MSNBC’s Touré took his afternoon show The Cycle to Oakland for a one-hour live special aimed at connecting young African-American men with the training they need to succeed in high-tech careers. “I love Oakland, it’s a great town,” Touré told TVNewser.
The effort, sponsored by Ford Motor Company, was launched last year and MSNBC hosted another special, Growing Hope Live from Detroit with Joy Reidin March. “It’s extremely important to help steer young people into technology where there’s lots of jobs and opportunity,” said Touré, noting that Oakland presents a unique challenge for young people who live there. “They live so close to Silicon Valley and yet are so far from it unless they get a helping hand. #YesWeCode is trying to make that important bridge.”
A Growing Hope Special: The Cycle Live from Oakland aired Friday, June 19 at 3 p.m. ET. The event served as the kick-off for #YesWeCode and the Hidden Genius Project’s Summer of Innovation Program.
By Van Jones and Newt Gingrich
(CNN) Before Paton Blough got his bipolar disorder under control, it nearly cost him everything.
The Greenville, South Carolina, resident was arrested six times in three years, each for an episode related to his illness. Instead of receiving treatment, he was thrown in jail. In the rough prison environment and without proper treatment, he ended up with two felony convictions for crimes committed while incarcerated.
Blough managed to find a path to treatment. That makes him one of the lucky ones. Today, mentally ill Americans are disproportionately more likely to be arrested, incarcerated, suffer solitary confinement or rape in prison and commit another crime once released.
Quick: Name the largest provider of mental health care in America. If you guessed "our prisons and jails," you would be right.
A 2006 U.S. Department of Justice study found that three out of four female inmates in state prisons, 64% of all people in jail, 56% of all state prison inmates and 45% of people in federal prison have symptoms or a history of mental disorder.
America's approach when the mentally ill commit nonviolent crimes -- locking them up without addressing the problem -- is a solution straight out of the 1800s.
When governments closed state-run psychiatric facilities in the late 1970s, it didn't replace them with community care, and by default, the mentally ill often ended up in jails. There are roughly as many people in Anchorage, Alaska, or Trenton, New Jersey, as there are inmates with severe mental illness in American prisons and jails, according to one 2012 estimate. The estimated number of inmates with mental illness outstrips the number of patients in state psychiatric hospitals by a factor of 10.
Today, in 44 states and the District of Columbia, the largest prison or jail holds more people with serious mental illness than the largest psychiatric hospital. With2 million people with mental illness booked into jails each year, it is not surprising that the biggest mental health providers in the country are LA County Jail, Rikers Island in New York and Cook County Jail in Chicago.
Our system is unfair to those struggling with mental illness.
Cycling them through the criminal justice system, we miss opportunities to link them to treatment that could lead to drastic improvements in their quality of life and our public safety. These people are sick, not bad, and they can be diverted to mental health programs that cost less and are more effective than jail time. People who've committed nonviolent crimes can often set themselves on a better path if they are provided with proper treatment.
The current situation is also unfair to law enforcement officers and to the people running our prisons, who are now forced to act as doctors or face tense confrontations with the mentally ill while weighing the risk to public safety. In fact, at a time when police shootings are generating mass controversy, there is far too little discussion of the fact that when police use force, it often involves someone with a mental illness.
Finally, the current approach is unfair to taxpayers, because there are far more cost-effective ways for a decent society to provide care to the mentally ill. Just look at Ohio, where the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is projected to spend $49 million this year on medications and mental health care, on top of nearly $23,000 per inmate per year.
Paton Blough is proof that there is a better way. After eventually getting the treatment he needed, he is out of jail and now helps teach law enforcement officers effective ways to intervene with people with mental health needs.
His focus is just one of a surprising number of proven, effective solutions with broad support. Both advocates for the mentally ill and the law enforcement community have lined up in support of increased training for officers. The psychiatric community as well as those focused on reducing crime can all agree on expanding mental health courts, crisis intervention teams, and veterans' courts.
A new initiative, "Stepping Up," unites state and local governments and the American Psychiatric Foundation to promote research-based practices to tackle our overreliance on jail as mental health treatment, such as in-jail counseling programs that reduce the chances of repeat offenders.
State and local officials have shown us the way.
We've seen large communities such as Miami-Dade County, Florida, completely redesign their systems at every level, training police officers in crisis intervention, instituting careful assessments of new jail admissions and redirecting their mentally ill populations into treatment, effectively reducing the rates of re-arrest.
We've seen smaller rural counties faced with tight budgets collaborate with neighboring communities to pool their limited resources to pay for new programs and properly track progress to promote accountability.
Perhaps most surprisingly in these partisan times, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are standing shoulder-to-shoulder to support mental health reform. The bipartisan Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the Senate, passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month.
The legislation includes simple measures that would fund alternatives to jail and prison admissions for those in need of treatment and expand training programs for law enforcement personnel on how to respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis.
The notion of bipartisan, comprehensive criminal justice reform is not just idle talk. It is happening.
Both sides see practical alternatives to incarceration that can reduce prison populations, improve public safety, save lives and save money. If Congress moves swiftly to pass the great ideas now percolating in the House and Senate, it will become a reality.
Take it from a conservative and a liberal: A good place to start is by addressing the needs of our mentally ill citizens in jails and prisons.
Our out-of-control criminal justice system has forgotten about justice.
Last Tuesday, eight Atlanta Public Schools employees were sentenced to prison in one of the largest school cheating scandals in American history. But you wouldn't know they were cheaters based on how they were treated in court. The educators were convicted of racketeering — a felony typically reserved for mob bosses, drug kingpins and terrorists.
The Atlanta teachers are now the latest victims of overcriminalization. They were charged under a law that had nothing to do with their actions. For years, the educators quietly changed students' answers on the Georgia Criterion-Referenced CompetencyTest, dramatically boosting the scores. They did so because the tests are tied to the state's funding for schools affecting their pay and employment.
The educators should be held responsible for their actions, but the punishment should also fit the crime. While similar scandals have occurred in 39 different states and Washington, D.C., the offenders have rarely been prosecuted as criminals. Yet in an unprecedented move, the prosecutors in Atlanta charged the educators under Georgia's "Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act" — a law passed in 1980 specifically to combat the scourge of organized crime. RICO laws, which exist at the federal level and in 33 states, empower prosecutors to go after the leaders of organized crime who order but do not personally commit crimes such as robbery, money laundering and murder. Individuals convicted under such laws can face up to 20 years in prison.
As nonviolent first-time offenders, the Atlanta educators would not likely have received any jail time but for prosecutors' unprecedented use of RICO. Three were sentenced to seven years in prison, two received two-year sentences and two will sit in jail for a year. Two others accepted plea deals with lighter sentences. Most must also pay a fine and serve probation and community service.
These punishments do not fit the crimes. Yet this is not a rarity — similar stories play out all too frequently around the country.
Overcriminalization is rampant in America's legal system. A Florida fisherman disposed of undersized fish yet was convicted of violating a law passed to prevent destruction of business records. An Arkansas company ran children's clothing consignment sales staffed by parents and volunteers and was charged with violating federal employment policies. A jilted wife in Pennsylvania doused over-the-counter chemicals on the doorknobs of her husband's lover's house and was prosecuted for violating an international treaty meant to prevent chemical warfare. The list goes on.
These and countless other examples are the result of America's unwieldy and unjust criminal code. Today, there are estimated to be about 4,500 federal crimes scattered throughout the U.S. Code's 54 sections and 27,000 pages. Add state laws plus the federal regulations that include criminal penalties and this number grows into the hundreds of thousands.
The criminal code is so broad and so confusing that Americans sometimes can't help but run afoul of it. Once they do, their lives can quickly and permanently be ruined. A staggering number of criminal laws and regulations lack "intent" and "knowledge" requirements, which protect unwitting Americans who have no reasonable way of knowing they committed a crime. The list of nonviolent offenses is so broad that everyday activity can often be criminal. And many federal and state crimes are accompanied by mandatory minimum sentences that force minor lawbreakers into unjust prison terms.
The lawmakers and regulators who created this system were well-intentioned, but we can see the harmful results all around us.
This mass imprisonment worsens America's poverty crisis. According to a Villanova University study, "had mass incarceration not occurred, poverty would have decreased by more than 20%" in recent years. This makes sense, given that a stint in prison leads to nine fewer weeks of annual work and 40% lower annual earnings for former inmates, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Overcriminalization hurts the Americans who can least afford it.
These problems will get steadily worse until policymakers reform the broken criminal justice system. State and federal elected officials can start by cutting the criminal laws that go too far — especially for nonviolent offenses — and clarifying the ones that are overly broad and subject to frequent abuse. When new laws are established, lawmakers should ensure that they enhance public safety and satisfy the requirements laid out in the Bill of Rights. And they should only expand the criminal code when there is broad consensus.
The need for action is urgent. Eight Atlanta educators are on their way to prison because they were prosecuted and convicted as if they were mob bosses, which their actions, while reprehensible, did not warrant. How many Americans have to be similarly mistreated — and how many people's lives have to be ruined — before policymakers act?
Van Jones, founder of Dream Corps/Rebuild The Dream, is a former special advisor to President Barack Obama. Mark Holden is general counsel of Koch Industries which supports the Coalition for Public Safety.
Last Friday and Saturday, Usher’s New Look Detroit participated in a hackathon at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center in partnership with #YesWeCode. New Look Mogul in Training, Ciarah Lee, and Leadership Academy Senior, Dante Hollis, participated by helping lead activities for middle school youth including ‘Expressions’, a New Look tradition where students step out of their comfort zone and share their talents.
In the Ford STEAM lab, 100 Detroit middle school students from five middle schools in the Detroit metropolitan area got the chance to become software designers. Youth invented a range of mobile applications to make learning easier, from catching up on missed assignments, to studying math and music through gaming – all the while earning $42,500 in awards and scholarships.
The two-day event challenged students to learn the basics of software coding, and then produce, or “hack”, an application to help them in school. Thank you FORD and #YesWeCode for continuing to invest in the future of the Detroit community, our youth!
Today, nearly five years from the day I was told I was being paroled after serving 19 years in prison, I found myself searching for my parole papers. As I searched through the footlocker that contained my journals,personal letters and legal documents, I was stopped in my tracks by the letter that set me on the path of transformation. Dated July 31, 1997, exactly 6 years and 3 days after David’s death, it remains just as powerful and meaningful to me today. It is by far one of the most influential letters I received in my life and guides the restorative justice and criminal justice reform work I do. Here is the letter in its entirety.
A few days ago it was the 6th year anniversary of my son’s death. I call him my “son” because he lived with me much of his life.
I’m sure you remember him in some way or another because you are the man who murdered David ******** on July 28, 1991.
It was a very difficult day for me and my family. I had spent 3 years being a caregiver for David’s mother, and she had just died of cancer in December of 1990. And now, 6 months later, I received a phone call that David was dead.
His brother was devastated. To this day, he says he didn’t only lose a brother — he lost his best friend.
David had a new baby son which God blessed him with-the baby was only 10 months old in July, 1991. David never got to see his son celebrate his first birthday- or any of them- And it was also a very painful day on July 28 because it was my daughter’s birthday. She and David were born only 3 months apart. Every year on her birthday, our hearts ache for the dear one we’ve lost.
David also had 2 daughters. One is now in college, and although she is a very bright girl, she is having terrible bouts of depression because her dad is gone. The rest of our family tries to help her but there is an emptiness in her life that no one else can fill.
Now what I want you to know, other than these painful things that you have brought upon my family, is that I love you, and I forgive you. How Can I do less? Because God loves you, and I am a Christian so I humbly follow his guidance. His word tells me (in the Bible) that He loves us all, no matter what we have done or how bad we think we are. And we are to love one another no matter what the circumstances. You may think your life is a mess but you are special. And God’s able to pick you up and cause you to go on. He can clean up your messes, no matter WHAT they are. God can be your best friend. Nobody in the the whole world will ever love you like God loves you.
Because I know God brings hope and joy into our lives if we let Him, I suggest you set aside a year and just let God love you. Just approach him as a little child would…Crawl up in his lap and let Him love you. Through his son, Jesus, he can fill that empty hole down deep inside — the part of us that is missing if we live our livew without Him. God says, “You shall know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH shall make you free.” (John 8:32) God is the Truth, and He can bring peace and rest, and so many other wonderful things.
Nancy gave me a second chance and today I am the founder of the Atonement Project, a recipient of the 2012 Black Male Engagement (BMe) Leadership Award, a 2013 MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, a Fellow in the inaugural class of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Community Leadership Network, and teach a course on the Atonement Project at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In 2014, I shared my story on the world-renowned TED stage and in just four months my talk reached more than 1,000,000 views.
I currently serve as the Director of Strategy for #Cut50, a national bipartisan initiative to safely and smartly reduce our incarcerated population by 50 percent over the next 10 years by convening unlikely allies, elevating proven solutions, and communicating a powerful new narrative.