General

Retreat Yourself

Retreat Yourself

by Haley B. Brown (Center for Justice Legal Intern/Women Leading With Purpose Retreat Attendee ‘16)

As I drove up to Coeur D’Alene with two of my classmates for a weekend away from law school, I started to panic. We all started to panic.

“Did you get all of your reading done for next week?”

“I already feel behind not spending my weekend at the library”

“How will I be able to get ahead of my reading schedule now?”

“I’m too busy to be here.”

But, as we forced ourselves to chat about things outside the realm of law school over sour gummy candy, with the view of CDA Lake fast approaching, that panic began to melt away.

The Women Leading with Purpose Retreat is an annual event run through the Center for Justice for female law students at Gonzaga University School of Law. The Retreat provides those that decide to attend a weekend away from law school on the beautiful CDA lake, little to no cell service, time for personal reflection, relationship building, and much more.

I had just completed my first semester of law school at Gonzaga when I attended the retreat, and had already convinced myself that it was going to be a lonely, miserable three years. All of my free-time that I once filled with hobbies that enriched my life seemed to vanish. I rarely saw my husband and all of my girlfriends were now states away. (Not to mention, on top of figuring out my first semester of law school I was in the midst of trying to learn how to drive my husband’s car, a manual 5-speed, after we sold my vehicle to save money for school. This was like the least amount of fun I have ever had in my entire life. . . but, I digress.) Law school was all consuming; it consumed all of my time, all of my thoughts and all of my conversations. I didn’t feel like myself and was experiencing more self-doubt that I ever had before. To top it all off, I was convinced I was the only one of my classmates who was experiencing this. Most people seemed like they had it all figured out.

The Retreat taught me that law school doesn’t have to be lonely or miserable. In fact, I learned that I was surrounded by strong, supportive female classmates who had experiences just like mine that will enrich my law school experience and provide me a shoulder to lean on, cry on, or stand on if necessary. But, had it not been for the retreat, I am not sure I would have had the chance (or the courage), to get to know the 11 classmates I spent my weekend with on the deep personal level that I did. Until that time, most conversations I had with these women and all of my other classmates were school related and surface level. I left that weekend more committed to developing deep, personal relationships in school, work and in my personal life.

Additionally, being at the retreat afforded me the time to look inward, reflect and morph back into the person that I was before coming to law school. I left feeling more like myself with a renewed sense of purpose, a louder voice, and a reminder of why I chose to come to law school in the first place. I also left committed to learning how to bake bread, something I had been continually putting off with criminal law reading.

Like all good things, the retreat had to come to an end. As my two classmates and I headed back to the reading, outlines, flashcards, and significant others that awaited our return, not one of us felt panicked. Instead, we felt and continue to feel empowered and driven to be women leading with purpose.

Rise for Justice results & more!

We are almost speechless! The Center for Justice hosted its very first Rise for Justice breakfast on May 19th at the Davenport Grand Hotel. The event results are above and beyond what we could have hoped for! Here is quick recap of the proceedings. The event began at 7:30 am with a welcome and thank you from Matt Santangelo. Matt is the Executive Director for Spokane Hoopfest Association and we were very grateful for his willingness to act as our Master of Ceremonies for this event. With 435 guests in attendance, the room was full of passionate community members who care about social justice issues in Spokane. Several elected officials and judges were also in attendance as well, each of whom were recognized during Matt’s introduction. Following the introduction, our Executive Director, Rick Eichstaedt, was introduced and then recognized the Board of Directors and table hosts for their efforts, concluding with an introduction of our notable keynote speaker, Justice Mary I. Yu. She spoke about the need for civil legal aid in Washington and the importance of organizations like the Center as key players in the community. She referred to Spokane as a “beacon of hope” for the rest of the state, and touched on the importance of the work being done by the center here in Spokane. Following her speech, Matt came back up to thank Justice Yu and then to introduce a video produced by Hamilton Studio that gave a wonderful synopsis of the work done at the Center. The 12 minute video featured attorneys and program staff members and demonstrated all of the ways the Center interacts in the community. Following the video, Sharon Smith took the stage and gave a compelling and heartfelt call to action. Once Sharon had finished and instructed table hosts on how to collect donations, Matt gave another thank you to all of the attendees and concluded the event with an inspirational quote from Dr. Cornell West: “Justice is what LOVE looks like in public.”

The event was an overwhelming success, with a net profit of approximately $43,500, exceeding the amount we had anticipated and the goal previously set. The 54 table hosts all did a fantastic job and filled their tables with generous and interested community members!

This event would not have been possible without our hard working event committee that consisted of Elsa Distelhorst, Patty Gates, Kim Harmson, Jake Krummel, and Lorna St. John. A special thank you as well to our table sponsors, Mary Alberts, Micheal Chappell, Elsa Distelhorst, Foster Pepper PLLC,  Kim and Jeff Harmson, Kalispel Tribe and Northern Quest Resort & Casino, Merriman Wealth Management, Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County, Numerica Credit Union, and Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund. We would like to send a special shout out to our Media Partner, Don Hamilton and Lorna St. John from Hamilton Studio and our video host, Jake Krummel of Numerica, for the impressive video! We are also grateful to Robert Lee, Della Higgins, Bill Keizer, Dr. Darin Neven and Ben Stuckart for their openness to celebrate and share our work with the community. Finally, a huge thank you to our friend and sponsor, Sharon Smith, for leading the vital community call to action.

In case you missed it…check out the video below!

 

 

Community Court

 

IMG_0179I was walking in downtown Spokane on my way to the library headed to Community Court. It is where all the cool kids hang out on Mondays mid-morning to early afternoon. Why do we hang out there, you may ask. Because we care about our community, because we want to help people, we want to make an impact.

Who are these cool kids and what do they do at the downtown library? We are a ragtag group of community organizations that collaborates with the courts to get disadvantaged (and usually impoverished) people the services they need.

Community Court is open to everyone but many start through the courts, as low level, non-violent offenders that would otherwise be jailed for minor offences that are often related their homelessness, drug or alcohol dependency or mental illness. Putting them in jail for minor offenses is expensive for the city and doesn’t help these folks. So the prosecutors, public defenders and the judge collaborate with community organizations to get them services instead.

There are a variety of organizations there to help people get signed up for mental health services, housing, public benefits and oh so much more. I go to represent the Center for Justice and to help people sign up for Medicaid or Washington Apple Health as it’s known in these parts.

Back to my story. I continued my stroll through downtown. IMG_0166The sun was shining, the air was crisp and not many people were out. I always enjoy the walk when the weather is nice. It’s only about a half a mile from my office and the stretch runs along beautiful Riverfront Park with its artwork, fountain and the river running right through the middle of it.

As I got close to crossing the street near the library, a bicyclist sped by and made eye contact. I gave a little nod and he nodded back. He was long and lean and a stocking cap covered much of his head but I could make out some short dreads underneath. He was holding a large piece of cardboard in one hand as he raced by.

I got to the library and settled in at my table with all the other service providers. Said my hellos to friends and set up my computer and my vast array of pamphlets. It got busy.

The tall cyclist came wandering in and sat at my table. He introduced himself. He had the name of a little town in California not too far from where I used to live in my youth. Hearing it brought a smile to my face.

He was soft spoken and polite. He looked like a guy who had just fallen on hard times and was trying to get himself back on track. I signed him up for healthcare without a hitch. He thanked me and left my table. I distractedly went on about my work and finished up for the day.

As I was walking out in a slew of others leaving, he came running up to me from behind. He was out of breath as he handed me the folded piece of cardboard. I opened it up and thanked him. He was gone in a flash. This is what he left behind. I think sharing his artwork was his way of extending a little gratitude for the help I had given him.

 

Comm Court pic

click the links below for more about community court

http://www.inlander.com/spokane/a-new-approach/Content?oid=2243257

http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2016/apr/19/spokanes-community-court-gets-200000-boost/

http://www.spokanelibrary.org/community-court/

Fair Chance Hiring

By Julie Schaffer

March 2016

“Fair Chance Hiring,” also known as “Ban the Box,” is finally getting some much deserved airtime in Spokane. This is welcome news to the 1 in 4 individuals who have a criminal record and who desperately want to tell potential employers why they are the best pick for the job, an opportunity many of them do not get because of the box on the application that asks about criminal history.  Research shows that people who check the box rarely move forward in the hiring process, regardless of whether or not they qualify for the job, how long ago their conviction was, what it was for, or what they’ve done since that time.  To prevent this arbitrary rejection, and to ensure that employers are not missing out on undiscovered talent, 21 states and over 100 jurisdictions have mandated that employers delay asking about criminal history until later in the hiring process – ideally until after the applicant pool has been narrowed based on qualifications and after face-to-face interviews.  Under such policies, employers can still do background checks, they can still ask applicants about their criminal history, and they can still hire the best fit for the job.

Most policies apply to public employers (like City of Spokane’s current policy), but more and more jurisdictions are mandating that private employers comply as well. Why?  Because it’s the right thing to do (we used to allow businesses to disqualify people of color and women), it increases public safety by dramatically reducing the chance that someone will commit another crime, reduces reliance on public benefits, increases the tax base and helps the local economy, ensures that employers aren’t missing out on highly qualified employees, reduces costs related to incarceration, reduces racial disparity in hiring (people of color are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and therefore suffer more from “the box,” and it allows people who have served their time to return to our community and help us make it thrive.

We are pleased that our city councilmembers are currently exploring whether to require private employers in Spokane to delay background checks until after the initial application stage, something the City has been doing (without incident) for the past year. City Council hosted a Fair Chance Hiring Forum on March 8 to educate themselves and the community more about this issue.  Councilmembers Stuckart and Beggs organized the forum, along with Smart Justice Spokane member orgs CFJ, PJALs and I Did the Time.  District Court Judge Richard Leland graciously moderated with humor and a genuine interest in how this relates to the cycle of crime he sees every day on the bench.  Approximately 100 people showed up (during the Gonzaga WCC championship game!), and it played live on City Cable 5 (Forum Video).  A WSU PhD student presented research showing that employment dramatically reduces crime, CFJ presented the common elements of fair chance hiring laws, and formerly incarcerated individuals courageously shared their personal stories of healing, change, education, and then heartbreaking rejection by ‘the box.”  The evening ended with a diverse panel of business people who have voluntarily removed the box with great results, the City’s Chief Civil Service Examiner who is implementing the City’s Fair Chance Hiring policy, GSI’s new CEO Todd Mielke, and the leader of I Did the Time Layne Pavey.  The discussion was rich and honest, and I believe it demonstrated that there is enough common ground and shared love for this community to create fair hiring in Spokane.

To learn more, visit www.nelp.org/campaign/ensuring-fair-chance-to-work, and watch the Forum Video.  And please spread the word and tell council members what you think (their emails are below).  Our leaders need to hear that the people in this community support Fair Chance Hiring!

Ben Stuckart [email protected]

Amber Waldref [email protected]

Mike Fagan  [email protected]

Candace Mumm [email protected]

Karen Stratton   [email protected]

Lori Kinnear   [email protected]

Breean Beggs   [email protected]

Driver Relicensing: Encouraging Individuals to Take Responsibility for Their Futures

A huge thanks to intern Jerusha Dressel for researching and writing this blog post.

Under current statutes in the State of Washington, an individual’s driver’s license can be “suspended indefinitely” if he or she fails to appear in court or pay a ticket.[1] In contrast, the suspension period is one year for a vehicular assault conviction, two years for a vehicular homicide conviction, and 30 days for a reckless driving conviction.[2] An increasing percentage of driver’s license suspensions are not for offenses where the individual is deemed to pose a threat to society. A 2013 study done by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) found that driver’s license suspensions for “social non-conformance reasons” represented 39 percent of suspended driver’s licenses, up from 29 percent in 2002: “Drivers are now commonly suspended for reasons such as bounced checks, fuel theft, truancy, vandalism and many more.”[3] Nevertheless, it was also found by the AAMVA that driver’s license suspensions for crimes unrelated to traffic safety are largely ineffective. Because the punishment is not closely tied to the original offense, the offender, the court and the police do not give it as much weight.

A driver’s license suspension can be debilitating for an individual. Grocery shopping, picking up a child from daycare and getting to work all become much more difficult tasks. Unpaid fines accumulate interest and often result in more fines. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area looked at individuals whose licenses had been suspended as a result of violations unrelated to driver’s safety. They found that many of these individuals were unable to keep their jobs due to a lack of transportation and eventually just gave up on paying back their fines, resulting in perpetual suspensions of their licenses. A cycle of poverty has been created by this system in which individuals become weighed down by fines they cannot pay. Jim Gramling, a former municipal court judge in Milwaukee, described the frequently occurring situation: “Often they’re living lives where they can’t afford to leave a job early, or at all, to go to court. They can’t hire a lawyer, can’t afford a lawyer. So they often let the cases go by default and don’t challenge tickets that maybe should be challenged.”[4]

The relicensing program at the Center for Justice exists to help individuals who have had their licenses suspended re-obtain their licenses and pay off their fines. Clients are responsible for the $150 payment that goes along with relicensing and are required to pay additional fees including Department of Licensing and Court fees. The process generally takes two to four weeks. The purpose of the driver’s relicensing program is to empower “people to take the first steps towards gaining responsibility and independence.”[5] In 2015, the Center for Justice aided in the relicensing of more than 400 persons,[6] indirectly benefiting the Spokane community by combatting poverty, increasing the efficiency of law enforcement officers and allowing clients to take ownership in their future.

The AAMVA found that individuals who have their driver’s licenses have a higher probability of a steady job. Enabling an individual to maintain steady employment is integral to fighting poverty. Additionally, decreasing the number of individuals with their license suspended frees up police resources. The amount of time and money currently being expended by law enforcement officers in citing and appearing in court for individuals whose licenses were revoked for violations unrelated to driver’s safety is enormous. The broad application of the driver’s license suspension punishment is draining funds from numerous areas of the criminal justice system. The AAMVA report concluded that, “In addition to the cost of the law enforcement officer’s time – jailers, corrections officers, judges, judicial clerks, bailiffs, prosecutors, support staff, and defense attorneys are all potentially involved in the process and could potentially benefit from the elimination of social non-conformance suspensions.”[7]

The structure of the relicensing program at the Center for Justice encourages individuals to take responsibility for their future. The program seeks to help clients gain their independence, but requires participants to take an active role in the process. In addition to the fee due to the center, the client is responsible for filling out paperwork related to their relicensing. Each client is required to sign a conduct pledge agreeing to treat employees at the Center for Justice with “respect, dignity, and fairness” and they are held accountable to this pledge throughout their relicensing process. In addition, as part of this pledge, clients agree to bring in required documents in a prompt manner. If a client fails to hold up his or her end of the bargain, he or she may be removed from the program. By placing a substantial amount of responsibility on the individual, the Center hopes that the individual will feel more ownership and pride in the process.

 

[1] “Why does the Center for Justice have this program?” Center for Justice, accessed February 26, 2016, https://cforjustice.org/legal-services/getting-my-license-back/.
[2] “Reckless driving,” Washington State Department of Licensing, accessed February 26, 2016, http://www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/suspendrecklessdriving.html. “Vehicular assault,” Washington State Department of Licensing, accessed February 26, 2016, http://www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/suspendvassault.html.
“Vehicular homicide,” Washington State Department of Licensing, accessed February 26, 2016, http://www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/suspendvhomicide.html.
[3] “Best Practices Guide to Reducing Suspended Drivers,” American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, February 2013, PDF, accessed February 26, 2016.
[4] Joseph Shapiro, “Can’t Pay Your Fines? Your License Could Be Taken,” NPR, December 29, 2014,  http://www.npr.org/2014/12/29/372691960/cant-pay-your-fines-your-license-could-be-taken.
[5] CFJ Driver’s Relicensing Program Conduct Pledge.
[6] “CFJ Top 15 of 2015,” Center for Justice, accessed February 26, 2016, https://cforjustice.org/top-15-of-2015/.
[7] “Best Practices Guide to Reducing Suspended Drivers,” American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

Smart Justice: Recommendations for Reform

Western and many fellow prison-policy scholars have observed that American criminal-justice policy is built on the rheA huge thanks to intern Jerusha Dressel for researching and writing this blog post .

Although the U.S. contains only five percent of the globe’s population, the country houses 20 percent of its prisoners. Numerous individuals are let out of prison every day, but over two-thirds of these individuals will be detained again by police in the next three years and about half will be sent back to prison. Since 1978, the number of individuals in American prisons has increased by 408 percent. In Spokane, 70 percent of the budget goes towards funding the criminal justice system and half of the individuals in prison have not yet had a trial. Additionally, around 80 percent of prisoners have “substance abuse and/or mental health issues.”[1] Something is clearly wrong with these numbers. Instead of reforming the individual and aiding them in becoming functional members of society, the American prison system has become overcrowded and inefficient.

Smart Justice recognizes that there are groups, including ethnic minorities, the impoverished, and the disabled, that are disproportionately negatively affected by the criminal justice system in Spokane and it seeks to remedy this inequality. Its mission is “to implement comprehensive, cost-effective, and research-based smart justice reforms in the Spokane criminal justice system by conducting research, educating, mobilizing impacted voices, advocating and collaborating for a just, strong, and healthy community, which fosters racial equity and opportunities for recovery and integration.”[2] Smart Justice recognizes that hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are being spent on a system that is largely ineffective. The coalition has put forward a list of six recommendations for improvement of the current criminal justice system:

  1. View the problem through a “Smart Justice Lens.”[3] That is, keep in mind the ultimate goal of reforming the system when making judgments and policy changes.
  2. Involve community input in solutions, especially voices from groups that are unduly negatively affected by the current system.
  3. Data on race and ethnicity should be used to improve current systems, rules and regulations.
  4. Reducing the number of individuals in prison through means including jail substitutes and alternate processes for rehabilitation should be explored, especially for “non-violent, low-risk” persons.[4]
  5. Analyze programs with the goal of understanding what is and is not working.
  6. Delay investing resources in increasing the size of the jail.[5]

The third point is referring to data that has demonstrated that certain ethnic groups are disparately impacted by the current justice system. In 2014, the demographics of the Spokane jails and Spokane County were as follows:

sj11There is a definite contrast between these two sets of statistics in the chart above. Although Caucasians make up 86 percent of the Spokane County population, they constitute only 67 percent of the jail population. Moreover, African-Americans compose two percent of the Spokane County population but 12 percent of the jail population and American Indians/Alaska Natives accounted for one percent of the general population but seven percent of the jail population.[6]

Additionally, Smart Justice has expounded upon its fourth recommendation. This policy change included a program that reminded persons of their court dates so that fewer individuals are jailed as a result of a simple “failure to appear.”[7] This point also involves the redirection of funds from financing jail time to paying for programs that aid the offender in overcoming personal problems such as addiction or mental health issues. Additionally, this policy recommendation pushes for an initial assessment of prisoners that helps “ensure that release conditions, plea negotiations and sanctions are matched to the individual’s risks and need.”[8] These evaluations would allow decisions about the offenders punishment and post-prison accountability program be catered to the individual’s requirements. The fourth point also recommends working with individuals once they leave prison, helping them with processes such as finding employment and housing.[9]

A Harvard Magazine article critiquing the American criminal justice system noted: “Western and many fellow prison-policy scholars have observed that American criminal-justice policy is built on the rhetoric of personal responsibility—paying for one’s bad decision—to the exclusion of asking why minority and low-income groups are so much more likely to make bad decisions, or how society fails them.”[10] In a democratic society, there is a tendency towards an individualistic, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mindset. This mentality is reflected in the American criminal justice system. However, there are individuals who do not even have bootstraps to pull themselves up by. Smart Justice aims to give individuals bootstraps. Instead of simply locking up someone every time they commit a crime, it invites a justice system that looks at offenders on a more individual basis. It allows for a structure that asks what is best for the improvement of the specific person.

 

Chart accessed February 22, 2016 from http://www.spokanecounty.org/data/scljc/subcommittees/racialequity/Data%20Slides%20Final.pdf.
[1] “Vision,” Smart Justice Spokane, accessed February 22, 2016, http://smartjusticewashington.org/vision/.
[2]“About Us,” Smart Justice Spokane, accessed February 22, 2016,  http://smartjusticewashington.org/about-us/.
[3] “Smart Justice Policy Recommendations,” Smart Justice Spokane, January 22, 2013, http://web.archive.org/web/20141225223703/http:/smartjusticewashington.org/media/blogs/spokane/Smart%20Justice%20Policy%20Recommendations.pdf?mtime=1364885768.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] “Spokane Regional Criminal Justice System Data Slides,” Spokane County, accessed February 22, 2016, http://www.spokanecounty.org/data/scljc/subcommittees/racialequity/Data%20Slides%20Final.pdf.
[7] “Smart Justice Policy Recommendations,” Smart Justice Spokane.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Elizabeth Gudrais, “The Prison Problem,” Harvard Magazine, March-April 2013, http://harvardmagazine.com/2013/03/the-prison-problem.

Center for Justice joins forces with ACLU to Increase Voting Registration Opportunities

Individuals now have a much improved opportunity to register to vote when they sign up for public benefits, thanks to efforts made by the Center for Justice along with the ACLU-WA and the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to improve compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

“Changes made by DSHS have strengthened democracy by enhancing access to voting for thousands of people in Washington state,” said Rick Eichstaedt, executive director of Spokane’s Center for Justice.

“Access to voting is a cornerstone of democracy,” said Nancy Talner, staff attorney for the ACLU-WA. “We are pleased DSHS took swift action to uphold the NVRA, avoiding costly litigation that has occurred in other states.”

Although best known as the “motor voter law,” the NVRA was designed to reduce demographic gaps in voting by making voter registration more accessible in a variety of ways. Among them: requiring states to offer an opportunity to register to vote whenever someone applies for public benefits, renews benefits or submits a change of address to an agency that provides public assistance.

Until recently, DSHS’s Community Services Division had not offered the opportunity to register to vote as often as the law required, and had not consistently recorded and/or reported when the opportunity was offered, despite the fact that the recession prompted more people to seek benefits from the agency.

After the Center for Justice and ACLU-WA raised the issue with DSHS in 2014, the agency agreed to improve its compliance with the NVRA. In fact, DSHS was already in the process of making improvements as the result of an internal audit it had performed earlier that year. Since then, DSHS has ensured 100 percent of staff in its Community Services Division received training on the requirements of the law, and changed its computer system and paper forms so that workers are always reminded to offer a voter registration opportunity, regardless of whether the contact with the client is online, over the phone or in person.

The percentage of DSHS Community Services Division clients who were offered voter registration assistance increased from 29 percent in January 2014 to 92 percent in August 2015. As the newly adopted technology and reporting systems are implemented, officials expect that number to continue to rise.

“The changes made will help increase the number of historically disenfranchised people who are registered to vote,” said Nancy Talner. “Citizens have a right to make their voices heard by registering to vote and voting. We appreciate the state’s efforts to make this right a reality for those who too often have not had a voice in elections.”

“Ensuring that our clients have the opportunity to register to vote lets us assist people with exercising that fundamental right,” said DSHS Assistant Secretary David Stillman. “It’s also an integral part of our agency’s mission to transform lives.”