LA Supes End Ban on Parolee/Probationer Eligibility for Subsidized Housing….Steep Tickets Fund Courts and Bury CA’s Poor in Debt….Employment Barriers for Former Offenders…Town Hall Meetings on LASD Citizen’s Oversight PanelApril 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker
SOME LA PAROLEES AND PROBATIONERS WILL NOW BE ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE SECTION 8 VOUCHERS
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of opening up Section 8 program eligibility to parolees and probationers whose low-level drug crime convictions are more than two years old. Supe. Hilda Solis voted alongside Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas who introduced the motion.
Until now, just one small drug crime, even from five or six years prior, excluded people on community supervision from accessing housing vouchers through the Section 8 program.
Although this is an important step toward reducing recidivism and equipping former offenders with the right tools to successfully reenter their communities, the current waitlist for housing vouchers has 43,000 names on it, and is expected to be closed to new applicants for at least the next few years. And the approximately 1,200 spots expected to open up over the next year will not make a dent.
To be clear, this decision does not change eligibility requirements for living in any of the 3000 public housing units managed by the county. Specifically, it allows people on probation and parole to apply for what are called “housing choice vouchers,” through which participants choose their own residence (as long as the housing meets certain program requirements).
While those on community supervision will no longer be blocked from the voucher program, landlords still have the right to perform background checks on prospective housing voucher tenants.
LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl spoke with KPCC’s Larry Mantle on AirTalk before the board’s decision. Here are some clips of what Kuehl said about the particulars of the motion and why it’s so important.
[Regarding LA's homeless population]: We hear a lot about veterans, but we don’t hear a lot about people coming out of jail, or for that matter, young people coming out of our probation camps at the age of 18. We didn’t want to bar them if they qualified in every other way for housing vouchers.
They haven’t shown any proof that public housing is safer because they’re barring people on probation or parole. As a matter of fact, if you ask any of the probation officers, their impression is that it would be safer, because these men and women have to report to them quite often… There’s much more checking-up than there is on any other kind of resident. And having people camping out in the homeless population nearby doesn’t make you any safer either.
The data shows that you’re far less likely to recidivate…if you have a permanent place to live. So it seems like we’re cutting off our nose to spite our face by barring people who have served their time.
Listen to the rest of Kuehl’s interview with Larry Mantle.
REPORT: “NOT JUST A FERGUSON PROBLEM — HOW TRAFFIC COURTS DRIVE INEQUALITY IN CALIFORNIA”
In a system that is not dissimilar to Ferguson, MO’s policing-for-profit strategy, California traffic courts frequently suspend drivers licenses of those who are unable to pay outsized fines for minor tickets, according to a report released Wednesday by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s no surprise that the practice has a disproportionately negative impact on poor and minority Californians, costing people their jobs when they can’t drive to work and creating an often insurmountable pile of debt via lost wages and late fees.
According to the report California is home to nearly four million people with suspended licenses (that’s 17% of the state’s licensed adults), and has racked up more than $10 billion in uncollected court-ordered debt.
The New York Times’ Timothy Williams has more on the issue. Here are some clips:
In an Alameda County traffic court case, for example, a $25 ticket given to a motorist who had failed to update the home address on her driver’s license within the state law’s allotted 10 days led a traffic court judge to suspend her license when she was unable to pay the fine.
The accumulation of fees and penalties for late payment increased her fine to $2,900, and the woman — identified in the report only as “Alyssa” — was fired from her job as a bus driver because she no longer possessed a valid driver’s license and is now receiving public assistance, according to the report, which was prepared by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which worked in conjunction with other California legal aid groups.
“These suspensions make it harder for people to get and keep jobs, further impeding their ability to pay their debt,” the report said. “Ultimately, they keep people in long cycles of poverty that are difficult, if not impossible to overcome.”
Ferguson’s policies, the Justice Department report said, resulted in a disproportionate number of arrests, citations and traffic stops of African-Americans and was among the factors in the public anger that led to weeks of demonstrations there after Mr. Brown’s death.
In California, a 2012 state analysis unrelated to the new report found that assessments tacked onto tickets by California lawmakers meant that a $500 traffic ticket actually cost $1,953 — even if it was paid on time. A $100 ticket for failure to have proof of auto insurance cost $490 — and increased to $815 if the motorist missed the initial deadline to appear in court or to pay the ticket.
Among the fees included in the cost of a traffic ticket were assessments for court operations, court construction and DNA collection.
YEARS AFTER THEIR RELEASE, FORMER OFFENDERS STILL FACE EXTREME HURDLES TO ENTERING (AND STAYING IN) THE WORKFORCE
Al Jazeera America’s Naureen Khan has some excellent reporting on the impenetrability of America’s workforce for former offenders seeking employment.
Khan’s story follows Jesse Killings who has spent years trying to land steady and stable work after fighting over his wife with another man. Jesse wins small victories over the stigma of his criminal record, but when a job or internship ends, he lands right back where he started. And his story is far from uncommon.
Here are some clips:
…on a March night in 2001, he drove to his mother-in-law’s house, he says, to see if he and his wife could work through their problems. Instead, he found another man under the same roof. Killings admits that he was the one to throw the first punch. “My emotions went through the roof,” he said. “I bee lined to where he was. We were two rams.”
In the flurry of fists that followed, Killings’ dreams were caving in around him. He was charged with felony counts of burglary — for entering his mother-in-law’s home — and assault.
“I did that, I’m guilty,” Killings said.
He served for only three months through a plea deal his public defender urged him to take, but Killings says the felony convictions have cast an immeasurably long shadow on his life since then. He lost his scholarship. He’s had to rely on homeless shelters and draw from food banks. In 2005, he was so desperate that he stole $200 from the till of a bookstore he was temporarily staffing after he says his employers did not pay him.
Killings says he accepts responsibility for the mistakes of his past and only wants to rebuild his life. But redemption is hard to find when his decade-old record stands in the way of a steady employment and a decent wage, even after he moved across the country to Fredericksburg for a fresh start.
TONIGHT: FIRST TOWN HALL MEETING TO GATHER INPUT ON CITIZEN’S OVERSIGHT COMMISSION FOR LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT
The working group tasked with advising the LA County Board of Supervisors on the structure, power, and objective of a civilian oversight commission for the sheriff’s department are holding town hall meetings to gather community input on the issue. Over the next few weeks, in nine different locations across the county, citizens will be able to share comments and recommendations with the working group and thus take part (or take an active role) in the creation of the oversight panel.
Here’s the info for a few of the upcoming meetings (the first one is tonight):
April 9: Florence Firestone Service Center
6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
7807 S. Compton Ave.
Los Angeles, 90001
April 14: El Cariso Community Regional Center
6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
13100 Hubbard Street
April 15: Bassett Community Center
6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
510 North Vineland Ave.
La Puente, 91746
For those who care about this oversight issue, find the location nearest to you and contribute to the discussion. Here’s the full list.