DeRay, Sam, Clint and Brittany explain what’s on their hearts and minds during Black History Month. President and CEO of the Public Welfare Foundation Candice Jones joins DeRay to talk about juvenile and adult prison reform.
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DeRay: Hey, this is DeRay, welcome to Pod Save The People. On this episode, we’re joined by Candice Jones, the President and CEO of the Public Welfare Foundation. She used to manage all of the juvenile correction facilities in the state of Illinois.
Candice Jones: In my time there, what we did a lot of work on was trying to change that system principally by reducing the number of youth that were coming there because I believe Illinois was one of the states that was overusing what is the most harsh response to youth in conflict with the law.
DeRay: And then, we have the news with me, Brittany, Clint and Sam, not as usual. This is one of those weeks where we just talk about the things that are the most important to us. My word for this week is about the plateau is that, I’ve started going to the gym, and I got really good at a certain set of things and then I went to the gym this morning and we, instead of doing regular planks, we started doing these like different planks to hold onto a ball and plank from that as opposed to just putting my elbows on the ground. I asked him like, “Why are we doing the ball? I sort of got the regular plank. I can do it for a while, like solid.” And he was like, “DeRay, you just gotta keep pushing.”
DeRay: That I got to make sure that I increase the resistance and increase like how hard these are for you so that you actually get stronger in the process. And I was like, you know what? I was so excited about reaching that initial goal that I didn’t even realize that just staying at that place was a plateau. I feel like that happens in life so much is that we get the thing that we thought we wanted and then we stay there for a long time and that we actually don’t create the space or allow other people to put us in places or open up doors and walked through them that pushes us to the next level. The level that makes us a little bit stronger, a little bit wiser, and a little bit more ready. Make sure you don’t plateau. Let’s go.
Brittany: Hey y’all. It’s Brittany Packnett, @MsPackyetti on all social media. I had a great weekend joining the guys in the parts of America tour. It was really awesome to be with you all. In my travels this weekend, I was spending a lot of time with black women in LA and I got to hear Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw discussing something that is really on my mind and on my heart for this black history month. I’m often thinking about the ways in which black women are erased from our own stories. It’s part of the reason why I’m working on a book called, “We Are Like Those Who Dream,” which is full of essays for me and the speeches of black women throughout history.
Brittany: But Dr. Crenshaw put it this way. She said, “We get gentrified out of our very own stories.” And it made so much sense to me and it really brought to mind a woman named Reverend Dr. Pauli Murray, and you probably don’t know who she is even though she is deeply responsible for movements that we hold dear and for the work of one person in particular that we are all righteously celebrating right now, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was heavily influenced by Dr. Pauli Murray and yet, we hardly even know her name and we certainly don’t know her story.
Brittany: She was a poet, a writer, an activist. She’s a labor organizer, a legal theorist, and an episcopal priest. She actually helped Betty Friedan found the National Organization for Women and was one of the most important leaders in the women’s movement. She also set foundational arguments for why things like Plessy versus Ferguson, the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the idea of separate but equal, should actually be overturned. She sat down on a bus and was arrested during a ride on a Greyhound Bus from New York City to Durham, North Carolina in 1940, 15 years before Rosa Parks sat down on that bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and sparked a movement. She also, importantly, co- wrote a law review article while she was at the ACLU. And that is the same article that Ruth Bader Ginsburg used to convince the supreme court that the equal protection clause does indeed apply to women.
Brittany: There is so much about the life of Dr. Pauli Murray, that I didn’t even have time to cover. She’s important in LGBTQ issues. She’s important in the women’s movement. She’s important in civil rights. But I want to talk about the fact that so often we are celebrating heroes without recognizing who was a hero to them and so often the work of those heroes are coming at the hands of black women and black people and our race. They’re forgotten from history. They’re relegated to footnotes into a few books here and there, but certainly not the kind of films and documentaries that we see for other people. And don’t get me wrong or RBG deserves all of those, but it’s important for us to continuously tell the whole story.
Brittany: And I think that that’s what we have to remember, and not just in black history month, but all year round. I celebrate black history all year as should we all because black history is American history. If we treat it like it is foundational to this country as it is, we won’t relegate it to just 28 days, and we will rediscover all of the people, places, things, moments and movements that sparked the creation of the country as it exists today. And that’s why we should be making sure that we’re telling the black story in the fullness of the American story, not just this month, but always.
Sam: Hey, it’s Sam. In this black history month, I’ve been thinking a lot about this question of what it means to propose solutions that match the scale of the problems we face. And in particular, I think about this through the lens of racial justice. One of the primary indicators of racial inequity in this country is the racial wealth gap. Now, as we’ve described in the past, the racial wealth gap is massive, so much so that the median white family has more than $100,000 in additional wealth compared to the median black family. And according to the Institute for Policy Studies, it will take another 228 years before black families have as much wealth as white families do right now, if nothing changes.
Sam: So, this is an urgent issue that needs an urgent and serious solution. What does that solution look like? What are the proposals that we’re seeing? We’ve seen in the area of climate change from congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a serious and bold proposal to address the issue of climate change and to link that to economic opportunity for people of color. We’ve seen from Senator Elizabeth Warren, a proposal to tax wealth in a way that would generate trillions of dollars in additional revenue that could be spent on addressing the racial wealth gap. Most recently, we’ve seen from Senator Cory Booker a proposal that would create a baby bonds program that gives every newborn in this country $1,000 in a bank account and it would add on an additional $2,000 depending on family income. So much so that over those 18 years where you have that investment every single year in that savings account.
Sam: Over the 18 years that that child becomes an adult, the racial wealth gap has been estimated to be closed from a 16 to 1 disparity between young black adults and young white adults to a 1.4 to 1 disparity. So almost closed the gap for $85 billion, which is not a wild amount of money, right? So, 70% marginal income tax on high earners will generate $100 billion year, raising the estate tax would generate about $85 billion a year. These are all things that are within our means to do, to close the racial wealth gap. We can do this. It just takes a bold and ambitious plan. It takes electing leaders that will implement that plan and mobilizing to make sure that those gains were sustained over the longterm because we know that once black and white families have the same amount of wealth, oftentimes, we know that assets aren’t valued the same depending on race.
Sam: You may own a home as a black family, but in fact, that home doesn’t appreciate in value the same extent as a white family or you may have a college degree, but doesn’t earn you the same amount as it does for a white person. And so, all of these proposals need to also reckon with the fundamental issue of racism in society and how that wealth, not only will be accumulated, but sustain and maintain into the future. But I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to see proposals from all of the candidates that are running on how to seriously deal with this issue, how to make sure that we’re reckoning with so many of the inequities of the past through reparations and that we are reckoning with the fundamental inequities that continue and persist in the present through, not only a baby bonds program, but thinking about home ownership, thinking about making sure that we’re closing the wage gap and the employment gap and all of the other issues that comprise the overall wealth gap. But I’m excited and I think that this can be done and so I’m looking forward to seeing what the candidates propose.
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Clint: What’s going on y’all? This is Clint, and I wanted to share a little bit about what’s been on my mind over the course of the past few weeks and as we think broadly about black history month. So, as you all know, I’m currently writing a book that thinking about how different places throughout the United States go about the process of reckoning with or in some cases, not reckoning with their relationship to the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, American slavery, Jim Crow and in subsequent, intergenerational iterations of the black experience in this country.
Clint: And I’m interested in the process of public history and how institutions talk about who they are and who they’ve been. Whether that’d be museums, memorials, monuments, etc. And as part of the research for the book, I’ve been traveling to many places across the country exploring what this looks like. For Black history month, I want to sort of bring attention to a couple places that have been really important for me and bring attention to the importance of being a patron to these museums at large. I spent some time last week at the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, which is one of the only plantations in the country and perhaps the only plantation in the country that is singularly dedicated to telling the story of that plantation, from the perspective of people in slave rather than the people who did the enslaving.
Clint: If you’ve ever visited a plantation, you know that that’s a pretty unique thing that’s not done in many places. It’s only an hour from New Orleans. The next time you make a trip to the Big Easy, my hometown, I really recommend taking part of the day to head down there. I also spent some time at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, which is brand new museum telling the story about the role that Mississippi plead in this country’s black liberation struggle. And Jackson also has an incredible civil rights walking tour in the city that among other things, includes a visit to the bus station with the freedom riders arrived as they were trying to desegregate public accommodations.
Clint: And the outside of the building has been restored. It looks just like it did in 1961 when all this was happening and it was really profound and moving to me. And obviously, if you have not had the chance to check out the National Museum of African American history and culture in Washington, D.C. and you are missing out. It is a profound place that has a lot to say about how the story of Black America is really just the story of America, and I’m lucky not to live too far from it. And every time I go, I learn something new, I learn something that I didn’t know. And you see a lot of these artifacts that are from the period of enslavement, from the period of Jim Crow that are really moving and in a visceral sort of way.
Clint: These are some things that I’ve been thinking about this black history month. Make a point, not this month, but every month to frequent the museums. The tours, institutions that attempt to tell a fuller, more nuanced, more honest story about the history of black people in this country and how we arrived in this sort of sociopolitical moment that we exist in today. If you can’t physically go, lots of museums have virtual and online tours that are great classroom resources. Also, even if you’re not a teacher, they’re just great to sit around with your family and the dining room and kind of explore together, and they’re catalysts to some really great conversations.
Clint: I’ve been learning so much in the process of writing this book. I’ve been documenting some of that journey to these places on Instagram, so if you follow me @ClintSmithIII on there, you can follow along. And again, go to these museums, donate to them, bring your kids and families and classes to them. This is how we make sure that we continue to have more museums like this and not less because they are incredibly, incredibly necessary.
DeRay: Hey, this is DeRay. The thing that’s really been on my mind, there’s so much push to have the outcome change just makes a lot of sense, but on the heels of privatization, it’s interesting because a lot of people talk about private prisons. They’re like, DeRay private prisons, private prisons, and the reality is that private prisons are not a good thing. There’s no data that suggests that private prisons are run more efficiently, that the outcomes are better, any of that stuff. Literally, nothing supports this notion that privatizing a whole prison actually leads to any better outcomes, financially or otherwise.
DeRay: But people have a really skewed sense of the percentage of prisons that are privatized. It’s only 8%of all prisons that are private, but what is much bigger is the privatization of services within prisons. So the news I’m talking about today, it’s an article written by the appeal.org titled “Corazon,” the prison healthcare giant stumbles again. I think we talked about Corazon a long time ago because of a case in Alabama where somebody had diabetes and they didn’t get access to care and they eventually died. But what’s happening in prisons all across the country is that, it might be a public prison like the government runs it, owns it, but in terms of the services inside, they’re heavily privatized, and who would have ever thought that healthcare within the prison system would be privatized?
DeRay: This article talks about, where in Arizona department of corrections paid a per inmate per day rate, which is according to the contract with the state, which is about $189 million a year. Which means that they have, as quoted by the director of the ACLU national prison project, “An almost irresistible incentive to deny care” because they’re getting paid by the number of people who are in there per day. So there’s an incentive to make sure that as many people stay in need of the services or just stay inside the prison as possible. So some of the examples were a terminal leukemia patient who was denied narcotic pain medication and a man with diabetes who went 48 hours without receiving insulin, people who were recovering from heroin who got no treatment.
DeRay: And same company had an issue in Idaho or Corazon wasn’t even paying hospitals. So, a set of hospitals, and I should just sue them because they were being underpaid for treatment of incarcerated patients. That has happened in a couple states, and to give you some perspective, Corazon has 31 contracts in 17 states, which is wild. And the company that manages them won’t discuss the names of the clients, but they range from correctional agencies to cities and counties. And here’s the thing, so this is a big money making business. So, there are investment firms that invest as a part of the portfolio in these services as a way to diversify their portfolio, but they diversify the portfolio on literally on the backs of other people’s health, on the backs of services that should be public. And people often ask, “Why does it matter?”
DeRay: Whoever delivers the best service should just get the contract and do the work. It matters because when we think about public goods, we also think about the importance of public oversight. So, when they’re privatized services like healthcare in prisons or in cities and counties, they are often exempt from open meetings laws, from sunshine laws, from FOYA requests. So, there’s all this stuff happening that we actually have no understanding of what’s happening and the recourse is different. So, what does it mean when you’re denied care in a prison? It’s a outside vendor. You can sort of appeal to the person who runs the prison and they can deal with the contractor and then they can probably get you services as opposed to being able to talk to your legislator, to talk to the person who you elected to represent you, to put pressure on people who you know what their role is and how they are supposed to function in the government.
DeRay: Those oversight mechanisms are the root of what democracy is supposed to be. We talk a lot about privatization, but don’t get into the details of how it actually functions in people’s day to day lives in a way that is really dangerous. I think that the health care in prisons is one that has alWays fascinated me, that never makes it to the public conversation, but it’s really important. That’s the news.
DeRay: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save The People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come.
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Candice Jones: Oh, it’s my pleasure. I’m happy to be here.
DeRay: So, we first met when we were both in Germany doing a tour of prisons and jail. I was trying to understand if there was anything to learn from just seeing jails and prisons differently. I wanna start there, as somebody who used to run the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, what were your takeaways from being a part of that experience?
Candice Jones: It’s funny, I’ll be honest with you going into the trip. I’ve been in a lot of prisons in the U.S., and so there was a part of me that was a little bit skeptical. It’s sort of like, do I need to fly this many hours to be in a prison? Because at the end of the day a prison is a prison, is a prison. And when you come up to some of the facilities, you see the gate, you see the barbed wire, and I’m thinking, “Oh yeah, no. I know these places.” But I have to say when we got in the facilities, they offer people small human dignities in a way in the U.S. we would never offer people. One example is that we went to a jail facility for men and women in Hamburg, got there and I saw a man come out of his room in the morning, lock his door, go to the kitchen and make french press coffee.
Candice Jones: And for any human being who has their normal morning routine, you get up, you make your coffee, that seems normal, but it is unheard off that we would offer somebody that kind of small personal dignity in a U.S. prison that you’ve come out, have a key to your own door, lock the door and just go make your own coffee. That’s not something that we would be doing here. You would not be afforded that kind of personal freedom. You and I went to a juvenile prison together and I remember asking the guy who ran the facility, I said to him, they have private wooden doors. There’s no window in the door, you can’t see in the room, and I said to him, “Oh, well what do you do when you have a kid that’s high needs mental health? How do you look in and watch them?”
Candice Jones: And he looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Well, that kid wouldn’t be in our system. And what it reminded me, what was so striking is that he was right. My expectation of what is acceptable is so low.
DeRay: You used to run the juvenile correction facilities in Illinois. How did you even get to that role as somebody who wasn’t …? When I think about most of the wardens I’ve ever met or been around, it’s like they were career corrections officers or law enforcement or that was their path. What had you done in the work to eventually even get offered a position like that and then to choose to accept it? Especially as somebody who like I think about you as an advocate.
Candice Jones: I came up very much on the outside. I had done some juvenile representation and defense in New York City while I was in law school. I had worked later at the MacArthur Foundation, helping run this national juvenile justice initiative where we worked in states, and one of the states that was my principal responsibility was Illinois because it was my home state, so I knew systems leaders there, I knew advocates and folks in the community there and worked in and around that work. When I left philanthropy, I went into government because one of the things I say is, go be a part of the system that you want to change. Understand that system, understand how to impact it. And so, I left my very cush job in philanthropy and said, let me get out here and cut my teeth in the work. It was time for me to step up and take responsibility to see if I could implement concretely the policies that I had spent so much of my career talking about.
DeRay: What was it like to one day look up and be the woman in charge? As a black woman who’s an advocate to be the woman in charge of all corrections for juveniles in Illinois. Can you help us understand like what that actually means? Like, how many kids are incarcerated, the ages and what does it mean that you ran that division or department?
Candice Jones: I had spent my entire career advocating to keep people out of prisons, to keep youth out of prison and all of a sudden I took responsibility for one. You’re responsible for the worst thing that’s happening any child anywhere in the state of Illinois every day, and that’s hard. That’s a burden that you carry. It was a prison system for youth. So we had six locked correctional facilities. They were prisons for youth and they were all over the state. When I started, we had just over 800 youth in custody in those lock facilities. And then, we had an additional 1200 youth that were out being supervised by us in communities, so for adults it would have been called parole, but because it was the juvenile system, it was called aftercare. And in my time there, what we did a lot of work on was trying to change that system, principally by reducing the number of youth that were coming there because I believe Illinois was one of the states, certainly not the only, but in the U.S. that was overusing what is the most harsh response to youth in conflict with the law.
DeRay: What’s the age range again?
Candice Jones: The age range in Illinois is 13. So, we can get youth committed as young as 13, and they can stay with us until they’re 21 on a juvenile commitment. So, even past their 18th birthday, if they’ve already been committed. And the average age of youth that were in custody when we were there was around 17.
DeRay: You closed one of the facilities, didn’t you?
Candice Jones: Yeah.
DeRay: What led you to say like, “Okay, this is it, I can’t fix it, It doesn’t work, it just has to go?”
Candice Jones: Yeah. We closed one of our largest Illinois youth center, Kewanee. It was one of our largest juvenile facilities. It had been built in the late 1990s as a maximum security adult prison. When it was built, that was what it was supposed to be used for, but at some point in negotiation it became a youth facility, and by the time I took over, it was a facility that was out near the state of Iowa, so some of our staff actually lived on the other side of the state line and were commuting and we were keeping our older youth and our youth with high needs mental health there. And it was pretty clear to me and my executive team early on that it was a place that was struggling to meet the needs of the youth that were there. It was also for the purpose … nobody goes to juvenile for life. These kids are going home. They need programming, they need connection to their family and community and it was out in this jurisdiction where it was extraordinarily difficult for people unless you could drive to get there to visit their kids.
Candice Jones: And we had, when I started, hundreds of youth there. And so we worked really hard one, to not compress the number of youth in the system so much. I’m not a person that says, close facilities and just crowl youth into other places because of the reforms, because we were able to say to the state, we should not be committing misdemeanants, we should not be committing youth for public disorder offenses to state prison, we were able to reduce the population overall. Because we were saying to the state people who are on aftercare post release supervision shouldn’t be on there for these long, illusory, undisclosed to them periods of time. We were able to reduce the number of kids in the system overall and move youth that were already in kewanee closer to home and in other places.
Candice Jones: We closed it, but the process of closure, it was like nothing else I’d ever experienced before. I learned so much about how systemically we make it difficult to allow communities and people impacted to wait into the systemic conversations around these decisions. It was just really an illuminating process to go through the close process in the state.
DeRay: What a lot of advocates are saying is, just close them. Just close a prison. We need to close it now. This idea that it’s hard to close prisons, it’s sort of like a bureaucratic delay tactics, but you actually had to do it. What did you learn in that process that was just different than what you might’ve thought coming in?
Candice Jones: So, here’s what I thought going in, what I was prepared for strategically. I was like, okay, now, on one side you have a rational argument about needing the space, not having enough kids. You have a rational argument about use of public resources. And Illinois is a state that is constantly in budget crisis, so that’s reasonable. These are the two things you have on one hand. On the other hand, we’re preparing for what we believe, what I believe would be avail conversation about jobs. So here you’re trying to talk about these kids who are impacted, their humanity, what’s best for them, but the opposition argument was overwhelmingly publicly and unabashedly about people eat, sleep and support their households on this facility, and so we need to have this facility open.
Candice Jones: One of the things that happens in Illinois, and it’s not the only state that does this, is that a closure hearing happens in the jurisdiction where the facility sits, even though it’s a state facility. And so, when we showed up, I was in a high school gymnasium. It was like driving up to an election day. They had signs save IYC Kewanee, is a community event to say we need this. People got up and testified. I testified first about the impact on the youth that we were pulling out of these communities by and large from Chicago and other parts of the state. The separation, the ability to not hire the quality of staff we needed to be able to serve those youth. But people from the got up behind me, their budget officer to talk about the financial impact on the community.
Candice Jones: They had the superintendent of their local schools get up and testify and say, if families have to leave this community, and those kids are pulled out of schools here, it will disrupt their life. Now, here you had the juxtaposition of saying for kids whose parents work in the facilities to have to change schools will disrupt their lives, and we’re holding that in the same place, but what about all these kids that we’re ripping out of communities in Chicago and across the rest of the state? It’s an illuminating debate.
DeRay: I’ve thought that one of the things you also did administratively was changed the process by which a set of employees internally could decide the aftercare. I think that was it, but I wanted to ask you so that I can be clear about it.
Candice Jones: One of the things that happened is, Illinois was a state that still had … they were external. They were a parole board that’s appointed by the governor, and they are a body that makes release decisions. It was difficult because sometimes you could have staff and folks who were working with kids every day understanding, recommending their release, and then someone come in and say, “You know what? You can’t be released because we want you to get all your credits and graduate first.” And we want people on the track to graduation, but you shouldn’t have to be in a prison to do it. Not understanding sort of the harshness of that disruption. And so, we were able to work with the administration, with legislator to say, that decisiOn making should be in the custody of the people who are closest to those youth and that is the staff and the agency head of that agency.
Candice Jones: At the time, it was me. Now, it’s another woman who’s making the decisions and they have worked really hard to implement that, and I think it’s helping them make better decisions about youth as they transition.
DeRay: And why did you leave and what did you do afterwards?
Candice Jones: I left because I was tired. I wasn’t a career corrections’ person. I remember when I was sort of late in the tenured there and folks were saying, “Oh, what are you going to do next? Do you want to come to a different state? Think about Rhode Island or think about some other jurisdiction or do on probation.” I remember saying, “Guys, I’m not just in prison work for the love of it.” It was so important for me to do it, to be able to implement policy and make change. It was very important to do … I’m born and raised in Illinois from Chicago was very important to do it in a place that I feel like I owe so much of my own personal shaping to, but is difficult work.
Candice Jones: So, I knew and had built an executive team that allow me to say, okay, we’ve got a bench here now of people who are, not just political cronies or connected, they’re are people who know this issue, who loved the work that we’re doing. So, I was able to leave, work with people on the executive team that had come onto me, who I knew who were committed and I could go back into the world and just start to take on something that still allows me to be in the work, but not operating at such an intense pace.
DeRay: You are now in the nonprofit world, whIch is very different than running a government agency. How did you choose this role and this way to be in the work? You could have done a million things after doing that. Why this?
Candice Jones: So, I immediately left and did work on violence in Chicago because it seemed appropriate as kids are transitioning out to go do that. And then, I understood public welfare foundation is a national foundation. It makes grants to jurisdictions all over the country on a set of issues. And they had a search consultant, and I knew about them because I had been a grantee while I was at the state. They had funded other organizations to help us with some of the reform work we were doing and implement changes. And when they were looking for a head, I knew that it was an organization I had done philanthropy before because of the work that I had done at MacArthur. And the hardest decision was, is it both an opportunity where the organization and the board were really committed to meaningful change? That was what I was trying to assess and to make the choice to leave Chicago because public welfare is based in DC, so it meant a move, and I had to personally reconciled that.
Candice Jones: But I really felt like they were committed to being relevant, making sure that the work counted, that it didn’t just sound good or look good on the website, but that it was proximate to the work and the possibilities. And it will be good for me to just pull back a little bit from being so close to what was happening in Illinois and get back in a national conversation about change. And so, I very Much believe that in careers is helpful for you to change seats and sort of see it from a different position because you appreciate the struggles of the stakeholders on the other side of the table, and I made the choice to come and to do this, to run this race with them for a while at the foundation.
DeRay: What are some of the initiatives that the Public Welfare Foundation, either houses manages or funds that we should know about?
Candice Jones: Traditionally, we’ve had three major portfolios. We have done a youth justice, so juvenile justice complimentary work was funded out of that portfolio. One of the things that we work on a lot out of that is funding organizations across the country that are working on closing youth prisons. So, related to the things that we were just talking about and in different jurisdictions all over the country like youth justice in Milwaukee they’re working really closing and ensuring that big facilities like Lincoln Hills that there’ve been lots of reports about sexual and physical abuse of the youth are closed. And they’re also, which I think is iMportant in the youth justice campaign and needs to be more a part of the conversation nationally around youth justice and criminal justice trying to ensure that dollars are not just dedicated to opening newer, smaller prisons, but that dollars are actually starting to be directed back to communities to support the programming and services that we know research actually shows it improves the outcomes of youth long-term.
Candice Jones: So that there’s actually some dedicated investment in the places where youth are coming from and ultimately, going back to. In the adult criminal justice space, we have a state based sentencing campaign that’s in different states. So we work with groups like Vote in Louisiana, Norris Henderson is a grantee, and they do incredible work there on policy reform, and they also do work with returning citizens, people coming out of custody, making sure that they are both trained up to be a part of the policy conversation, but also engaging in the work. And then, finally, we do a portfolio on workers’ rights that’s about organizing low wage workers and ensuring that they have protections, health and safety protections and wave that protections across the country. And there’s a lot of conversation about that work nationally with some of the recent supreme court cases. So, that has been the hallmark of our work.
DeRay: One of the things that I know you all work on is about Wisconsin, and Wisconsin has the highest rate of incarceration from working age black men. The state’s incarceration rate is twice the national average. I wanted to talk more about like what is going on in Wisconsin? And then, what has your philanthropic approach been to try and address the outcomes there?
Candice Jones: You had this great disparity. One in working age, black men in Wisconsin in custody, most of them coming from Milwaukee. So that data showed that more than half of men in their 30s in Milwaukee had been incarcerated and half of men in their 40s have been incarcerated. That’s two generations of black men, all concentrated in six zip codes in Milwaukee.
DeRay: That is wild.
Candice Jones: Yeah, that’s wild. It’s obliterated communities there. So, we have been funding their youth justice campaign, youth justice Milwaukee that is working on the closure of Lincoln Hills, but also really fighting hard to ensure that resources don’t just go into closing this one youth prison and opening another one, but actually that people start thinking about investing money in the communities that really, in the last decades have been gutted by some of the choices we’ve made around incarceration and crime. Also, they have some draconian laws around community supervision and being able to violate people and send them back into custody. And so, that’s the way we’re thinking about our funding in Wisconsin right now.
DeRay: Do we know why black men in Wisconsin are incarcerated at such a rate?
Candice Jones: Yeah, it’s a lot of things. It’s where we’re putting our surveilling resources, so that will be with policing and arrest. There’s always disparities and once somebody is arrested and they’re in the prosecution process, who’s getting access to plea bargains and reduced sentences and we know there are great disparities there based on the University of Georgia study that was released in 2017. All those things are driving it, but also, one of the issues there is community supervision. For Wisconsin, 40 percent of the people that were coming back into custody without a new arrest, without a new crime were black men. So that means a lot of people are just cycling through the system again and again because of choices that are being made by those who have the power over community supervision.
DeRay: Do you have structural allies in Wisconsin? Are you fighting against the system or are there people inside who are like trying to work with you?
Candice Jones: They just had a significant transition in the recent election and so we’ll see. I think that our allies there are always trying to work with systems leaders when systems leaders are willing to work with them, but now with the transition at the gubernatorial level and with the administration, they have to see what impact those changes will have. Their governor Just came out, and I think it made some really promising statements about juvenile justice and basically intonating that, they want to focus in a way that would be in the best interest of children, but it’s early. So I think our organizations, they’re gonna have to listen and be willing to partner, but really see if they believe that the movement is taking shape and headed in a direction that they can support.
DeRay: And the other thing that I know you all do is the worker’s rights program, but I don’t know much about the worker’s rights program. Can you help me understand what does that actually mean in practice?
Candice Jones: The worker’s rights program, it’s a portfolio that we’ve been in for a little over 10 years now. Really, what it focuses on is issues around low wage workers. So, it’s a lot of work around those workers that are outside of unions, but our grant making portfolio includes a lot of partnerships with organized labor. So, it would include issues like health and safety, whether or not the conditions on a job are safe and also wage theft. And so, we’ve done that for some time, but that’s one of the portfolios, and our new direction that over the next couple years we’re going to start to wind and really focus on the criminal justice work and to the extent we stay in and around work.
Candice Jones: We’ll be focusing on the work of youth in conflict with the law and returning citizens because they are also a large population of people that once you’ve had some interaction with the justice system, you can be categorically locked out of work. I actually think that we can offer the most, if we focus a little bit and concentrate our resources and say, we don’t believe that we can be good and great at tons of things, but that we’re really just gonna focus our energy, our dollars, and our strategic value add in a place where we think that we can impact change. And that’s youth justice and criminal justice.
DeRay: Now, one of the questions that I ask everybody is, we’re in a moment where there’s never been more activism that’s really public from all communities, on the left at least. But people have voted and called in email and in protest and done all the things that they were told to do, and a lot of people still feel like the outcomes haven’t changed in a way to match the energy. What do you say to those people, the people losing hope in this moment?
Candice Jones: I say to those people that remember that the people that we advocate on behalf of, they are much more tired and harmed than we are. When you think about the people that have preceded us, when you were marching for civil rights a generation, two generations ago, and they were being attacked with dogs and they were having horses pulled on them. The dangers and the thing that that kind of thing is exhausting. I imagine the people out marching and calling and dialing up now are also exhausted. But there are tons of people in this country right now that are locked in jails, locked in prisons, have no access to phone, can’t march, can’t even exhaust themselves in the way that many of these folks are, and remember that they are enduring inhumanities and tired in a different way and we have to find the energy on behalf of those people.
DeRay: What’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that stuck with you?
Candice Jones: The thing that sticks with me is that, I come from a large family and all the older women in my family always say, keep living. It is as much a piece of advice as it can be a rebuke. So, that’s what I love about the women in my family. You could be getting both and you never quite know which one it is in the moment. I remember when I was young, I would roll my eyes because for any little thing they would just say keep living. And now, as I get older, I say it to people all the time. And I think what that very small phrase encapsulates, is just a reminder that experience in life is the greatest teacher. There is no substitute for it. You can’t rush it, you just gotta roll with it.
Candice Jones: I think it’s just a very important lesson that they constantly say it to me, and now I hear myself saying all the time to people. This goes back to the point on being tired. We all just gotta keep living. You will learn new things. Things that frustrate you and exhaust you today, in time., they’ll be put in a new perspective in life and you’ll feel differently about them, but you just gotta stay in this thing. You gotta stay focused.
DeRay: Well, Candice, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save The People and can’t wait to see what’s next.
Candice Jones: Thank you. I love it. It’s a pleasure to be here.
DeRay: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcast or this Apple podcasts or somewhere else, and we’ll see you next week.
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DeRay, Clint, Brittany and Sam discuss Georgetown's reparations fund, the new Black Maternal Health Caucus, life-long prison sentences without the possibility of parole, and “proactive policing.” New York Times Magazine Staff Writer Emily Bazelon joins DeRay to talk about the power of prosecutors, transforming the American court system and ending mass incarceration.
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