Model Policy for Public Housing Regarding Criminal Convictions

Housing Report CoverFollowing up on the FICPM report, “Communities, Evictions, and Criminal Convictions,” here you will find the model policy boiled down to one document.  Advocates interested in amending their local policies should do so in partnership with the impacted residents in their communities.

Click the link below to download:

 

Model PHA Policy re Criminal Convictions

 

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New Report on Public Housing: “Communities, Evictions, and Criminal Convictions”

Housing Report CoverThis report represents more than just a legal analysis about the struggles in low-income communities.  For many of us, this is about our homes.  This is about where we try to cook our meals, relax, and raise our families.  The stakes are high, inciting passion.  Yet we do not let this passion blind us; instead, we use it to motivate ourselves.  We encourage everyone, regardless of background or circumstance, to join us in taking action upon a most critical issue.

We are fortunate to have strong individuals and organizations working towards change in New Orleans.  The city is “ground zero” for incarceration, and a true tragedy considering the rich history and difficult geographic location at the mouth of the Mississippi.   What we have created is a national model, drawing from the expertise on the ground and in the legal community, to help our people step up and out of the carnage created by two generations of the “War on Drugs.”

The FICPM looks forward to building partnerships with people working on this and other issues across the nation.

Sincerely,

Dorsey Nunn

Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT HERE:

Communities, Evictions, & Criminal Convictions

Housing Report Cover

Executive Summary

This report is broken into five primary pieces, along with an Introduction and conclusion.

Section I: Introduction provides a starting point on the topic of public housing and criminal conviction policies, rooting this issue in one particular city.  New Orleans tangles with the most intense incarceration in America, and thus the world.  Seemingly innocent programs related to criminal convictions, can take on a primary role in a city such as New Orleans, where one in seven Black men is either in prison, on parole or probation.

To fully grasp the community impact of affordable housing barriers in this sphere, one must account for arrest, incarceration, and poverty rates.  Particular to civil rights law, one should factor in the proportionality between recognized ethnic and language groups.  It is no mystery that in New Orleans, policies that affect people impacted by the criminal justice system (both individuals and families) are disproportionately affecting people of Color- especially African-Americans.  The contrasting affect is most glaring when comparing the drug enforcement policies of densely populated, overwhelmingly White, college students.  The excuse of “experimentation” has been reserved for a certain segment of young drug users.

Public housing exclusion standards apply to entire families, thus the impact is far broader than the tens of thousands who are formerly convicted, whether incarcerated or not.  Statistics typically fail to account for those who are no longer serving a punishment, yet they too have a criminal history that impacts their ability to obtain housing or employment.  Hurricane Katrina exasperated the dilemma of a public housing shortage, and rebuilding efforts have intentionally been below previous capacity.  There are now over 27,000 households on the waiting list for affordable housing, putting pressure on other services to deal with homelessness.

In Section II, this report provides a brief overview on housing and policing policies within the context of The War on Drugs.  The primary method of encouraging “drug free” behavior has been punishment, while the primary mode of enforcement has been to focus on densely populated low-income communities of Color.  The exclusions and evictions from public housing has been accelerated along with the escalation of the War on Drugs.  Accordingly, it may make sense for a recession of the punitive policies to span all fronts as widespread de-escalation is afoot in response to the growing sentiment that the War on Drugs has been a failure.

The goal of Forced Sobriety has justified highly-policed communities and a massive construction boom (and employment growth) associated with prison expansion.  The Department of Justice estimates that nearly 7% of all people born after 2001 will serve time in state or federal prison; this is on top of the 65 million people who currently have been convicted of a crime.  If current rates continue, about 1 in 17 White men, 1 in 6 Hispanic men, and 1 in 3 African American men are expected to serve prison time in their lifetime.  It is difficult to imagine anyone in the public sphere being satisfied with these statistics.

The history of public housing, and HUD, includes an acknowledged discrimination over time.  The 1.1 million remaining public housing units, and 2.2 million households assisted by vouchers, must be implemented in a manner consistent with HUD’s mission to support community development.  HUD has long been a partner with local policing efforts.  This partnership deserves scrutiny in the same manner as the police, as overly aggressive tactics have become (in some opinions) more destructive than the harms they purport to reduce.

Section III looks at how government actors are evolving on criminal justice, and new policies are competing with the “Tough on Crime” reactionary rhetoric.  The National Reentry Council is an interagency approach to confront the effects of mass incarceration.  The most active agency among them, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has been dealing with employment issues for decades, and the agency’s 2012 policy change regarding the use of criminal records in hiring is a major breakthrough.

The EEOC provided one of the most significant advances in recent Civil Rights law, and they make specific findings regarding national data.  Specifically, the EEOC finds that the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts Black and Latino people in America.  This is significant when assessing a neutral policy under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and any blanket policy using criminal history alone to exclude people will run afoul of Title VII.  The EEOC provides a framework to guide policies in both the public and private sector.  Courts have held that the various Civil Rights statutes are intended to work as a unified framework, thus developments in employment law can be persuasive regarding similar issues in housing law.

Section IV lays out the complex web of laws that serve as Congressional guidance to local public housing authorities (PHA), regarding the exclusions and evictions from subsidized programs.  Ultimately, HUD allows broad discretion to the local PHA.  By comparing policies to the HUD requirements, and comparing them to each other, it is clear that overly restrictive, and extremely vague, policies are guiding decisions that have a far-reaching affect on community housing.  When HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan put out a clear statement, that only two types of crimes are barred from HUD, few local agencies took any action.

Only people convicted of sex offenses, and on a Registry for life, along with those who manufactured methamphetamines on federal property, are barred from public housing.  Congress makes particular exclusions optional beyond that, generally related to drug use.  If someone was previously evicted for a drug related crime, they are faced with a three-year ban unless the offending family member is in prison, dead, or completed a drug rehabilitation program.  However, community members around the country have been dealing with policies that don’t provide for those nuances.

A model admission and eviction policy is included.  This policy is currently being used as a starting point for changes in New Orleans, and has gotten past a public hearing stage.  It addresses the need for the PHA to be part of a system where mentally ill and addicted people are directed towards help rather than prisons and homelessness.  The phrase “Reasonable Time” is reasonably defined, eliminating the extreme lengths of time people are facing around the country before eligibility for affordable housing.  The Housing Authority of New Orleans is currently working to develop and finalize a policy in accordance with these principals.

Section V is a detailed assessment of housing discrimination under federal law.  It also includes a proposed change (as of this writing) of HUD’s policy, by finally providing a federal code regarding disparate impact in housing.  Disparate impact is when a neutral policy becomes discriminatory- such as using drug convictions to exclude people from public housing.  Whereas studies indicate drug use is similar across all identified races, the chosen policing patterns result in an overwhelming percentage of drug convictions concentrated in Black and Latino communities.  All additional penalties attached, based on those convictions, will disproportionately impact Black and Latino people.  Thus, “Disparate Impact.”

Courts have long transferred disparate impact theory between employment and housing, but at times differed on the proper standards and process.  It is important for advocates to gain a full understanding of disparate impact theory.  This is likely to serve as a legal framework for pushing back against a myriad of criminal justice policies that have resulted in the systemic loss of economic and political power among Black and Latino communities.

The EEOC has found four key factors so that employers may design an acceptable “targeted screen,” rather than a blanket policy subject to civil rights lawsuits.  These factors are (1) Nature of the crime; (2) Time elapsed; (3) Nature of the job; and (4) Individual assessment.  Housing providers, particularly where there is a documented shortage of affordable housing (i.e. New Orleans), should develop a similar screen suitable to residential life.

Section VI focuses on the key elements to make a legal case for dispirate impact in the courts.  Those who are not interested in litigating a claim will nonetheless want to appropriate some of the standards and justifications that the courts have developed as consistent with the constitution.  One complication in presenting “impact” data is that many people with criminal records (and their families) do not apply for public housing.  Most people have “heard” you can’t get in with a felony, to some degree of accuracy or another.  Even if they were fully knowledgeable about the waiting periods, it is impossible to know how many are foreclosed because they would need to not know the policy, apply anyway, and be denied.   Thus, data of this sort may require a study of the potential (rather than actual) applicants who are deemed ineligible solely due to criminal convictions.  If Black residents have a rate below 80% of the White residents’ rate, it is likely to be deemed sufficiently “disparate.”

Under disparate impact litigation, housing providers would need to present the court with their substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interests being served by the exclusion policies.  Furthermore, they will be tasked to show that the exclusions actually serve the goal: Resident safety.  This cannot merely be speculation.  Finally, reformers can still prove victorious by showing that the interests (i.e. resident safety) can be achieved in a less discriminatory manner.  PHA’s who understand this civil rights litigation framework are more likely to recognize that a court may ultimately order them to a negotiating position exactly like the one being offered at the outset.  Delaying the adoption of a new policy by requiring the court order is the least cost-efficient way forward.

This report recognizes that there is a movement to repeal Civil Rights protections for people of Color in America.  Although Justice Antonin Scalia famously referred to the protection of voting rights as “just another racial entitlement,” the sentiments of state and federal policymakers suggest that Civil Rights are not going to be eroded.  Racial disproportion is one manner of addressing the problems of discrimination, and is the primary path outlined in this report.  As criminal records impact a larger swath of America, however, new legal arguments will emerge regarding the rationale to continue, or repeal, this framework that supports two separate citizenships.

The Appendix provides the complete proposed policy for the Housing Authority of New Orleans, and a nationwide sample snapshot of six other cities.

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT HERE:

Communities, Evictions, & Criminal Convictions

Housing Report Cover

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By The Way President Obama, We Need to Fix This Too

President Barack Obama signs legislation in th...

Voting Is A Right, Not A Privilege by DORSEY NUNN

(First appearing in Counterpunch, 1/09/13)

In the final weeks of the 2012 campaign, I had the privilege of traveling to Pennsylvania with a national delegation of The Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement.  One of the goals of this movement is to actively engage formerly incarcerated people in civic life through voter education and voter registration.  That’s why when two of our member organizations, the Returning Citizen Voter Movement of Philadelphia and the National Council for Peace and Justice in Pittsburgh, invited us to conduct voter registration in areas hard hit by Voter ID laws, we said yes!

Many of us on the delegation were haunted by the memory of the grand theft of 2000 when Florida’s felony disenfranchisement laws prevented over 600,000 citizens from voting in a presidential race decided by 537 votes.  If that wasn’t bad enough, following that robbery, we witnessed our country being led to war. We watched as our children were sacrificed for democratic principles that many of us are unable to access because of conviction histories. We read newspaper accounts of people being allowed to vote in Iraq’s prisons while back in the US, many of us were being denied the right to vote because we had been to prison. We saw elected officials proudly hold their ink-dipped fingers in the air as an act of solidarity with the democratic efforts pursued in Iraq.  Meanwhile, these same officials continued to block our efforts to make democracy more accessible to our communities.

During the 2012 election we felt an even greater sense of urgency once we realized that the new voter suppression policies target our children and our elderly, not just us. This time around, it was more difficult for the right to disguise the heist as a safeguard against voter fraud. Why? Because college students and seniors haven’t been as thoroughly demonized as people with conviction histories have.  It was harder for the right wing to justify stealing their votes. This didn’t stop them of course.

When examined more closely, the 2012 wave of voter suppression lays bare the unpleasant national truth that there is nothing fair about our politics. The purpose of denying fundamental voting rights to entire categories of people has always been about controlling the results. The increasing restrictions on early voting, the expanding voter ID laws

and the bogus concerns for voter fraud serve the same purpose as felony disenfranchisement, to hide and legitimize this control and render the theft invisible.

Well, we’re not having it.  Our right to vote doesn’t only belong to us as individuals. It belongs to our ancestors who died for it, to our children, to our families and to our communities.  That’s why we refuse to accept the idea that our votes don’t matter and that we don’t matter. We reject the distorted media messages about who we are.  We know that off camera, millions of us ARE contributing to our communities despite all the obstacles put in front of us. The sooner more of us can vote, the sooner we can dismantle those obstacles and make even more meaningful contributions.

According to an economist’s estimate in 2008, the severe employment discrimination against people with conviction histories costs the US economy, including our communities, between $57 and $65 billion in reduced goods and services. Due to disproportionate enforcement and sentencing, communities of color are hardest hit by this loss.  So while it may be that individuals are denied the right to vote one at a time, the fact is felony disenfranchisement results in the collective punishment of particular classes of people.  Guess who?

The 2012 election marks the first time formerly incarcerated people decided to follow our own lead in regards to civic engagement.  Why? Because over the course of the last decade we noticed that no one ever came seeking our civic participation in the places that we hung out or frequented. Although our numbers are impressive, the 65 million people with conviction histories in the US face a confusing patchwork ofvoter registration policies. Consequently our voting power is deemed too difficult to tap.  Young voters are targeted by efforts like Rock the Vote and strategies are employed attaching the value of voting to new citizenship. Many of us are part of those communities too, but as folks with conviction histories and prison time we need our own GOTV efforts.  Ironically even our celebrities with conviction histories never focus on engaging us. They use their experience to sell music but I haven’t seen them talk to us about voting. It makes me wonder if political consciousness is more dangerous than crime since it’s not proclaimed as loudly.

That’s why during the 2012 election cycle we decide to organize ourselves. We looked past the billboards threatening to punish us if we made a mistake about our conviction status and registered to vote.  Our movement reached out to people in jails, treatment centers, halfway houses and educational and vocational schools. We stood in front of probation offices and court houses and outside the various Alcohol and Narcotics Anonymous meetings encouraging our communities to become involved in the democratic process.  We also employed litigation strategies to expand the pool of people with conviction histories who are eligible to vote.

Consider the impact of the Latino vote in this past election; what might happen if Americans with conviction histories, including those who are Latino, were able to exercise the right to vote?  We already know, in states like Alabama, where we’ve won back some voting rights, we can have a significant impact on election outcomes.

In the early hours of Nov. 7th, President Obama said:  “I want to thank every American who participated in this election. Whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that.” As I listened, I thought of all the people who have never even been allowed to get ON the voting line yet and said to the TV screen: President Obama, we have to fix that too and we will.  2016 here we come!

Dorsey Nunn is the Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and the co-founder of All of Us or None, a civil and human rights organization comprised of formerly incarcerated people, prisoners and their allies. He is also a formerly-incarcerated person.

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States with Highest Disenfranchisement Control the Election

States with Highest Disenfranchisement Control the Election

Prison Policy Initiative graphic shows how the criminal justice system is used to reinforce political power.

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California Prisoners Register to Vote

‘Get out the vote’ efforts go behind bars into LA’s jails

By Rina Palta | From 89.3 KPCC

The Twin Towers Correctional Facility in

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The iconic Twin Towers Correctional Facility stands just northeast of L.A.’s skyline.

In the last few weeks before the Presidential election, “get out the vote” drives are in full gear nationwide. In L.A. County, there’s even an effort to go behind bars to register jail inmates to vote.

On a recent Wednesday, Lt. Edward Ramirez joined a group of volunteers and L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies heading into Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles to register inmates in a pod on the second floor of the eastern tower. 

Twin Towers is across the street from another famous L.A. lockup: the Men’s Central Jail. The skyscrapers sit just northeast of LA’s classic skyline and have the look of a late century office complex. But their thin slats of window distinguish the buildings as what they are— home to L.A.’s maximum security inmates and those inmates needing psychiatric care.

Ramirez points out that Twin Towers have a podular, panoptic design that make the facility a geometric puzzle for those who don’t work there every day.

Three sets of pods feed into a common day room, which sits in front of the observation booth’s windows.  

“You have officers in the booth who are able to see all the way around,” Ramirez says. But as much as Twins Towers is a fortress, he says, it’s a porous one.

“The bottom line is the majority of our inmates and the majority of prisoners in the state of California will be getting out at some time,” Ramirez says. 

People pass in and out of L.A.’s county jails every day. The average stay is about two years. Before the state prison system began sending non-violent prison inmates back to Caliornia’s 58 counties under realignment, the average stay was 30 to 40 days.

Everybody locked up in the Twin Towers jail is a part of Los Angeles, Ramirez says. And the more they realize that fact, the better.

“They need to be involved in the social activities that most people who aren’t incarcerated are involved with,” he says. “And that includes casting a ballot and having your voice heard.”

For the past few years Ramirez and other members of the Community Transition Unit have been going to every jail in L.A. County, registering those eligible to vote. Unlike in many states, a felony conviction in California doesn’t disqualify a person from voting, except while they’re serving their prison time.

Those serving jail time for a misdemeanor or who are on trial or awaiting trial can cast a ballot. 

This year for the first time, the Sheriff’s Department recruited volunteers to help register inmate voters and get them ballots.

Volunteer Fanya Baruti helped inmates who trickled in from the glassed-in cell blocks to fill out their paperwork.

“I’m one of those guys who didn’t vote until I was 50 years old,” Baruti says. 

He says it’s important for these inmates to vote because there are many issues on the ballot that affect them, from a proposition that would change three strikes, to school funding, to who’ll be the next district attorney.

“People have shed blood and died for just being able to vote,” Baruti says. “And so when we look at it historically, I think that should be empowerment enough to dispel the apathy that people have.”

The biggest surprise in registering voters behind bars?

“A lot of Republicans,” Baruti says. 

The two-week registration drive garnered 1,269 new voters. Those who’re in jail for the election will fill out their ballots absentee. 

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Returning Citizen Voter Movement Invites Formerly-Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples’ Movement to Assist in Voter Mobilization

English: Detail of Preamble to Constitution of...

Welcome to the Struggle: 

To formerly-incarcerated and formerly-convicted people and our organizations:

As civil rights organizations participating in the Returning Citizen Voter Movement in Philadelphia, we call on our brothers and sisters across the United States to join us in the struggle for voting rights in Pennsylvania.  Today, Pennsylvania is on the frontline of Republican efforts to steal the vote from poor people, people of color, the elderly, and new citizens.  The requirement to present photo ID in order to vote denies this fundamental right to thousands of people without acceptable forms of identification, many of us people of color who have past convictions.  We are asking formerly-incarcerated and formerly-convicted people everywhere to JOIN US in assisting people in Pennsylvania to access their right to vote.

Voting rights for people with conviction histories vary widely state to state.  In Pennsylvania, we have the right to register to vote when we’re released from prison or jail, but past convictions or incarceration will result in lifelong disenfranchisement in many other states.  We are passionate about the right to vote because we are fighting for full restoration of our rights everywhere. We can never guarantee our civil or human rights without the right to vote, including the right to vote in prison or jail.  If we don’t participate, our voice will be silenced.

People of color were enslaved and excluded from voting until the Fifteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1870, prohibiting denial of the vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.  Women of all races were denied the vote until 1920. Poll taxes, literacy tests, physical violence were the precursors of today’s photo ID laws – all used to stop poor people and people of color from voting. We have never been welcomed into the electoral process – we have always fought and died for the right to vote and to hold office.

Now the voting rights of students, elderly people, new immigrants, and poor people generally are also under attack.  In Pennsylvania, formerly-incarcerated and formerly-convicted people are joining other civil rights organizations in a unified effort to guarantee voting rights for all.  The Returning Citizen Voter Movement will host a National Rally to welcome people with conviction or incarceration histories to the struggle for voting rights in Pennsylvania.

Join Us!!

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The National Council for Urban Peace and Justice Invites Formerly-Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples’ Movement to Assist in Voter Mobilization

Welcome to the Struggle:

To formerly-incarcerated and formerly-convicted people, their families, communities and all social justice organizations:

As  part of a growing crescendo of civil  and human rights organizations monitoring and participating in the historic voter mobilization effort throughout Pennsylvania, we call on our brothers and sisters across the United States to join us in the struggle for voting rights in the ‘keystone state’.

Today, Pennsylvania is on the frontline of Republican efforts to steal the vote from poor people, people of color, the elderly and new citizens.  The requirement to present photo ID in order to vote denies this fundamental right to thousands of people without acceptable forms of identification, many of us people of color who have past convictions.  We are asking formerly-incarcerated and formerly-convicted people everywhere to JOIN US in assisting people in Pennsylvania to access their right to vote.

Voting rights for people with conviction histories vary widely state to state.  In Pennsylvania, we have the right to register to vote when we’re released from prison or jail, but past convictions or incarceration will result in lifelong disenfranchisement in many other states.  We are passionate about the right to vote because we are fighting for full restoration of our rights everywhere. We can never guarantee our civil or human rights without the right to vote, including the right to vote in prison or jail.  If we don’t participate, our voice will be silenced.

People of color were enslaved and excluded from voting until the Fifteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1870, prohibiting denial of the vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.  Women of all races were denied the vote until 1920. Poll taxes, literacy tests, physical violence were the precursors of today’s photo ID laws – all used to stop poor people and people of color from voting. We have never been welcomed into the electoral process – we have always fought and died for the right to vote and to hold office.

Now the voting rights of students, elderly people, new immigrants, and poor people generally are also under attack.  In Pennsylvania, formerly-incarcerated and formerly-convicted people are joining other civil rights organizations in a unified effort to guarantee voting rights for all.

‘Breaking the Chains’: The F.I.C.P. Voting Rights Initiative, a project of the National Council for Urban Peace and Justice, will host a series of events in the Pittsburgh region to welcome people with conviction or incarceration histories to the struggle for voting rights in Pennsylvania.

The National Council for Urban Peace and Justice/NCUPJ (www.ncupj.net) is an organizational member of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples Movement/FICPM http://ficpmovement.wordpress.com

Contact Khalid Raheem @ (412) 606-0059 or kraheem322@yahoo.com for additional information

JOIN US!!!

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