In celebration of Father’s Day, dozens of children, many with painted faces, spent the morning of June 17 in a prison visiting room, laughing and playing with their incarcerated fathers. The event, held at San Quentin State Prison, also accommodated 35 adult sons and daughters.
“Children and incarcerated people don’t have a voice. They are some of the least powerful in society,” said co-coordinator of the event, John Kalin. “That’s what draws me to Get on the Bus.”
The Get On The Bus project was founded in 1999 by Sister. Suzanne Jabro, CSJ.
The program does all the paperwork for the visit. It provides chaperones for children who have no adult to accompany them. It charters the buses to and from the prisons, and provides all the meals during the travel.
For the last six years, John and his wife, Catherine, have coordinated the Get On The Bus event at San Quentin.
“It’s so rewarding to see children hugging their dads. They don’t get to do it as often as children living in other places,” Catherine said. “One 47-year-old woman said, ‘He’s still my dad and I still want to give him a hug.’”
Get On The Bus, in conjunction with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, has held the annual event for 16 years. This year, 11,000 children will be reunited with their parents in the visiting rooms of seven men’s prisons and three women’s prisons across the state. Next year, the program is scheduled to expand to High Desert State Prison.
Keya Banks traveled from Los Angeles with her son, Demauri Williams, so that he could meet his incarcerated grandfather. Travis Banks has been incarcerated since his daughter, Keya was 16 years old.
“I want them to get to know each other,” Keya said. “I want my son to have that bond that I didn’t have growing up.”
“My father has always reached out to me and stayed connected, even when he was in and out of jail,” she added. “At first, I didn’t want a relationship with him, but when I got older, I realized people make mistakes, they learn from them and grow from them.”
Keya acknowledged that “it’s important to be with your family. Things happen and we have to move on.”
Keya’s mother added, “It feels good to be connected. As long as he’s here, we’ll keep coming back.”
A 2013 study shows more than 1.75 million children under the age of 18 had a parent in a state or federal prison in the United States. Nationally, about 53 percent of men and 61 percent of women in the U.S. prison population are parents. This represents nearly 810,000 incarcerated parents.
“It is joyous to see families reunited,” said Philip Haik, one of the 22 Get On The Bus staffers assisting the San Quentin event. “It’s good to give back, especially when you have been so blessed.” Haik also volunteers in feeding the homeless and makes contributions to the Navajo nation.
For the last four years, inmate John Vernacchio, the visiting room photographer, has worked during the event.
“I look forward to this every year because the sponsors are some of the nicest people you can meet,” he said.
Jason Jones has about 10 months left to serve on his 12year sentence.
His wife, Katy Flood, and his step-children Kiley Lyon and Rappor Lyon made the three-and-a-half-hour trip from Visalia, California, to see him.
“Getting time to spend with Jason is good,” Kiley said. “We get to do things that we don’t do on regular visits,” Jones added, referring to the face painting and games, Subway sandwiches for lunch and photos.
“They had all kinds of refreshments on the bus and blankets. They made us pancakes and bacon for breakfast,” Katy said. “They did a great job. Next year, I’ll have to make the pancakes,” she added, while looking at Jones.
“I can’t wait for that,” Jones replied, smiling.
For more information about Get On The Bus, go to www.getonthebus.us.
Archives for July 2016
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary Scott Kernan visited San Quentin with CDCR Director of Enterprise Information Services Russ Nichols to witness a historic event, the launch of a sophisticated and secure wireless computer server cluster which imitates the internet,. The system allows students in San Quentin’s computer coding training program, Code 7370, to write codes in a simulated environment without actual internet connectivity.
“Corruption within the California state prison system cannot be tolerated,” U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman to NBC San Diego regarding the indictment of a 23-year CDCR veteran caught smuggling heroin and meth into prison.
“The last time I was actually in this room was 1983,” said Kernan. He was standing in the empty warehouse of the old San Quentin Prison Print Shop, which is now the home of Code 7370.
“The programs at San Quentin are like night and day, I never thought in my 30 years with the department (CDCR) that this could be possible. To think that we would have programs like this (Code 7370) is beyond me. It’s a very positive thing to see,” Kernan said.
Participants of Code 7370 Az Ford, Aly Tamboura and Jason Jones presented websites and web applications they developed from scratch to Kernan, who asked, “Does this program really make a difference to inmates?” Instantly all inmates replied, “Yes, of course. Absolutely.”
“I was having disciplinary problems for 10 months. For six months I was on C–status, where I was confined to my cell, and for four months I lost my privileges. Code 7370 changed my life and pushed me to take other programs,” said graduate Jones, who introduced his website called Getting Parents’ Attention (GPA) to Kernan.
“It does make a difference, especially for those prisoners who are looking for a viable skill to use when they parole,” said graduate Henry Hemphill. “It’s a huge interest for inmates; many of them ask to come to San Quentin to learn vocational and coding skills. The news about the coding program is spreading.”
Code 7370, was founded by Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti in partnership with the California Prison Industry Authority.
The California-based nonprofit organization Turn 2 U, Inc., will start a joint-venture program with the business name RebootSQ, according to CDCR press release. The business will employ seven offenders at San Quentin, with plans to hire more inmate coders.
Only a few selected graduates of the Code 7370 class will be able to work for Turn 2 U’s joint venture as software engineers. These men will “have a marketable job skill, a relevant portfolio, and savings to help them with successful reentry,” said Redlitz.
“The prison should be very proud of what they have accomplished. Warden Davis and Lt. Robinson shouldn’t expect anything less,” Kernan said. “I’m very proud of the CDCR officers who work hard every day to keep the prisons safe. The volunteers and correctional officers are a shining example of what rehabilitation in prison should look like.”
Kernan hopes to bridge the gap between correctional officers and inmates. He said it will be a challenge, but it would also create a safer environment for both parties.
Kernan recalled some violent times when he first started working in the department 30 years ago. “Things are now starting to change more and more toward rehabilitation, so as staff we need to be professional in helping this change. I know that we have some work to do, but I also know that it is possible.”
Getting rehabilitation programs to rural areas is more of a challenge for the department because it’s hard to get volunteers willing to travel long distances. However, Kernan said he’s currently working on ways to bridge this gap.
“There is a lady who takes children to Calipatria State Prison to spend a week with their fathers. Those are the volunteers we need—committed and dedicated to rehabilitation,” said Kernan. “I’m also aware of the large Spanish-speaking population in our prisons. A problem is the lack of Spanish-speaking volunteers to help run those programs.”
Kernan indicated the governor is giving reasonable grants for long-term offenders’ re-entry programs for parolees and a number of programs that are aimed toward rehabilitation.
As for the “lifer” population, Kernan said that, “We are looking at lifers and those lifers without the possibility of parole who have sustained positive behavior and how we can open opportunities for these groups.”
To Kernan, ex-convicts working with CDCR are important. “Many parolees have been given entrance to Pelican Bay and Kern Valley state prisons. They go in and give speeches. I am not opposed to having ex-convicts come back inside the prison, on a case-by-case basis,” said Kernan.
After watching Code 7370’s graduates give presentations, Kernan went on to tour the prison’s education department. Kernan said, “I want to be able to provide inmates programs that will help them with their rehabilitation and help inmates see that there is hope at the end of the tunnel.”
When asked to comment on Gov. Jerry Brown’s rehabilitation act initiative, which is expected to be on the November ballot, Kernan declined to comment other than saying, “I will say this initiative, if passed, will give more hope to inmates and hope for positive changes I support.”
–Aly Tamboura also contributed to this article
A group of inmates who will be looking for employment opportunities once they parole got a head start at San Quentin’s third Employment Readiness Seminar (ERS).
A panel of 18 women and men from the outside representing employers, trade unions, apprenticeship programs and other organizations attended the event held in May.
“I really believe what we’re here for is to connect as human beings,” Diana Williams told the audience. She co-founded and helped organize the seminar with inmate Nobel Butler, a member of the group TRUST (Teaching Responsibility Utilizing Sociological Training).
Williams talked about the types of challenges inmates deal with in prison, such as no access to typewriters or computers to write résumés, and a recent weeklong lockdown.
The seminar allowed inmates to have one-on-one interviews with potential employers. Some were mock interviews while others were serious, but all were conversational.
“It’s going to be like speed dating, so you’re going to get like 10 minutes,” Butler told the guests and inmates. “The purpose is to network.”
Weeks leading up to the seminar, the men learned how to present themselves on paper with letters of introduction, résumés and turnaround packets. They also learned interviewing techniques.
“We did different kinds of résumés,” said inmate Phillip Landis, 42, who has been incarcerated 14 years. “It helps to make connections. I haven’t been in the job force for a while.”
The ERS went beyond writing. It taught the men how to identify their strengths and weaknesses, transferable skills and work values.
“We try to take guys who are in prison, who have been a liability to their community, and turn them around,” said Butler.
ERS guests came from the painters and glaziers union (District Council 16), Success Center, Goodwill Industries, Anders & Anders, Labor Ready, Every Dog Has Its Daycare, Home of Chicken and Waffles, Golden Gate Restaurant Association, Rubicon Bakery, Alliance for Change and California Re-entry Institute.
Lenny Wilkins of District Council 16 told the men, “It’s never too late to start your career.”
“We don’t do background checks,” one employer from the temporary agency Labor Ready said.
“One thing we have to offer is we can be part of your network,” said Richard Scott from Goodwill Industries. “Your first job out doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be your last job out.”
Goodwill Industries’ Tito Guerrero said he started working there after paroling seven years ago. “The most rewarding part of the job is about the people you help,” he said.
Terry Anders, an ex-offender, said, “I had a special population in mind (when he founded Anders & Anders) because that’s who I was. The unions gave me that opportunity. It saved my life— literally.”
“We give you access to 26 construction trades,” another Anders & Anders representative said. “You earn as you learn. These aren’t jobs, they’re careers.”
Home of Chicken and Waffles’ owner said, “Eighty percent of my staff is on parole or probation.”
“It was useful because it covers everything,” said inmate Sonny Nguyen. “Most of us have been away for a long time.”
Associate Warden Jeff Lawson said, “It’s really a great thing for me to see. It’s a bridge that’s been missing.” As a parole officer, he frequently told parolees, “You’re better off flipping burgers for minimum wage because all I can offer you is $19 dollars a month (in prison) if you mess up.”
The following week, ERS inmates attended a graduation ceremony to receive certificates of completion.
Parolee Troy Williams spoke to the graduates. “I don’t know how to overemphasize how much you have to offer,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities if you just take them.”
The men expressed what it felt like to be seen as human beings. “They didn’t look at us like a plague,” said inmate Russell Bowden, 51, who has been incarcerated 30 years.
“You all did yourselves really proud,” Diana Williams told the men. “We’re trying to make it richer every time.” She then read comments e-mailed to her.
“Thank you for putting on another fantastic, motivational and inspiring event,” a business representative wrote from District Council 16.
“Each person I interviewed presented well, marketable skills, and expressed sincere desire to make a change…” wrote Michael from Goodwill.
“I wish more people from the outside could be part of the ERS, because meeting these men would have a very positive impact on the way the ‘outside world’ views incarcerated individuals,” wrote Every Dog Has Its Daycare.
“This (ERS) was an idea I had, but you (Diana Williams) turned it into a reality,” said Butler.
“What warms my heart is to see the smiles on your faces,” said Williams, who volunteers at San Quentin in the California Re-entry Institute and TRUST. She holds an M.A. in counseling psychology and is a Certified Professional Co-active Coach.
It’s hard to imagine an investor going inside a prison to discuss putting his money into a business idea dreamed up by an inmate, but that’s exactly what Jason Calcanis did on June 22 when he visited one of the most innovative prison programs in the world.
“If you’re a great coder, you win. The world needs great coders,” Calcanis told the inmates. “Nobody cares about the background of successful people. They care about the great product. Get up every day, making great stuff. You have the time.”
The program, Code 7370, teaches inmates how to develop apps based on their inspirations that have a social-conscious component. The program is the brainchild of venture capitalists Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti, who established the coding program in conjunction with California prison officials.
Redlitz and Parenti invited Calcanis along with podcaster and author of Unmistakable, Why Only is Better Than Best, Srinivas Rao, to hear the inmates pitch their ideas.
The ideas included a mobile app that helps parents and teachers track students’ educational and athletic progress, another that follows the recovery of substance abusers through a fitness regimen, and one that uses technology, sensors and fire-retardant to fight wild fires.
“I had a family member who lost a beautiful home in San Diego, and I also worked as a firefighter. I always wondered why technology wasn’t interfaced with wild fire protection,” said Azraal Ford, 44, who has been in prison for 18 years. He said that he’s been in and out of jail since he was 14 years old.
Ford’s app, F8 Fire Protection Systems, stores 1,500 gallons of water along with a smaller unit of a fire-retardant substance. The system is controlled electronically through sensors that are programmed to douse wild fires that get too close to a home.
“The fact that F8 uses sensors, and they are cheap, and if each person in the community installs sensors, and they were linked, that could be something relevant,” Calcanis said.
The next presenter, Jason Jones, is finishing the last 10 months of a 12-year sentence.
His app, Getting Parents Attention (GPA) “would make parents more aware of what’s needed toward public education and sports,” he said. “Younger people need to be aware of the value of education, if they want to succeed in life.”
“You are a good communicator, because it’s personal to you; it sounds exciting,” Calcanis told Jones. “There’s a gem of an idea in there because the app brings the parents closer to the children. The features need to be tested. Since it has a bunch of features finding the one that grabs users will be the challenge.”
Chris Schuhmacher created his app, Fitness Monkey, because he said, “16 years ago, drug and alcohol addiction led me to prison.”
“Fitness Monkey allows recovering addicts to track recovery and relapses in real time,” Schuhmacher said. “And, it allows its members to connect with each other for support.”
“Treatment centers could pay commissions if Fitness Monkey delivers clients,” Calcanis told Schuhmacher. “Build the platform and allow recovery centers to place their names on it. Plant a flag, and then it’ll be like clockwork.”
Later Calcanis took on questions from the class.
In recognizing the advantages of taking prison programs, he said:
“You guys made a mistake, and now you’re paying a big price. However, I’ve seen a lot of people make mistakes and recover. Being an entrepreneur is the most rewarding thing you can do because everybody begins in the same place when it comes to creativity. You guys are starting with the world against you. You are counted out. But the truth is, your product will speak for itself.”
To keep the inmates motivated and focused, Calcanis said:
“A lot of people are going to try to stop you from being successful. Don’t listen to them. You’ve got to use the fact that people count you out as motivation to be successful. To the extent you can do it, take the hand you were dealt and go and do it.”
Calcanis gave his take on failure:
“Failure is something you have to deal with to be successful. As an angel investor I have to try a lot of things, and some don’t work. But I’m going to continue to keep knocking on doors. You have to have that mindset, even being in prison. We are running around at light-speed out in the free world, while you’re running with a huge brick on your ankle and still being successful.”
An inmate asked Calcanis if he would come back:
“How can I not? I want to hear how it turns out. There is strength in numbers. Entrepreneurship is a team sport. Work together.”
Steve McNamara is one of the principal advisers who brought the San Quentin News back to life in 2008 after it had been dormant for more than 20 years. Together, McNamara and his colleagues took on the unusual mission of training a handful of prisoners to run a newspaper.
When then-warden Robert Ayers was nearing retirement and wanted to revive the newspaper, he recruited four professional journalists, McNamara, John Eagan, Joan Lisetor and another adviser who, according to McNamara, did not last long.
“The guys at the prison had no prior writing experience, and that’s amazing when you think about it,” McNamara said. “Publishing a newspaper is a big deal – something news writers don’t do.”
The 82-year-old Irishman is the former owner, publisher and editor of Pacific Sun, an alternative newspaper serving Marin County since 1963. As an adviser to San Quentin News, McNamara took on the responsibility of keeping it afloat when it struggled financially (as it still does.) He played an instrumental role in the paper’s expansion, at times saving it from its own success by careful management of its sporadic cash flow.
McNamara did not exactly welcome the News’ expansion beyond the walls of San Quentin. “I was apprehensive,” he said. “It was kind of cool when no one knew we were here.”
However, because of McNamara’s business savvy, news and publishing experience, San Quentin News now prints more than 25,000 monthly issues and distributes them to all 35 of California’s prisons and beyond, in addition to publishing a website.
A believer in strong writing, McNamara brought 53 years of experience to San Quentin News. This made the Princeton graduate (Class of ’55) a good choice for directing the paper’s resurrection, particularly with prisoners who, like himself, once knew nothing about journalism.
“I had never worked for a newspaper, ever. Not in elementary school, not in high school, not in college,” McNamara told the Mill Valley Historical Society in a 2014 interview. “Princeton had a very good daily newspaper, but I’d never gone near the office. I had no idea of how you worked for a newspaper.”
McNamara started his journalism career at the Twin City Sentinel in Winston-Salem, N.C., in 1955. He went on to work on publications in Miami, Fla., and Europe before landing at the San Francisco Examiner as a magazine editor. He was the owner, editor and publisher of the Pacific Sun from 1966-2004 and was the prior owner of Marin Sun Printing which has been printing San Quentin News since 2010—something he arranged after the prison’s print shop closed due to budget cuts.
“There are a lot of things I didn’t know before I came here,” said McNamara. “I was startled by the realization that inmates get out and return with the same frame of mind or worse.” He said training prisoners to be journalists is not the point, emphasizing the fact that they learn all kinds of life skills.
“People will always want access to information. The question is how will the information be delivered?”
The fruits of McNamara’s success with the paper have not gone unnoticed. Every month prisoners across the country write to San Quentin News asking for information on how they can start a newspaper. One piece of advice is to do the impossible: find another Steve McNamara.
Smiling, McNamara recalled how some friends of his once asked him to come along with them for a get-together in their “men’s group.” “I have one,” he told them, referring to the men at San Quentin. “And they’re way more interesting.”
Reflecting on his decision to come inside one of the world’s most infamous prisons to work with men who have done some bad stuff, he said, “I was astonished at how smart and insightful people were who wore blue shirts and pants.”
What advice, if any, would McNamara give to other up-and-coming prison journalists in California and around the nation who want to start a newspaper? He advised them first to find a warden like Ayers and then organizational support on the outside.
“I think it’s a great idea” for inmates to create newspapers, said McNamara. “It’s a time-intensive manufacturing business that depends on creative people for its success. You guys are the leaders. You do an amazing job, especially with all the barriers that come with it.”
Displaying a proud smile, McNamara said San Quentin News is growing while other print publications are shrinking. It’s “an unfair advantage,” he said, because the News serves a special readership without internet access.
On the future of journalism McNamara said, “People will always want access to information. The question is how will the information be delivered?”
Many people in McNamara’s position would not spend day after day of their retirement in a prison volunteering to help prisoners. That he did so is a testament to his character and his willingness to make society a little safer, one felon at a time.
McNamara is no longer an active adviser to the men at San Quentin News as of December 2015, but he continues to keep an eye on some of the paper’s finances through the Prison Media Project, an organization he created to fund the paper.
The weekly staff meetings are not the same without McNamara and his astute comments and advice. He took off the training wheels and let the guys ride on their own. If at some point they fall, they’ve also learned how to pick themselves up.
Steve will always be a friend and mentor to the men who worked with him.
We heard you, Steve, and we’re still paying attention.
A former United States senator says he committed some serious crimes as a juvenile, and he supports giving youthful offenders a second chance.
Former Wyoming Sen. Alan K. Simpson made the revelation in a My Voice column published Feb. 11 in the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls, S.D.
“I am living proof that youth possess a unique capacity to grow and change,” he stated.
He confesses to burning an abandoned barracks structure with his childhood friends. No one was injured.
He also played dangerous games with .22-caliber rifles, firing at each other “with the goal of coming as close as possible to each other without striking anyone. The bullets we stole from a local hardware store,” he said.
They also shot at mailboxes, someone killed a cow, and they fired at a road grader. “Federal authorities charged us with destroying government property, and I pleaded guilty. I was sentenced to two years of probation and required to make restitution,” he admitted.
“One night, as I arrived very late at a club in Laramie, Wyo., that was popular with African-Americans, I saw a fellow student leaving. It was obvious he had been in a knife fight, so I asked him what happened. He said he had uttered a racial slur, and I responded that if that was his attitude, he was sure in the wrong club. He attacked me, and I shoved him down, just as the police arrived,” he said.
“Police assumed I was responsible for the guy’s knife wounds. When they attempted to arrest me, I belted the officer. How dumb can you get? He responded by striking me with his ‘billy club’. … they took me to jail. My wife of 60 plus years – who was then my girlfriend – refused to bail me out, so I spent the night there. That’s when I decided to marry her. She was … smarter than I was,” he stated.
In his 20s he decided to become a productive member of society. “I began to realize that my attitude was ignorant, stupefying, arrogant, hostile and cocky, and that I no longer wanted to live that way,” he wrote.
He graduated from the University of Wyoming, and then obtained a law degree. He served in the U.S. Army in Germany and then in various state-level attorney positions, as a U.S. commissioner and a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives before elected to the U.S. Senate for 18 years.
“As a result of God’s grace and with the help of others, I have been able to use my experiences to the benefit of my community and our nation,” he stated.
He strongly supports legislation proposed by South Dakota Sen. Craig Tieszen that would ban the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has also recognized that children are ‘constitutionally different’ from adults in a series of rulings…. That court has made clear that because children’s brains are not fully developed, they are less deserving of the most severe punishments,” he said.
Senior EditorPrison inmates who participate in peaceful protests do not violate prison rules, according to an April 22 decision from a California appeals court.
The ruling is a reaction to a Pelican Bay inmate named Jorge A. Gomez who went on a hunger strike in 2013. Gomez said his refusal to eat was an exercise in free speech, but prison officials argue otherwise. They say he violated a prison rule because, “significant disruptions of the normal operations” of Pelican Bay occurred when services were delayed and cancelled and personnel had to be reallocated to monitor hunger strikers.
Court documents say that during the 2013 mass hunger strike more than “1,400 inmates at Pelican Bay refused nine consecutive state-issued meals.” In the same court papers, prison officials contend that “an individual inmate may refuse food. But inmates may not organize a mass protest that disrupts prison programming.”
In making its finding, the court focused on the rule Gomez allegedly broke. It requires inmates to avoid “behavior which might lead to violence or disorder, or otherwise endangers facility, outside community or another person,” Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations, section 3005(a).
The court ruled prison officials did not give enough evidence to show “prison operations were thrown into disorder” because of Gomez’s hunger strike.
The court found “adjustments to workloads and services in order to contend with the hunger strike and work stoppage, and (prison official’s) statements do not indicate that the protest involved any violence or disorderly conduct.”
Because the court found Gomez did not violate a prison rule, his free speech claim was not addressed.
The San Diego County district attorney has launched a team to review possible wrongful convictions, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is formalizing her office’s efforts to review troublesome convictions by creating a team of two full-time prosecutors to investigate claims of innocence, said reporter Kristina Davis.
The team will investigate claims of innocence where credible evidence exists or where there is new technology or evidence to run DNA tests, Davis reported.
“We recognize that despite our goal of pursuing justice and truth, in a few instances new evidence is discovered and in some cases, mistakes are found,” Dumanis said. “As prosecutors, our legal, moral and ethical obligation is to ensure the right person is convicted for the crime charged.”
Uriah Courtney, convicted of a rape he didn’t commit, walked out of prison an innocent man after eight years behind bars, Davis writes.
Twenty-one years after a jury found Kenneth Marsh guilty of beating to death his 2-year-old son, he was told the case against him was dismissed, Davis reports.
The men are two of the most notable examples in recent history of wrongful convictions in San Diego County, and Dumanis believes there could be more.
The team is looking at about 10 cases. The work will be done with the public defender’s office and the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law, Davis reports.
“As good as our system is, …people do slip through the cracks,” said Public Defender Henry Coker. “Things look like what they’re not, and lives are lost in that process.”
The district attorney’s office has been at the forefront of a nationwide sea change recognizing it is possible to put innocent people in prison, said Justin Brooks, director and co-founder of the California Innocence Project.
“It’s all of our job together to right these wrongs,” Brooks said. “It should be done in a way that’s not about pointing fingers but getting the right result.”
Claims must meet a threshold for review:
The conviction must have occurred in the San Diego County Superior Court;
The convict must still be serving the sentence;
The crime must have been a serious or violent felony;
There must be credible and verifiable evidence of innocence; and
The convict must be willing to cooperate with the process, reports Davis
Since 1989 DNA has led to the exonerations of 337 people in the U.S., according to the Innocence Project. Twenty of them were on death row.
DNA set Courtney free in 2013. He was accused in 2004 of raping a 16-year-old girl in Lemon Grove, near San Diego. The victim and a witness helped create a sketch of the man. The victim identified Courtney and a jury convicted him. DNA testing was not conclusive, according to Davis.
Courtney’s family pushed to have the victim’s shirt retested for DNA. The results pointed to a different man who bears a striking resemblance to Courtney, Davis said.
Marsh’s case was different. After his son died of head trauma, Marsh said the boy fell from the sofa. Medical experts believed the injury was too severe to have come from a fall. Marsh was convicted largely on medical testimony, Davis reported.
In 2002, Marsh’s attorney’s filed a writ of wrongful conviction, and Dumanis, upon review, decided the case was no longer provable beyond a reasonable doubt and asked a judge to dismiss it, the report says.
Dumanis said that dozens of more cases have been dismissed before conviction, as new evidence surfaces pointing to innocence.
Applications may be submitted to have a case reviewed via the district attorney’s website, www.sdcda.org. Applications will be accepted only in writing, Davis reports.
More resources should be allocated to help crime victims of color and their communities, Aswad Thomas wrote in the Sacramento Bee.
“It’s nearly impossible to focus on healing and safety while trying to pay medical bills, handle inquiries from law enforcement and return to work,” he said. “Services intended to help survivors are unknown or hard to find.”
Californians for Safety and Justice found that 1 in 5 Californians are victims of crime and the rate is higher among young people of color. What’s more, services to help crime victims were inaccessible to most of these young people, Thomas pointed out.
Thomas was offered the chance to play professional basketball until he suffered injuries from a robbery. He was shot twice in the back. While in recovery, he replaced his despair and resentment with a commitment to stop violence in communities of color, he wrote.
“We have to change the unfair stereotype that when youth of color are victims of crime, we must have been involved,” Thomas noted.
Realizing that community groups that have credibility with people in the community are under-funded, he works to organize young men to help their community. Thomas explained, “I began working with residents to call for peace and real solutions focused on preventing gun violence and healing our communities.”
The federal Victims of Crime Act has increased funding now — from $1.6 billion to nearly $2.4 billion. A portion of that should go to groups that are best equipped to help the under-served communities, Thomas wrote.
“If this money only goes to the same places, we should not expect different results,” Thomas insisted. “That’s why I’m working with California survivors to ensure that a portion of the state’s $232 million goes to groups best positioned to serve our most vulnerable communities.”
Americans are now more concerned about crime and violence than at any other time in the last 15 years. Gallup conducted a survey in March throughout all 50 states and found 53 percent of U.S. adults worry “a great deal” about crime and violence.
Previously, crime and violence (as polled by Gallup) peaked in March of 2001, prior to the 9/11 disaster, with 62 percent of those polled registering worry and concern. But after 9/11, crime and violence no longer were seen as most important, with terrorism rising to the top.
In 2002 Americans expressed more concern for other issues: Iraq, terrorism, the economy, dissatisfaction with government and healthcare were cited as the most important problems facing the country. Crime and violence fell to a record-low 39 percent in 2014.
Gallup reporter Alyssa Davis stated, “The rise in Americans’ level of concern about crime could reflect actual, albeit modest, increases in crime as well as increasing media coverage of it. The number of violent crimes reported to police across the country in the first half of 2015 was up by 1.7 percent compared with the same period in 2014, according to the FBI’s 2015 Uniform Crime Report.”
Even though violent crimes are down significantly since the 1990s, many large cities reported spikes in their homicide rate in 2015, including Milwaukee, St. Louis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Demographics of the Gallup survey show worry of crime increased most among Americans without a college degree and those living in low-income households. Non-Whites’ concern is much higher than Whites’ worry about the issue. Women and older Americans are more worried than their male and younger counterparts.
The worry over drug use has followed the same pattern as concern about crime and violence over the last 15 years. The rise in worry over drug use preceded President Obama’s announcement on March 29 about his plan to reduce drug abuse and overdose deaths.
According to the Gallup report these findings suggest that even if many Americans are not aware of increased crime where they live, they may be exposed to media coverage of rising crime and violence throughout the U.S.