Where there is a will, there is a way!

By Jodi Hansen

POVERTY IS THE MOTHER OF CRIME     My mother is the queen of the common proverb. She was a school teacher, always capitalizing on what she called “teachable moments” and she loved using popular sayings to scold and mold her children. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; Don’t put your eggs in one basket; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” were a few of the litany of famous axioms we routinely heard in our home.

One of her favorites in encouraging us to get an education and a good job was “Poverty is the mother of crime.” She basically threatened us with becoming criminals if we failed to achieve middle-class, self-sufficiency. We were groomed from a very early age to work hard and get an education. We knew what kinds of citizens we were supposed to be when we grew up, and achieving social and financial stability was not a negotiable life goal.

But, folks who intersect with the criminal justice system are not always groomed in such a way.  Generational cycles of poverty, drug abuse, domestic violence, and racial discrimination often collude to ensure that some of our citizens will grow up to be poor; and in many cases, that poverty will give birth to a criminal lifestyle. So, if poverty is the mother of crime, are employment and education the antidote?

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION IS WORTH A POUND OF CURE     According to a Poverty Action Lab article, summer youth employment programs for high risk youth do, in fact, reduce crime. Evidence of significant reductions in crime in the young people who participated were noted, not only when the participants were working, but also long after the eight-week program was completed. This is huge because a criminal conviction will greatly decrease a person’s chances of getting a good job. Even being convicted of a misdemeanor can hurt when 9 out of 10 employers are doing background checks of some kind. 

So, if providing youth with good education, job training, and employment opportunities keeps them from committing a crime, it seems that funding these kinds of programs would be worth the up-front costs to avoid the very expensive price tag of dealing with criminality later. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GET…DISCOURAGED     But, we haven’t funded enough of these preventative programs for at-risk youth and we have become dependent on incarceration as a way to deal with most criminal behavior. So, we have a lot of folks coming out of prison and facing almost insurmountable roadblocks when it comes to achieving stability. Even as the US economy recovers and unemployment levels drop, for those who have spent time in our prisons and jails the unemployment rate stays steady at 27%. This is worse than the general unemployment rate during the Great Depression! 

In my years of working with justice-involved adults, I have witnessed many determined men and women working hard to turn their lives around after a criminal conviction. Sadly—and far too often—getting a GED or college education or learning new job skills while on the inside doesn’t deliver the hoped-for results once someone is released. It is heart-breaking to watch a single mother who has been the victim of domestic violence—often the causative factor in addiction-driven crimes—work her ass off to make ends meet at low wage jobs because no one will take the chance she could fill a better paying position with more responsibility. When the going gets tough, the tough get going; but too often they run into a door being slammed in their face.

NO MAN IS AN ISLAND     But, those of us who were groomed from an early age to be law-abiding and successful citizens CAN make a difference. As the economy improves and the labor market gets tighter, businesses are beginning to see that hiring workers with criminal records is going to be important to future economic success.  Studies show the return on investment to taxpayers for helping the previously-incarcerated obtain good paying jobs is great for our communities.

But, first we have to acknowledge that justice-involved citizens are our neighbors and friends, and that we are all connected. We can no longer delude ourselves into believing that THEIR problems are not OUR problems if we want to solve THE PROBLEM. Reforming the way we arrest, charge, convict, sentence, and then hire our most expensive citizens is crucial to making our neighborhoods healthy, happy and wise. (Yeah, I really did just slip that one in there. ;-)

NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION     It’s time to get serious about investing in the success of the previously-incarcerated if we want our neighborhoods to be safe and healthy. But, where do we start?  

Luckily, there are awesome resources that can help us forward. Lucius Couloute and Daniel Kopf in their report Out of Prison, Out of Work give us some concrete suggestions for removing the barriers that keep our neighbors-in-transition from achieving the crime-preventing economic stability we want for all our citizens:

1.     Issue a temporary basic income upon release: Short-term financial stability for formerly incarcerated people is a game changer. This would greatly decrease the temptation to resort to crime to meet basic needs, which will ultimately cost taxpayers less in the long run.

2.     Implement automatic record expungement procedures: Let’s take into account the type of offense and length of time since sentencing, and release some of these folks from being labeled for the rest of their lives.

3.     Make bond insurance and tax benefits for employers widely available: Incentivizing and protecting employers who hire people with criminal records will greatly expand opportunities for the previously-incarcerated to obtain a living wage job moving them off the roles of public assistance for food and housing.

4.     Ban blanketed employer discrimination: Making a mistake doesn’t mean you will always be a bad employee. But worse is that some employers use their right not to hire those with criminal records to discriminate against people of color and women. This has got to change.

5.     Enact occupational licensing reform: Not all crimes make someone a bad childcare worker or teacher or nurse. Having a criminal background should not automatically disqualify a person from occupations that require licenses.

A RISING TIDE LIFTS ALL BOATS     The past five decades of war-on-drugs and tough-on-crime justice have left us with roughly 70 million adults with a criminal record. So, if one in five of us has a criminal record, shouldn’t all of us assume some responsibility for helping our neighbors reach their goals and contribute to our society in productive and fruitful ways? How long do we intend to make them pay for their mistakes? How long do we intend to perpetuate cycles of poverty and crime with our discouraging and discriminatory hiring practices?

I often wonder if I had been raised in a poor, drug effected, non-white or violent neighborhood—void of the wisdom of my mother’s persistent proverbs—would I have ended up in prison? Would you?

 

 

 

 

 

Headlines and Justice

by Taaryl Taylor

My Facebook feed is frantic with headlines of children being ripped away from their parents trying to cross the US border. Families being separated with parents having no communication with their children is provoking outrage in news outlets all over the Internet.  Just twenty minutes from my home, caravans of ICE detainees are being shipped to the Sheridan Federal Prison while activists crowd overpasses with signs sharing a message of love, acceptance, and furor over the fate of these families.

Whatever our views of present immigration policy, it seems that this practice is something that hasn’t happened in our country since the Japanese Internment Camps of the 1940’s.  Or has it?

Every year over 2.8 million women are jailed, 80% of whom are mothers, the majority of which are awaiting trial for crimes they are only accused of committing.  This means that 2.3 million mothers will be separated from their children this year alone without any proof of guilt.

“A staggering number of women who are incarcerated are not even convicted: more than a quarter of women who are behind bars have not yet had a trial. Moreover, 60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial.”

 The typical bail amount for someone awaiting trial is $10,000. This sum is statistically much more difficult for women to secure than it is for men who have been arrested, thus a much greater percentage of incarcerated women than incarcerated men are sitting in jail—separated from their children. The irony is that mothers, most of them primary caregivers, pose the lowest flight risk.

So, what happens to children while their mothers await trial?  Oftentimes, child welfare services are called in to scramble for some sort of foster care placement, not knowing how long mom is going to be detained. But, even when these children are reunited with their mothers after release from jail, they may find they have lost their homes because mom lost her job and has a pile of bills that haven’t been paid during her incarceration.  The trauma experienced by the whole family during this disruption has long-lasting effect.

“Having a parent incarcerated is a stressful, traumatic experience of the same magnitude as abuse, domestic violence and divorce, with a potentially lasting negative impact on a child’s well-being…The trauma of being separated from a parent, along with a lack of sympathy or support from others, can increase children’s mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and hamper educational achievement.”

I understand the outrage I see on Facebook and the sentiment of the activists who are crowding overpasses while families are being separated from their children in the most recent ICE crackdowns.  It is concerning that ICE presently detains 34,000 people nationwide—with an estimated 2,000 children being separated from their parents since the implementation of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.  But, even more alarming is that these figures pale in comparison to the millions of women separated from their families in the US every year due to jailing and unfair bail practices!

And so, this begs the question: Where are the headlines for all of these mothers and children?

 

 

 

PUNISHMENT: a criminal justice allegory

by Jodi Hansen

Jessica and Anita were the closest of sisters. Only 18 months apart in age and one year apart in school gave many folks in their small town the impression they were twins. After attending college out of state, they returned home and married local men within two years of each other. Kids soon followed and between the two of them they bore seven children over a ten-year period.  But, the demands of life, work, and children never got in the way of their weekly coffee dates where they shared each other’s trials and triumphs over lattes and scones. 

Their lives seemed to be sailing along fairly smoothly until one day Anita came to the coffee house distraught and angry about an incident with her 17-year-old son, Marcus.

“You won’t believe what he pulled this past weekend!” Anita exclaimed as she joined her sister at their usual table.

“What? Who? What’s going on Ann?” Jessica inquired. 

“Marcus! He…well… he smoked pot at a party!”

Jessica was shocked. Marcus was a good kid.  He was a popular senior doing well in school and headed to a good university next year. Jessica knew all this because her oldest child, Janelle, ran in the same crowd as Marcus. But, as much as she was concerned about her nephew smoking pot, what Anita would share next was far more disturbing.

“Okay, well, now, tell me what happened?”  Jess tried to calm her sister as she dug a little deeper.

Anita answered, “I told you what happened. He smoked pot! That’s what happened!”

“But, how do you know?” Jess questioned.

“How do I know anything? Kids talk. That’s how. Someone at the party told Marc’s little brother Jeffrey and Jeff told us.”

“Did you ask Marcus about it? Maybe it’s a misunderstanding.”

“We told him what Jeff had told us. He tried to explain himself, but we cut that off right quick because there are no good reasons for using drugs!”

“Okay. So… what are you gonna do about it?”  Jess asked gently.

“Oh, we have already DONE about it!  We grounded his sorry ass for a month!” Anita loudly proclaimed drawing the attention of the other customers.

Somewhat embarrassed, Jess calmly continued, “But, did you ask him what happened? I mean, kids try drugs for different reasons.  Is he okay?  Janelle told me he took it really hard when his girlfriend broke up with him because they are headed to different colleges in the fall.  Why did he say he tried pot? Is he depressed, experimenting?  What’s going on in his head. He knows drugs aren’t okay. This is really out of character for him. Is he okay?”

“Does it matter? Does it matter what he was thinking or why he did it or what’s going on with him?" Anita answered.  "Not in our family it doesn’t! We have made it clear to all the kids that we have a zero-tolerance policy in our family when it comes to drugs and alcohol.  His reasons don’t matter. But, he will have plenty of time to think about whatever it is that is bothering him while he is stuck in his room for the next thirty days.”

“Thirty days!? That seems a pretty harsh punishment without even asking what happened Ann. You didn’t even give him a chance to defend himself against someone else’s version of the story. Keeping a kid in his room all evening and all weekends for a month just seems harsh.”

“Oh, he is getting more than weekends and evenings. He is grounded 24-hours-a-day.”

“Wait. You can’t keep him in his room 24-hours-a-day. He has to go to school!”

“Oh, no he doesn’t.  He is staying locked in his room 24/7 for 30 days. Period.”

“But, he will fail school if he can’t go and what about his Saturday job with the landscaping company? And soccer? He has a lot of people depending on him.” Jess pleaded with her sister. 

“He should have thought about all of that before he put that doobie in his mouth!” Anita would not back down.

“Ann! This doesn’t make any sense!”  Now Jess was getting heated. “He has a good scholarship waiting for him. A bright future. If he fails classes now, he will lose all of it! The landscape guys need him on Saturdays to work. They are really busy this time of year. His soccer team needs him. And, who is going to make sure he stays in his room all day anyway?  You and David work. The kids are all in school. You can’t monitor him 24/7 for 30 days!”

“Sure, I can. We hired a security guard.”  Jess about fell off her chair as Anita continued. “The guy comes at 7:30 AM and stays till 5:30 PM when David and I get home. This way we can be sure he stays put. The guard will even take food into him during the day. I make the lunch before I leave and the guard takes it in at lunch time. The guy will even watch him pee and take a shower—the only reasons he is allowed out of his room.  And, it’s only costing us $12 an hour. I found him on craigslist.”

Stunned, Jess stared at her sister in disbelief. Slowly, she formed her next thought and asked, “How in the world are you going to afford to pay a full-time security guard to keep Marcus in his room for 30 days?  You guys don’t have that kind of money.”

“No, we don’t.  But, we need to make sure he knows what he has done is serious. So, we made adjustments by stopping the others kids’ music lessons and sports and theater stuff for the month. The guard is willing to monitor the others after school too. I mean, since they have to give up their usual after-school activities. They just come home and stay there. The kids aren’t happy, but I told them we all need to make sacrifices to ensure Marcus straightens up and never does this again. We can’t have a drug user in our house. It makes everyone unsafe. This is as much for their good as it is for his.”

Jess shook her head slowly, “I am sorry Anita. This is really confusing. You are taking away from three kids who have done nothing wrong to teach a lesson to one kid—a lesson that will cost him his college scholarship, a good job and who knows what else?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to get him some counseling or at least get to the bottom of why he tried drugs and maybe deal with the root cause of this?”

Anita stared back at her sister and answered flatly, “Jess. That’s really not my problem. Marcus knew the rules. Marcus chose to break the rules and now Marcus will pay. Do the crime. Do the time.

Jess looked up from her cooling latte to meet her sister’s callous stare as she carefully replied. “Ann, it seems more accurate to say that Marcus broke the rules and now everyone is going to pay.”

 

Common Sense

by Jodi Hansen

WHY WE FAIL     Common sense and common business practice tell us that every once in a while, businesses, nonprofits, churches, community groups, and pretty much every organization needs to step back and ask some hard questions about their operations. Questions like, “Is this consistent with our mission?” and “Is this sustainable?” are key to evaluating organizational health.

Those who fail to take a hard look at whether their organization is living into its intended mission and doing it in a cost-effective way, will fail. Those who fail to make the necessary changes in operations and infrastructure to ensure they are living into their intended mission in a sustainable way, will fail.

I am presently watching this kind of drama unfold as the Newberg School District attempts to address a $4 million budget shortfall. The leadership failed to answer these kinds of basic questions about mission and sustainability in the past, and now the school board is scrambling to save the district by cutting staff and school days to get back on track.

What about our criminal justice system? 

Who steps back and asks the hard questions about organizational health in this system?             

Is it living into the mission to protect public safety while rehabilitating those who threaten it?   

Is the way our criminal justice system operates cost-effective and sustainable?

EVERYONE’S A CRITIC     Books by insiders such as Kamala Harris, Jens Soering, James Kilgore and Adam Benforado describe how our very expensive system is failing to protect our communities from violent criminals and failing to rehabilitate those who commit trauma and addiction driven crimes by addressing the root causes of criminal behavior.

Samantha Bee and John Legend are among a growing group of celebrities using their platforms to alert the public to the inordinate power held by prosecutors and elected DA’s in administering justice.  They stir us to ask the question, How can we say that our citizens are innocent until proven guilty when too much power with too little oversight lies in the hands of an elected few whose focus is to WIN the prized guilty conviction?”

Others like Jay-Z have produced compelling YouTube videos about how the War on Drugs has failed, while law professor Michelle Alexander and pastor Dominique Gilliard expose the racism deeply imbedded in our system.

So, no, our system is not living into its mission and it seems everyone from celebrities to journalists to law professors to lawyers, to nonprofit leaders to pastors, and even those who have intersected with the criminal justice system themselves, are asking the important questions.

A BOAT LOAD OF CASH!     But, we also need to ask if our present way of operating is cost-effective and sustainable. The criminal justice system is complex and a cost/benefit analysis is much more difficult to evaluate in a web of federal, state, and local agencies—all charged with the same mission—than it is in a better contained organization like a business. But, it is worth asking the question, “How much does this really cost?”

The Prison Policy Initiative, has done the hard work of pulling together all the different ways we spend money on criminal justice in our communities.  They report that our criminal justice system costs the government and families of justice-involved people $182 billion each year! That’s a lot of money being spent on a system that is failing to deliver on its mission.

But, whenever I see anything described in billions of dollars I get lost in the bigness. What does that big number mean and how much does that big number really impact my life?  Sometimes, I need to break the big issues down into smaller, more manageable, concepts.  So, I decided to work with numbers I do understand.

WORKING WITH WHAT I DO KNOW     As a Home for Good in Oregon community chaplain and reentry mentor, I know that there are 85 men and women releasing to Yamhill County from our state prisons in 2018.  I also know that we spend approximately $47,000 per person per year to incarcerate these people.  That means that keeping the 85 folks in prison for just the last year of their sentence cost the state of Oregon around $3,995,000.

This number doesn’t consider all the services they will need when they release like PO supervision, food stamps, mental health, addictions services, and housing assistance. This number doesn’t factor in how many years they served and what the total cost was to incarcerate each of these neighbors to be. It’s just a snapshot. But, it got me thinking: if all 85 of these folks had just one year of time taken off their sentence, it would have saved the state almost exactly what Newberg Public Schools is trying to cut from its budget.

COMMON SENSE     So, I wonder, if we shortened sentences just a bit, could we pay teachers better and have smaller class sizes?  If the government spent less on perpetuating a failing criminal justice system, would we have fewer drop-outs and maybe less addiction-driven crime in the future? What would the impact be of diverting some cash out of that $182 billion a year that it costs to keep this failing system alive to fund schools? Heck, the US Department of Education only got $68 billion this year.    

Living into Mission? NO

Sustainable? NO

Time to Change? YES

 

 

Love Thy Neighbor

By Jodi Hansen

Won’t You be My Neighbor?   Some of us of a certain age and stage remember vividly the theme song of the beloved PBS children’s program Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. On beautiful spring days like today, while looking out my kitchen window at budding trees and the gorgeous blue sky, I like to break into this cheesy song for a laugh.

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood; a beautiful day for a neighbor.

Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

But, was Mr. Rogers wrong?  In our modern urban and suburban contexts, we don’t usually invite others to be our neighbors. We might buy a house in a nice neighborhood where we have heard the schools are good or choose our neighborhood because it’s where we can afford to live. Very few of us plant our roots somewhere based on who we want to be our neighbors. We have our social media friends and our in-the-flesh friends, but most of us don’t really know our neighbors. In fact, most of us are completely unaware that our criminal justice system is choosing some of our neighbors for us.

You return to where you fell.  One thing most law-abiding folks do not know is that when someone commits a crime, they must return to the county where the crime was committed after they have served their jail or prison sentence.  It seems counterintuitive to send someone back into the very neighborhood where they got into trouble when changing their surroundings would be so much more effective in helping them to get a fresh start.  Sadly, counties don’t want to pay their own PO’s to supervise people who committed crimes in other locales, so the folks we send away to prison actually come right back into our communities.

In fact, 95% of people whom we send to prison will one day be released back into community. As much as “tough on crime” proponents want to believe that we can lock them up and throw away the proverbial key, the reality is that “those people” are eventually going be our neighbors.  Thus, we must ask ourselves, how can we help them to be good neighbors?

Old habits die hard when you are overwhelmed.  Good prison programing can be very effective for helping people address the trauma, addiction, and the wrong thinking that led them to commit crimes. But, programs are sorely underfunded and unavailable to most. Unfortunately, time spent in prison is typically spent doing menial jobs that keep the place running. Getting a college education, engaging in drug treatment, or obtaining good quality job training for most of America’s 2.3 million incarcerated people is a myth.

Even those who do have a fruitful experience while incarcerated will be confronted with incredible barriers to success upon release.  Lack of job opportunities and housing options for those who have criminal records can keep the most motivated people from achieving their post-prison goals.  Lack of community-based mental health and addictions treatment compounds their barriers to success upon return to our communities.

It’s an uphill battle and many become so discouraged that they eventually give up trying to become law-abiding and contributing citizens as they resort to survival skills they learned by returning to the criminal lifestyle they were sincerely hoping to leave behind.

Who? Me?   As productive citizens, we do have the ability to change the statistics for revolving door recidivism when we recognize that these “ex-cons” are our neighbors.  At Remnant Initiatives, we like to use the term, “neighbors-in-transition.”

Our neighbors-in-transition need job opportunities and living wages and housing options just like the rest of us. They need friendships with pro-social and law-abiding citizens who can help them learn new ways of being. They desperately need communities that want them to be successful–communities that understand that public safety and neighborhood health are directly influenced by their success.

We need more heroes.   Mr. Rogers once said. “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say. ‘It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” 

The previously incarcerated are going to come back to our neighborhoods. We have no choice in that matter. We can be heroes by helping them to be successful when they do. Mr. Rogers would say that makes us good neighbors.

Connecting the Dots

By Jodi Hansen

It’s Wednesday Night and I’m in Prison 

I spend my Wednesday evenings at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville. This is the only women’s prison in the state of Oregon and on any given day houses approximately 1,300 women. And no, I am not there doing my time in weekly installments. I have been serving as a religious services volunteer for over eight years.  In the time I have been leading bible studies and worship services at CCCF I have met many women who have shared their stories of crime, imprisonment and a desire to do better. Sometimes the stories sound far-fetched, but unless a woman invites me to look her up on the Oregon Offender Search website, or to do a Google search for news stories about her crimes, I refrain from doing any research and simply take her at her word. 

But, this was unbelievable!

A few years ago, I met a woman (let’s call her Emma) who told me the nature of her crime and the nature of her sentence.  I was shocked! Emma had committed identity theft. She had seven victims of whom she had, in total, defrauded less than $50,000.  But, during the charging phase of her adjudication, the DA split each crime into three separate crimes: one charge for the ID she used, one charge for the credit cards, and one for the counterfeit checks—twenty-one counts of ID theft in all.  The DA then stacked the charges, which would be served consecutively, one after another. Because measure 57 (mandatory minimum sentencing legislation passed by Oregon voters years ago) mandated harsh penalties for these kinds of crimes, she would be staying at Coffee Creek for a long while. 

According to the offender search I made (at her insistence that I do one), she is serving 14 years, at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $47,000 a year. A quick bit of math and I learned that the state is spending over $600,000 to keep someone locked up for a crime that was not violent and cost the victims less than $10,000 each. Not the best return on investment if you ask me.

Wait, there’s more!  

Emma often laments that she will not receive any drug treatment while she serves this long sentence because her charges were not directly drug related, even though the impulse that drove her to commit these crimes was addiction to meth and heroin. She desperately wants a better life moving forward and knows that drug treatment will be key to her achieving her goals when she is released in 2027.

And now that she is sober and thinking clearly, she says she wants to pay back the money she stole from the victims. She had a good paying job in construction before drugs sent her life into a spiral that led her to commit ID theft. She often exclaims, “Please send me to treatment and put me back to work! Put an ankle bracelet on me and monitor my every move while I work to pay back my debt to society and to my victims!”

Instead she was given a long, unproductive, and expensive sentence with court ordered restitution of only $356.75.  

Meanwhile, back in Yamhill County… 

In February, I attended the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council meeting where the presiding judge of our county asked us to be aware that he may be looking at making cuts. A request for additional state funding had been made, but did not look good.

A few weeks ago, my husband, who is an attorney in our area, shared that the funds did not come through. The state of Oregon simply doesn’t have the money to continue operating our judicial departments at full capacity. The adult drug courts were consolidated from two to one, which effectively required the staff to do more with less, while vacant positions will remain unfilled. A friend of mine was demoted—complete with pay cut—but is close to retirement, so needs to stay. 

The irony was not lost on me as I connected the dots and exclaimed to my husband (in my out-loud voice with hands flailing in the air), “The state can afford to keep thousands of nonviolent drug offenders locked up to the tune of fifty thousand a year EACH, but can’t afford to keep the drug courts operating? Really!?!?”

I wonder what else the state can’t afford to fund because people like Emma cost so much to incarcerate…

Grass Roots Advocacy in Action

by Jodi Hansen

 

PARTY TIME IN NEWBERG

Our home is no stranger to parties. It’s not uncommon for us to pack a crowd into our 1979, ranch-style abode to eat, drink, and share around a topic. A good time is usually had by all, and sometimes we even learn something!

 

Most recently, we hosted an incredibly diverse group of lawyers, nonprofit leaders, local pastors, educators, business people, and public servants to discuss criminal justice reform in our context.  Our guest of honor was the Partnership for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit who “advocates for policies that make Oregon’s approach to public safety more effective and just for people convicted of crime, survivors of crime, and the families of both.”  Andy from PSJ helped the assembled group to understand the need for electing reformed-minded district attorneys and legislators if we ever hope to change a broken system that costs too much and delivers too little.

 

WHY DO I CARE?

The average citizen may not know that the most powerful person in the criminal justice process is the local District Attorney.  The DA is the chief elected law enforcement officer in the county. He oversees a team of Deputy DA’s who evaluate police reports to decide which crimes will be charged, what evidence needs to be shared (or not) with the defense, and whether to offer or accept a plea bargain.  

 

Some DA’s are obsessed with winning and this can really cloud their judgment when it comes to considering the root causes of why a defendant committed a crime. Does this person need drug treatment or mental health care? Is incarceration the best place for this person to be rehabilitated from their rebellious ways? For many DA’s, it doesn’t matter. Getting the prized conviction and chalking up another win for the “law and order” team is how the score is kept in too many counties around our state.

 

IN THE CASE OF PUBLIC SAFETY, WINNING IS NOT EVERYTHING.

Smart on Crime advocates tell us there are many ways for us to reform our justice system to be more cost effective and just plain more effective in helping our communities to address the social issues associated with public safety and community well-being.

 

But, when it comes to reform, the Oregon District Attorneys Association is one of the loudest voices against proposed change.  Our state representatives are often very supportive of bills that seek to move us toward a system that better serves victims and those who commit crimes, but then the DA’s show up, scare our legislators with ill-informed stories of how the sky will fall if reform legislation passes, and the process gets unnecessarily bogged down.

 

And, that is why we gathered in our 1979, ranch-style abode. Criminal justice reform will happen at the local level and there is nothing more local level than a house full of concerned citizens learning that we need reform-minded DA’s to move forward.   

 

E PLURIBUS UNUM

But what stood out to me at the end of the evening was the incredible unity of opinion among those who attended.  Political and religious conservatives were breaking bread and learning alongside mainline church pastors and democratic party leaders—not exactly a typical Tuesday night in 2018 America!

 

One of my most religiously and politically conservative friends said it this way, “I am pretty skeptical when I hear ‘bi-partisan issue’, but this is a no brainer. Who wouldn’t want to reform this system?” 

 

Yes, who wouldn’t want reform when the system is so expensive and does so little to ensure public safety and community flourishing? Well, a lot of DA’s. That’s who.

The Beginning

The Beginning

Remnant Initiatives was born out of identifying three critical local problems. Yes, the problems are national in nature, but we know we can only address what is in our control and so we have focused on the local as the dream for this organization.

FIRST, after years of working with women in prison and women transitioning back to life on the outside, we realized that our community was not equipped to serve individuals and families that have been involved with the criminal justice system. There are many organizations who do a good job serving those families and individuals with basic and emergency needs, but once a person is ready to move into sustainable housing, employment and working to build a new, healthy, sustainable way of life,  we were falling flat in our local context.