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Nebraska senators move bills to help felons re-enter society

Since originally being sentenced to death at 17 for shooting two men and killing one of them, Shakur Abdullah changed his name and found a new life helping others. He was released in January 2016 after more than 40 years in prison, and now works as a case manager for Omaha-based Reconnect Inc., a nonprofit organization founded by another former inmate that teaches current and former prisoners job and life skills. But under Nebraska law, Abdullah will not be able to vote until 2018. Nebraska lawmakers ended the state’s permanent ban on felon voting in 2005, but added a two-year waiting period as a last-minute compromise to make sure the measure had enough votes.

“The same sentence that has been discharged is being used to prevent you from voting,” Abdullah said. “It makes you feel like a pariah or a second-class citizen.”

That would change under one of several bills moving forward in the Nebraska Legislature that aim to help felons re-entering society after prison stints. A measure Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha designated as his priority bill, increasing the likelihood it will be debated by the full Legislature this session, could restore voting rights to about 7,800 Nebraska felons as soon as they finish their sentences. Wayne said his bill would reverse a racially motivated decision Nebraska lawmakers made more than 140 years ago to keep newly enfranchised black Americans from voting. People of color are disproportionately represented in Nebraska’s prison system: racial minorities made up 15 percent of Nebraska’s population in the last census but are nearly half of its prison population.

“They knew it was a way to keep minority voters at the time disenfranchised,” Wayne said. “We cannot escape that history.”

Wayne’s bill has advanced from committee and is awaiting a first vote from the full Legislature. So are measures that would require jails to offer inmates state-issued IDs before leaving, extend a 2014 ban on asking about criminal history on public employers’ job applications to include private employers and allow people who had been incarcerated to petition to have their convictions set aside. Bills that would allow drug felons to receive nutrition benefits are stalled in committee, but their sponsors plan to work on compromises over the summer. The bills are part of a larger comprehensive approach Nebraska lawmakers are taking to the criminal justice system, American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska executive director Danielle Conrad said. On the front end, senators have introduced legislation that would change how bail, fines and fees are charged to keep indigent people out of jail for being unable to pay, and the Legislature narrowly advanced a bill that would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, though supporters lack the 30 votes to override a near-certain veto. And lawmakers are considering a measure that would limit solitary confinement and other restricted housing in the state’s prison system.

“We no longer have the luxury of focusing on one discreet area in the spectrum,” Conrad said. Three of the four re-entry bills have no price tag, and the Secretary of State’s office predicted the felon voting change would cost about $1,000 to remove references to the two-year waiting period on its website and other information. Those fiscal notes make the measures a “common-sense, low-cost alternative” to more prison spending as Nebraska faces a projected $895 million revenue shortfall during the upcoming two-year budget cycle, Conrad said.

“Each of these pieces working together are critically important in ensuring we’re presenting returning citizens with opportunities for civic engagement,” Conrad said.

Those returning citizens now can get help through organizations like Omaha’s Reconnect Inc. and church-based organizations, which Abdullah said have seen a groundswell of support in the decade since then-President George W. Bush signed the Second Chance Act of 2007. Reconnect Inc. helps current and recently released prisoners pay for state IDs and birth certificates, but it can’t use grant money for IDs and would be able to do more if prisons would make sure inmates had IDs before they left, he said. State prisons now issue ID cards that identify the holder as a recently released inmate, but those aren’t seen as official IDs needed to apply for a job or apartment. Prisons would offer state ID cards or driver’s license renewals, but not new driver’s licenses, under an amended bill sponsored by Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln and unanimously endorsed by the Judiciary Committee. A measure sponsored by Sen. John McCollister of Omaha that would prevent private employers from asking about criminal history on job applications advanced on a 4-3 party line vote from the Business and Labor Committee. It’s opposed by the Nebraska chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which says delays in learning about potential employees’ criminal history could lead to expensive hiring delays.

“Knowing the criminal history certainly is relevant if they’ve been convicted of identity theft and are going to work with credit cards, or if they’re going to be a security guard or day care worker who was convicted of sexual assault,” state director Bob Hostelman said.

Finding a job, voting and otherwise reintegrating with the community will help reduce recidivism rates, said Jasmine Harris, a member of the Urban League of Nebraska Young Professionals who organized an inaugural Black and Brown Legislative Day in February.

“The most important thing that people need to know is that people deserve second chances,” Harris said. “We need to make them feel welcome.”

California Guard helps Sierra town remove huge snowpack

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. (AP)

The Eastern Sierra town of Mammoth Lakes got so much snow this winter that it had to get removal help from the California National Guard.

Faced with more than 40 feet (12 meters) of snow, the Mono County community declared a state of emergency and a request for snow removal assistance was sent to the state Office of Emergency Services, which called in the Guard earlier this month. The Guard sent 10 heavy trucks and 17 troops who hauled away 4,000 tons (3,629 metric tons) of snow. Capt. Will Martin tells the Los Angeles Times[1] that snow-related calls usually involve search-and-rescue, and no one can recall something like the snow-removal mission.

The Mammoth Mountain ski resort has so much snow it plans to keep lifts running until July 4.

References

  1. ^ Los Angeles Times (lat.ms)

Correctional officer ‘violently assaulted’ by ACI inmate

by JESSICA A. BOTELHO, NBC 10 NEWS

Correctional Officer 'violently Assaulted' By ACI Inmate

FILE PHOTO: A high-security inmate at the ACI violently assaulted a correctional officer Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (WJAR)

A high-security inmate at the ACI violently assaulted a correctional officer Wednesday. An official with the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers told NBC 10 News that Yoneiry Delarosa, who is serving 30 years for first degree robbery, struck an officer in the face as he was trying to apply restraints on the inmate in the shower around 12 noon.

The High Security Officer lost conscious and was transported by rescue to Rhode Island Hospital Emergency Room for medical treatment, authorities noted. It s not the first time Delarosa has caused chaos at the Cranston prison.

In fact, authorities said he has a significant discipline record with over 117 infractions during his incarceration at the ACI and that the incident marks the third time Delarosa assaulted an officer within the last six months.

As a result of his latest infraction, Delarosa was transferred to maximum security.

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