U.N. Investigator Wants to Examine California Prisons…Domestic Violence Services Victim to Gov. Shutdown…New Study on Low-income Students…and MoreOctober 21st, 2013 by Taylor Walker
(VIDEO: Piper Kerman, whose memoir inspired the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black,” discusses America’s prison system at TEDxMarionCorrectional.)
U.N. TORTURE INVESTIGATOR CONCERNED ABOUT ISOLATION IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS
U.N. torture investigator Juan Mendez is seeking access to California’s prisons (and to individual prisoners) to make sure that the state’s use of solitary confinement does not violate international human rights laws.
The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:
“We should have more justification” for putting prisoners in isolation, Juan Mendez, the UN’s special rapporteur (reporter) on torture told The Times’ editorial board Friday. He called for greater scrutiny of prison systems that routinely put inmates in solitary confinement.
Mendez said he has agreed to investigate the cases of individual prisoners kept in the state’s isolation cells, to make sure they are being treated according to international law. He asked in May to inspect California prisons, but his request must be cleared by both the U.S. State Department and Gov. Jerry Brown, and Mendez said he has had no response.
Mendez raised concern about any policy that keeps prisoners in their cells more than 22 hours a day with little social contact, for months or years at a time.
He said solitary should be used as discipline for only the most serious infractions, with safeguards that allow for independent review. Isolation should be unrelated to the crime for which an inmate was sentenced and never used as a means to carry out a sentence.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CENTERS SUFFER DURING (AND AFTER) GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN
Largely underreported during the government shutdown, domestic violence and rape crisis centers suffered suspended grant funding and furloughs, and were forced to cut down on crucial services and housing for those in need. Centers worry they will face the same hardships if the government closes up shop again in January.
Washington D.C.-based journalist Dierdre Bannon has the story for the Crime Report. Here’s a clip:
…since the new legislation only finances the government through January 15, many service providers worry that in less than 90 days they could once again be denied access to grant money that helps them keep their doors open.
“When an average of three women are killed in the United States every day by a current or former intimate partner, it is unconscionable to allow life-saving domestic violence programs to shutter their doors and put their crisis lines on hold,” Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, wrote in a statement to The Crime Report.
Providers contacted by The Crime Report said they were still awaiting a full assessment of the shutdown’s impact, but several pointed out that their organizations had been left feeling financially insecure and uncertain about their future—particularly with another possible shutdown on the horizon.
“That kind of insecurity does not inspire confidence in boards of directors, and that could have a sweeping and long-lasting impact on organizations,” said Cindy Southworth, vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
Southworth added that even though the government has reopened, it’s not clear when grant payments will be disbursed because it will take time to get those systems back up and running.
MAJORITY OF KIDS IN 17 STATES FROM LOW-INCOME FAMILIES
California is among seventeen states with more than half of public school students coming from low-income households, according to a study the Southern Education Foundation released late last week.
The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann has more on the study. Here are some clips:
In America, what you earn depends largely on your success in school. Unfortunately, your success in school depends largely on what your parents earn. It’s an intergenerational Catch 22 that’s at the heart of modern poverty.
…In 2011, there were 17 states where at least half of all public school students came from low-income families, up from just four in 2000. Across the whole country, 48 percent of kids qualified as low income, up from 38 percent a decade earlier.
To be crystal clear, the researchers were not analyzing poverty rates per se. Rather, they tracked at the percentage of children in each state who received free or reduced school lunches, which are only available to students whose families earn below 185 percent of the poverty line. For a family of four, that amounted to about $41,000 in 2011—a figure that might feel dire in New York City, but less so in New Mexico. In the end, we are talking about families poor enough to get for some amount of federal food help.
…whenever you hear about “America’s failing school,” remember these maps. Poverty—or in many cases, near poverty—is the 50 pound backpack dragging down U.S. students.
And here are some notable clips from the study itself:
Low income students are more likely than students from wealthier families to have lower tests scores, fall behind in school, dropout, and fail to acquire a college degree. These gaps in learning and achievement have not improved in recent years, while the numbers of low income students have escalated in the South and nation. Test scores for the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) – the most reliable comparative test of academic performance across the states – suggest strongly that there has been little or no change in the wide differences in learning between students according to income from 2003 to 2011.
Within the next few years, it is likely that low income students will become a majority of all public school children in the United States. With huge, stubbornly unchanging gaps in learning, schools in the South and across the nation face the real danger of becoming entrenched, inadequately funded educational systems that enlarge the division in America between haves and have-nots and endanger the entire nation’s prospects.
There is no real evidence that any scheme or policy of transferring large numbers of low income students from public schools to private schools will have a positive impact on this problem. The trends of the last decade strongly suggest that little or nothing will change for the better if schools and communities continue to postpone addressing the primary question of education in America today: what does it take and what will be done to provide low income students with a good chance to succeed in public schools? It is a question of how, not where, to improve the education of a new majority of students.
CELEBS HELP INCREASE AWARENESS FOR LA’S HOMELESS GAY YOUTHS
Jamie Foxx, Elton John, and other celebrities appear in a heartrending new PSA to call attention to LA’s homeless LGBT youth epidemic.
Advocate’s David Reynolds has more on the above video. Here’s a clip:
Directed by Trent Kendrick and produced by Michael Fossat, the short film follows a young boy who is thrown out of his house by his parents after they discover he is gay. The PSA, titled Any Given Tuesday, shows the boy forced into a series of heartbreaking scenarios, including prostitution, drugs, and attempted suicide, which is the terrible road many youth must face once they are forced to live on the streets. According to the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, 40% of the city’s homeless population is LGBT youth.
Jamie Foxx, Lisa Ling, James Wood, Elton John, and David Furnish appear in the PSA to raise awareness of this issue. Actor David Millbern, producer and costar of Here TV’s upcoming sitcom From HERE on OUT, also lends his talents in the short film to support the cause.
By the way, on Friday, the New Jersey became the 14th state to allow gay marriage. (Way to go, NJ!) For further reading, head over to Richard Socarides’ story for the New Yorker.