Monday, March 30, 2015




Bay Area United Against War Newsletter

Table of Contents:









Iraq: Where Are We, and Where Are We Going?
Into the 12th year of the U.S. War in Iraq

Iraq Veterans Against the War, American Friends Service Committee,
& the Friends Committee on National Legislation
present a discussion on the U.S. in Iraq after twelve years of war.

Sunday March 29, 2015 at 6 pm

San Francisco. 65 9th Street between Mission and Market Streets, two blocks from Civic Center BART/Muni
Please enter through the North Door, closest to Market Street.

The Friends Meetinghouse is accessible.


Raed Jarrar, Policy Impact Coordinator. Office of Public Policy and Advocacy, American Friends Service Committee.  Raed Jarrar serves as AFSC's Policy Impact Coordinator at the Office of Public Policy and Advocacy in Washington, D.C. Since his immigration to the U.S. in 2005, he has worked on political and cultural issues pertaining to U.S. engagement in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Born in Baghdad to an Iraqi mother and a Palestinian father, Raed Jarrar grew up in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq. He received his bachelor's degree in architecture from the University of Baghdad, and his master's degree in architecture, with a specialty in post-war reconstruction in Iraq, from the University of Jordan.  Raed has appeared in numerous media outlets, including MSNBC, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now, Foreign Policy in Focus, and Alternet. His opinion pieces have been published in the Chicago Tribune and Common Dreams.

Wardah Khalid is a Scoville Fellow at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, focusing on research, development and presentation of non-violent policy solutions to counter the self-described Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as well as highlighting why U.S. militarism is undermining locally-led peacebuilding approaches in these countries and throughout the region.  Prior to joining FCNL, Wardah worked as a CVE consultant in Houston, focusing on creating a community plan to counter violent extremism in the local Muslim American community. She is also the author of the "Young American Muslim" blog for the Houston Chronicle.   See "Bombs Are Not the Answer: Five Non-Military Ways to Stop the Islamic State Group" in US News & World Report at

Discussion will follow the presentation. Raed will be joining us by video conference. there will be snacks.





Save the Date - UNAC National Conference, May 8 - 10, 2015

UNAC is the major national antiwar coalition in the U.S. today.  The existence of a United National Antiwar Coalition is vital and we need your financial support to continue our work and to expand.

With U.S. wars today accelerating and expanding globally in various forms – from drone attacks on Yemen and Pakistan, never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, support to neo-fascists in Ukraine, and proliferating Africom forces to threats of war for regime change in Syria – we have an obligation to do whatever is possible to educate the public and to take action to stop the carnage.

The wars abroad are connected to global warming with most wars fought over energy resources with the U.S. war machine as the largest polluter.

At home, we see hugely growing income inequality, a militarized and racist police force, mass incarceration of Blacks and Latinos, and a massive police state apparatus that includes global surveillance and laws to quell dissent.

In spite of the trillions spent by the U.S. corporate war government and its controlled media propaganda machine to keep us in check, the people are fighting back.  We’ve been inspired and strengthened by the hundreds of thousands of new activists taking to the streets of this country to stop police brutality, to build Occupy encampments, to fight for decent wages, to demand full rights for immigrants, to win marriage equality, to end global warming, to demonstrate solidarity with the besieged people of Gaza, and to protest unending U.S. wars.

UNAC has played an active, often leadership role, in all of the antiwar and social justice movements of our time.  While most activists are focused on their particular issues, the most vital role we can play is to connect the issues to their source.  All of the injustices and crimes we protest, stem from the imperialist insatiable drive for expanding profit and control – and the U.S. is the largest imperialist power militarily and economically.  When there should be plenty for all, only the obscenely wealthy benefit while the rest of the 99% struggle just to survive.

Some of our recent major accomplishments:
·       Initiated protest against NATO and 15,000 marched in Chicago in 2012.
·        Called for immediate actions against threats of war and coups directed at Libya, Iran, No. Korea, Africa, Latin America,    Ukraine, and maintaining the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
·        Organized a national tour for Afghan leader Malalai Joya.
·        Sent representatives to international NATO protests and conferences.
·        Serve on the Board of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms to act against Islamophobia , racist attacks on Muslims, and attacks on our civil liberties.
·        Participated in national efforts to organize anti-drone actions.
·        Campaigned to defend victims of government repression who speak out and expose Washington’s crimes, including Rasmea Odeh, Mumia abu Jamal, Lynne Stewart, Chelsea Manning, and the Midwest activists targeted by the FBI.
·        Produced national educational conference calls featuring experts on topics such as U.S. intervention in Africa, the destruction of Libya, the developing wars in Syria, and others.
·        Built an antiwar contingent in the massive New York City Climate Change march and built Climate Change action in other cities around the country.
·        Helped organize protests against Israel’s attack on Gaza
·        Helped organize protests against the murder of Blacks by white police and the militarization of the police forces in the U.S.

UNAC has a history of bringing hundreds of activists together at large national conferences to learn about the issues of the day, to discuss the way forward and to vote on an Action Program for the coming period.

The UNAC conference next May will bring activists from all the movements in motion to cross-fertilize these struggles.  We are particularly dedicated to bringing young activists together to support and learn from each other.  For this, we need your help to offer subsidies to leaders from Ferguson, from the border wars in the southwest, from the Native Americans who are fighting against the pipelines ruining their lands, from the Students for Justice in Palestine, and many others.

Please give generously so that we can continue our work to bring harmony and justice to the peoples of this earth.

You can send a check to UNAC at PO Box 123, Delmar, NY 12054 or click the button below to contribute on-line with your credit or debit card.



For Immediate Release: March 30, 2015

Attn: News Desk

Prisoners and Advocacy Groups Win Right to a Trial On Constitutionality of the Silencing Act (PA SB508)

This morning, Chief Judge for the federal court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Christopher Conner, will hear the cases Abu-Jamal v. Kane and Prison Legal News v. Kane in a trial that willl determine the constitutionality of PA SB508 "the Silencing Act".  Defendant PA Attorney General Kane will be hard pressed to argue the constitutionality of the Silencing Act, a censorship law targeted at Mumia Abu-Jamal and other currently and formerly incarcerated people.

Defendant Seth Williams was dismissed from the case based on his explicit disavowal of enforcing the act until a court of competent jurisdiction rules on the constitutionality of the statute. His dismissal does not hinder Plaintiffs ability to obtain the relief of invalidating this law, as a favorable ruling on the First Amendment issue against Defendant Kane will achieve the same result. Williams' disavowal of enforcement is a far cry from his political grandstanding in support of this bill's passage in the fall.

The judge has ordered that this trial will include Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction merged with a trial on the merits, meaning that if we win we will be granted a permanent injunction against the statute, and the statue will be invalidated.

“Silencing prisoners is one more way of dehumanizing them,” said Amistad Law Project Policy Director Nikki Grant. “We need the voices of the marginalized to shed light on injustice.”

The trial is set for this morning March 30 in Harrisburg, PA approximately 5 months since former Governor Corbett signed this ill-fated bill into law.

 The Abolitionist Law Center, Amistad Law Project, and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law filed the lawsuit on Nov. 10th to stop enforcement of the law. The law firms represent Mumia Abu-Jamal, Prison Radio, Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal, Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall, Robert L. Holbrook, Donnell Palmer, Anthony Chance, and Human Rights Coalition.

The Silencing Act, also known as 18 P.S. § 11.1304, allows the Attorney General, county District Attorneys, and victims of personal injury crimes to bring a lawsuit in civil court against the person convicted of the personal injury crime to enjoin conduct that “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim”. The actions that could prompt a lawsuit include “conduct which causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.”

“This law is unconstitutional,” said David Shapiro of MacArthur Justice Center. “The facts are on our side and the law is on our side. The Silencing Act targets a huge amount of constitutionally protected speech based on who is speaking.”

After a prerecorded commencement speech by journalist and prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal was played for graduates at Goddard College in Vermont, the Pennsylvania legislature passed and outgoing Governor Corbett signed into law the Silencing Act on October 21st, 16 days after the commencement speech.

Abu-Jamal has spent 33 years in prison, 29 of which were in solitary confinement on death row after being convicted at a 1982 trial that Amnesty International said “failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings.”

Robert L. Holbrook, who is serving a death by incarceration, life without parole, sentence he received as a child, had this to say about the law: “there are people in prison who will stop writing, stop publishing, stop speaking out because of this law.”

Bret Grote    412-654-9070
Ashley Henderson          215-310-0424
Noelle Hanrahan         415-706-5222
David Shapiro        312-503-0711

Amistad Law Project is a West Philadelphia-based public interest law center.
Our mission is to fight for the human rights of all people by providing
legal services to people incarcerated in Pennsylvania’s prisons. | @amistadlaw | 267-225-5884

The Abolitionist Law Center is a public interest law firm inspired by the struggle of political and politicized prisoners, and organized for the purpose of abolishing class and race based mass incarceration in the United States.   412-654-9070

Prison Radio has recorded Mumia and other political prisoners for over 25 years, and we are pulling out all the stops to keep these voices on the air.   415-706-5222

Please donate today to amplify prisoners' voices far and wide beyond the bars:
     Support Prison Radio:
     Defeat SB 508:

Copyright © Prison Radio
www, 415-706-5222
Our mailing address is:
Prison Radio PO Box 411074, SF CA 94141

Donate Now
to fight the “gag” law!
go to:


Support Prison Radio

$35 is the yearly membership.

$50 will get you a beautiful tote bag (you can special order a yoga mat bag, just call us).

$100 will get the DVD "Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary"

$300 will bring one essay to the airwaves.

$1000 (or $88.83 per month) will make you a member of our Prison Radio Freedom Circle. Take a moment and Support Prison Radio

Luchando por la justicia y la libertad,

Noelle Hanrahan, Director, Prison Radio


P.O. Box 411074 San Francisco, CA 94141 415-706-5222



Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson

Lorenzo Speaks Concerning Prosecution's Brief:
JANUARY 1, 2015—The prosecutor has run away from (almost) every issue raised in my PCRA by begging the Court to dismiss everything as “untimely”. When they don’t do this, they suggest that me and my lawyers were “defamatory” towards either my former prosecutor Christopher Abruzzo or Detective Kevin Duffin, in our claims they withheld, misused or hid evidence of my Innocence, in order to secure an unjust conviction in this case. If I charged, a year ago, that about a dozen AGs (attorneys general) were involved in circulating porno via their office computers, people would’ve laughed at me, and seen me as crazy.

But, guess what? During 2014, we learned that this was the truth. How can it be defamatory to speak the truth? Notice the OAG (Office of Attorney General), never said the obvious: That AG Abruzzo didn’t inform the Defense about the relationship between his Motive Witness and his head detective (Victoria Doubs and Det. Duffin); that Det. Duffin doesn’t deny Doubs was his god-sister, and that she lived in his family home, or that he assisted her whenever she got into trouble.

Why not? Because it is true. How can you defame someone who defames himself? Mr. Christopher Abruzzo, Esq., when a member of the higher ranks of the OAG, sent and/or received copious amounts of porno to other attorneys general and beyond. What does this say about his sense of judgment? He thought enough about his behavior to resign from his post in the Governor’s Cabinet. If he thought that his behavior was okay, he’d still be sitting in the Governor’s cabinet, right? The OAG cannot honestly oppose anything we’ve argued, but they try by seeking to get the Court to do their dirty work, how? By denying an Evidentiary Hearing to prove every point we’ve claimed.

The prosecution is trying desperately to avoid dealing with the substance of my claims in Com. v. Lorenzo Johnson. So, they slander my Legal Team and blame them for defaming the good AG’s and Cops involved with this case. They try to do what is undeniable, to deny that they hid evidence from the Defense for years. They blamed me for daring to protest the hidden evidence of their malfeasance and other acts to sabotage the defense. They claim that they had an “Open File” policy with my trial counsel. But “Open File” is more than letting an attorney read something in their office. If it’s a search for the truth it must include what is turned over to the attorney, for how do we really know what was shown to her?

They say it is inconceivable that an attorney would read a file, beginning on page nine (9), and not ask for the preceding eight (8) pages. Yet, it is conceivable if trial counsel was ineffective for not demanding the record of the first eight pages. Pages that identify the State’s only witness as a “SUSPECT” in the murder for which her client was charged! How could such an attorney fail to recognize the relevance of such an issue, barring their sheer Ineffectiveness and frankly, Incompetence.

By seeking to avoid an evidentiary hearing, the prosecution seeks to avoid evidence of their wrongdoing being made plain, for all to see. If they believe I’m wrong, why not prove it? They can’t. So they shout I filed my appeal untimely, as if there can ever justly be a rule that precludes an innocent from proving his innocence! Not to mention the fact that the prosecution has failed to even mention the positive finger prints that ay my trial they said none existed. Don’t try to hide it with a lame argument about time. When isn’t there a time for truth? The prosecution should be ashamed of itself for taking this road. It is unworthy of an office that claims to seek justice.

After the trial verdict The Patriot-News (March 18, 1997) reported, “Deputy Attorney General Christopher Abruzzo admitted there were some serious concerns about the strength of the evidence against Johnson and praised the jury for doing a thorough job.” I guess he forgot to mention all of the evidence he left out to show Innocence.

Now, more than ever, Lorenzo Johnson needs your support.
Publicize his case; bring it to your friends, clubs, religious
and social organizations. 



Write: Lorenzo Johnson
            DF 1036
            SCI Mahanoy
            301 Morea Rd.
            Frackville, PA 17932

 Email: Lorenzo Johnson through code:
              Lorenzo Johnson DF 1036 PA DOC



Click HERE to view in browser
Join the Fight to Free Rev. Pinkney!

On December 15, 2014 the Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Michigan was thrown into prison for 2.5 to 10 years. This 66-year-old leading African American activist was tried and convicted in front of an all-white jury and racist white judge and prosecutor for supposedly altering 5 dates on a recall petition against the mayor of Benton Harbor.

The prosecutor, with the judge’s approval, repeatedly told the jury “you don’t need evidence to convict Mr. Pinkney.” And ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE WAS EVER PRESENTED THAT TIED REV. PINKNEY TO THE ‘ALTERED’ PETITIONS. Rev. Pinkney was immediately led away in handcuffs and thrown into Jackson Prison.

This is an outrageous charge. It is an outrageous conviction. It is an even more outrageous sentence! It must be appealed.

With your help supporters need to raise $20,000 for Rev. Pinkney’s appeal.

Checks can be made out to BANCO (Black Autonomy Network Community Organization). This is the organization founded by Rev. Pinkney.  Mail them to: Mrs. Dorothy Pinkney, 1940 Union Street, Benton Harbor, MI 49022.

Donations can be accepted on-line at – press the donate button.

For information on the decade long campaign to destroy Rev. Pinkney go to and “Pinkney”).

We urge your support to the efforts to Free Rev. Pinkney!Ramsey Clark – Former U.S. attorney general,
Cynthia McKinney – Former member of U.S. Congress,
Lynne Stewart – Former political prisoner and human rights attorney
Ralph Poynter – New Abolitionist Movement,
Abayomi Azikiwe – Editor, Pan-African News Wire<
Larry Holmes – Peoples Power Assembly,
David Sole – Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice
Sara Flounders – International Action Center


I am now in Marquette prison over 15 hours from wife and family, sitting in prison for a crime that was never committed. Judge Schrock and Mike Sepic both admitted there was no evidence against me but now I sit in prison facing 30 months. Schrock actually stated that he wanted to make an example out of me. (to scare Benton Harbor residents even more...) ONLY IN AMERICA. I now have an army to help fight Berrien County. When I arrived at Jackson state prison on Dec. 15, I met several hundred people from Detroit, Flint, Kalamazoo, and Grand Rapids. Some people recognized me. There was an outstanding amount of support given by the prison inmates. When I was transported to Marquette Prison it took 2 days. The prisoners knew who I was. One of the guards looked me up on the internet and said, "who would believe Berrien County is this racist."  

New Court Date on 4 Motions for Rev. Pinkney 

TUES, FEB. 24 1pm Berrien County Court 

Background to Campaign to free Rev. Pinkney

Michigan political prisoner the Rev. Edward Pinkney is a victim of racist injustice. He was sentenced to 30 months to 10 years for supposedly changing the dates on 5 signatures on a petition to recall Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower.

No material or circumstantial evidence was presented at the trial that would implicate Pinkney in the purported5 felonies. Many believe that Pinkney, a Berrien County activist and leader of the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO), is being punished by local authorities for opposing the corporate plans of Whirlpool Corp, headquartered in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

In 2012, Pinkney and BANCO led an “Occupy the PGA [Professional Golfers’ Association of America]” demonstration against a world-renowned golf tournament held at the newly created Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The course was carved out of Jean Klock Park, which had been donated to the city of Benton Harbor decades ago.

Berrien County officials were determined to defeat the recall campaign against Mayor Hightower, who opposed a program that would have taxed local corporations in order to create jobs and improve conditions in Benton Harbor, a majority African-American municipality. Like other Michigan cities, it has been devastated by widespread poverty and unemployment. 

The Benton Harbor corporate power structure has used similar fraudulent charges to stop past efforts to recall or vote out of office the racist white officials, from mayor, judges, prosecutors in a majority Black city. Rev Pinkney who always quotes scripture, as many Christian ministers do, was even convicted for quoting scripture in a newspaper column. This outrageous conviction was overturned on appeal. We must do this again!

To sign the petition in support of the Rev. Edward Pinkney, log on to:

Contributions for Rev. Pinkney’s defense can be sent to BANCO at Mrs Dorothy Pinkney, 1940 Union St., Benton Harbor, MI 49022

Or you can donate on-line at




New Action- write letters to DoD officials requesting clemency for Chelsea!

November 24, 2014 by the Chelsea Manning Support Network

Secretary of the Army John McHugh
President Obama has delegated review of Chelsea Manning’s clemency appeal to individuals within the Department of Defense.
Please write them to express your support for heroic WikiLeaks’ whistle-blower former US Army intelligence analyst PFC Chelsea Manning’s release from military prison.
It is important that each of these authorities realize the wide support that Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning enjoys worldwide. They need to be reminded that millions understand that Manning is a political prisoner, imprisoned for following her conscience. While it is highly unlikely that any of these individuals would independently move to release Manning, a reduction in Manning’s outrageous 35-year prison sentence is a possibility at this stage.
Take action TODAY – Write letters supporting Chelsea’s clemency petition to the following DoD authorities:
Secretary of the Army John McHugh
101 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-0101
The Judge Advocate General
2200 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-2200
Army Clemency and Parole Board
251 18th St, Suite 385
Arlington, VA 22202-3532
Directorate of Inmate Administration
Attn: Boards Branch
U.S. Disciplinary Barracks
1301 N. Warehouse Road
Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027-2304
Suggestions for letters send to DoD officials:
  • The letter should focus on your support for Chelsea Manning, and especially why you believe justice will be served if Chelsea Manning’s sentence is reduced.  The letter should NOT be anti-military as this will be unlikely to help
  • A suggested message: “Chelsea Manning has been punished enough for violating military regulations in the course of being true to her conscience.  I urge you to use your authorityto reduce Pvt. Manning’s sentence to time served.”  Beyond that general message, feel free to personalize the details as to why you believe Chelsea deserves clemency.
  • Consider composing your letter on personalized letterhead -you can create this yourself (here are templates and some tips for doing that).
  • A comment on this post will NOT be seen by DoD authorities–please send your letters to the addresses above
This clemency petition is separate from Chelsea Manning’s upcoming appeal before the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals next year, where Manning’s new attorney Nancy Hollander will have an opportunity to highlight the prosecution’s—and the trial judge’s—misconduct during last year’s trial at Ft. Meade, Maryland.
Help us continue to cover 100% of Chelsea’s legal fees at this critical stage!

Courage to Resist
484 Lake Park Ave. #41
 Oakland, CA 94610











1)  Out of Debtors’ Prison, With Law as the Key
"We have a two-tier system: The rich pay fines. The poor go to jail."

When Jack Dawley returned in 2007 to his hometown, Norwalk, Ohio, after eight years in prison and on parole in Wisconsin, he knew getting by would be difficult. He had a felony conviction and a history of past drug and alcohol abuse, although he’d been sober since 1999. He was unprepared for another obstacle, however: A few years later, he would keep landing in debtors’ prison.

Dawley did all right at first. For four years, he worked construction jobs and paid down the $1,400 in fines and court fees he owed the municipal court in Norwalk for domestic violence and D.U.I. convictions during his drunken years. But in 2012, he injured his back, lost his job and missed a payment on his court debt.

He was arrested and sentenced to jail for 10 days. When he got out, he had 90 days to make a payment. He failed, and went back to jail. A cycle was beginning: jail every 90 days.

Later in 2012, he took a job as a cashier. He was on his way to cash his first paycheck when he was pulled over and arrested, again for an infraction stemming from his debt. Back in jail, he missed eight days of work. When he got out, his job was gone. He stayed out of jail, but was homeless for the next two years.

Although the United States outlawed debtors’ prison two centuries ago, that, in effect, is where Dawley kept going.

It is crowded there. The most infamous example today is Ferguson, Mo. There, the recent Department of Justice investigation of the police and courts portrays a system designed to jail the poor for their poverty.

The purpose of law enforcement in Ferguson, said the Justice Department, is not public safety, but revenue generation. The city’s second-largest source of income is fines and fees paid by citizens, the vast majority stemming from parking, traffic or other very minor infractions. The police find any excuse to arrest black residents and charge them with multiple violations. The courts then extract exorbitant fines and fees. Those who cannot pay are threatened with jail, and many go.

Ferguson may be an extreme — or it may not — but across America, courts levy fines and fees totaling hundreds or thousands of dollars on misdemeanor offenders, and jail them when they cannot pay.

You don’t go to jail for walking your dog without a leash, making an illegal left turn or burning leaves without a permit, but in many states you will go to jail if you can’t pay the resulting fees and fines. We have a two-tier system: The rich pay fines. The poor go to jail.

The rise of debtor’s prisons has been well documented in the last few years in reports by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union(pdf) and by news investigations. (A series by NPR’s Joseph Shapiro and a New Yorker article by Sarah Stillman are particularly good.) In the past two years, though, attention to this issue has started to produce change.

First, some background: Courts didn’t always charge defendants fees, but now they do in every state. In the 1980s and 1990s, as prison and jail populations rose alongside anti-tax fever, legislators began shifting the burden of paying for justice from the taxpayer to the offender. They raised fines for misdemeanors and imposed dozens of fees and surcharges.

In most states, you pay to be arrested, pay for a public defender, and pay for your own probation. In some, you emerge from jail owing room and board or are billed for a jury trial. Fines and fees have become important sources of city income, giving legislators and judges an incentive to assess large sums for minor offenses — and to compel payment by jailing those who don’t pay, no matter what their economic situation.

The injustices are compounded when governments contract with private companies to manage probation, as they do in 13 states, according to Nusrat Choudhury, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. These companies offer their services free to a city — and then charge offenders fees sometimes as large as or larger than their debt, with jail the penalty for nonpayment. In many cases, debt collection is the only service they perform. Human Rights Watch has said that most states that use private probation ”do not currently subject probation companies to any meaningful oversight or regulation at all.”

Debtors’ prison is both senseless and illegal. Jailing defendants often costs far more than they owe, and makes it very difficult for them to pay. Going to jail each time a payment is missed isn’t conducive to holding down a job. And in 1983, the Supreme Court ruled that courts must inquire about a defendant’s ability to pay fines and can jail only those who can pay but won’t. Nonpayment of court fees can be punished by garnishment, but not jail.

Yet defendants don’t know this. They don’t know they can ask for a hearing on their ability to pay, with counsel. Courts routinely fail to suggest a hearing or ask any questions about ability to pay.

Ohio has been a leader in reforming debtors’ prison. The impetus came from the A.C.L.U.’s Ohio chapter, which, in 2013, issued a report that told stories of affected people (including Dawley), and calculated how much money the state was losing by jailing people for debt.

The report found that in many municipal courts and mayors’ courts, indigent offenders were jailed without hearings about their ability to pay. Ohio law said that people jailed for nonpayment (which should not happen if they are indigent) should get a $50 credit against their debt for each day in jail. But courts routinely ignored this.

The A.C.L.U. sent its findings to state officials, including Maureen O’Connor, Ohio’s chief justice, who asked immediately for a meeting.

O’Connor assembled a committee of judges to draft a memo called a bench card (pdf), which she issued to every municipal court judge. The card sets out the law — most important, the requirement to determine ability to pay. It lists the steps for doing so, and acceptable and unacceptable ways to collect fines and fees. O’Connor asked the A.C.L.U. to let her know of new complaints.

“Since the bench card, complaints have fallen precipitously,” said Mike Brickner, senior policy director of the A.C.L.U. Ohio. “When we have substantiated claims, we have alerted the Ohio Supreme Court and they have intervened — and that has changed things.” People jailed also received retroactive credit for their jail time.

One beneficiary is Dawley. He stayed out of jail after 2012 by borrowing small sums from friends to make his payments. He eventually got a job in a produce warehouse, where he rose to quality control inspector. Now he works as a paint finish master, reconditioning trucks. No longer homeless, he’s been in his own apartment for a year. And, aided by credits for time served, he’s finished paying his debt.

Serious problems remain in Ohio; there will always be abuses in a system funded by offender fines and fees. But the use of debtors’ prison has been greatly reduced. Why so easily? O’Connor said all that was needed was to correct misperceptions. “I don’t think judges were intentionally not following the law,” she said. “It wasn’t: ‘I don’t care what the law is and I’m going to do it my way.’ This was clearly an area they needed to brush up on.”

Brickner believes that once judges realized that their cities were losing money by jailing the indigent, the practice became less attractive. Another possible reason is that most people can imagine themselves affected. “Anyone can get a traffic ticket,” said Sarah Geraghty, a senior attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, who represents plaintiffs in debt cases.

Since Ohio’s bench card, legislatures or courts in several other states have issued rulings protecting offenders from debtors’ prison. In Washington and, yes, Missouri, state supreme courts have ruled that courts must determine an offender’s ability to pay, to set fees and fines accordingly, and to jail only those who can pay but willfully refuse. (Class action lawsuits against Ferguson and the neighboring city of Jennings have just been filed in federal court.) Colorado passed a similar law last year.

The most remarkable example is emerging now in Georgia. That state started using private probation in 1991, and became the state most dependent on it. About 80 percent of Georgians on misdemeanor probation — 175,000 people at a time — are supervised by for-profit companies that, according to Human Rights Watch, earn about $40 million a year from offenders.

The A.C.L.U. and the Southern Center sued, and last week won a settlement that will produce an Ohio-style bench card in DeKalb County. Meanwhile, Georgia’s government is instituting reforms. Just after his election in 2011, Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, established a bipartisan council to propose changes in the criminal justice system. Last year, he asked the council to follow up on a state audit’s finding that the ways courts oversaw misdemeanor probation were leading to abuses.

The council’s recommendations (pdf, page 21) include better oversight and transparency, and caps on fees to private companies that oversee pay-only probation. Judges must determine an offender’s ability to pay, and waive or modify fees and penalties for the indigent. These reforms are included in a bill that passed the Georgia House and is expected to pass in the Senate.

It’s a remarkable example of bipartisan compromise. Probation reforms are endorsed by the advocacy groups and the probation companies too. “As with any industry, you have good actors and bad actors,” said W. Thomas Worthy, a former legal aide to the governor who was co-chairman of the council, and now is director of governmental affairs at the state bar. “The good ones knew major reforms were coming, and came to the table.”

John Bozeman, a lobbyist for the Community Corrections Association of Georgia, said the consequences could have been much more onerous for the companies. “They could have written a bill where our guys could not have functionally operated. Instead, it was: How can we solve the problem?”

Last year, the legislature passed a very different bill that shielded companies in secrecy (Governor Deal vetoed it). That only a year later they felt the need to compromise shows that public outrage can, occasionally, accomplish something.

“People who had minor interaction with the criminal justice system were sucked further in for no good reason other than to enrich a private company,” said Geraghty. “We’ve reached a point in this state where the abuses by many of these private companies have been so flagrant and so frequent that people in power, the governor and others, agree that the time has come for significant reform.”



2) Deputies Said to Taunt Prisoners



3) Study Finds Older Workers Often Missing From Rising Job Rate
By Elizabeth Olsen



4) In Brazil, Some Inmates Get Therapy With Hallucinogenic Tea



5) Catholics on Left and Right Find Common Ground Opposing Death Penalty



6) Income Inequality: It’s Also Bad for Your Health



7) Steep Costs of Inmate Phone Calls Are Under Scrutiny