Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Corrections" System So Wrong

(Guest post by Kendra Mon)

Correcting California's so-called “corrections” system could reduce budget woes and help people turn their lives around. In the last 20 years our prison population tripled. We waste billions of dollars yearly, locking up thousands of nonviolent drug offenders though community-based treatment is cheaper and actually gets people off drugs. We throw away hundreds of millions of dollars annually on the largest, most dysfunctional death penalty system in the country even though permanent imprisonment is cheaper and no less effective. We pay over $380 million every year to lock up more than 1,600 young people in youth prisons, even though local programs like Sonoma County's Restorative Resources are cheaper and more effective.

The Youth Promise Act is Congressional legislation that could help turn our youth corrections system around. House bill H.R.1064 and companion Senate bill S.435 would provide funding to local community councils to spend on effective programs that reduce youth crime, violence and incarceration. This bill has remarkable bipartisan support as well as endorsement by officials and organizations concerned with law enforcement, civil rights, education, and the U.S. Congress of Mayors. The knowledge about effective rehabilitation programs exists. It's a crime not to use it to save lives and taxpayer dollars.

To learn more about the Youth PROMISE act and send your Representative and Senators a letter asking for their support, visit and sign the e-mail petition.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Aim4Peace - A Program to Help Stem Inner-City Violence

Amidst the non-stop media reminders that we live in a violent society, every once in awhile comes a story that offers an amount of hope. One such story is about the work of a group called Aim4Peace in Kansas City, Missouri. Aim4Peace recruits and trains ex-convicts and puts them to work to prevent future convicts. The street-savvy Aim4Peace "violence interrupters" are charged with identifying hot spots in the most violent neighborhoods and defusing the situation before violence can erupt.

By their own count, Aim4Peace mediators have been able to resolve 22 potentially-violent conflicts in 2008, and at least 14 so far in 2009. The Kansas City police department is crediting Aim4Peace with reducing violence in the East Side to the point where it no longer is the most violent area of the city. According to Maj. Anthony Ell, commander of the Kansas City Police Department's violent crimes division,
"The work they're doing in that area is having an impact."
The Aim4Peace program is modeled along the lines of Chicago's CeaseFire project, which sends former gang members and ex-convicts to the streets to stop violence before it starts. The program is rooted in the theory that violence is a public health concern akin to diseases or viruses.

Dr. Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who founded CeaseFire, said training people to control violence is no different from teaching them to control tuberculosis or AIDS. Says Dr. Slutkin:

"Violence behaves like every other epidemic does. One event leads to another just like every other epidemic."

Of course, programs like Aim4Peace and CeaseFire require funding to sustain their positive impact. In these difficult economic times where municipalities are cutting budgets, proactive pro-peace programs are at greater risk of being cut. This makes it even more important to pass federal legislation such as H.R. 1064 - the Youth PROMISE act - to help get the most at-risk communities the funding they need to keep programs like Aim4Peace alive. Visit to learn more about H.R. 1064 and send a letter to your elected officials urging their support of the Youth PROMISE act.

Congratulations to the forward thinking leadership in Kansas City and to the people of Aim4Peace for their outstanding success!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Youth PROMISE Act Close to Reality - 228 cosponsors!

The grassroots campaign to garner support for H.R. 1064 - the Youth PROMISE act - continues to build momentum. The number of co-sponsors has risen dramatically since the bill was first introduced in February, climbing to 228 cosponsors as of this writing. This total includes 18 Republicans, so even Conservatives recognize the value of evidence-based programs that are tailored to meet the needs of local environments to address the root causes of youth violence. Dealing with the root issues at the front end will save a lot of tax money compared to dealing with the after effects of violence.

On July 15, there was a hearing on H.R. 1064 in the Crime Subcommittee (part of the House Judiciary committee). Several expert witnesses spoke in favor of the legislation and offered detailed explanation about why we have every reason to expect the approaches offered by the Youth PROMISE act will be effective at reducing violence where other legislation has failed. You can read a summary account of the hearing on DoPeace, the social networking site for peacebuilding activists.

Because of the extensive bipartisan support for H.R. 1064, and because of the positive hearing in the Crime subcommittee, it looks like the next step for the bill is to get a recommendation from the Judiciary committee and then to the House floor for a vote. This will likely occur after the summer recess, so look forward to more activity in the fall. It a very exciting time for the grassroots!

If you haven't already done so, please visit to learn about the Youth PROMISE bill and to send a letter to your elected officials asking for their support. The more support we can get going into the Fall legislative session, the more likely H.R. 1064 will become law in the 111th Congress!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Declaration of Independence from Violence

On this day in 1776, our country's forefathers declared independence from the tyranny of the British monarchy and launched this shining example of democracy. However, somewhere along the way, the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" has morphed into a society based on violence and a winner-take-all mentality. The history of our democracy is filled with one tragic period of war followed by another, with all-too-brief interludes to reload. When school children are taught about our nation's history, the focus is mainly on learning about our glorious wars. Isn't this telling our children that violence is the best, if not only, means to resolve our differences?

Certainly, if we look at the fact that the U.S. has by far the largest per capita incarceration rate in the world, one might conclude that a large portion of our population missed the part in school about how your pursuit of happiness cannot infringe on mine. But wait! That presumes that there is a teaching in school about how to live peacefully with each other! Some schools may have such a curriculum, but most do not. We teach are kids the three R's, but leave out the most important "R" - rightdoing.

So where should people learn a sense of right-and-wrong and how to be civil if not in school? Some people will learn this in their religious communities, but they are also likely to learn about "us vs. them" and the concepts of "just war" and punishment for sinning. Many will argue that children should learn how to get along from their parents. But what about children whose parents are abusive? Those children will learn how to bully to get their way or how to be submissive, and the cycle of violence continues.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the violence. Several years ago, on the eve of the second invasion of Iraq, I pulled my head out of the sand and became painfully aware of the level to which violence has spread throughout our culture. I cannot go back to ignoring it, so I'm compelled to do something about it. This Independence Day, I renew my personal Declaration of Indepence from Violence, maintaining that all people are created equal and endowed with the unalienable right to live peacefully with neighbors, both domestic and foreign.


Violence B. Gawn