May 30, 2013
By Charlene Muhammad
LAWT Contributing Writer
LOS ANGELES-Youth advocates, activists and lawmakers are pushing for a bill that would set clear standards to help limit solitary confinement of youth in all state and county facilities.
Authored by Senator Leland Yee, the bill seeks to establish a legal definition of the tactic widely condemned as torture and overused in California’s juvenile justice systems, according to advocates.
Solitary confinement contributes to recidivism, mental illness and youth suicides, particularly because weak standards and guidelines allow different departments extreme leeway to determine how the measure can be used, expressed Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition.
“The bill’s also important because it says that solitary confinement will only be used when a young person poses an immediate or substantial risk of harm to others, so it can’t be used for punishment,” McGill stated.
Solitary confinement cannot be used because staff need a break from a young person or doesn’t know what to do with mental health issues, she continued.
At press time, SB61 supporters were on a phone drive to help get the bill out of the Senate and on to the California State Assembly, where the process would start all over again.
The next two to three months of work is worth the effort to get SB61 passed because it would clearly define the measure and severely limit how it can be used, McGill stated.
“We would like to eliminate it all together...There are federal guidelines and state guidelines that can be applied in some ways but the ones around solitary confinement are way too loose and way too vague,” she argued.
SB61 would specifically define solitary confinement as the involuntary placement in a room or cell in isolation from persons other than staff and attorneys.
Youth would be held only to address the safety risk and, if law, would require facilities to report on when the special imprisonment was used, including demographics and the length of confinement.
As a government agency, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) typically doesn’t take a position on pending legislation and has no position on SB61, a spokesperson informed.
In 2011, a CDCR internal audit found that youth were often locked up in their cells for over 21 hours a day, according to a fact sheet provided by Sen. Yee.
The document continued, in one 15-week period, there were 249 incidents of solitary confinement, and in one case, a youth received only one hour out of his cell in a 10-day period. In local juvenile facilities, there have been reports of youth locked up in isolation for 23 hours a day.
Tanisha Denard was among them, she told a Senate Public Safety Committee during a recent hearing.
Arrested at school for fighting, Denard said she was put on probation. A series of truancy tickets for being late landed her in Los Angeles County juvenile hall on a probation violation, according to the youth.
Negative experiences behind bars rendered her distant. She wouldn’t eat. She became unsure and uncomfortable but, instead of trying counsel her, staff just stopped talking to her, the 19-year-old alleged.
“I guess the staff thought I was depressed, so then they put me on lockdown for real - no cell mate, no dayroom time, no hope,” Denard continued.
“It is by far the worst feeling I had ever experienced...From 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. until 6 a.m., you are locked into a single person cell that looks exactly like the box. It’s also freezing, and if you’re found with an extra blanket or sweatshirt, you are accused of having contraband and punished,” she continued.
Denard further stated she and other youth in solitary confinement had no books or writing materials, so their nights were endless.
“... just you, your thoughts and the screams or crying of the young people in the cells next to you...Your family and the community expect that you are safe and unharmed. In reality you might be safe from other youth – but not from yourself. Being locked down makes you feel that you are worthless to society. You start to think about any way to escape – even if it means suicide,” the young activist elaborated.
She recommends creating a nature park as one alternative to 23-hour cells to help incarcerated youth calm down. “...or have us work outside to grow food, or take vocational trainings so we are ready to start our lives over after release,” Denard suggested.
May 30, 2013
LAWT Wire Service
On May 24, 2013, Charles Ramsey was present at an event to meet the public when a statue of him was unveiled. The unveiling took place in Stanville, Kentucky at the Eric C. Conn Law Office. Eric C. Conn was the host of the event and is known for his love of statues.
Conn stated, “I can’t think of a better way to commend my friend Charles than having a statue made in his honor.”
The sculptor decided to depict Ramsey as he was on the day he became a hero.
The sculptor has stated, “The most difficult part of making the statue is sculpting Ramsey’s unique hair style.”
Ramsey was accompanied by two members of what he refers to as “Team Charles.” He had to endure more free burgers as burgers and refreshments were served at the event. The statue, will be donated to a museum in Cleveland, Ohio, which is Ramsey’s hometown.
May 30, 2013
By MARYCLAIRE DALE | Associated Press
HILADELPHIA (AP) — The wife of a rogue abortion doctor told a judge Wednesday that her husband deserves his life sentence for killing babies born alive, but complained that she and her children are left to deal with the public scorn.
Pearl Gosnell must spend at least another four months in prison for helping perform illegal, third-trimester abortions at the seedy clinic, including one on a 14-year-old girl who was 31 weeks pregnant. Her husband, Kermit Gosnell, 72, was sentenced this month to life without parole in a case that became a flashpoint in the nation's polarized abortion debate.
"I am the wife of Kermit Gosnell. I'm not happy about that now, and I haven't been for a long time," Pearl Gosnell, 51, said at her sentencing Wednesday, when a judge gave her seven to 23 months in prison, minus nearly three months for time served after her 2011 arrest.
Gosnell lashed out at her husband, saying he refused to take a plea deal that would have spared her prison and saved the family home, and called him cowardly for refusing to speak at his sentencing.
"By choosing to take the cowardly course that he did, my husband has left me to make the apologies," Gosnell told a judge. "My husband is in jail forever, which is where he should be."
A trained cosmetologist, she reaped the financial rewards of her husband's busy abortion and pain clinic, and lied about the $250,000 in cash found stashed in their teen daughter's bedroom, a prosecutor said. She told the FBI it came from rental properties.
"You chose to be his partner in life. And you chose to be his partner in this operation masquerading as a medical facility," Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner said.
Earlier in the day, Lerner freed a former employee who had pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and testified against Gosnell, though she admits killing a baby born alive in a toilet. Adrienne Moton had spent 28 months in prison, but Lerner credited her with both remorse and redemption.
"I don't feel I got arrested. I feel I got rescued," the 36-year-old Moton said in emotionally raw remarks to the judge that mirrored a gospel sermon.
Moton, a friend of Gosnell's daughter, had moved in with the Gosnells as a teen amid family problems. She later went to work in the clinic, moving from the front desk to the procedure room, where she and other unlicensed workers monitored heavily sedated patients as they endured labor and cut the necks of babies born alive.
She did that at least 10 times before she quit the $10 an hour job and entered a welfare-to-work program.
"I wasn't thinking about the fetuses or the babies. I was thinking about those women. I was thinking about those stories," Moton said, describing how she wanted to help the female patients, some of whom she saw beaten or coerced outside the West Philadelphia clinic.
Moton had taken a cellphone picture of an aborted baby that was about 30 weeks old that became a key piece of evidence at Gosnell's trial. The photo was shown repeatedly to jurors.
Lerner called Gosnell a manipulator and "charismatic sociopath," while defense lawyer Stephen Patrizio, who represents former worker Lynda Williams, called him "a depraved, parasitic hustler."
Williams was Exhibit A of the way Gosnell preyed on his workers and patients alike, Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said Wednesday.
Williams, 44, was raising four children after she saw her husband murdered in nearby Chester. She had long been bipolar, and had left school after sixth grade to raise her siblings. Yet Gosnell put her in charge of anesthesia, leading to the 2009 death of a new immigrant who died after repeated doses of sedatives and painkillers. Gosnell was also convicted of contributing to the woman's death.
Gosnell played Williams from the start, Patrizio said.
"He gave her something nobody in her life has ever done. He gave her a little bit of self-esteem," the lawyer said.
Pescatore asked for at least 10 years for Williams, who pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in the deaths of both the patient, 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar of Woodbridge, Va., and a baby that moved after being born. But her sentencing was postponed until federal drug charges can be resolved. They stem from Williams' role at Gosnell's front desk, where she allegedly sold painkiller prescriptions for him to addicts and drug dealers.
The scheduled sentencings of two other co-workers — 53-year-old Sherry West and 47-year-old Tina Baldwin — are likewise on hold amid the federal charges. Gosnell is also charged in the federal court case, but plans to plead guilty at a June 6 hearing. Several other co-defendants, including an unlicensed doctor who admits cutting 100 babies for Gosnell, also await sentencing.
Before his capital murder trial got underway in March, Gosnell rejected an offer to serve a life term on both the drug and murder charges. In exchange, his wife would have been spared prison time and avoided the likely forfeiture of their home, where she lives with their 15-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son, who is in college. Gosnell also has four older children from two previous marriages.
"Being the selfish, inconsiderate person that he is ... he decided to go to trial," said defense lawyer Michael Medway, representing Pearl Gosnell. "He left his family essentially hanging out to dry."
What's worse, he said, his client and her children have to live with a name that "will go down in infamy."
May 30, 2013
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Both the House and Senate have passed bills that would reduce funding of the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called food stamps, but the extent of the cuts will not become known until negotiators from both chambers agree to a compromise measure.
SNAP was reduced as part of a 5-year House farm bill by $2 billon, slightly more than 3 percent. A similar farm bill passed by the Senate would reduce SNAP funding by $400 million a year, about half of 1 percent.
Both actions were taken last week.
By voice vote, the Senate also adopted a separate amendment that would prevent convicted murderers, rapists and pedophiles from receiving food stamps for life.
Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the amendment would likely have “strongly racially discriminatory effects.”
“The amendment would bar from SNAP (food stamps), for life, anyone who was ever convicted of one of a specified list of violent crimes at any time – even if the committed the crime decades ago in their youth and have served their sentence, paid their debt to society, and been a good citizen ever since,” Greenstein said in a statement.
He continued, “Given the incarceration patterns in the United States, the amendment would have a skewed racial impact. Poor elderly African Americans convicted of a single crime decades ago by segregated Southern juries would be among those hit.”
Greenstein’s group said the House version would slash $20 billion in spending from the program over the next decade, resulting in nearly 2 million people being kicked off of SNAP if the bill becomes law.
More than 200,000 children would lose free meals at school. Poor families that have managed to scrape together a few thousand dollars for emergencies would get kicked off the program. Other families battling poverty would get kicked off of SNAP for owning a car.
“Many of these families would be forced to choose between owning a reliable car and receiving food assistance to help feed their families,” said the report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
The report also said, “The bill’s SNAP cuts would come on top of an across-the-board reduction in benefits that every SNAP recipient will experience starting November 1, 2013. On that date, the increase in SNAP benefits established by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) will end, resulting in a loss of approximately $25 in monthly SNAP benefits for a family of four. Placing the SNAP cuts in this farm bill on top of the benefit cuts that will take effect in November is likely to put substantial numbers of poor families at risk of food insecurity.”
According to experts, SNAP not only helps families keep food on the table, but also boosts the economy as low-income households pour money into the economy.
Feeding America, a domestic hunger-relief charity, reported that 1 in 4 Black households live with food insecurity issues compared to 1 in 10 White households. Thirty-two percent of Black children don’t have adequate access to food compared to 16 percent of White children.
Republicans who supported the House Agriculture Committee bill lambasted the current spending levels in the program and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said that the growth in the program was responsible for expanding a “dependency class.”
A report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities published March 2013, titled “SNAP Is Effective and Efficient,” found a more likely culprit: the Great Recession.
“The number of people eligible for SNAP increased because of the recession and lagging recovery,” the report stated. “The number of people with income below 130 percent of poverty (the SNAP income limit) increased substantially, from 54 million in 2007, before the recession, to 60 million in 2009 and 64 million in 2011, allowing more households to qualify for help from the program.”
The Center report also found that, “The recent growth in SNAP spending is temporary. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicts that SNAP spending will fall as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in coming years as the economy recovers and the Recovery Act provisions end.”
Amelia Kegan, a senior policy analyst at Bread for the World, a faith-based international organization that works to end hunger, said that SNAP’s ability to automatically adjust to meet the need of Americans struggling through the recession shows that the program is working.
“The food stamp program, the child nutrition program, and the school lunch programs were able to automatically respond and expand to address the spike in need,” said Kegan. “As the economy recovers and more people get back to work and don’t need these programs anymore, participation falls.”
Feeding America reported that more White households are food insecure than Black households, but the rate of food insecurity in Black households is twice as high. Whites also make up roughly 36 percent of people that use SNAP. Blacks account for 22 percent.
This concerns many advocates that say more Blacks need to be educated about the program that could play a critical role in helping them to escape poverty.
“One major concern that I have within the African American community is that many people don’t have direct access to the program. They are not sure about the program,” said Brian Banks, director of public policy and community outreach for the Capital Area Food Bank. “They don’t understand that the program is there to help and support them.”
Banks said that the proposed cuts to the safety net program are disheartening.
“This is the wrong time to cut this program the biggest safety net program in America,” said Banks, director of public policy and community outreach for the Capital Area Food Bank. “We’re talking about your neighbors, your grandparents, your colleagues. You’d be surprised by who’s suffering from hunger.
Banks added: “The federal government is in place and should have the will to support people without hurting them. People are struggling and if we cut programs that are helping them, where are they going to go to get assistance?”
Read more: http://www.nnpa.org/news/lead/food-stamps-cuts-will-hurt-poor-black-families-by-freddie-allen/#ixzz2UdOaiD00
May 30, 2013
By George E. Curry
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – With some embarrassing internal issues addressed and its sights set firmly on expanding its global impact, the National Conference of Black Mayors (NCBM) kicks off its 39th annual convention in Atlanta this Thursday.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Restore, Rebuild, Renew.” And perhaps no one can appreciate the need for those three Rs more than Vanessa R. Williams, the association’s executive director and CEO.
Williams, who supervises NCBM’s day-to-day operations, received a telephone call three years ago that caught her by surprise. On the other end of the telephone was an FBI agent. And more surprising than his call was what he was calling about.
“The FBI agent was very pleasant,” Williams recounted in an interview. “He identified himself as being with the FBI and asked if the organization had any accounts in the state of Louisiana. I told him ‘No,’ He said, ‘Are you certain of that?’ I said, ‘I am absolutely positive of that.’ As the CEO of the organization, there’s no way the board would allow that happen. We secured all accounts out of the national office [in Atlanta].
“He re-stated who he was and said there was an ongoing investigation against Mayor Grace and that this was an investigation that had gone on for over two or three years.”
Grace was mayor of St. Gabriel, La., a town of 6,777 people about 12 miles south of Baton Rouge. He was also president of the National Conference of Black Mayors. He was such a beloved and respected member of the organization that instead of being called Mayor Grace, he was known as Daddy Grace. But the FBI discovered that Daddy Grace had become a total disgrace – to his city, to the NCBM and to himself.
The FBI discovered that unknown to his fellow mayors, Grace had secretly registered the organization as a Louisiana non-profit corporation in 2005 and renewed the application on Nov. 25, 2009, listing himself as the sole officer. He also opened an unauthorized bank account in the organization’s name.
According to those familiar with the investigation, Grace would contact sponsors, tell them that Williams was about to lose her job in the national office and they should send money directly to him in Louisiana. Because Grace was so trusted and held three keys position – president, treasurer and chairman of the fianance committee – he was able to dupe NCBM for a decade.
Grace was also siphoning off money from his city. He and four other small town mayors in Louisiana were ensnarled in an FBI sting operation. Grace, 69, was sentenced last year to 22 years in prison, fined $50,000 and forfeited $22, 000 after being convicted of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations ACT (RICO), bribery, obstruction of justice, mail fraud, wire fraud, making false statements, and use of an interstate facility in the aid of racketeering. In addition to illegally diverting money from NCBM, he was found guilty of extorting businessmen seeking to do business with the city and required kickbacks from operators setting up temporary housing in his city for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The most remarkable thing about the organization is how a key group of leaders, placing their personal reputation on the line, rallied to stabilize and then revive the National Conference of Black Mayors.
Leading the charge was Mayor Robert Bowser of East Orange, N.J., its former – and soon to be future – president.
“Mayor Bowser was the president before, he got the organization in the black and then had to come back and rescue it again,” CEO Vanessa Williams said. “When everything happened with Mayor Grace, we needed someone who knew the organization. He was the one who preceded Mayor Grace.”
Also in the forefront to reclaim the NCBM was Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, Calif. and first vice president. Johnson, who is expected to be elected president of the group in Atlanta, told Williams, “I am here and I am going to be here for you.” And he was.
Surprisingly, about a half dozen long-time corporate sponsors – including Coca Cola, John Deere, Comcast, AT&T and United Water – did not abandon the Black mayors in their time of need. Some reduced their funding, waiting to see how the organization would rebound, but at least one increased its sponsorship dollars.
In a statement issued last week, the mayors said: “The Board of Directors of the NCBM realizes that these unfortunate events have not only unfairly harmed the organization, they have also created financial hardships for some of our valued friends and vendors. Like many Fortune 500 companies have done, we could have sought the protection of U.S. bankruptcy laws, thus drastically limiting our financial obligations. However, that is not the path we have chosen to take. All vendors who have done properly authorized work with or for us will be paid in full. We deeply apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your forbearance thus far.
“We are on target to repay at least 80 percent of all outstanding debts within the next 30 days and the remainder by the end of this year. Because the diverted money went to Mayor Grace and not to the NCBM, our legal counsel is working closely with the IRS to determine the extent of our financial liability under the U.S. tax code. Once that issue has been resolved, we anticipate entering an agreement with the IRS to make sure that every cent owed by NCBM is paid.”
After failing to hold a national convention for three years, the Black mayors resumed having national conventions last year. In those struggling three years, the group expanded its international presence, which may hold the key to its future success. Williams has seen the organization grow from 682 Black mayors in the U.S. to more than 26,0000 worldwide. At least 300 mayors are expected to attend the convention from abroad, most of them from Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, Columbia and throughout the Caribbean.
For the first time in months, Williams, who agreed to work pro bono during the toughest financial stretch, is upbeat and smiling.
“You can’t prove the folks who left right,” she said. “We’re going to fight through this and say, ‘With God’s help, this, too, shall pass.’”