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The Way Forward In Reentry

Wed, 2016-07-06 14:08
Co-authored by Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz

As law enforcement agencies and community organizations team up across the country to reduce crime, expand opportunity, and revitalize our neighborhoods, it is increasingly clear that a crucial part of that work is helping people returning from our prisons and jails make a successful transition back to their families and communities. With more than 600,000 individuals leaving state and federal prisons each year and more than 11 million cycling through local jails, reentry is a process with enormous implications for communities across the United States and for all of us who care about making sure that we create opportunity for everyone who is able to contribute. If handled the right way, reentry policy can lead to lower crime, stronger families, and more prosperous communities. If handled poorly - or if ignored altogether - a failure to ensure successful reentry can deepen the cycles of poverty, criminality and incarceration that prevent too many of our neighborhoods from reaching their full potential.

This administration has been dedicated to improving reentry outcomes since President Obama took office in 2009. In the years since, the White House, the Department of Justice and agencies across the federal government have worked tirelessly to strengthen our reentry infrastructure in a number of ways. For example, the president's criminal justice reform agenda includes a number of reentry initiatives, some of which were highlighted in the department's National Reentry Week in April. And the Departments of Justice and Labor are funding innovative projects that support hundreds of adult and youth reentry programs across the country.

To build on these efforts, President Obama recently signed a memorandum formally establishing the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, which we are proud to chair together. The President's action officially charters an effort that started in January of 2011, when former Attorney General Eric Holder convened federal agency heads to address reentry in a more comprehensive fashion. The distance we have come in those five-and-a-half years is remarkable. We have opened doors to employment for returning citizens by launching the White House Fair Chance Business Pledge, an effort aimed at eliminating barriers to reentry and employment, including "ban the box" initiatives that delay questions about criminal history until an appropriate point in the hiring process. We have expanded access to educational opportunities through programs like Second Chance Pell, which makes some federal inmates eligible for college funding. And we are working to reduce the thousands of secondary consequences triggered by a criminal record - from trouble getting student loans to barriers to voting - restrictions that too often penalize those who have been in prison long after they have served their sentences.

Yesterday, we held the first meeting of the newly-chartered Reentry Council, and we took even more promising steps forward. Led by the council's Executive Director Amy Solomon, we discussed a number of recent accomplishments, evaluated ongoing activities and discussed a promising way forward. The White House gave an overview of the Fair Chance Business Pledge and the Higher Education Pledge, which enlists private-sector organizations and colleges and universities in providing individuals a fair chance to participate in the American economy. The Office of Personnel Management discussed how their new proposed rule will "ban the box" for federal hires, delaying inquiries about an applicant's criminal history until a conditional offer is made. The Department of Education described its Beyond the Box initiative to give justice-involved individuals access to postsecondary educational opportunities. The Department of Health and Human Services highlighted new guidance that extends Medicaid coverage to residents of community halfway houses, which will help as many as 100,000 people. And the Department of Justice showcased the Bureau of Prisons' Roadmap to Reentry, a strategic blueprint for reentry planning in the federal prison system released in the spring. The department also highlighted new guidelines soon to be published in the Federal Register that will give people who are incarcerated, often victims of crime and trauma themselves, access to federally-funded victim services.

In his memorandum, President Obama wrote that "America is a nation of second chances." But for too many Americans involved with the justice system, those second chances never appear. That's a status quo we cannot afford to accept. It is too damaging to those leaving prison; too harmful to the families and communities to which they're returning; and too costly to the nation, which depends upon the skills and talents of all its people. With the creation of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, and the help of our dedicated partners throughout the United States, we're beginning to change that status quo, to create more second chances and to build a brighter future for all.

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Survey: Illinois Cities, Counties With the Most DUI Arrests in 2015

Wed, 2016-07-06 12:58
The Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists recently released its 26th annual survey of drunken driving arrests in Illinois.

Nearly 700 police departments from across the state were surveyed in the group's 2015 DUI arrest survey, which received a response rate of 81 percent.

AAIM, a nonprofit citizens action group, was founded in 1982 by victims of drunken driving with the help of former Gov. Jim Edgar, who at the time was secretary of state and led legislative efforts to crack down on intoxicated motorists by establishing the state's first citizens task force. The survey has been conducted since 1990 and is funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

"Over the last three decades, progress has been made to help eliminate the devastation caused by impaired driving in Illinois. While frustratingly slow, many lives have been saved," AAIM Executive Director Rita Kreslin said in a press release. "Focused efforts and cooperation of law enforcement agencies, traffic safety advocates and communities have helped to prevent crashes and save thousands of lives."

The Illinois State Police reported 12 percent more arrests than the 5,784 made in 2014. In 2013, state troopers arrested 9,302 intoxicated drivers.

Chicago's DUI arrest total was nearly the same over the year, with only six fewer arrests compared to 2014.

The Secretary of State Police, which focuses on enforcing laws on vehicle registration and sales of motor vehicles and parts, also figured into the statistics, but only reported five drunken driving arrests compared to 20 the previous year.

Among the Top 5 cities with the largest increase in the number of DUI arrests between 2014 and 2015 were Peoria, 83.9 percent; Carol Stream, 31.8 percent; Rockford, 20.8 percent; Elgin, 18.9 percent; and Cicero, 17.6 percent.

Here's a list of the Top 25 cities and counties with the most drunken driving arrests last year, as well as those with the most DUI arrests per 1,000 residents.

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Despite Stopgap Budget Deal, Moody's Downgrades Credit Ratings of Illinois Universities

Wed, 2016-07-06 10:12

After an entire year without an operating budget, Illinois breathed a sigh of relief June 30 when Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic Legislature finally agreed to a temporary plan to get state government through the end of the calendar year.

To Moody's Investors Service, however, the Illinois stopgap budget was just another symptom of the paralysis that grips Illinois state government. The ratings agency viewed the emergency, six-month plan as yet another example of Illinois prolonging and worsening its fiscal malaise.

Within hours of Rauner signing the deal, Moody's downgraded the credit ratings of most of the state's public universities and said they're being damaged because of state government's failure to enact a true budget that balances its spending and revenue.

"Universities will continue to operate with lack of budget clarity into FY 2017, limiting long- term planning and investment in programs and facilities. They still face high likelihoodof continued state funding reductions and delays given the state's fundamental fiscal challenges," Moody's said. "While the stopgap budget provides temporary operating relief, it does not permanently restore liquidity, which has been severely depleted at many of the state's public universities due to operating without state funding for much of FY 2016."

That's not a message any university wants to send nationwide as it competes for students and faculty.

With Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan both adamant that their positions on budget negotiations have not changed, a renewal of the budget impasse of 2016 seems all but inevitable come December.

Recommended: Top 25 school districts with biggest gain in state funding under stopgap budget

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A Man Burned The Flag And Got Arrested, Which Is Clearly Unconstitutional

Tue, 2016-07-05 17:04

A young man who wasn't feeling very patriotic this 4th of July weekend decided to burn an American flag and tell the world about it on Facebook -- only to get arrested the next day after neighbors complained.

Bryton Mellott, 22, of Urbana, Illinois, was taken into custody Monday after police received calls about his Facebook posts, which included a picture of him setting the Stars and Stripes on fire and a message explaining that he was "not proud to be an American."

"In this moment, being proud of my country is to ignore the atrocities committed against people of color, people living in poverty, people who identify as women, and against my own queer community on a daily basis,” Mellott wrote in a Facebook post that appears to have since been taken down.

It turns out that Mellott had been charged under Illinois' flag desecration statute -- a relic from another era, since the Supreme Court ruled more than 25 years ago that flag burning is expressive political conduct and, as such, is protected by the Constitution.

"If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable,” wrote Justice William Brennan for a divided 5-4 court in the landmark 1989 case Texas v. Johnson.

Sgt. Andrew Charles of the Urbana Police Department told Forbes columnist Fernando Alfonso that the UPD had never charged anyone under that law in 27 years, but that police proceeded with the arrest out of an attempt to balance civil liberties with issues of safety.

"This wasn’t an issue with anyone at the police department being personally offended by his speech," Charles said. "But the reaction that it was gathering, and the concern for the safety of all involved forced us into a reaction."

It appears that Mellott's constitutional rights won out in the end, because Julia Reitz, the state's attorney assigned to the case, decided not to proceed with a prosecution. She pointed to Texas v. Johnson, which declared a similar flag desecration statute unconstitutional.

If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.
Justice William Brennan in Texas v. Johnson (1989)

Reitz also suggested that the law currently in effect in Illinois might need to be revised to comport with the First Amendment.

"We will be discussing this issue with our local legislators and asking that they consider reviewing this statute given the constitutional issues it presents," Reitz said Tuesday in a statement.

Following the county's decision not to press charges against Mellott, the police department insisted in a press release that its officers acted in good faith -- both in following the law and out of concern for Mellott, whose postings elicited "significant emotional reactions," including death threats against him.

This "escalating negative landscape and the concern for the poster" led the Urbana Police Department to act the way it did, according to the release, posted Tuesday on Facebook.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, for its part, was none too pleased that getting jailed for flag-burning is still a thing in 2016.

"The notion that someone would be arrested for that so long after we have settled that question in the courts is really troubling," said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the legal advocacy group.

Mellott didn't return a request for comment and his posts are no longer publicly visible on Facebook, but his expressive act lives on: As of Tuesday, a photo of him burning the flag was still his profile image on social media.

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Abner Mikva, Presidential Medal Of Freedom Recipient And Former Congressman, Dies

Tue, 2016-07-05 13:33

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Abner Mikva, who served as a White House adviser, federal judge, congressman and mentor to President Barack Obama, has died at age 90, his Chicago non-profit organization said on Tuesday.

Mikva, who died on Monday, emerged in the 1950s as a liberal reform leader who defied an electoral culture in Illinois dominated by machine politicians before moving on to Washington.

Obama, who presented Mikva the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, credited Mikva with steering him into public service when the future president was a law school student.

"He saw something in me that I didn't yet see in myself, but I know why he did it," Obama said in a statement. "Ab represented the best of public service himself and he believed in empowering the next generation of young people to shape our country ...

"Like so many admirers, I’ve lost a mentor and a friend."

Mikva also served as former President Bill Clinton's White House counsel.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois called Mikva "my North Star for integrity."

"In an era of cynicism and disappointment, Abner's record of public service was proof that the good guys can win without selling their souls," he said in a statement.

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan issued the following statement to HuffPost on Mikva's passing:

Ab Mikva gave me my first job -- and my first chance -- in the law. For that alone, I owe him a deep debt of gratitude. But far more important, I am thankful to him for modeling, for me and so many others, how to live a life dedicated to public service. For more than 60 years, Ab devoted his extraordinary gifts of intellect, wisdom, energy, and spirit to advancing the public good and strengthening the country he loved. He was a person of complete integrity and unwavering principle. I count myself honored to have had him as a mentor and to have been his friend. I send my deepest condolences to Zoe, to Mary, Laurie, and Rachel, and to all their families. May his memory be a blessing.

Mikva's first brush with politics came in 1948 as a University of Chicago law student, when he approached a city ward boss about volunteering for the Democratic campaigns of gubernatorial candidate Adlai Stevenson and senatorial candidate Paul Douglas.

"The quintessential Chicago ward committeeman takes the cigar out of his mouth, says, 'Who sent you kid?' And I said, 'Nobody sent me.' He puts the cigar back in his mouth and said, 'We don't want nobody sent,' and that was my introduction to Chicago politics," Mikva recounted in an oral history recorded by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

Mikva was elected to the Illinois state legislature in 1956 and served in the U.S. House during the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where he became chief judge. One of his law clerks was Elena Kagan, now a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Mikva remained on the bench until 1994, when he was appointed by Clinton as White House counsel.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who worked on one of Mikva's congressional re-election campaigns, issued a statement calling him "one of the great public servants of our time."

Mikva's death was confirmed by Mikva Challenge, a leadership program for Chicago youth, but it did not provide a cause of death.

(Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Bill Trott)

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July 4th Celebrations Marred By Fears Of Terrorism, Gun Violence

Mon, 2016-07-04 09:18

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States celebrates July Fourth on Monday with parades, hotdog eating contests and fireworks shows amid heightened security because of concerns about terrorism in New York and timeworn holiday gun violence in Chicago.

Millions of Americans will mark independence from Britain with celebrations as boisterous as a music-packed party by country music legend Willie Nelson for 10,000 people at a race track in Austin, Texas and as staid as colonial-era costumed actors reading the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives in Washington.

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History may be in the making in the traditional hotdog-eating contest at New York's Coney Island. Joey "Jaws" Chestnut - a world record holder who ate 69 hotdogs in 10 minutes - attempts to regain his Mustard Yellow International Belt from Matt Stonie, who last year ended Chestnut's run of eight straight victories.

With the holiday taking place days after the attack at Istanbul's international airport, the New York Police Department will deploy eight new canines known as vapor wake dogs, trained to sniff out body-worn explosives, Commissioner Bill Bratton said on Friday.

The department's human presence this holiday will be increased by nearly 2,000 new officers who graduated Friday from the New York City Police Academy. 

"As we always have the capacity in New York to put out a lot of resources, that's the name of the game, in dealing with terrorist threats," Bratton said.

Police in Chicago, which has seen a spike in gun murders this year, announced a stepped up presence with more than 5,000 officers on patrol over the long weekend, traditionally one of the year's most violent, said Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. Local media reported on Friday that 24 people had been shot over the past 24 hours, three fatally.

Dry weather forecasts across the country thrilled fireworks lovers, although some spots in Michigan have been so rain-starved that pyrotechnic shows were canceled in a handful of communities near Detroit to prevent fires.

NFL star Jason Pierre-Paul, who lost fingers as one of the 12,000 people injured and 11 killed in fireworks accidents last year, appeared in a public service announcement ahead of the 2016 holiday to urge greater caution.

"I lit up a firework, thought I could throw it away real quick and in a split second it blew off my whole hand," the New York Giants defensive end said in the spot produced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York, Fiona Ortiz in Chicago, Adam DeRose in Washington, and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Alistair Bell)

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