November 07, 2013
By KATHY MATHESON and
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The nation's top law enforcement officer got a glimpse of the challenges facing ex-offenders attempting to rebuild their lives on Tuesday as he attended an unusual court session and then met with several of them afterward.
Attorney General Eric Holder watched as more than a dozen men on supervised release updated a federal judge on their jobs and personal situations, discussing problems from needing more hours at work to the cost of cataract surgery for the family dog.
The proceeding before District Judge Felipe Restrepo in Philadelphia is part of an innovative re-entry initiative designed to give former inmates the support they need to stay out of jail.
“I’ve got to say, this is really heartwarming to see what you all are doing with your lives,” Holder told the participants afterward in open court. “What we’ve seen here today gives me a great deal of hope.”
Holder wants to find solutions to the country’s overburdened jails and high recidivism rates. The nation spent $80 billion on prisons in 2010, and yet federal facilities are still overflowing at 40 percent above capacity, Holder said.
As part of the “Smart On Crime” program that he launched in August, Holder is arguing for scaling back the use of harsh prison sentences for certain drug-related crimes and expanding a prison program to allow for release of some elderly, non-violent offenders
His visit to Philadelphia was the first of three to promote pioneering crime-prevention initiatives; he’ll visit St. Louis and Peoria, Ill., on Nov. 14.
Federal court officials in Philadelphia began the Supervision to Aid Re-entry, or STAR, program seven years ago. It aims to cut the city’s violent crime rate by addressing the social, family and logistical issues confronting ex-offenders when they return to society.
The former inmates meet as a group with a judge every two weeks. In between, they might be working or taking mandated vocational training or parenting classes. Those who successfully complete the 52-week program can reduce their court-supervised release by a year.
Graduates say each class of 15 to 20 people ends up being a pretty tight-knit group.
“It gave me another family,” said Robert Warner, 46, of Philadelphia. Warner, who served 10 years on drug and gun charges, is now a manager at a suburban fast-food restaurant.
Officials estimate the Philadelphia program has saved $1.5 million in annual incarceration costs, based on fewer revocations of supervised release. Nationally, the revocation rate for offenders not in that type of program is 47 percent; the revocation rate of STAR participants is about 20 percent, officials said.
While Philadelphia’s effort deals with high-risk offenders, the initiative in St. Louis is aimed at helping low-level drug offenders remain drug-free and the effort in Peoria, Ill., substitutes drug treatment for jail time for low-level drug offenders.
In all, 73 of 79 participants in the Peoria program have successfully completed it. The program operated by the U.S. Attorney’s office, a federal court, the probation office and defense lawyers is designed for defendants whose criminal conduct was motivated by substance abuse. The Justice Department says over $6 million has been saved through the program — money that otherwise would have been spent on putting the defendants behind bars.
On Tuesday in Philadelphia, the judge used a friendly, informal tone as he spoke to each man, congratulating them on new jobs, offering encouragement on setbacks, and gently penalizing one for missing an appointment with his probation officer.
For their part, the men shared problems involving driver’s licenses and housing, but one also showed off a new community college ID card and another brought photos of his art projects — which Holder admired. Many then talked with support staff outside the courtroom to address their issues.
Holder later met privately with Warner and several other graduates of the program, including a chef about to work in Paris and a soon-to-be college graduate.
“We don’t spend nearly enough money on these kinds of programs,” Holder said. “You all are the best salesmen for these kinds of efforts.”
Warner said afterward that he began hiring former inmates to help out the judge and probation officers who worked with his class. He said he still talks frequently with people he met in the program, and tries to be a role model for them.
“It makes me feel like a better man,” Warner said. “This program, it works. It really works.”
November 07, 2013
By SARAH EL DEEB
CAIRO (AP) — A court in Egypt upheld Wednesday an earlier ruling that banned the Muslim Brotherhood and ordered its assets confiscated, the state news agency reported. The decision moves forward the complicated process of the government taking control of the Islamist group’s far-reaching social network and its finances.
The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters rejected the Brotherhood's appeal to suspend the Sept. 23 ruling that ordered the group’s assets confiscated and its activities banned.
The sweeping September verdict was viewed as a legal pretext for the interim authorities to move against assets owned or administered by Brotherhood members, including schools, hospitals, charities, and businesses.
It is part of a wider government crackdown against the group following the popularly backed coup in July that removed President Mohammed Morsi, a Brotherhood member and Egypt’s first elected leader after the 2011 fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Senior leaders have been arrested, and many of them sent to trial on a number of charges, including Morsi himself. His trial began Monday on charges of incitement to murder.
Egypt’s military-backed authorities formed a committee on Oct.2 to review the Brotherhood assets but have not moved against its finances.
Outlawed for most of its 85-year existence — with successive regimes alternating between repression and tolerance — the Brotherhood built its networks largely underground. That made it difficult for authorities to track, since many institutions were registered under individuals’ names.
Brotherhood lawyer Osama el-Helw said the group will file another appeal against Wednesday’s ruling, but this appeal unlike the first will not suspend implementation of the ban unless it is accepted by a court. It is also unlikely to reverse the initial ruling, legal experts said.
Ahmed Ragheb, an independent rights lawyer, said the decision has legal flaws: It comes from the wrong court and its guidelines for a government monitoring Brotherhood assets are unclear.
Technically, Wednesday’s verdict allows the government to move in on the group’s assets. The committee that includes judicial, security and intelligence officials has started to do an inventory of the group’s finances.
The government has come under pressure from politicians and public figures to fast-track the financial crackdown on the group, blaming the government-formed committee of stalling on implementing the court ruling. On Wednesday, the Cabinet asked the committee to issue regular reports about its work.
The leftist Tagammu party, which filed the case demanding the banning of the group, said the new ruling should give the authorities the green light to move.
“The government must take urgent measures to implement the court ruling ... and prove it is serious about implementing the law,” Hani el-Husseini, a Tagammu member, told the official MENA news agency.
El-Helw said the government has already violated due process by forming the committee and allowing it to begin its work while the group had filed for suspension of ruling.
“We will pursue legal means. Let the law be the arbiter,” el-Helw said.
Brotherhood lawyers also said they were considering other legal options, such as filing new court cases against the verdict in a different court.
The group issued a defiant statement saying that the movement was not a “passage in a book” that could be struck out with a “politicized verdict,” but rather consists of “ideas that connect its members.” It said the decision would hurt millions of Egyptians who it claims rely on the Brotherhood’s services.
The initial court’s explanation to ban the group gave few specific legal grounds, and denounced the group in broad political terms, saying that during Morsi’s year in office, “Egyptians found only repression and arrogance.”
The ruling banned the group as well as “any institution branching out of it or ... receiving financial support from it,” which could also force the disbanding of its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party.
There is another legal case before Egypt’s administrative court seeking to dissolve the group’s offshoot, a non-governmental organization registered after the group rose to power in 2012. The court is holding its next session on Nov. 12.
October 31, 2013
LAWT News Service
Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. reported to a federal correctional facility in Butner, North Carolina to begin serving his sentence. He was accompanied by his friend and former colleague North Carolina’s United States Representative, GK Butterfield, as well as his Atlanta-based Attorney, CK Hoffler from Edmond, Lindsay & Hoffler, LLP.
“Congressman Jackson and I have been good friends for many years and I am happy to report that he is in good spirits, all things considered,” confirmed Butterfield.
As Jackson begins to serve his term, he is aware that many people have expressed an interest and desire to visit him while he’s incarcerated. Attorney CK Hoffler will coordinate these visits, which may begin as early as November 8 with the arrival of Jackson’s family as well as Pastors Rick Warren and Anthony Miller from California. Reverend Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. from Cleveland, OH, Minister Louis Farrakhan, United States Representative Marsha Fudge, Chairman of Congressional Black Caucus, United States Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia, and public relations/media magnet Judy Smith are also expected to visit in short order.
For those who have expressed an interest in writing the Congressman, his mailing address will be:
Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.
Reg. No. 32451-016
FCI Butner Medium I Satellite Camp
P.O. Box 1000
Butner, North Carolina 27509
When he surrendered to the facility, Jackson apologized again and expressed sincere regret for causing so much pain and sadness to his family, his constituents and his friends.
Said Hoffler, “Jesse asked that his heartfelt thanks be extended again to all of those whose prayers and kindness towards him and his family have helped him through this extraordinarily difficult time. His only wish is that a community of love continues to embrace his family and his children, in particular.”
October 31, 2013
By Christopher Tidmore
Special to the NNPA from The Louisiana Weekly
The official numbers are in, and African Americans have lost aggregate population—and therefore political influence—since Hurricane Katrina.
A study of U.S. Census Bureau demographics by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center shows 103,881 fewer African Americans living in Orleans Parish compared to 2000, with just 14,984 fewer Caucasians in the City. Meanwhile, the number of Hispanics grew by 4,830.
And, Orleans is not alone. Population declines have hit the entire seven–parish New Orleans metro area—Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and St. Tammany—as well as the city.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 1,205,374 residents were living in the New Orleans metro area as of July 2012, a three percent increase from April 2010. However, the metro area has just 92 percent of its 2000 population of 1,316,510.
In Orleans Parish, the share of the 2012 population that is African American — while lower than in 2000 when it was 66.7 percent — continues to represent the majority of city residents at 59.4 percent. The share of Hispanics in the city increased from 3.1 percent in 2000 to 5.3 percent in 2012; the share of Asians increased from 2.3 percent to 2.9 percent; and the share of whites increased from 26.6 percent to 30.8 percent. The percentage differences almost exactly make up the margins of victory of several Caucasian candidates running Citywide in recent years.
Overall, minority populations, Hispanic, Asian, and African-American, have increased as a share of the total population in Jefferson, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and St. Tammany parishes. In fact, the number and share of Hispanics have increased in all seven parishes in the metro area.
Between 2000 and 2012, the number of Hispanics in Jefferson Parish increased by 24,435, reaching over 13 percent of the total population. Orleans Parish and St. Tammany Parish gained 4,830 and 7,243 Hispanics respectively, such that, by 2012, the Hispanic share of the population in Orleans was 5.3 percent, and in St. Tammany it was 5.0 percent.
The GNOCDC found that as of July 2012, there were 98,992 Hispanics in the metro area representing 8.2 percent of the metro area population, up from 58,415 representing 4.4 percent of the metro population in 2000. Despite these recent gains, the Hispanic share of the population in metro area parishes is far below the average for the United States, which has grown from 12.5 percent to 16.9 percent of the total population over these 12 years.
And the New Orleans Metro population is growing older. The progression of the baby boomers through the age ranks, along with falling birth rates, have brought massive changes to the metro — and indeed the whole country — with many more changes yet to come. Looking at the total population in the metro by five-year age groups for 2000 and 2012, the baby boomers are like a demographic tidal wave. Born between 1946 and 1964, the baby boomers clustered around the 35- to 54-year-old age group in 2000, and around the 45- to 64-year-old age group in 2012.
Meanwhile the share of households with children is shrinking while the share of individuals living alone is growing — both across the metro and nation. As of 2012, 27 percent of households in the New Orleans metro included children, down from 33 percent in 2000. Between 2000 and 2012, the percent of St. Tammany households with children declined from 40 percent to 31 percent; the percent of Jefferson households with children declined from 33 percent to 26 percent; and the percent of Orleans households with children declined from 30 percent to 22 percent.
As households with children have declined, the share of single–person households has grown in the metro and nationwide. The metro area share of individuals living alone grew from 27 percent in 2000 to 32 percent in 2012 — matching the trend for Jefferson Parish. In fact, all three of the largest metro area parishes had growth in the share of single–person households, with the largest jump in Orleans Parish from 33 to 41 percent.
Perhaps it is a result of post-Katrina out-migration, or due to an influx of young professionals, but the metro area, and Orleans Parish in particular, is better educated than it was ten years ago. It is a critical metric, as the GNOCDC authors Vicki Mack and Elaine Ortiz noted since “educational attainment is an important determinant of household incomes, workforce skills, and regional resiliency.”
The proportion of adults 25 years and older with less than a high school education declined across all three of the largest parishes, leading to a metro-wide decrease from 22 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2012. In the city of New Orleans, the share of adults with less than a high school degree fell from 25 percent to 15 percent, nearly as low as the United States average.
The metro area decline in the share of adults with less than a high school degree has been coupled with an increase in the share with a bachelor’s degree or higher. In Orleans Parish, 34 percent of adults 25 and older had a college degree in 2012 — higher than the U.S. average of 29 percent, and up from 26 percent in 2000. The overall metro area share of adults with a bachelor’s degree grew from 23 to 27 percent — lower than the national average.
In another positive note, as Mack and Ortiz stated, “While the Great Recession pushed household income down 11 percent in the nation between 1999 and 2012, the median income fell nine percent in the metro and eight percent in Orleans Parish.” The metro area endured the recession far better, yet we still rank lower than the nation as a whole.
The 2012 median household incomes of $44,379 for the metro and $34,361 for the city are significantly lower than the U.S. median of $51,371. In a sign that population declines are being felt most in the affluent suburbs, in Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes, median household income declined 14 percent between 1999 and 2012, falling to $45,519 and $56,650, respectively.
The rich and the young are leaving, and it is not getting much better for those living below the poverty level. “The economy,” said Mack and Ortiz “is not providing all residents with the ability to meet their most basic needs, including food, housing, and transportation.”
The poverty rate in Orleans Parish declined from 28 percent in 1999 to 21 percent in 2007, but then soared to 29 percent in 2012, such that it is statistically unchanged since 1999. In Jefferson Parish, the poverty rate increased from 14 to 16 percent between 1999 and 2012, and in St. Tammany Parish, the poverty rate rose from 10 to 14 percent. Meanwhile, the U.S. poverty rate grew from 12 to 16 percent between 1999 and 2012.
Like the overall poverty rate, child poverty rates in Orleans Parish and the metro area dropped in 2007 and have since increased again to their 1999 level. The Orleans Parish child poverty rate fell from 41 percent in 1999 to 32 percent in 2007, and then shot back up to 41 percent in 2012. The metro area child poverty rate dipped to 21 percent in 2007, but ended up at 28 percent in 2012 — unchanged since 1999 according to statistical testing. Jefferson’s 23 percent child poverty rate for 2012 is also statistically unchanged from 1999. Meanwhile, the child poverty rate has increased from 12 to 20 percent in St. Tammany Parish, and from 17 to 23 percent nationwide.
Post–Katrina, and perhaps due in part to the storm, people are buying cars. “The share of Orleans Parish households without access to a vehicle has dropped from 27 percent in 2000 to 19 percent in 2012,” said Ortiz, yet she added, “Nonetheless, at 19 percent, New Orleans’ share is more than twice as high as in neighboring parishes and the nation, indicating the importance of a robust public transportation system and comprehensive evacuation plan.”
New Orleans has always had a foreign born population, once bragging that the metro was the third largest city in Honduras. Post-Katrina, that trend has accelerated. As the GNOCDC writers concluded, “A rising foreign–born share of the population may reflect expanding economic opportunities for both high–skilled and low–skilled workers. That share of the population has grown in all three of the most populous metro parishes since 2000, led by a three percent gain in Jefferson Parish to reach 10 percent in 2012. In Orleans Parish and St. Tammany Parish, the foreign–born share of the population increased by two percent and one percent, respectively, between 2000 and 2012. However, the foreign–born share of the population in metro areas parishes is still significantly lower than the 13 percent average for the United States.”
“Like the foreign–born population, a rising share of the population who moved into the parish in the past year may reflect expanding economic opportunities. The most frequent reason people move long distances, such as from one state to another state, is for job opportunities. In addition, the young and well–educated are more likely than others to move long distances.”
Young people are flocking to the City, and the inner suburbs. In 2012, 8 percent of the population in Orleans Parish had moved into the parish in the past year, up from three percent in 2004. About half of the new movers into Orleans Parish came from outside the state of Louisiana. In Jefferson Parish, the share of the population who were new movers into the parish was five percent in both 2004 and 2012.”
Economic opportunity has also translated into renewed interest in real estate. As Ortiz and Mack observed, “After Hurricane Katrina, Jefferson Parish and Orleans Parish initially experienced a disproportionate return of homeowners, but as of 2012, both parishes have returned to their pre–Katrina homeownership rates. In St. Tammany Parish, an increase in renters has pushed the 2012 homeownership rate lower than in 2000. With a 47 percent homeownership rate in Orleans Parish, a 62 percent homeownership rate in Jefferson Parish, and a 72 percent homeownership rate in St. Tammany, Orleans lags, Jefferson is on par with, and St. Tammany exceeds the national homeownership rate.”
And, thanks to the multigenerational and aging nature of the population, the New Orleans metro has had fewer foreclosures than the nation, the two analysts suspect. “A high share of such homeowners usually indicates residents living in the same house for long periods of time, and helps shield neighborhoods from foreclosures. The proportion of metro area homeowners without a mortgage has increased from 34 to 41 percent between 2000 and 2012, driven by changes in all three of the area’s largest parishes. The share of homeowners without a mortgage shot up from 33 to 43 percent in Orleans; from 35 to 40 percent in Jefferson; and from 30 to 37 percent in St. Tammany. One reason for the surge may be that homeowners who returned after Katrina used insurance or Road Home proceeds to pay off their mortgage principal. These three parishes received the first, second, and fourth largest number of Road Home Option 1 grants among all Louisiana parishes.”
Yet, thanks to low rental prices, New Orleans before the storm had a reasonable level of affordability. That has changed. As Ortiz and Mack noted, “High housing costs can limit a region’s ability to attract and retain the workforce essential for a healthy economy. Severe housing cost burdens of more than 50 percent of household income indicate a serious problem in housing affordability. In 2004, the share of severely cost–burdened renters in Orleans Parish and the U.S. was 24 percent. In the eight years since, that share has spiked to 36 percent in Orleans while rising to only 27 percent nationally. In Jefferson Parish, the share of renters paying more than 50 percent of household income on housing and utilities has also soared, reaching 30 percent in 2012.”
The surge in the share of severely cost–burdened renters is particularly seen in Orleans Parish. Median gross rent (rent plus utilities) has surged in the city from 2004 to 2012, from $688 to $861–a 25 percent increase. That outpaced the rest of the country where median gross rents increased only five percent, though metro wide there was a 17 percent jump.
Overall, though, in a positive sign, the share of homeowners paying more than 50 percent of household income on their mortgage, taxes, utilities, and insurance is unchanged in metro area parishes since 2004. Meanwhile, that share has increased nationally from 10 to 11 percent.
This article originally published in the October 21, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.