06/03/20 Eddie Bocanegra

Century of Lies
Eddie Bocanegra

The Council on Criminal Justice’s Task Force on Federal Priorities recently released a report entitled “Next Steps: An Agenda for Federal Action on Safety and Justice.” We hear from two Task Force members, Eddie Bocanegra, Senior Director of READI Chicago, and Nancy LaVigne, Vice President for Justice Policy at the Urban Institute. Plus, the Oregon Legislature’s Interim House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on COVID-19 within the state’s prison system. We hear from two of the witnesses, Bobbin Singh, executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center, and Tim Woolery, Oregon AFSCME Council 75 Corrections Coordinator.

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DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more now calling for decriminalization or legalization the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies

HOST DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of lies. I'm your host Doug McVay editor of drugwarfacts.org. The Council on criminal justice is Task Force on federal priorities recently released a report entitled Next steps and agenda for federal action on safety and Justice. We're going to hear about that report in the second part of the show. But first the Oregon State Legislature is between sessions. So their legislative committees are holding a series of intra meetings to try to gather information and develop legislation the Oregon house committee on the Judiciary held them hearing recently to discuss the response of Oregon's criminal justice system to the covid-19 pandemic. One of the witnesses was bobbin Singh executive director of the, Oregon Resource Center here He is.

BOBBIN SINGH: As a chair Bynum vice-chairs members of the committee my for the record. My name is Bobbin Singh. I'm the executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center. Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today about what we are doing and what we've learned as a relates to that. We're going Department of Corrections response to covid-19. Just a little bit of background about our organization. It was founded in 2011.

And is a family of unique programs addressing the unmet needs for legal services and advancing reform in our state. Our clients are currently and formerly incarcerated individuals. And we provide our services at no cost to the client. We operate five Statewide programs. And we're the only legal organization that's involved with clients from arrest through re-entry which provides us with a unique perspective and comprehensive understanding of the system the to covid-19 pandemic as we all know on this state and this country has been both extraordinary and profound the burden of all of our systems social economic have been burdened and push through the to pass through their capacities of functioning. And this is most I think evident and the Department of Corrections and within our Criminal Justice System the rapid spread of covid-19 continues to be extreme and the aggressive and unrelenting spread of covid-19 and personal settings has already been demonstrated in several jurisdictions across the country.

BOBBIN SINGH: What we've seen is 50 out of the 50 largest clusters of covid-19 in the country just over 30 of them include prisons and jails and so the inability to control and mitigate the impacts of covid-19 in our prisons will directly impact the harm and surrounding communities and in Oregon and generally to what represent of I was talking about the impact of this smaller Community, especially with those prisons are located will be greatly at risk if we don't control the mitigate the spread of covid-19 in our prisons. So Oregon's response. The prison's must not be examined in isolation, but we have to appreciate and consider the National Data grounded in the latest medical research and through a public health plans. As of today as you heard director Peter say 43 staff people in a hundred and fifty for adults In custody have tested positive for covid-19 and across four out of the 14 institutions. The positive testing rate for the Oregon Department of Corrections is approximately 29 percent compared with the approximately 3.5 percent positive rate in the Oregon public showing a greater rate of infection and the need for more testing overall. The testing rate is around four percent within the prison.

BOBBIN SINGH: As an organization I can say that we're not satisfied with the testing rates or the testing protocols for those in custody is and also for those preparing to re-enter. We're worried about people leaving prisons. We've heard anecdotal evidence about people leaving prisons and shortly there after testing positive for covid-19 and on May 21st, as you all heard and know our works fiercely to came true where individualized Oregon State Penitentiary who was infected with covid-19 Died. When the day before OPB has reported that there had been several AIC is hospitalized in on ventilators lot of facts of this pandemic continue to evolve the story remains consistent, which is that organ is now providing proactive and adequate preventative measures and prisons proven to prevent covid-19 transmission. It's been made clear since the beginning of this pandemic. That's social distancing is the Cornerstone of preventing Mass spread of covid-19.

The Department of Corrections has conceded its facilities can provide for instance enforce social distancing and all living areas and activities and building on director Peter's point on April 13th. She presented to the governor that nearly 6,000 adults and Coast cities approximately 40 percent of the prison population would have to be released to allow for social distancing and prison Statewide to guard against the spread of the Coronavirus.

As we approach this issue, I think broads it's incumbent upon us to think about reasonable actions in totality of the situation and not simply some action taken within the crisp constraints of the Oregon Department of Corrections itself. We don't doubt that. The Oregon Department of Corrections has been a great deal of time considering covid-19 and its prisons and it's clear that other measures such as increased cleaning hygiene covid-19, testing proper quarantine and isolation can help.

Prevent Mass spread of covid-19, but that's only a long with social distancing. But without social distancing we will now be able to meaningfully protect those who live and work in our prison as you're probably aware the oh GRC is involved with litigation against the Oregon Department of Corrections and Governor Brown in our federal court in demanding that they take actions necessary to implement Public Health mandates in Oregon prisons to ensure that the protection of people occur that has severe medical conditions and who are Vulnerable to potentially catastrophic consequences of covid-19 and we're also seeking damages for those individuals who have now tested positive for covid-19. Before we began our legal actions,

We wrote to public officials and Public Safety stakeholders along with a coalition outlining our concerns and actions that we believe should be taken in order to mitigate the harm created by covid-19 in those initial weeks after we wrote Our letters there was minimal response or reaction to our request for meetings and identified actions specifically as it relates to prisons are letters form the basis of what we're seeking in our litigation and we submitted those letters into the record for you to see along with those letters. We submitted into the record 50 declarations about current experiences and Prison from adults in custody. These are these have been filed in our federal lawsuit and these are sworn declarations from aic's be in custody a corrections officer public health and other expert the Declarations cover the following issues lack of social distancing knock-up mask-wearing issues with Orion Corrections Enterprise verbal abuse issues with medical care and DSU vulnerable issues lack of cleaning supplies transfers difficulty getting testing and scared to get testing non. Oce Enterprise work issues that frustrations limited or no access to the law library.

Which is problematic and access to attorneys staff disregard for covid-19 questionable quarantine and isolation practices inability to Access Communications issues with Grievances and AIC frustrations, and these declarations are for there for you to read and I think create an unfortunate reality inside our prisons and affirms that in this pandemic that the mirror articulation and production of a policy is not taking it does not result in reasonable.

BOBBIN SINGH: Action and we hope that you'll take the opportunity to review just some of the stories or in the Declarations that have been shared with us for me. I season others connected to our prison system because I think it'll it'll provide a more accurate picture rather than us, you know regurgitating all of that to you about what shopping in our prisons to join, but you mind closing. Yeah. I'm writing. I'm sorry. Okay.

So two ideas that I just want to put out there that I want to make sure that people understand that our litigations in preventing solutions from being created by policy stakeholders policy Advocates stakeholders and elected and that we shouldn't be focused on the numbers. So we know that covid-19 hasn't spread to all the prisons but as I mentioned the testing rates are low, we don't know the true extent to which covid-19 is in our prisons and this isn't about the positive numbers. This is about how we treat individuals and what we've done is essentially created a double standard where we have advocated and created certain standards in our community but having created and implemented those same standards in our prisons and that's all we're asking for is that that social distancing practice occur in our prisons and the way that we get their director Peters has alluded as a lot of power and sort of decision making relies or it is in our executive branch. And so what we're asking is that the governor consider using her clemency power and commute sentences to Community Supervision or to temporarily suspend sentence by granting reprieves and targeting the release of people who can safely return to the community those who are at highest risk for poor outcomes. If they contract the virus such as elderly and those with chronic health conditions and those who have scheduled release dates in 2020 and 2021 Governor Brown could also expedite the review of existing clemency applications and Brandt worthy applications, the board of parole can grant early medical release and also released to those individuals who have an exit interview in a prison term hearing through the parole process and what we're asking the legislature to do is to procreate emergency funding to re-entry and treatment programs and transitional housing programs across the state. So that individuals can be released back into the community and fully supported resource and educated appropriate emergency funding to the board of parole governor's office and support expedited releases individuals through the clemency and parole process and pass appropriate legislation that would expand abroad in perd mechanisms available for releasing.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Bobbin Singh executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center testifying before the Oregon legislators house committee on the Judiciary. You're listening to Century of lies. I'm your host Doug McVay editor of drugwarfacts.org. Tim Woolery is the organ ask me Council 75 Corrections coordinator. He also testified at that Oregon house hearing on the criminal justice system response to covid-19. Here. He is sure.

TIM WOOLERY: My name is Tim Woolery for the record. I work for Oregon afscme account. 475 on behalf of the correctional employees here in Oregon or the majority of them. I submitted some testimony in writing an advanced to dispense with the a lot of background issues that I saw that poor questions were in particular we're wanting to be asked from an employee perspective and to get right down to it. The first question was do you have the PPE you need?

And I'd have to give that a qualified possibly and the reason for that is that we have received through the resources. The department has been able to secure a significant number of n95 or Quality quality medical grade mask. However, those are all in the one-size-fits-all category, which they truly don't necessarily fit everybody.

TIM WOOLERY: And one of the things that were having a struggle with is that department has attempted to secure some specific sized and 95 mass and and our initial request for masks were interceded and canceled by FEMA and other Federal resources. And so those are challenges that I think that they're still dealing with it concern us as well.

So from my advocacy perspective, I strongly believe that the regulatory guidelines from the CDC OSHA and OHA in some ways insufficient to properly protect workers on the front lines in this pandemic in general and specifically within a confined congruent congregate environment that enhance our inheritance prison.

TIM WOOLERY: And furthermore I'm concerned about the time lag between covid test of someone exhibiting symptoms and then the receipt of those test result as well as it being known that there's a significant percentage of people that are asymptomatic but still are positive and shed communicable covid virus both. These concerns are related to the PPE that may not be worn when they when it should be and and that.

We've expressed those concerns and second question

MADAME CHAIR: temperature quickly. So you're saying the CDC guidelines are insufficient you've asked for different sizes of mask for instance, but those were intercepted and not delivered and we know that some people are not are choosing not to wear the mass inside the facilities and you believe that there's not sufficient care being taken to protect workers inside the facilities.

TIM WOOLERY: Madame Chair, yes, it's not the employees aren't the ones trying to order these specific size Master Department of Corrections has tried and has unable to do that. And that is the concern of ours. And is that why people are choosing not to wear math at all. If they're choosing not to wear them the ones they're choosing not to where are the utility mask that organ Corrections Enterprise created that are not MediCal. They're just like like the word is because he killed a utility mask. There are certain areas inside the prison that they've directed that they will be wearing masks to help Clinic being one of them. The oce work areas is another I'm aware of as well as

In some of the dining food preparation area, but anywhere where there's positive covid and ICS, the employees are provided both protective equipment and are instructed to they should be wearing it.

Okay, thank you. Madam. Chair. The second question was when you've expressed concerns have been addressed in place that is fraction or their ongoing. I will say the most part the Oregon Department of Corrections and organized me have a long and deep relationship and the Avenues of communications are open and continuing most of the issues that we've addressed in came forward with have been addressed. However, there are occasional disagreements that that might be continuing and disputes that

Result through grievances or other formalized method. So that's an essential answer that question. And then the next two questions I received were if they feel safe in the workplace or if they feel safe in the community and as you all probably will know the environment inside of a prison is inherently dangerous environment employees that continue to report for their work shifts and perform heroic work and their day-to-day work even outside of the crisis that we're currently and the this virus is invisible and whether or not a co-worker or a Doulton coasting may or may not have covid is that ditional stretcher that's hard to quantify or mitigate and additional piece that I would say is that this pandemic has brought additional stressors. Not only for the employees personal well-being and health while at work, but also the guilt and anxiety at the prospect of carrying serious potentially deadly disease home beloved ones is palpable and the just a short comment about the community there. I am aware of there are several instances of threatening harm or other inappropriate comments directed Ed Department of Correction is employees nurses and Correctional employees have received phone calls from the public that threaten them. But those are relatively few and most of the other interactions are positive and supportive.

TIM WOOLERY: Never less incidents like this are demoralizing and contribute to the feeling of isolation and unwanted warranted attack many Correctional employees change their clothes or cover their uniform when commuting to and from work during normal situations. So it's a whole different level to hear comments such as that General Public.

Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Tim Woolery Oregon ask me Council 75 Corrections coordinator. He was testifying at an Oregon legislative hearing on covid-19 within the state's prison system. You're listening to Century of lies. I'm your host Doug McVay editor of drugwarfacts.org. We'll have more in a moment. If you're one of the lucky ones who are able to work from home and earn a paycheck. If you're able to cover your housing another bills and you still have something left over then. Please consider helping out those less fortunate, service agencies are always hurting and now more than ever. They need your help syringe service programs food banks shelters Community media Outlets Public Service legal organizations were spoiled for Choice really which is sad and also part of my point. The need is great and it is getting greater government should be stepping in at times like this, but that's not happening anytime soon. Our current Administration is more interested in bailing out bankers and helping the rich get richer that has to change and meanwhile people are suffering. So that means it's up to us those of us who can have to step up thanks.

We're back as I mentioned at the top of the show. The Council on criminal justice has task force on federal priorities recently released a report entitled next steps and agenda for federal action on safety and Justice. The task force is Mission was to quote articulate a consensus view of actionable politically, Viable steps that the federal government can take in the short to medium term that will produce the greatest improvements in public safety and the administration of justice and quote. Let's hear about the report first up Eddie bocanegra senior director of the rapid employment and development initiative Chicago speaking very openly.

EDDIE BOCANEGRA: I'm someone who's been formerly incarcerated and yet here I am managing one of the largest anti-violence programs in the country the best Chicago and these policies at the state level are relatively new, you have to be rigorously evaluated that is true. But the task force concluded that the evidence on the collateral impacts of criminal records is clear and I see that in my work every day as your question reflects. I see with our participants in our program. I sit in other participants in other programs. I see it across the country as I continue to be informed about best practices and the bottom line is that you know, we as a society as in terms of the Criminal Justice System continuously create barriers for many of these men and women upon their release instead of creating a more viable pathway for success and we're talking about the large portion of the folks that are coming home the low-level case defenses and I would even make the argument that this is the beginning of us to continue to learn more so that we could think about not just as Mayor Nutter pointed out looking at the sin right of the of the individual but thinking about how do we create a pathway of redemption a pathway to society in which they

could be contributing members as well because it's clear that the people that are mostly impacted by this are are for the most part families who are minorities families that come from from urban communities and predominately black and brown communities as well. I think the other thing that I would mention is that I don't make the seeming records, you know can help people and their families move forward while improving Public Safety by reducing recidivism, and this is there's so much evidence around this and I'm hoping that maybe Because it's chance to kind of highlight some of that but but there's so much research right now that I think contrary to public believe there is so much evidence that tells us otherwise and so I think it's it's not right to allow the stain of one's past to remain as an inevitable or as with Mayor Nutter is pointed out continuously just look at the downside of the downfall of people's mistakes. We have to find ways to bring them back into the community.

And we have to find ways to create this pathway and lastly this is even more important during the time of covid, you know right now in the last three months or so we've been seeing with even our participants. Is that not only are we seeing some of the challenges prior that they've been facing surface up, you know to fold for fold but we're seeing other challenges that in the state of Illinois. We've had so many policies that have gone. You know, what I would say I've gone out of their way to make it even more challenging for some of our folks that are returned.

at home from prison, but I can say the same thing for many states across the United States.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Eddie Bocanegra senior director of readi Chicago. He was speaking on the release of a new report by the Council on criminal justice has task force on federal priorities entitled next steps an agenda for federal action on safety and Justice you're listening to Century of lies. I'm your host Doug McVay editor of drugwarfacts.org Nancy Lavigne is vice president for justice policy at the urban Institute.

NANCY LAVIGNE: So prisons in the United States are remarkably close systems despite being publicly funded entities. I can't think of any other public sector where there's such an egregious lack of transparency and accountability. There's very little in the way of data that's required to be publicly disseminated about what happens behind the bars and prisons and not just to the people who are incarcerated there, but the people who work there as well. So there will be room for essences, of course, no different. And as you mentioned John Nicholson task force on federal Corrections reform a few years ago documented a whole host of problems in the BOP. Sadly those problems are no different today. They include inadequate Staffing levels that can threaten their health and safety and the health and safety of the incarcerated population. We documented shortage of programs and treatment to help prepare people for successful release, Andre entry and while the first step back funds more programs and treatment there's some concern of late that the BOP may not be implementing the first step as it was intended who's watching over the boP to make sure that they do so not really anybody and that leads to the recommendation of the task force and that's to establish an oversight board and oversight body who would be independent who would have access to entry to the prison to data from the prison complaints how they're resolved. They would be able to document conditions of confinement assess the degree to which federal prisons are treating people humanely and with dignity explore the programming and treatment options and importantly also look at issues around Correctional staff officer Wellness Officers.

NANCY LAVIGNE: Health all of these issues are integral. You can't have a well-run prison. If you're not caring for the people who work there. So the task force recommends the establishment of this board. It would be it would also include a charge to develop what I would call Loosely a mandatory whistle blowing policy a policy whereby it is a requirement as staff in the Federal Bureau of Prisons to report misconduct and abuse and that you could be Command reprimanded or disciplined if you don't report that the recommendation also calls for the creation of a frictional middle man, these existence some states but not enough of them but it's been would respond to complaints about conditions and practices in the bo P but they could also field requests from loved ones of incarcerated people and particularly in the time of covid. This is huge.

People are calling wondering like what's happening with my husband my cousin my mother my son. They don't know what's going on. And there's no Central resource to find out where they are. And if they're safe research finds that the long sentences that come from mandatory minimums have absolutely no relationship to reduce recidivism and research also finds that little long sentences do not result in reductions in Supply or demand of the purity of drugs on the street. So there's absolutely no reason to continue with this practice.

NANCY LAVIGNE: And that's why the task force believes that the time has come to eliminate mandatory minimums for drug offenses in the federal system and in closing I will just share a little covid Pastime my 19 year old, son who finished up his first year of college back home just started watching West Wing for the first time its first time for him. He was born in 2001. It's been

Nostalgic for my husband and I we watch with him and it's really amazing that so many of the topics that were relevant back then are relevant today. So two nights ago. It was the mandatory minimum episode last week. It was the crack cocaine disparity episode and that was almost to date that first aired 20 years ago from today.

In civil has changed. Yes. There have been steps. The first step is one Fair sentencing Act is another but they haven't gone far enough and we really have to go further and particularly because of the incredibly harmful impact that mandatory minimums have on black and brown people and communities and particularly black men.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Nancy Lavigne vice president for justice policy at the urban Institute. She was speaking about a new report released by the Council on criminal justice has task force on federal priorities.

The report was entitled next steps and agenda for federal action on safety and Justice and that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies where production of the drug truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation radio network on the web drugtruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay editor of drugwarfacts.org the executive producer of the drug. Truth network is Dean Becker the drug truth network has a Facebook page. Please give it a like drugwarfacts.org spoke to give its page like and share it with friends. Remember knowledge is power. You can follow me on Twitter. I'm at Doug McVay. And of course also at drug policy facts will be back in a week with 30 more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform in the failed War on Drugs for now for the drug truth Network. This is Doug McVay saying so long so long for the drug truth Network. This is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition. The century of Lies drug truth Network programs are kind at the James A Baker III Institute for public policy.