Thursday, February 28, 2019

Five Reasons Jails Should Abolish 'Keep Fees’

Jails are to provide for both the care and custody of inmates.
In recent decades Virginia sheriffs have been permitted, but not mandated, to impose a daily fee of $1-3 per inmate as a way of recovering some of the costs of operating their jail. Here we charge $1, which raises about 7/10th of one percent of our jail’s annual budget of over $10 million. Detainees transferred from here to the Middle River Jail (due to local overcrowding) are charged $3 per day, which for a family earning $25,000 a year is 4% of their income.

Here are five good reasons for abolishing such fees:

1. It’s an "excessive fine” (see Eighth Amendment), not because of its amount, but because it is “in excess of” what a court has already established as the just punishment for a sentenced person’s offense.

2. While the sheriff is acting within his rights, it sets an unusual precedent to have a law enforcement officer determining and imposing any kind of additional sanction, thereby taking on a role as a judge and lawmaker in addition to that of law enforcer.

3. We’re assured jailed individuals aren’t forced to pay this fee, but unless they do so they cannot access the commissary, and may not have phone service except for collect calls. Nor can they have other things the jail doesn’t provide, such as medical co-pays, coffee, condiments (ketchup or mayonnaise packs, etc.) or snack foods. But if the fee is a legitimate one, legally imposed by the sheriff, one would normally expect it to be enforced. Meanwhile, inmates find clandestine ways of getting canteen items through their cellmates’ accounts.

4. Since most inmates have no way of paying keep fees while incarcerated, it is unfair to have their loved ones feel pressed to do so, since they are not the ones who should be punished. Even $1 per day creates an unfair burden for families who have just lost a wage earner and who may be living on or below the poverty level, as opposed to families who can easily afford to pay it. In addition, there is a $4 transaction fee for every deposit, large or small, made in an inmate’s account. This means inmates who are well to do or who come from well off families can pay their fees and make as many phone calls—and purchase as many canteen items—as they wish, while  those who live on or near the poverty level (the majority) cannot.

5. Keep fees are especially unfair for the 40% or more inmates in jail awaiting trial and who haven’t yet been judged guilty of a crime. While they may be technically entitled to a refund, the very fact that they are jailed and wearing orange represents an unjust presumption of guilt.

The Albemarle Regional Jail is slated to address this issue in their March meeting, and is expected to abolish their fee. We should do the same.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Relationships Need A Periodic Flush Of Stored Up Hurts And Grievances

Complete forgiveness is based on true repentance.
When couples "fall out of love" it's often due to an accumulation of grievances that have gotten in the way of celebrating the love they once had. Unforgiven and unresolved offenses can build up over time and become a part of a growing mound of misery they can no longer find a way around.

Such relationships may need some serious forgiveness sessions, in which each partner expresses sincere remorse for past wrongs, and without any rationalizations or defensiveness asks for reconciliation and forgiveness. The other partner, if willing and ready to do so, then expresses complete forgiveness, but only if and when he or she is willing to commit to never bringing up that grievance again. Any superficial confession of wrongs on the offender's part, and any unwillingness to truly declare the slate clean on the part of the person harmed, can become a kind of cheap grace that results in a superficial, pseudo-healing of the relationship.

Once having cleared the slate in a forgiveness ritual, couples need to commit to keeping short accounts going forward, dealing with any current offenses as soon as possible after they occur rather adding them to their grievance pile. In fact, if true repentance and forgiveness have occurred, that pile no longer exists.

True forgiveness goes far beyond a mere "Let's pretend this never happened." It is not a unilateral blank check declaring everything is all right when it isn't. On the offender's part, thorough-going repentance must be accompanied by a willingness to do whatever necessary to help make restitution and to commit to never repeating the same offense. On the part of the one granting forgiveness, it means a commitment to never bringing up that offense again.

When the slate is truly cleared, love can grow again.

For more on true forgiveness:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Guest Post: 67% Favor Rehabilitation Over Punishment

U.S. Polls Favor Rehabilitation over Incarceration

by Matt Clarke - Prison Legal News

Building more prisons and jails ranked dead last on the list of quality of life priorities, behind providing more jobs and job training, building and improving roads and infrastructure, strengthening community-based mental health treatment, increasing community-based drug and alcohol treatment, creating parks and green space, investing in violence-reduction programs, reducing racism and bias, and investing in arts and culture.

For the ACLU poll, the Benenson Strategy Group interviewed over 1,000 adults across the country, 41 percent of whom described themselves as conservatives, 31 percent as liberals and 23 percent as moderates. Their level of agreement was significant, with 71 percent overall supporting a reduction in the prison population - 87 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Independents and 57 percent of Republicans, including 52 percent of those who reported voting for President Donald Trump.

Almost all - 91 percent - agreed that the U.S. criminal justice system needs reform, and more than two-thirds said they would be more likely to vote for political candidates who favor reducing the prison population and spending the savings on drug treatment and mental health programming. Nearly as many - 72 percent - would prefer a candidate opposed to mandatory minimum sentences.

The poll also found support for reforming the money bail system, with two-thirds of respondents opposing pre-trial detention simply due to lack of funds to make bail. Perhaps most glaring was the finding that just 13 percent were aware that non-violent offenders account for 75 percent of jail populations.

According to Jasmine Heiss, director of outreach and public affairs strategist at the Vera Institute of Justice, local incarceration rates are strongly influenced by local actors such as judges and prosecutors. A judge who always gives out the maximum sentence or a prosecutor who always seeks the maximum penalties will increase a county's incarceration rate. Such over-incarceration is not linked to less crime; instead, the economic distress resulting from higher incarceration rates may drive up the community's crime rate.

In August 2016, the Alliance for Safety and Justice released the results of the first-ever survey of crime victims' perspectives on the U.S. criminal justice system. A majority wanted prosecutors to look for alternatives to incarceration to hold criminal defendants accountable.

Sixty-one percent preferred shorter sentences to spending on incarceration, while 38 percent believed incarceration actually increased recidivism. Eighty-nine percent of crime victims favored additional spending on schools and education over building more prisons and jails, 83 percent supported more spending on mental health treatment and 73 percent wanted increased drug treatment instead of incarceration.

The survey found that young and poor people were more likely to be victims of crime. The victimization rate for those between 18 and 24 was twice that of all other age groups, and the rate for those earning less than $15,000 a year was thrice that of those making at least $75,000. Over a third of violent crime victims had previously been a victim of violent crime. Two-thirds of the victims surveyed received no help after the crime; most who received help got it from family and friends.

"The data is clear - when it comes to criminal justice, Americans want reform and rehabilitation," concluded Udi Ofer, who serves as deputy national political director and director of the Campaign for Smart Justice at the ACLU.

Now we just need elected officials to listen to the people who support criminal justice reforms.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Yes, I am Pro-Life, And Oppose Abortion Except In The Most Extreme Circumstances

These are some of the tools used in later, and legal, abortions. 
In spite of my having written numerous pro-life posts, I'm sometimes accused of not speaking out strongly enough against abortion, or not denouncing it in the same way I do killing in warfare, for example, or protecting the already born from starvation or from lack of clean water or medical care. 

So let me repeat: I believe all life is precious, and that we should do all we can to preserve and enhance it at every stage from conception to natural death. Period. 

But as a male I want to be appropriately humble about how I weigh in on the issue, knowing I will never be the victim of incest or a rape that might result in my carrying an unwanted pregnancy. Nor will I ever have to carry a baby that is so seriously deformed that it  may have no chance of living more than a few painful hours after its birth. So I fully realize that it's easy for men like me to pontificate on what all women should do in every case, acknowledging that few of us would eagerly step up and offer to carry another's difficult pregnancy if that were even possible, which it isn't. So it can be all too easy for us to claim a cheap form of "higher-than-thou" moral ground on this issue.

Besides, it is men who directly cause pregnancies (except for cases of artificial insemination), and who should therefore accept the blame for every abortion.

Having said that, in principle I remain very conservative about preserving life, and am not even comfortable with the use of a morning after pill except in cases of rape), much less supporting abortion generally as a convenient means of birth control. And as a father, grandfather and fellow member of the human family, I strongly oppose abortions based on a fear that a child may simply be physically or mentally impaired. All human life is precious and sacred.

In a recent Facebook conversation I followed, one that generated over 40 comments, I noted an interesting ratio of 8 men to 2 women expressing strongly held convictions. The men and the two women were equally divided in their positions, with one side equating even the use of an IUD with capital murder. Others, while not favoring terminating any form of human life, even at conception or when an embryo is still less than the size of a raison, nevertheless don't see that as equivalent to terminating the life of a more fully developed human fetus.

Certainly in principle we would all agree that each human person who dies should be given a name, be duly registered as a deceased member of some human family, and be provided a proper casket, funeral, burial and grave marker. Should we actually do all of those things whenever there is a miscarriage, either a natural one or an induced one, and whether during a very early stage of development or a later one? So far in human and Christian history we have not.

My point is that many who decry terminating a human life at any stage, nevertheless do some make distinctions regarding the nature and extent of personhood associated with prenatal human life.

Side note: Human life, far from simply beginning at conception, is actually a part of every male's sperm and each female's ovum, and so it continues at conception--continues in a sequence of forms and through various stages of human development.

I know some will severely criticize me for attempting to nuance the issue in this way, rather than insisting that any termination of a pregnancy is not only wrong (with which I agree except in the most serious of medical circumstances) but is exactly the same as murdering an already born member of the human family.    

Bottom line: I fully support the Mennonite Church's position on abortion, as follows: 

Monday, February 11, 2019

A Church That Spent Nothing On Itself Last Year

Catalogues of church supplies are full of things house churches can do without.
Family of Hope, a Harrisonburg-based, living-room-size house church, has only nine official members and six associate members. After thirty years of meeting, many of us are past retirement age, and our total 2018 giving toward our official church budget was only a modest $13,510.59, although most of our group contribute generously to many other causes as well.

So Family of Hope is far from being some major success story.

But one heartening thing at our annual business meeting last evening was to learn that we managed to get through the entire 2018 fiscal year without spending anything on ourselves, a gratifying first for our little congregation.

We are blessed with more members willing to lead our 4 pm weekly worship and Bible study gatherings than there are Sundays in a month, so we have no salaries or stipends to provide for. And since we meet in homes we have no real estate to maintain and no utility expenses to cover. Ours is an experience of church stripped to its most basic elements, a gathering for prayer, fellowship, the study of scripture--and for enjoying a simple carry-in meal--all a kind of "carry-in" in preparation for our "carrying out" God's mission for us throughout another week, as described in a blog post "Is This For Here Or To Go?"

Our church budget does provide for things like printing and postage costs, and for any study material we might choose (though we mostly just use the lectionary texts found in the Bible). The church also offers each member up to $50 a year for taking in a retreat or seminar of their choice. But last year our members just covered such costs on their own and didn't bother asking our good treasurer, Susan Campbell, for reimbursement.

We do also have a $2000 annual Congregational Aid Fund to draw from to help with any special needs among us, but were fortunate enough not to have to use any of that in the past year.

Meanwhile, the amounts distributed to over 20 church wide Mennonite and other agencies aren't very large, the exception being Mennonite Central Committee, a relief and development organization for which we allocate $2000 a year for world hunger and relief needs. We also provide modest support to local groups like New Bridges, People Helping People, Summit House, Our Community Place, Faith in Action and a half dozen other local agencies.

We certainly don't deserve any accolades for any of this, and house churches like ours are not for everyone, and are far from being the only right way to do church. But after so many years, it's gratifying to see any trend toward congregations spending less on themselves and investing more in other mission, education and relief needs.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Some Sound Advice For Aspiring Leaders

"If only..." can be the saddest words we ever utter.
Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
- Proverbs 3:13-14 (NIV)

Recent developments in my home state remind us of how people's foolish past behaviors can result in some truly disastrous consequences.

Wise decisions, by definition, are those we can look back on later and feel great about, the results being positive and gratifying. Foolish ones are those we look back on with regret and ask, "What were we thinking?"

Some of us have learned that while experience can be a great teacher, we certainly don't want to have to learn everything from experience, i.e., the hard way.

Here are some examples of imprudent past actions on the part of public officials that have resulted in major regrettable consequences. Each could and should have been wisely avoided:

• Wearing blackface or donning Klan outfits

• Making racially insensitive comments

• Excessive drinking and partying

• Exploitive and demeaning sexual behavior

• Abuses of power

• Exploitation of undocumented workers for financial gain

• Being unfaithful to ones spouse

• Engaging in shady business deals

• Lying, exaggerating, misrepresenting

• Groping and disrespecting women

•Adulterous affairs, promiscuity

Lesson to be learned?  The wise may sometimes be judged as prudes, but there's simply no downside to being consistently prudent.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Why Our Divorce Numbers Remain Flat

This just in, the latest data from our Circuit Court
on local marriages and divorces.
As you can see from the list below, both marriage and divorce numbers have remained fairly stable in our community since 1996, when I began keeping record. So in spite of a significant increase in our local population during that time period we haven't seen any comparable increase in the number of marriage licenses issued. 

Does this mean there are fewer people in intimate and exclusive relationships? No. It only means fewer of them are documenting them, some perhaps assuming it will be easier for them to break up if they aren't officially 'married'. But when these unregistered couples (who have 'left father and mother' and begun an intimate and exclusive relationship just like their married counterparts), do break up, as they frequently do, they experience the same distresses divorced partners go through, or worse. They just aren't counted in the divorce numbers below:

Year         Marriages     Divorces

1996           873                 387
1997           950                 405
1998           964                 396
1999           932                 405
2000           947                 365
2001          1003                438     (most annual marriages)
2002           976                 421
2003           961                 399
2004           959                 437
2005           889                 381
2006           929                 389
2007           925                 434
2008           950                 405
2009           903                 347     (fewest annual divorces)
2010           879                 358     (fewest annual marriages since 1996)
2011           933                 433
2012           995                 445
2013           924                 484     
2014           972                 427
2015           955                 474
2016           985                 612     (most annual divorces)
2017           983                 426
2018           935                 476

Clarification 1: Marriage numbers are based on the number of marriage licenses issued, and include those who come here from other localities to marry, whereas divorce numbers include only the breakups of people who live in the City or County. However, it seems logical to assume that a roughly equal number of residents from here marry in other jurisdictions as marry here from other communities, so the numbers above should be reasonably valid for comparison purposes.

Clarification 2: One cannot assume a rate of divorce based on any one year's numbers, as in "45% of first time marriages in our community will end in divorce." Many of the above couples are marrying or divorcing for a second, third or fourth time). But with numbers like these over a period of this many years, one might safely conclude that the odds of a given marriage surviving are not nearly as good as we would like.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Brethren Mill Owner Bought And Freed Slaves

Bowman and business partner Frederick Miller were the third 
owners of what became known as Bowman's Mill, rebuilt after
the Civil War as the Silver Lake Mill near Dayton,
Myron Augsburger recently told me about an ancestor of his, Daniel L. Bowman, who was reputed to have purchased African-American slaves prior to the Civil War in order to free them.

My frequent attempts to verify this from written sources were unsuccessful until yesterday, when a retired pastor friend, Paul Roth, sent me a link to a Church of the Brethren history site that included the following statement:

"Family traditions tell that Daniel Bowman, prior to the Civil War, would purchase slaves and free them. Once freed, the slaves would work in his mill and on his farm. At the present, evidence seems to support the tradition. There were free blacks living near the Mill in pre-Civil War censuses."

I'm not sure how unusual it was to have a respected citizen of a slave holding state like Virginia dare do this, but I'm sure it must have been considered scandalous by many of his neighbors. And like most Valley Brethren and Mennonites, Bowman was also adamantly opposed to war and to all forms of sedition or violence, an equally unpopular position as the clamor for secession grew to a fever pitch.

For example:

"Daniel Bowman absolutely refused to give any aid or support to the cause of the Rebellion or to contribute anything to the Southern cause unless compelled to by military force, except when a lone soldier would call at his door for something to eat; he gave alike to the northern or southern soldier."

Bowman is an example of someone who was clearly ahead of his time, and who dared live out his convictions in spite of the cost.

Here's a link to the article on the history of Daniel Bowman that was made available to me by Cheryl Lyon, current owner of the historic Silver Lake Mill:

Here is the link to the gift and craft shop currently renting the space from Ms. Lyon: