Our hearts go out to those who have been affected by the wildfires in Sonoma, Napa and elsewhere in California. We have been moved by stories of the generosity and courage shown by first responders, neighbors and strangers alike.
Among some of the more surprising stories to come out of this emergency is the widespread use of prison labor in fire fighting. In the last few weeks, former Richmond mayor and current Lt. Governor candidate Gayle McLaughlin has sought to raise critical awareness about prison fire-fighting, which she compares to slave labor. While praising all those who have risked their lives to fight the fires, she has also pointed out that California inmates work for wages as low as pennies a day. Firefighting prisoners earn $2 a day or $1 per hour during active fires.
“They’re volunteering to work, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be getting a fair wage,” McLaughlin said in an interview with Sacramento News & Review. “This is abuse of incarcerated individuals. A dollar an hour to stand at the frontlines of a wildfire is slave labor.”
Gayle favors ending private prisons, and a real minimum wage for all inmate labor, including inmate firefighters. To get involved in Gayle’s campaign, click here.
And to read more, check out the following articles:
Finally, for a list of grassroots organizations providing wildfire and hurricane relief, take a look at this resource from the Sunflower Alliance.
In 2016, about two-thirds of California voters supported Proposition 57, which helps California reduce its costly overreliance on prisons through parole and sentencing reforms and incentives for rehabilitation. But now the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is proposing regulations that threaten to undercut Prop 57.
The faith community, led by PICO, a network for faith based organizations, is urging Californians to write to the CDCR to amend their regulations before they become final. According to PICO, the three main problems with the proposed regs are:
- They do not apply new programming credits to people who have been dedicated to rehabilitation for years, or decades. There is no reason why benefits of Prop. 57 should not apply retroactively to cover genuine rehabilitation programming in the past.
- They exclude young offenders eligible for parole under SB 260 and 261, two laws aimed at creating special parole hearings for young offenders. At its core, Prop. 57 promised to correct over incarceration of young offenders and encourage positive rehabilitative programming—there is no justifiable reason to undermine the positive reforms of SB 260 and 261.
- They exclude people who are serving life sentences under the Three Strikes law for nonviolent crimes. Prop. 57 promised to apply to all nonviolent prisoners.
One immediate positive outcome of the protests around the jail expansion is that our activism put the final nail in the coffin for corrupt Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson. The San Francisco Chronicle pointed to the anger of protestors as part of what made his resignation "inevitable." The Chron reported that in "exchange for his resignation and his no-contest plea to one count of perjury for making false statements on state campaign disclosure forms, state prosecutors dropped the other 12 charges." The judge sentenced him to 250 hours of community service and three years of probation -- a light sentence for someone who caused so much harm in our community. We are a year and a half away from the next District Attorney election; in the meantime the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors will appoint a successor. Progressive organizations have called for a transparent appointment process and recommended that none of the announced candidates for the 2018 election be considered for appointment. The Supervisors have committed to hold a public forum to discuss the process, which is tentatively scheduled for August 15th.
During his term, DA Peterson refused to prosecute a Richmond police officer in the death of Richard “Pedie” Perez III, who was intoxicated and unarmed when he was shot three times by a police officer in Richmond. His family continues to organize in Pedie's memory, pushing for greater accountability for police who use force under questionable circumstances. Specifically they are organizing in favor of a bill that would require an independent investigation of any situation where a police officer kills or seriously harms a person.
By Mike Parker
Even the Contra Costa Times is calling for Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson’s resignation or removal. He illegally diverted $66,000 from his campaign fund for personal use. He lied on sworn statements he filed. As many have pointed out he prosecutes people who have stolen far less and who have not violated the public trust. And all of this while making a salary of $300,000 per year. Most people who are caught embezzling money do not get to keep their job.
This highlights the gross injustice of what we call our “justice system.” Mark Peterson’s career as DA may be toast, but replacing him with a like-minded DA who has not been caught just maintains the unfair justice system. In the 2018t election we need a DA whose main campaign promise is that he will go after the bank executives who are fleecing poor people, the managements of the refineries who make unsafe decisions and the police and other government officials who use their authority to abuse people.
At the same time the DA must take a different approach to the crimes that come from poverty and youthful mistaken decisions. There are actually DAs who take this approach. Going viral right now is a TED talk by a Boston prosecutor Adam Foss. It is worth the time to hear how we can use government to fix some of our problems.
The fight against the Sheriff’s $95 million West County Detention Center expansion is growing, with electeds such as State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia joining cities such as Richmond and El Cerrito in opposing the plan.
What’s a better use of $95 million? How about more funding for programs for young people, expanded mental health care and additional job training programs? If you agree, you are no alone – in fact you are in the vast majority. A recent survey of voters in Contra Costa County found that seven in ten voters support shifting investment from the local sheriff’s department to community reinvestment policies: “Voters strongly support an array of community reinvestment policies which emphasize access to health care services; increased access to early education and after-school programs; and employment opportunities for the most vulnerable, including communities of color, foster youth, low-income families, and the formerly incarcerated.”
Although the CCC Board of Supervisors voted in February in favor of the jail expansion, they don’t have the money for it. The county would need to pay at least $25 million, and are relying on the state to come up with the rest of the funding. So it is applying for a $70 million grant from the Board of State and Community Corrections.
Please consider signing a petition to the Board of State and Community Corrections.
The grand jury verdict is still fresh, and we are still processing our emotional reactions to it. Immediately, although we are not surprised, we are outraged by the decision of the grand jury in failing to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri.
We are outraged that Prosecutor Robert McCullough could still bring a case against Darren Wilson, but he has said that he would not. We are outraged that while the protesters and sympathizers are being asked publicly to be peaceful, to remain calm, and to practice restraint and tolerance, there was no such restraint and good judgment on the part of Darren Wilson when Michael Brown attempted to surrender and was killed, allegedly in cold blood.
US Attorney General Eric Holder is quoted as saying "It does not honor his memory to engage in violence or looting." We say, it does not honor the memory of Michael Brown to let his killer go free without any serious repercussions or legal consequences. What happened in Ferguson tonight is a travesty of justice to say the least.
Black lives matter. Black lives matter in Ferguson, Missouri. Black lives matter in Richmond, California. Black lives matter everywhere.