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Glenn E. Martin leading the Close Riker’s Campaign – Photo Credit: Twitter @glennEmartin

After the 2015 suicide of Kalief Browder elevated the injustices of Rikers Island to a national conversation, calls to close Rikers Island by grassroots organizations intensified. On June 22, 2017, New York Mayor, Bill de Blasio’s office released a 51-page report outlining a credible path to closing Rikers Island jail complex.

As a minor, Browder was arrested on suspicion of stealing a book bag and was sent to Rikers Island after his family could not afford to pay the $3000 bond as a condition for his release. Kalief Browder spent almost two years in solitary confinement at Rikers Island where he attempted suicide at least five times after being denied healthcare services.

In 2016, the #CloseRikers campaign lead by JustLeadershipUSA in partnership with many other organizations was created to “break the political gridlock and achieve real solutions that are guided by directly impacted communities”, according to its website.

The campaign called for:

“New Yorkers to boldly reimagine the city’s failed criminal justice system and become a national leader in ending mass incarceration”

When I first heard of the #CloseRikers campaign, I believed the campaign was a good idea in theory and would be effective in helping to raise awareness, but it seemed the jail complex was too massive to sustain any real change. My first thoughts were, “Is this a reasonable ask?”

This tweet opened a dialogue with Glenn E. Martin, the visionary leader, who believed in the impossible long before Mayor de Blasio backed the Rikers Island Commission’s recommendation to close the facility. I was reminded of when I first saw Glenn E. Martin which was during a livestream forum hosted on Twitter by the Columbia University Center for Justice back in early 2015 before periscope. During the forum, he said something to the effect that many people enter public service to change the system when in fact the system will change you long before you change it.

As someone who has worked in corrections at a Supermax, in law enforcement as a patrol officer, and in social work as a Child Protection Investigator, this statement really resonated with me. Although my heart is dedicated to serving others, I just could not conform to those environments which is why I created Social Work Helper. Now, I have the freedom to advocate, help create awareness and hold institutions accountable all of which has the tendency to get you fired in a public service job.

Glenn was gracious enough to grant me an interview to discuss his organization’s efforts to advance criminal justice reform, and you can read our conversation below:

SWH:  Tell us about your organization JustLeadershipUSA, and how you are using it to influence criminal justice reform.

Glenn E. Martin – Founder at JustLeadershipUSA

GEM:  I spent six years in state prison and met some of this country’s best and brightest while I was there.  It taught me that, in criminal justice reform, those closest to the problem are closest to the solution but furthest from resources and power.

The people most harmed by mass incarceration are the people who can lead us out of that crisis, but only if we have a seat at decision-making tables.  That’s the principle on which I founded JLUSA.  Our bold goal is to cut the correctional population in half by 2030, and we have a three-pronged approach for accomplishing that.

Through our national leadership training we empower formerly incarcerated people to lead criminal justice reform efforts around the country.  Through membership in JLUSA we engage thousands of people across the country concerned about criminal justice issues and mobilize them to create change.  Through advocacy we build campaigns and influence criminal justice policy on the local, state, and federal levels.  By building a strong base of formerly incarcerated leaders and other supporters across the country, we effectively push for policy changes that will create a decarcerated America.

SWH:  What do you believe are the major barriers and challenges preventing forward movement towards a more equitable criminal justice system?

GEM:  JLUSA believes that America’s most challenging barrier to expansive, systemic criminal and juvenile justice reform is the absence of clear and consistent leadership by those who have been directly affected by our failed criminal justice policies.  People who are directly impacted have big, bold ideas for changing the system that often are dismissed as unrealistic by traditional stakeholders.  That’s why the foundation of our organization is equipping formerly incarcerated people who are already leaders to access the power and resources necessary to make their ideas a reality.

SWH:  When you developed the #CLOSErikers campaign, what were your goals and expected outcomes?

GEM:  The #CLOSErikers campaign was developed with an ambitious goal of totally reimagining what criminal justice looks like in New York City.  Closing Rikers requires the City to reevaluate how each phase of its system operates: policing, setting bail, prosecution, sentencing, incarceration, and reentry.  Closing Rikers requires a significant reduction in the jail population of New York City.  And the shuttering of the penal colony is only one piece of the campaign.  The equally important part is to invest in and build the communities – poor black and brown neighborhoods – that have been devastated by Rikers Island for decades.

SWH:  What advice would you give to someone who dares to achieve the impossible?

GEM:  I’m proof of the talent that this country locks up and throws away every day.  There are thousands, if not millions, of people just like me who have the solutions to some of our most pressing issues but never get to have their voices heard.  My advice to other people like me is to hold onto what you know is right and don’t allow others to tell you that your ideas are impossible or unrealistic.  That’s what I was told when I first started talking about closing Rikers, but now it’s the official policy of New York City.  Build relationships with people who are willing to invest in you and your vision.

SWH:  How can our readers learn more about your projects and how to support them?

GEM:  Visit the JustLeadershipUSA website and the #CLOSErikers website for ways to get involved.  You can become a JLUSA member for only $1 per month ($12 per year), and there is an opportunity to donate memberships to people currently incarcerated.

Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Environmental Justice

Can We Talk About Climate Change For A Moment?




Three Hurricanes Looming off the East Coast of the United States

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to deny the effects that human activity has had on the earth. Decades of research and technological advances have given humans the opportunity to develop more viable alternatives as transitioned from an agrarian society to a more industrious one. Industrialization has allowed us to streamline and improve manufacturing processes thereby improving productivity and growing the economy. But this hasn’t always been to the advantage of the planet and its volatile atmosphere.

One of the major downsides of industrialization is the resulting pollution that negatively impacts the earth’s atmosphere which has been linked to climate change. Today’s environment has been tortured and assaulted by humankind to put it lightly and measures protecting the planet, current and future generations is critical for ecological sustainability. Environmental issues resulting from industrialization include contaminated water, like the lead found in Flint, Michigan, damaged soil, and diminished air quality.

Over the last few years, there have been multiple bipartisan efforts to improve legislation and protections that speak to the ongoing research and scientific evidence backing climate change. And for a while, despite those dedicated critics of climate change, it appeared that Congress had struck the same chord as the evidence of global warming and climate change was undeniable. The previous administration undoubtedly made both climate change and environmental protection a top priority as it took steps to improve efforts to address the global impact and effects of climate change by joining the Paris Climate Agreement.

Climate change has always been one of those highly contested topics of contention. Either you believe or deny that climate change is real or that it is some strategic ploy by liberals to overstate the effects of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions in the environment in order to divert focus their real agenda. As crazy as the latter may sound, and it is quite far-fetched, there are many who believe that climate change is a fictitious liberal scheme.

Unfortunately, one of those believers of the latter currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and has rolled back both legislation and conservation efforts influenced by years of scientific predictions aimed at improving the environment and preventing the extinction of various species. The current administration’s dismissal of the scientific evidence and research supporting climate change as if it were a collection of alternative facts is reprehensible. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see and feel the change in the earth’s climate.

Despite the surmounting evidence and bipartisan efforts to address climate change, President Trump still persists and continues to ignore the severity of climate change. He recently issued an executive order revoking an Obama-Era Order requiring federally funded projects meet standard requirements for flood risks as a precaution to future risks or damage.

This one act seems to have emitted a direct response from Mother Earth herself. As if she was personally insulted, Mother Earth has taken it upon herself to show us just how extreme climate change can be. Harvey. Irma. Jose. Katia.  All four of the category four and five hurricanes have been or will potentially be the cause of great harm and the unfortunate loss of life in the regions affected.  Parts of the west coast are on fire and Mexico just had its biggest earthquake to hit in over 100 years. Who says climate change is real?

Politically, there are plenty of reasons cited from both sides of the aisle as to whether or not claims of climate change or true or false, but perhaps Congress should take a moment to listen to Mother Earth herself to find the answer, because she seems to be speaking loud and clear.

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Environmental Justice

6 Reasons to Start Recycling Today





Most scientific studies argue that the reduction of fossil fuel consumption is paramount to reduce the effects of climate change. We are no longer at the point where a single individual action can reduce the amount of pollution needed to make an impact. However, this should not diminish the importance of recycling, and if you don’t recycle, it’s time to start. Recycling is an easy way for people to feel like they are helping to save Mother Earth.

This is a good thing right? Well, maybe.

People use more plastic and paper when recycling was an option versus when they had to send it to the landfill. Researchers say people’s guilt for wasting is overridden by the good feelings for doing something good, but there is a reason reduce comes before recycle in the old “REDUCE. REUSE. RECYCLE.”  Reducing is the most important and most effective way to save the Earth!

I’m not saying recycling is bad!  It’s great!  Many people think that people who care about recycling also care about reducing, reusing, and other methods of reducing their footprint. It turns out there are different motivators at play.  People commonly feel guilty for using more than they need, but they feel even more positive emotion from doing the “right thing” and recycling.  This means the net feeling is good when people waste but recycle the excess.

Some of the excess that goes in the recycling may end up incinerated or sent to the landfill anyway.  This is due to contamination in the recycling process.  This is why it’s important that people don’t try to recycle things they shouldn’t.

I am definitely not telling you to stop recycling, but do think about the things you use, reduce/reuse where you can and keep recycling!

  1. CUT WASTE:  You can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and combustion facilities.  This allows for that area to be used for other reasons, ideally to be left in its natural state.  In 2013, recycling and composting kept 87.2 million tons of trash from landfills and incinerators in the United States.
  2. CONSERVE:  Recycling conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals.  Now you are reducing the demand for new goods to be made from new material!
  3. PREVENT AIR POLLUTION:  Due to this decreased demand for new materials, there are more trees and plants able to reduce carbon dioxide and it will take less energy to recycle materials as opposed to create new products. This reduces greenhouse gases emissions.
  4. AND WATER POLLUTION:  With reduced manufacturing from raw material to consumer goods, there will be less waste going from the factories and into the watershed.  Recycling also prevents trash from going into bodies of water.
  5. PROTECT ANIMALS:  A world with more natural habitats and less pollution, native plants and animals will flourish!  You will also be preventing animals from eating recyclable materials that end up in their habitat.
  6. SAVE AND CREATE JOBS:  Your recycling efforts can create and sustain jobs in your community.  On a per ton basis, sorting and processing recyclable materials sustains more jobs than incineration or landfills.

If you’re not sure where to recycle in your area, check here.  This will tell you places in your area that take anything from paper to cell phones, hazardous materials to plastic!

If your school or workplace isn’t recycling, ask why!  And try to change it!  It is not too difficult to recycle and it’s definitely worth it.  Let me know if you have any questions and go recycle!!!

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Dark-Skinned Whites Arrested More Than Those with Lighter Skin




A Cornell University study found that black men, no matter how dark or light their skin, get arrested at the same rate, but darker-skinned white men are more likely to be arrested than those with lighter skin.

The study draws on a persistent stereotyping phenomenon – which social psychologists have known for more than a century: People perceive more physical variation in individuals who belong to their own social groups than they do in people who belong to other social groups. It’s the idea that “They all look alike, but we don’t.”

The phenomenon kicks in especially during brief interactions where there’s not much opportunity to learn about another person – potentially including when a police officer is making an arrest.

The finding aligns with larger concerns that white police officers may perceive black individuals as more physically homogenous, says Amelia Branigan, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Cornell Population Center.

“We rely on police officers to consider information about a potential arrestee that may be available only by looking at that person’s body, such as age or body size,” said Branigan, who is currently a visiting assistant professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“If police officers are less able to accurately read physical differences among people of a different race when making an arrest decision, that would constitute a critical information gap.”

Branigan’s co-authors include Christopher Wildeman, associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell.

Branigan and Wilderman emphasize other research has overwhelmingly established that, overall, African-American men are arrested at a far higher rate than white men – even white men with darker skin.

The study breaks new ground for the field of sociology, the authors said. Historically the field has assumed that differences in skin color between whites are not socially meaningful, said Wildeman. “What we show is interesting, in large part, because it suggests physical features, including skin color, matter not just for underrepresented minority groups, which is where most of the emphasis has been, but also for non-Hispanic white males.”

Considering both whites and minorities in studies of skin color is important because certain patterns of bias may only be clear by comparison, the authors said.

“Finding no relationship between skin color and arrests among black men is a good thing on one hand. But when that finding holds only among black men, it fits with popular concern that white police may perceive black men as ‘all looking the same’ during split-second arrest decisions,” Branigan said. “Discrimination by skin color is inequitable for anyone, of any race, but we do want police officers to use accurate visual cues to make decisions about the people they encounter on the job.”

The researchers analyzed data from 888 white men and 703 black men who participated in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study in the late 1980s. The data included a measurement of the reflectivity of the study participants’ skin – the darker the skin, the less light it reflects – and the participants’ arrest records. Three-fourths of the participants lived in cities – Birmingham, Alabama; Chicago, Illinois; and Minneapolis, Minnesota – where more than 95 percent of the police force was white. The other quarter lived in Oakland, California, where 75 percent of the police force was white.

One way to chip away at the disparities found in the study could be policies that change how close police feel to the people they are policing. These could include requiring officers live in the communities where they work, the researchers said.

In many racially diverse communities where police are disproportionately white, most officers live outside the town or city in which they’re employed, Branigan said. “These white officers may be most frequently encountering minorities in the context of crimes committed, which just reaffirms the sense that someone who is nonwhite is inherently ‘someone not like me.’”

In contrast, requiring police officers to live in the communities where they’re employed could redefine their sense of belonging, Branigan said.

“It may provide officers with a basis on which to affiliate with community members of another race, because they are neighbors, instead of viewing them strictly as ‘other.’”

The study “Complicating Colorism: Race, Skin Color, and the Likelihood of Arrest” was published August 29 in the journal Socius.

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