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2007 July - August

Chicago's Title VII Working Group

By Margaret Stapleton

Chicago’s Title VII Working Group, an eclectic group of lawyers, reentry providers, community groups, and others, meets regularly to find ways for lawyers and paralegals to help people with criminal records successfully reenter society. Margaret Stapleton, senior attorney at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, initiated the group.

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Protecting Subsidized Housing for Families of Released Prisoners

By Robert A. Stalker

When a person exiting jail uses the address of a family receiving a subsidy and the housing authority finds out, the housing authority often tries to terminate the family’s housing benefit without regard to evidentiary rules, due process, and burdens of proof. Advocates should insist that competent evidence be introduced, participants have an opportunity to confront and cross-examine witnesses, and the housing authority prove its case.

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Cross-Sector Collaboration in Reentry

Building an Infrastructure for Change

By McGregor Smyth

Criminal justice system involvement permeates all aspects of low-income clients’ lives and continues to do so long after the clients’ official relationship with the criminal justice system ends. The impact of these efforts has proven devastating to low-income communities. Cross-sector collaboration among advocates and agencies that traditionally have little contact with each other is essential to reverse the lasting impact of the criminal justice system. New York’s Reentry Net offers one model for such collaboration.

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Collateral Estoppel and Benefits Fraud Prosecutions

People v. Garcia

By Gary F. Smith

Legal aid advocates and indigent criminal defense attorneys in California worked together to protect a welfare recipient from criminal prosecution for fraud and perjury. Applying the doctrine of collateral estoppel, the attorneys kept state prosecutors from convicting someone who had been cleared by an administrative law judge from wrongdoing in connection with an overpayment of benefits.

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Targeting the Homeless

Constructive Alternatives to Criminalization Measures in U.S. Cities

By Tulin Ozdeger

As homelessness has increased during the past three decades, many cities across the United States have implemented measures that criminalize homelessness. These measures typically use police resources and the criminal justice system to punish homeless people for their status. Advocates need to be aware of what measures cities use to target the homeless, problems with criminalizing homelessness, and constructive alternatives to criminalization.

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Breaking the Cycle of Incarceration

Strategies to Facilitate Timely Restoration of Benefits upon Release of Inmates with Mental Illnesses

By Jennifer Mathis & Laurel Stine

When inmates with mental illness are released from prison or jail, they may face deterioration and reincarceration if they do not receive mental health treatment and basic support. Prerelease benefit applications and agreements between correctional facilities and government agencies may help promptly restore to such inmates the federal benefits that were terminated or suspended during incarceration. Advocates may use statutory and constitutional claims to challenge correctional facilities to secure services for mentally ill inmates.

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Debtors' Prison—Prisoners' Accumulation of Debt as a Barrier to Reentry

By Kirsten D. Levingston & Vicki Turetsky

Incarcerated persons can accumulate significant debt from various criminal financial penalties and child support obligations, leading to unrealistic payment obligations, which they are unable to meet. Policymakers should set and enforce child support policies and criminal financial obligations in a manner that supports successful reintegration into society and reduces recidivism.

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Representing Individuals with Criminal Records Under the LSC Act and Regulations

By Alan W. Houseman & Linda E. Perle

Although Legal Services Corporation (LSC) regulations prohibit representation in “criminal proceedings,” programs that receive LSC funds may represent individuals who are not in prison but have criminal records. Such representation may relate to the individuals’ criminal records, such as actions to seal or expunge record and advocacy to change practices that bar people with criminal records from employment.

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Civil Consequences of Women's Criminal Records

Strategies for Advocates

By Amy E. Hirsch

Our current policies on drug use, incarceration, and the civil consequences of criminal records hurt women and children and reinforce problems of domestic violence, sexual assault, and addictions. Advocates can help reverse this trend by recognizing these implications when handling individual cases, developing systemic advocacy, and educating policymakers about the need for trauma-informed services and addiction prevention programs for survivors of abuse.

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The Intersection of Race, Poverty, and Crime

By Francisca D. Fajana

Any informed discussion of the criminal and juvenile justice systems must acknowledge the overwhelmingly disproportionate numbers of people of color caught up in those systems. In many communities incarceration has become so common as to be unremarkable. Although the number of people imprisoned in the United States and the racial disproportion have skyrocketed recently, these phenomena are deeply rooted in policies that one can trace to the post-Civil War era.

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The American Prison Nightmare

By Jason DeParle

Reviewing Bruce Western’s Punishment and Inequality in America in the New York Review of Books, Jason DeParle describes the heartbreak of parents and children separated by prison bars. He goes on to recount the books examination of the impact of that separation on families and communities, and the extreme racial imbalance of that impact.

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Cleaning Up Criminal Records

To make criminal records disappear entirely is difficult, but all states have a process through which the impact of certain arrests or convictions can be mitigated to some extent. East Bay Community Law Center of Berkeley, California, has a Clean Slate Practice that has helped thousands of clients with arrests, prosecutions, and convictions lessen the impact of their records.

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Parental Incarceration

How to Avoid a "Death Sentence" for Families

By Tiffany Conway & Rutledge Q. Hudson

Parental incarceration has far-reaching implications for parents, their children, extended family members, and the community. Children placed in foster care when their parents are incarcerated face the prospect of having their parents’ rights terminated. Advocates representing incarcerated parents and their children should know the legal parameters of child welfare decisions and the “reasonable efforts” requirements of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.

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A Well-Grounded Fear

Civil Reform of Criminal Justice

By Beth Colgan

The promise of a right to counsel in a criminal proceeding is rendered meaningless when representation of the accused is undertaken by attorneys who are unqualified and inexperienced or whose own financial interests are at odds with zealous advocacy for their clients. This was the case in Grant County, Washington, where the county public defense system had failed to provide accused persons with adequate representation. To ensure that criminal defendants in the county would realize the full benefits of a right to a lawyer, civil legal aid advocates challenged this system in Best v. Grant County.

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Attacking Poverty by Attacking Chronic Unemployment

An Update on Developments in Transitional Job Strategies for Former Prisoners

By John Bouman, Joseph A. Antolin & Melissa Young

Many ex-offenders face problems of chronic unemployment upon reentry into society. Transitional jobs strategies can help them overcome complex employment barriers. Recent movement on both federal and state levels to institute transitional job programs offers greater opportunities for ex-offenders to be employed and reintegrated into their communities.

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Mapping the Criminal Justice System's Impact in Your Community

By James Bell

Understanding the pervasiveness of the criminal justice system’s reach into low-income communities is critical to meeting the civil legal needs of these communities. Advocates can learn more about this phenomenon by using a model that maps how criminal justice policies operate locally, beginning with the deployment of law enforcement resources. With the system deconstructed, advocates can consider ways to intervene to minimize harm to clients.

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Advocacy to Help Reentering Juveniles Get Back on Track

By Pat Arthur

Returning to school helps young people reentering after incarceration avoid recidivism and become successful members of society. Former offenders face a number of barriers—among others, bureaucratic hurdles and unwelcoming school officials—to successful reentry into the educational system. From working with schools to bringing legal action, advocates can help them get back on track.

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