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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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Global

Scottish Survivor Groups Encourage All Survivors of Abuse in Care to Take Part in a Milestone Consultation

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Survivor groups in Scotland have called on all survivors of abuse in care to take part in an important consultation, allowing individuals to share their views on a possible financial redress scheme for the first time.

The consultation has been developed and delivered through a collaboration between a range of partners including survivor representatives (Interaction Action Plan Review Group) and CELCIS (the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland).

With just four weeks left to the deadline of Friday 17 November to complete the consultation, survivor groups have spoken out about the need for all survivors of abuse in care to take part.

David Whelan, spokesperson from Former Boys and Girls Abused in Quarriers group (FBGA), commented: “This redress and compensation consultation gives everyone who has experienced abuse in the care system in Scotland an opportunity to share their views. The consultation offers real choices to the individual and survivor groups as to what it is they would like in any proposed redress-consultation scheme. It allows all survivors a chance to have their voices and opinions heard.  We would encourage as many survivors as possible to take part over the next month.

“Former Boys and Girls Abused in Quarriers group fully support this consultation which was put together in a partnership with other victims-survivors, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, CELCIS, The Scottish Government and others.”

Judith Robertson, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said: “Anyone who has been subjected to abuse has a human right to access justice and to an effective and fair remedy. Everyone has the right to live and be treated with dignity.  The Scottish Human Rights Commission welcomes the consultation by the InterAction Review Group and CELCIS on financial redress for historic abuse.  It is a crucial part of developing Scotland’s Action Plan on Historic Abuse and we encourage anyone who is themselves a survivor of childhood abuse to take part.”

Joanne McMeeking, Head of Improving Care Experiences at CELCIS, said: “We are in the final month of the consultation process, which is a milestone in terms of seeking justice for survivors of abuse in care in Scotland. Completing this consultation questionnaire gives survivors a way to have their views about potential financial redress seen and heard.”

Taking part

The consultation is open to all victims/survivors of historical abuse in care as defined by the Terms of Reference of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry and is available online.

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Human Rights

Rescuing Sex Trafficking Victims

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Lois Lee, Ph.D., J.D. – Founder of Children of the Night Photo Credit: CalState

Forty years ago, it wasn’t unusual to find Lois Lee, Ph.D., J.D. wandering the streets and alleys of Los Angeles at 3 a.m.; she even did so while pregnant with her son.

Dr. Lee was looking for victims of sex trafficking and those who exploited them.

Walking miles along Sunset, Santa Monica and Hollywood Boulevards, the then-24-year-old would hand out business cards with her hotline number, encouraging victims to call and letting them know what kind of help they’d find.

“These are girls, boys and transgender children that would fall between the cracks of the system,” remembers Lee. “They had nowhere to go — no one was providing a bed or a school or offering to take care of these kids.”

So, she created that place.

From 1979 to 1981, Lee housed more than 250 sex trafficking victims in her own home, all while building the Children of the Night outreach program; the privately funded nonprofit organization would become unlike any other in existence at the time, or even today, rescuing children from child prostitution and providing housing, education and treatment.

But perhaps most important, Lee gave them hope.

An Unimaginable Life

Lee was raised in Los Angeles, the eldest child in a family of three girls. It was a childhood she describes as healthy, safe and sheltered.

So when, as a graduate student at California State University, Dominguez Hills, her faculty mentor Jeanne Curran, PhD., then a professor of sociology, introduced her to the underworld of sex trafficking, it was a wake-up call.

“I wanted to make everything better because I just couldn’t imagine someone living in these types of conditions,” explains Lee, who graduated from CSU Dominguez Hills with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science in 1973 and a master’s in sociology in 1977.

It was at CSUDH that she developed the skills she’d later use to address child sex trafficking. Lee also taught courses at the campus’s Social Systems Research Center, then led by Dr. Curran. The center has since been renamed the Urban Community Research Center.

“Jeanne became a mentor for me, both on- and off-campus. She influenced my life and academic choices so much,” says Lee, a first-generation college student.

“She and CSU Dominguez Hills empowered me.”

Victims, Not Criminals

Late one night in 1977, Lee received a call from a woman who operated an escort service. A 17-year-old she worked with had not returned and she was unable to contact her.

Afraid, she had called Lee for guidance. Lee went to the police, who dismissed the call and refused to help. The next morning, the girl’s body was found; she had become one of the Hillside Stranglers’victims.

Frustrated by the lack of resources that were available to these girls, Lee appeared on an L.A. news broadcast, giving out her personal phone number and encouraging prostitutes with knowledge of the case to reach out to her directly. She promised confidentiality.

“I coordinated everything just as I had learned from Jeanne at CSU Dominguez Hills,” Lee recalls. “And that was really the beginning of my work.”

Lee would go on to play a critical role in the Hillside Strangler trial, testifying in the case and coordinating witnesses for the prosecution.

At just 27, Lee garnered attention when she sued the Los Angeles Police Department for prosecuting underage prostitutes while letting their customers go free.

She won the case and has gone on to file a number of other lawsuits.

“I taught vice detectives nationwide that there were children prostituting and they needed to be treated differently,” says the President’s Volunteer Action Award recipient. She strongly advocated – and still does – to have the children referred to and treated as victims, not criminals.

Education: The Key to Success

To date, Children of the Night’s president and founder is credited with rescuing more than 10,000 children from prostitution in the U.S.

The organization’s shelter, located in Van Nuys, California, offers no-cost housing for as many as 12 children ages 11 to 17. They attend classes at the on-site school, receive individualized treatment, and participate in fun outings. A nationwide toll-free hotline is also staffed 24/7.

Lee sees education as the most fundamental of the services they offer, and attendance is mandatory for all residents.

“What’s really important about the development of any society is to educate the people,” she explains. “Through education, I was able to learn about the world. Education empowers.”

While children are offered treatment to manage trauma, their past experiences are not the focus, Lee stresses. “I don’t feel sorry for the children with whom I work,” she says. “[That] incapacitates their ability to become strong and independent. I want the world for my kids. I have very high expectations of them.”

Which is not to say she isn’t deeply empathetic to what they’ve faced.

“There is no way that I can make what happened to them go away, but I can … put distance between their old lifestyle and their life now.”

Still Fighting

Today, Lee is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in rescuing child sex trafficking victims, raising awareness on a topic that previously wasn’t talked about. In 1981, the General Accounting Office estimated there were 600,000 children under the age of 16 working as prostitutes in the United States. Today, that number is estimated to be 100,000.

In January 2017, Children of the Night announced a new global initiative to rescue 10,000 more children worldwide from sex trafficking.

Lee is also passionate about giving back to the campus that helped turn her dream into an advocacy mission that has no doubt saved thousands of lives.

“So much of what I have done and have been able to do in my life is because of my time at CSU Dominguez Hills,” Lee says. “The faculty raised me and nourished me. They liked to take risks and they challenged traditional thinking processes. “Dominguez Hills taught me how to break down barriers.”

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Entertainment

Actor Terry Crews Comes Forward About Being Sexually Assaulted by Hollywood Exec

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Actor Terry Crews takes to Twitter to discuss being sexually assaulted by a Hollywood Executive in the wake of the firing of Harvey Weinstein for sexual assault after years of accusations.

Actor Terry Crews

Did you hear the Expendables star say last year?

How is it the criminal justice system doesn’t seem to be able to touch these folks?

Power and privilege keep a lot of people silent.

He just validated a whole lot of women who deal with this on the regular. It’s not easy to come forward.

There is strength in numbers and knowing you are not alone.

Both men and women are affected by sexual assault and rape culture, and it will take more men becoming advocates as well as coming forward to tell their stories because they have stories too.

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