy was portrayed as a manly thug. He was seen sometimes by people to be older than he actually was,” Goff said. ” ‘He was a boy in a man’s body’ was something I heard multiple times. And you don’t hear that when it’s white children in the same context.”

Adam Waytz, a psychologist and assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, has looked into why this happens. He points out psychological studies where “people demonstrate a racial bias whereby they believe black people experience less pain than white people.”

Waytz also points to literature and pop culture that depict African-Americans as stronger than whites. “Spike Lee’s famous terming of — and I quote — the mystical ‘magical Negro’ as a stock character comes up in a lot of films,” he says. “And even Melissa Harris Perry’s done some academic work on the myth of the strong black woman, which is … this popular trope in American culture of black women being superhumanly strong and being able to keep the family together and all of those things.”

Based on all this, Waytz recently co-authored a study, “A Superhumanization Bias in Whites’ Perceptions of Blacks.” It examined whether people were quicker to process words related to supernatural concepts like “wizard” and “magic” compared with words related to humanity like “person” or “citizen” when looking at black or white faces.

“Essentially what you see is that white participants in our studies were quicker to process superhuman words when these words were preceded by a black face,” he says. Participants were then asked which face — black or white — would be more capable of possessing superhuman strengths, superhuman speed, the ability to withstand heat or to suppress hunger and thirst in a more-than-human fashion. More than half the time, the black face was assumed to possess superhuman capacities.

Participants who made these assumptions were also more likely to think the black people shown were less sensitive to pain. And Waytz says this is not a good thing.

“We know dehumanization often emerges as people treating others as subhuman, like vermin in the case of the Holocaust, [or] as apelike in depictions of African-Americans in U.S. history, and that denies people humanity,” he says. “What we’re saying is that superhumanization is another way of denying humanity and ‘othering’ African-Americans by saying that they exist sort of outside the human realm.”

Waytz also says he recognized much of this language in Wilson’s testimony. “Superhuman strength, superhuman speed, this idea of him as a demon; this depiction of Brown as Hulk Hogan versus a child,” he points out. “All of this was exactly consistent with the types of capacities that we were asking about in our studies.” And Waytz says there are reasons why he might draw upon these depictions. “The other side of the superhumanization coin is you believe that black people are less sensitive to pain, and perhaps [Wilson] is suggesting that because of the superhuman nature of Brown in this moment, which he perceived, more excessive force was required.”

So could that be right? And do these perceptions usually affect police officers? “Of course,” says Tracie Keesee, a 25-year police veteran and co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity and the director of community outreach. “We’ve always talked about those social stereotypes that go along with aggressiveness,” she says. “How do you describe what aggressiveness looks like on a black male versus a white male?”

Stereotypes, implicit biases and media images, Keesee says, factor into the decisions officers make. “Your mind is trying to make sense of those things in a very rapid and quick fashion. And so what we always like to train, and fashion our training around: Are you reacting to the correct thing?”

That is on the mind of police chiefs across the country, she says. “How do we not only identify that we are engaging in this type of behavior, but how do we fix it?”

Amruta Trivedi contributed to this report.



When will our society respect the humanity of ALL people?



Why is Racism still an issue?









I have written about war and peace, I have written about gender equality. I have written about people living in violence. Today, I am writing to the world about yet another human tragedy. I don’t know how bad racism is everywhere in the world, but I feel it is getting worse in America. I am an old lady, but I have a black hoodie that says peace on the front. When I wear it, I wear it with the hood up. I wear it that way for Trayvon Martin.  I wear it because I realize that more people will look at it on the body of  a 5’2″ blonde white woman.  I wear it because my grandfather told me about the Holocaust when I was nine years old. He gave me a book of photographs in black and white of the piles of dead Jews, Poles and Gypsies. He sat me on his knee and told me that we can never forget or it will happen again. I have never forgotten this experience. It has influenced a lot of the work in my life. He died in 1972, and I have told this story in schools, at battered women’s shelters, Holocaust museums and to mean hearted people. I have mentioned it before, here on my blog.


Injustice begins with seeds of hatred, intolerance, and ego. I have worked so many places, with so many different people that I can quite honestly tell you that we are all the same. Our hearts beat in the same rhythm, our eyes show us the same world (for good or bad), we all get hungry and tired. We all need to prevent dehydration by drinking fluids. Except for multiple births, we all look different and sound different. We could all die from a barrage of bullets. Why is it that small differences frighten people so much? My nose is different than yours, should that make me feel better than you? No. My skin color is different from many other Caucasians. It depends on the nationality of your ancestors. The people in my family do not all look alike. The DNA is different for each of us. This is true except for identical twins, like my grandsons.


During a lifetime, events happen that are not fair. They are not just. If you have a bad interaction with someone of different skin color does that mean that all people of that skin color are a threat? No, of course, not. The human species is more than capable of turning a person or a people’s life into hell. Genocide of any race or religion is a hideous crime without any justification.


Morgan Freeman was on a talk show today and Queen Latifah  put a question to him.  She asked him if he believed in intelligent beings in other universes or places in space. He thought a moment and said, “Yes, I do.” She then asked him if those beings would have a god. He again answered yes. I got to thinking about alien life. We are so hateful as a species that I tried to imagine what would happen if people with green skin, or antennae for ears, or even has three arms came to Earth and I think we would kill all of them without a qualm.We would justify it as the only way to keep human beings safe. I think we would never accept them and would destroy them without hesitation. Add in the concept that they might have a god or a goddess. Or better yet, what if our “God” was also their god. I think it would be ever so sad and might even destroy our souls. We can’t even allow other human beings to believe in a god/goddess who they are comfortable with if it is not our god. We want to kill them. It is time to stop sowing the seeds of discrimination, intolerance and hatred. It is time that we got back to the garden. The garden, yes the Garden of Eden. The place where it all began, if you believe that. (Don’t start about Eve. She offered Adam a piece of fruit, he chose of his own free will to eat of it. That is on him. And it always was on him.)







I am dedicating this blog to every human being who died due to hatred and intolerance.



What a Wonderful World


Life is a glorious adventure. We are given opportunities to learn lessons and to face challenges. We are given happy times to make joyful memories and we are given times of such amazing joy, we need to pinch ourselves to see if it is real.  Life is golden and bright white light and it is such a good thing to be alive.


Life is also like that coin in your pocket. The one you flip and choose heads or tails with. Life can be painful and terrifying, it can be a waking nightmare. Ask a veteran what they think. Life can break your heart into small pieces. You can hear it crack open in the silence of your life. Life can produce as much darkness as it can light. It can take away your ability to trust and it can give you the friend who will be by your side for a score of years or more. Life can bring you shock or happy reverie and smooth sailing or rough seas.


So, in reality, life is a combination of events which can enrich and strengthen us or break us and leave us like a wounded bird at the bottom of a tree. What makes the difference?  We do. We are responsible for the outcome. We are not responsible for what life drops in our laps, but we are responsible for what we choose to do with it


Some people have rough lives and have a struggle year after year. Some of these people will rise up out of the mire and pull themselves up. Some will reach up to pull another person down with them. Some face terrifying heartache and loneliness and will do all that is humanly possible to make everyone around them as miserable as they are. Some choose to fill their hearts with an acid that damages their broken hearts even more than they were and are guaranteed to make someone else’s heart hurt as much as their own heart does.


Some people allow themselves to be so damaged, and seek no treatment for their damaged bodies, hearts and souls. Others will choose to seek help. To seek medication if necessary. Some will turn from the light that is in their lives and will seek to blot out that light wherever it can be found. Science hasn’t figured out yet why two people can go through the same horrible experiences and yet one will become a serial killer and one will spend their life trying to make the world better. Doctors and scientists are trying alternative measures to help people completely heal so that the remainder of their years on this plane can be filled with more light and love than they would otherwise have. Some choose to sneak around in the dark and making others suffer for what has happened to them. It is the innocent that they hurt. Perpetuating the problem and the pain.


It doesn’t matter if you believe in God, or which God you believe in. It doesn’t matter if life bent you or broke you. Each day is your choice. What are you going to do to make this world a wonderful place for yourself and for others? Tomorrow morning is a chance for you to make a new choice or to reinforce the ones you have all ready made.


No one can make this choice for anyone else. Never allow anyone to make it for you, even if your life is on the line. Each day wake up knowing you are what you are and you will make life easier, smoother and more loving for someone else. Or you will wake up, angry, resentful, bitter and try to make someone else feel the same way you do. I choose the love, joy, compassion, kindness and peace. That is my decision every day no matter what happens.