Grassroots Leadership Blog

Humpday Hall of Shame: Vermont paper misses the mark on out-of-state prisoner transfers

The Locked Up and #ShippedAway Campaign is in full force in Vermont, with our friends Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform leading the fight to bring approximately 500 men home from out-of-state private, for-profit prisons. More than a decade ago, Vermont prisoners were shipped away as a tactic, or "temporary solution" to alleviate prison overcrowding, yet little has been done to resolve this crisis. Vermont prisoners remain a steady revenue stream for Corrections Corporation of America, filling their prison beds in Kentucky and Arizona. Now, we are proud to stand with Vermonters and affected families who are bravely speaking out to put an end to this. 

That is why today's Humpday Hall of Shame belongs to the Caledonian Record, a rural Vermont paper whose editors have chosen to attack and intimidate the individuals who are fighting for the return of their loved one from out-of-state private prison. In an editorial comment titled, Keep Away, the authors attempt to shame two women who have spoken out about the pain and struggle they experience having their sons shipped away by calling them "sobbing moms" and exposing details from the two men's court cases. They wrote, "Ship 'em all to Kentucky, we say. Or Siberia for all we care." 

The Caledonian Record completely misses the mark.  The paper can choose to spew hate and attack vulnerable women who are speaking up for their loved ones and for better criminal justice practices.  But, that doesn't solve the problem for Vermonters whose loved ones are locked up out-of-state or for all Vermonters whose best interests include maintaining community ties for incarcerated people who eventually return home and in lowering prison populations and prison spending. At Grassroots Leadership, we stand in solidarity with prisoners and their families and all Vermonters fighting for safe and sane criminal justice policy, one that benefits communities and not private prison corporation bottom lines.  

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Race, Space & Place: How Chinese Exclusion and Restrictionism Influence American Anxieties Around Immigration

When analyzing contemporary socio-economic and political issues, it is important to address the histories that shape mainstream national ideologies. Once adopted, these histories highly influence policies relevant to the nation as a whole. Thus, within this blog series I will highlight some of the often ignored historical influences that have guided popular national perceptions of immigration. With that, I will also analyze how these historical methods have shaped immigration policy and how they are utilized by politicians and corporations to lobby for and justify the privatization of for-profit detention facilities that house thousands of migrants today.

As a continuation of my last blog within this text I will discuss the ways in which the previously articulated notions surrounding race, space, and place later fed American anxieties. These anxieties helped originate the U.S. “gatekeeping ideology” that led to the first racialized and class-based discriminatory restrictionist immigration policy and later the U.S. Census. From this framework I will analyze the ways that these historical ideologies shape current perceptions around race, space, place and immigration.


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Humpday Hall of Shame: Profit motive leads to revolving door, corruption, federal indictment in Mississippi

The Mississippi Department of Corrections is a repeat offender in our Humpday Hall of Shame.  In recent years we’ve highlighted stories of violence, inmate and staff deaths, uprisings, lawsuits against MDOC and the private prison companies that operate several Mississippi facilities.  

Last week, long-time MDOC Commissioner, Christopher Epps, abruptly resigned from his post, offering no comment on his reasons for leaving the agency.  Other spokespeople for the agency and the state remained tight-lipped about the resignation, raising eyebrows for many.  Within twenty-four hours it came to light that Epps is facing a 34-count federal indictment on charges of conspiracy, bribery, money laundering conspiracy and wire fraud, offenses that were conducted through MDOC and Epps employing position as Commissioner to cover the scandal.

Allegedly, under Epps’ leadership, MDOC paid close to $1 billion to firms affiliated with Cecil McCrory, a local businessman, former state legislator, and Rankin County School Board President (until he also abruptly resigned from his post this week).  In exchange, McCrory paid Epps nearly one million to guarantee the contracts go to his firms.  Evidently, Epps received so many bribes that he had to launder the money through his multiple properties.

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Progressive Austin is falling behind on S-Comm

Austin End S-CommA tidal wave of local governments are saying no to the federal mass deportation program Secure Communities (S-Comm). And many are in places not usually known for their progressive politics. In all, more than 250 local jurisdictions — states, cities, and counties — have opted-out. This map shows the spread of opt-out policies, reaching from places like Ocean County, New Jersey to Doña Ana County, New Mexico; Louisville-Jefferson County, Kentucky to Miami-Dade County, Florida.

Leaders in Travis County, especially Sheriff Greg Hamilton, have the chance to lead the way for Texas and renounce S-Comm as a harmful practice. But they haven’t — yet. We have the numbers to know that S-Comm is wasteful. We also know that it rips families apart unnecessarily. And yet we continue to comply...even in this progressive county. We should be able to take back our community from a terrible federal program that doesn’t meet our standards, as many others have already.

Traditionally liberal states like Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware and California are leading the way in the rejection of S-Comm. But so too are counties in places like like Doña Ana County in New Mexico and the parish of New Orleans—who changed their policies after they were sued for detaining someone without cause. Even Butler County, Kansas and Hall County, Nebraska—both in staunchly conservative states—and are taking initiative by deciding not to comply locally. Almost all of the counties in Colorado have decided not to comply with S-Comm.

While the Austin City Council is taking steps towards pushing the program out of our city, the County's policy remains on the wrong side of history. Just last night, Austin City Council proposed ammendments to an interlocal agreement about booking people at the local jail—but it remains up to the County to sign it.

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Arizona Town Funneling Money for Corrections Corporation of America

Eloy Detention Center image

The for-profit private prison industry is breaking new ground, and not just in Dilley, Texas where the largest family immigrant detention center is currently being built. Aside from the tortured history of family detention centers in Texas (see list below), what makes this plan ground-breaking in the worst kind of way, is the fact that it is being contracted by a prison town over 900 miles away.

That’s right. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) will run this new facility, but the money will first be funneled through the City of Eloy, Arizona (which will get a hefty cut, of course). This is unprecedented, shady, and mind-boggling, but also possibly completely legal thanks to an Intergovernmental Services Agreement which allows for no-bid contracts.

John Burnett, who covered the story for NPR, quotes an unnamed ICE source as saying it is “a creative response to a difficult situation.” Certainly—just like off-shore bank accounts are a creative response to taxes. It turns out that Eloy is literally only acting as the financial go-between for the money from ICE to CCA. It claims no responsibility for what happens in the facility. This is how Burnett described it in his piece for NPR,

Here’s how it will work with the new South Texas facility: ICE sends Eloy $290 million for the first year’s expenses. The city passes through that payment to CCA to run the facility. And CCA pays Eloy $438,000 a year to essentially act as its accountant — nothing more.

Working for Justice: Celebrating Father Les Schmidt's 80th Birthday

Eighty years is a very long time, but for someone who has lived those eighty years dedicated to a fight for social justice, it is not nearly long enough.

This month, we are celebrating the 80th year in the life of Father Leslie Schmidt, a Glenmary priest of humble beginnings, one of twelve children born in a farm in the middle of the country.  A man who very early on decided that he wanted a life worth living; focused on a God of mercy and justice and love.

Father Les, as we all know him, pretty much lives out of his car. In any given month he will travel from Indiana to Virginia, through North and South Carolina, on his way to Georgia, or Mississippi, or maybe Tennessee, wherever he might be needed; living the life of a “regional priest”.  He follows the mission of the Glenmary Catholic society of brothers and priests dedicated to serving the spiritual and material needs of those living in impoverished counties in the South and Appalachia. He eats food on the go, sleeps in cheap motels, on someone’s couch, the local church or will stay up through the night if he is needed somewhere, and yet, he has the lanky built and the energy of someone a fraction of his age.

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Grassroots Leadership Stands With Ferguson!

Grassroots Leadership is devastated by the murder of Michael Brown that took place on August 9, 2014. That same month, Ezell Ford, Kajieme Powell, and John Crawford III were also fatally shot under questionable circumstances by police in other parts of the country. These incidents followed the NYPD choke-hold killing of Eric Garner and add to the growing list of both African-American men and women who have died needlessly at the hands of the police. As we speak, tension continues to erupt in Missouri as yet another African-American teen was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer last night, October 8th, in St. Louis.  We encourage all supporters to continue to follow the on-going organizing efforts as well as participate in the upcoming weekend of resistance held in Ferguson October 10-13, 2014.

As a multi-racial, Southern-based organization working for both social justice and for reform of the justice system, we at Grassroots Leadership feel compelled to add our voices to the many in Ferguson, around the country, and around the world, who are appalled by the assault on communities of color in Ferguson, and across the nation.  We are also inspired by the organized response and offer solidarity to those who are leading the response from the ground up. Grassroots Leadership supports the self-determined organizing efforts coming directly from those on the ground in Ferguson.

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