Posted by: kkelsey on 7/25/2014

This piece by Laura Barrett is re-posted from Shelterforce's online newsblog,

Left, right or center, few dispute that our criminal justice system is broken. But two new and thrilling victories this month are giving real hope to activists who want more effective and humane crimes policies. 

Posted by: Gordon on 7/22/2014
Meeting with sheriff Tom Dart in Chicago July 21
Fro many, jail is one of the few places where they can access mental health services in Cook County according to Sheriff Tom Dart, Gamaliel Metro Chicago, Southwest Organizing Project, and Community Renewal Society

When 1,000 people gathered Monday night to ask Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to help them create a new system to deliver mental health care to youth, undocumented immigrants, formerly incarcerated people and other Southwest Side residents he had a simple answer: "I cannot support your plans strongly enough."

"I truly don’t know which system is more broken our immigration system or our criminal justice system," Dart told leaders of Gamaliel of Metro Chicago, the Southwest Organizing Project, and Community Renewal Society. "The way we treat people with mental illness is an embarrassment--there rae no plans for people with mental illness other than what the sheriff provides. And frankly I’m not supposed to be doing that. I’m just supposed to lock peole up, apparently."

To a standing ovation, Dart and leaders from the three organizations agreed to a vision to plan for peace hubs, centers that would connect Southwest Side residents to services, counseling and even education and job training programs. The hubs are an ambitious vision to provide all of those forms of support. Public funding is needed to create the hubs.

The proposal is to use the Affordable Care Act and reallocate city and state funds to provide mental health support services to initially 75 persons by creating community-based mental health centers, or hubs, to serve as diversion and re-entry alternatives to incarceration. The Hubs will also offer comprehensive restorative justice and prevention as a means of reducing violence and creating new life directions for hundred of other struggling youth and young adults on the south and southwest side of Chicago.

Dart is actually a national leader in the area of providing mental health care inside the jail. His office estimates that on any given day, at least 30 percent of the inmates at Cook County Jail--some 3,000 people--suffer from mental illness. Many are there for committing minor crimes, Dart says.

“The funds that should be used to provide community treatment and youth support services are now tied up incarcerating nonviolent persons who suffer from mental health and addiction,” said Dr. Alvin Love of the Gamaliel African American Organizing Table. “We can eliminate violence and provide a just and compassionate alternative if our communities are allowed to care for our own.”

This was the first public meeting organized by the Parish Peace Project, a joint Initiative of GMC, the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, and local community organizations including the Southwest Organizing Project, to develop Latino young adult leadership in the church and address the violence that plagues Chicago.

Next week the Project in conjunction with partner Community Renewal Society will meet with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to ask her to sign on to the vision of peace hubs.
Posted by: Gordon on 7/15/2014
Faith Coalition news conference
Pastor Silas Johnson of Faith Coalition spoke at a news conference to announce a new ombudsman to ensure people of color in Springfield get a fair price for homes in the area slated for redevelopment when high-speed rail comes to town.

Faith Coalition for the Common Good (FCCG), the Springfield, Illinois-based Gamaliel affiliate, has gotten the city to hire an ombudsman as part of the Rail Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for a major rail consolidation project.

The ombudsman will help those owners and renters relocated by rail construction to receive a fair amount for their properties. "FCCG pushed for the ombudsman," said Shelly Heideman, FCCG Executive Director, "and we organized for them to pick one of the persons we recommended." Retired associate judge Theodis Lewis will fill the role.

In addition to relocation assistance, the Rail CBA’s 5-point platform includes local jobs with equal opportunity for employment, economic development, funding for job training, and citizen-led monitoring of transportation infrastructure projects.

The next step for FCCG is to push the federal government to update women and minority hiring regulations. Current requirements from 1979 are far below those set forth by the Rail CBA. FCCG is sending letters of support from local decision makers to the Federal Department of Labor and President Obama, and will be attending an August 14th statewide public meeting in East St. Louis to ask Governor Quinn and Senator Durbin for their support.

FCCG and the ombudsman will work with IDOT to ensure the proper implementation of the Rail CBA.

In its ongoing work the organization has won broad support. U.S. Sen. Durbin, State Sens. Manar and McCann, state Rep. Scherer, and the city of Springfield and Illinois Department of Transportation, have all signed on to support the CBA.
Posted by: Gordon on 7/9/2014

WISDOM released a report on the need for criminal justice reform at the state Capitol Wednesday that received wide news coverage including by the Associated Press and WKOW TV Madison 

Wednesday, leaders of affiliate WISDOM released a new report, Reform Now: A Call for Accountability in the Department of Corrections, that showed the Wisconsin DOC “has failed in its mission and goals.” Specifically the report highlights that:

  • Prisoners are being subjected to torture as defined under international standards
  • Gravely ill and aging inmates are not being released
  • Lack of accountability has botched the parole system
  • Decades of overcrowding put staff at risk and leave taxpayers footing bills of more than $1B per year
Among other failings, the report highlights the state’s lack of action on individuals eligible for parole. According to the report, the “Department of Corrections is denying a fair chance at freedom for more than 2,800 men and women in the Wisconsin state prison system who are legally eligible for parole. Incarcerating thousands of people unnecessarily costs taxpayers millions of dollars.”

Leaders made humane and economic arguments for reform now at the news conference. WISDOM leader Baron Walker, who is eligible for parole, has served 18 years for being an accessory to an armed robbery where no one was injured and is considered a model prisoner, coined an acronym in his fight for justice: H.O.P.E. — Honest Opportunity for Parole Eligibility.

They also noted that not paroling inmates costs the state of Wisconsin $96 million a year, a point United Methodist Minister Rev. Jerry Hancock made at a news conference Wednesday morning to release the report. “If that money were invested in treatment alternatives and diversion, it would save the state of Wisconsin almost $200 million a year,” Hancock said. 

Other groups supporting the call for reform now include Wisconsin NAACP State Conference of Branches, Wisconsin Council of Churches, and Wisconsin Faith Voices.

Download the report here, or go to the WISDOM 11x15 criminal justice reform website to learn more and get the latest updates.

You can also see some highlights of the news coverage here:

Posted by: Olivia Schiller on 7/2/2014
Over recent years, local health departments across the country have realized that health cannot be addressed in a vacuum—public health often depends on policy decisions. So-called “Health In All” policies have a lot in common with community organizing.
Posted by: Mathew Bakko on 7/1/2014
15 trainees at June's Advanced Leadership Training took advantage of Gamaliel's new Continuing Education (CE) credit opportunity.

Offered in partnership with Saint Louis University, these credits will be used by those fulfilling social work and clergy licensing requirements, attending community college, or seeking licensure in a variety of fields.

Credit is usable in all 50 states. Trainees from California to New York earned 20.5 CE credits through participating in the training.
Posted by: Mathew Bakko on 7/1/2014
Michigan’s minimum wage will go up to $9.25 thanks to the work of MOSES and other nonprofits in the Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan (EJAM), part of a broad-based "Raise Michigan" coalition that organized for an increase.

Their work began as a ballot initiative designed to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. MOSES became a leading force in the Raise Michigan coalition, engaging more than 100 congregations during services, and collecting more than 5,000 signatures (about 6 percent of the signatures that volunteers collected statewide). Their work helped get the wage increase on the November ballot.

In response to the success of the ballot initiative, Republican state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage—but only to $8.15—in an attempt to undermine the $10.10 the group wanted. His bill would also have removed the legal basis for the ballot initiative. Ultimately, state legislators enacted a $9.25 wage increase indexed for inflation, as well as a raised tipping wage.

The fate of the $10.10 ballot initiative is in flux, but a solid victory has already been won: Raise Michigan and MOSES made positive change for Michigan's workers and put a little more change in their pockets. They’ve also built power in the process: "EJAM is now solidified as a coalition that is a force to be reckoned with in Michigan,” MOSES organizer Matt Friedrichs said. “We want to build on that.”

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