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Georgia Approves Aggressive Blueprint for Prisoner Reentry Initiative

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Georgia criminal justice reform will push the pedal hard over the next several months with rapid expansion of the state’s prisoner reentry initiative. Millions of federal grant dollars will become seed money for fifteen pilot project sites starting now through the 2017 calendar year. The goal is to give released inmates a better chance to succeed when they go outside the walls.

“If we really want to impact statewide recidivism reduction we’ve got to make sure we are targeting our resources on the right individuals and, by the way, the right interventions as well,” says Jay Neal, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry.

The state Council on Criminal Justice Reform voted to approve a three-year prisoner reentry initiative (GA-PRI) when it met this week in Atlanta. The Council also approved a presentation Georgia will make during a Pew Charitable Trusts conference next month in San Diego.

Recidivism is the rate at which prisoners are re-arrested for a felony crime within three years of their prison release. Georgia’s historic rate has hovered at about 30 percent. The GA-PRI goal is to reduce recidivism to 25 percent within two more years and 24 percent within five years.

Last month the U.S. Justice Department said Georgia will receive $6 million over three years to support prisoner reentry. The breakdown is $3 million for recidivism reduction, $1.75 million for faith-based prison in-reach, $750,000 for pardons and parole and $500,000 to improve justice information systems. New employee salaries and benefits will be paid by the federal grants for one year before those positions transition to state budget dollars.

The 2015-year pilot projects are in Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Macon and Savannah. Ten pilot locations have been selected for 2016 and 2017 but not the order in which they will launch before the initiative is expanded statewide by the end of the 2018 calendar year.

Neal describes GA-PRI as “one plan, one strategy” but he also says, “We’re going to see that our local councils are not going to look the same from one site to the next. Reentry plans are not going to be identical because each site has a different set of assets and barriers and gaps and quite frankly, a different set of returning citizens who are coming back as well.”

The heart of this initiative is to provide former offenders with improved health and mental health services, housing and employment opportunities, training and more consistent positive contact. Neal warned the council that Georgia should not waste “an incredible opportunity’ to build upon some of the early successes since GA-PRI launched about one year ago.

The Pew National Conference on Justice Reinvestment will be held in November in San Diego. Georgia will discuss the impact of reforms before and since the Council was created in 2011. Adult criminal justice, juvenile justice and prisoner reentry policies were addressed in the 2012 – 2014 legislatures. Here is some of the data Georgia will present:

• Adults in custody declined from 60,818 in 2007 to 56,203 in 2014.
• Adults on probation increased from 142,663 in 2007 to 165,494 in 2014.
• Adults on parole increased from 20,823 in 2007 to 25,195 in 2014.
• The adult violent offender population increased from 60% in 2007 to 68% in 2014.
• The adult non-violent offender population decreased from 40% in 2007 to 32% in 2014.
• County jail backlog expenditures declined from $25 million in 2012 to $40,000 in 2014 after the statewide adoption of mandatory electronic sentencing packages.
• County jail populations are down from 94% capacity in 2010 to 78% capacity in 2014.

The Council agenda for November includes discussion on several possible recommendations:

• Creation of a juvenile justice “data dictionary” to ensure common language is used.
• Standardization of juvenile court data exchanges to create uniformity across the state.
• Adoption of a universal school discipline code to standardize juvenile discipline.
• More discussion about community-based juvenile detention alternatives.
• A hard focus on adult misdemeanor private probation transparency proposals.
• Potential changes to “life without parole” for non-violent recidivist drug offenders.
• Clarifications to criminal records expungement under the adult “First Offender Act”.
• Other topics could also be placed on the agenda.

The Council will schedule at least one December meeting before issuing its final report that is due to Governor Nathan Deal before the General Assembly returns on January 12, 2015.

(Mike Klein is a journalist who has held management and content leadership positions with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia Public Broadcasting and CNN where he was Vice President of News Production. Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)

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October 31, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Federal Election Commission “Dark Money” Search Could Hurt Nonprofits

(This article was published by the Georgia Center for Opportunity.)

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

While voters fixate on an election next week that could change Washington’s balance of power, some also are looking ahead to next year’s Federal Election Commission agenda that will include an effort by incoming chair Ann Ravel to overhaul campaign finance disclosure law. Ravel has established her target-of-choice: corporate political action committees and super PAC expenditures after a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that ended independent spending limits.

Thousands of non-profit groups could become caught in a tidal wave of proposed changes that might impact how local, state and national organizations can advocate for children’s welfare, education, health care and virtually any other policy. The concept of the “anonymous donor” who makes community projects and thinking happen could be derailed without considerable care to protect the rights individuals have to use their personal money as they desire.

“Dark money” is the pejorative term opponents created to talk about corporate political action committee and super PAC spending. Ravel speaks openly about “problems we have with these dark money groups” and her view that “people are getting disgusted about what’s happening.” She says, “Polls have shown that elected officials are primarily serving their large contributors and not their constituents. That view is held equally by Republicans and Democrats.”

The FEC vice chair was at Emory University in Atlanta last week on the final leg of a three-city swing described as a listening tour to gather public input before her 2015 planned initiative. Other stops were Denver in early October and the University of Chicago’s new Institute of Politics that was founded by President Barack Obama’s political operative David Axelrod. Obama appointed Ravel to the six-member Federal Election Commission in October 2013. The FEC has three Republican and three Democratic commissioners. Ravel becomes chair in 2015.

The 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act is the cornerstone of U.S. election law. Perhaps more appropriately, it has become at least a time capsule and perhaps even a tomb as the FECA has not been amended since 1979. Changes to national election finance laws have mainly occurred because of FEC rules and regulations or because federal courts decided various questions brought over three and one-half decades.

In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court (Citizens United vs. FEC) struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions. It opened the door to spending by non-profit groups to support or oppose a candidate without having to disclose donors who could be individuals or other entities including corporations. The Center for Competitive Politics says that spending accounted for $311 million of the $7.3 billion spent in the 2012 election cycle.

Georgia State University law school professor Anne Tucker cited higher numbers when she joined Ravel onstage in Atlanta. Tucker said corporate political action committees spent $360 million in the 2012 election cycle and she said super PAC funds accounted for another $75 million. Tucker said 1,220 super PACs that do not disclose their donors raised over $520 million for the 2014 midterm elections. Tucker like Ravel supports the expansion of disclosure.

Thursday evening’s Emory event was far from a balanced discussion. Twenty-eight speakers approached the microphone and nearly all said the same thing: Someone must stop the inflow of corporate and other big money into politics. “I tell people your vote is your voice but I recently have come to believe that I am wrong. Sadly today your dollar is your voice,” said Robin Collins. “We argue that corporate spending in elections should not be equated to the First Amendment rights of individual citizens,” said Cindy Strickland. Another speaker noted she was “invited to this and also reminded” to attend.

Context is often lost where passion prevails. There was important context from William Loughery who knows of what he speaks. Now living in Georgia, the soft-spoken Loughery is a former chief of staff to United States Senator Arlen Specter, a former FEC staffer and he participated in writing the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act which as noted above has not been amended in thirty-five years.

“When we wrote the Federal Election Campaign Act there never was any enforcement so why would anyone waste time on independent expenditures,” said Loughery. “The fundamental problem is nobody wants to change the law, nobody wants to make a significant radical change to update it because basically, the whole process would be captive of the current members of Congress and even the members of the Commission are basically captives of Congress. Technology has changed, a lot of other things have changed and there’s nothing being done to update the law.”

Battle plans have specific objectives but battles produce collateral damage. Non-profit groups that focus entirely on policies could become swept up in a federal election campaign law disclosure reform movement. As a young Emory student told the panel, “You have to look for the unintended consequences and protect individual rights, freedom of speech and the legitimacy of our democracy. That’s not an easy task.”

(Mike Klein is a journalist and media executive who has held leadership positions with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia Public Broadcasting and CNN where he was Vice President of News Production. Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)

October 30, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Isakson: Window of Opportunity for World Peace and Liberty is Closing

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

One day after President Obama seemed to throw his administration’s intelligence team under the bus, and one day before the first-ever confirmed case of Ebola in the United States, the Senator and the Soldier sat before hundreds of people in an Atlanta ballroom and sought to bring clarity to what often seems like an out of control world.

“ISIS wants you to fear them. They want you to cower in your house and just not come outside,” Georgia U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson told 400 guests at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition meeting in Atlanta. “Since the threats have changed the way we deal with threats has changed,” said former U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George W. Casey (Ret.).  “Those threats will not be addressed or resolved through military means alone.”

On chance you are not familiar with this group, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition articulates the role American strength plays on the world stage, in particular, development and diplomacy, with a firm understanding that sometimes military intervention is essential first, but it must be backed up with resources that allow newly free people to create a new society. USGLC’s membership includes every living former U.S. Secretary of State and many of America’s and the world’s greatest non-governmental organizations that do hard work in the world’s worst places.

If you watched CBS “60 Minutes” on Sunday evening you saw President Obama throw his administration’s own team under the bus when he said the intelligence community “underestimated what had been taking place in Syria” with regard to ISIS, the terrorists whose murderous ways have paralyzed the Middle East and threaten world security.

If you tuned into almost any newscast Tuesday evening you heard that a West African man who traveled by plane to the United States was quarantined in a Dallas hospital after his Ebola diagnosis. In Atlanta, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tried hard to assure everyone there was no anticipated danger to anyone else here.

The emergence of ISIS as a world destabilizing force and the rapid spread of Ebola from West Africa to Texas confirms again that much of what we think we control we really don’t control and often governance is reactionary. The message Senator Isakson and General Casey brought Monday to Atlanta is that the United States must remain engaged in every level of these conflicts, whether they are conflicts against forces or health care conflicts.

United States Senator Johnny Isakson, moderator Richard Warner and General George W. Casey

United States Senator Johnny Isakson, moderator Richard Warner and General George W. Casey

“We’re fighting the biggest all-time health war probably ever by the time it’s over in terms of Ebola in West Africa,” Isakson said. “The people (who are) going to West Africa now (are) not just the 3,000 military troops but it’s literally thousands of Americans … who volunteer to deliver the goods and deliver peace and deliver welfare to people who’ve been living in war-torn communities who are finally emerging from those wars.”

Casey is a retired four-star General whose command assignments included Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia. “Since September 11 the international security environment and the threats to the United States have changed fundamentally and for me as an Army officer, I like to say I spent the first 30 years of a 40-year career training to fight a war I never fought and the last ten learning to fight a different war while I was fighting it.”

Today 40 percent of the world’s population is online, there are about as many cellphones in the world, 7 billion, as there are total people and the 24 x 7 rapid availability of information has created what Casey described as “a global awakening and expectations.” Yet in many parts of the world people are no freer today than when World War II ended and billions live in wretched poverty without food, clean water, toilets, health care or education.

“Our window of opportunity for peace around the world and liberty for all the people of the world is running out,” Isakson said. “The Arab world is re-producing at about 6.7 children per marriage; the West is less than two now. As we are shrinking in size the poorer countries are actually accelerating. It ends up being a numbers game. The quicker we can help bring peace and security and food and stability to poorer countries the less ISIS and people like that can recruit in these poor countries because the people are no longer just fighting for another day’s bread.”

There was a dramatic end to the discussion when General Casey noted the 13th anniversary of the 911 attack on America has just passed and then he spoke about the human toll that is sometimes too easily overlooked.

“Over 6,000 men and women have given their lives and they’ve left 20,000 surviving family members. Over 50,000 men and women have been wounded, some 10,000 of them serious enough to require long-term care,” Casey said. “Over 2 million men and women have served. Over 1 million have already left the service. A quarter of them are unemployed. We can do better than that as a country. Put these veterans back to work. You hear a lot about the problems veterans are having. If they have a job a lot of other problems get a whole lot easier.”

Learn more about the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

(Mike Klein is a journalist and media executive who has held leadership positions with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia Public Broadcasting and CNN where he was Vice President of News Production. Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)

(Photo provided by U.S. Global Leadership Coalition)

October 1, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment