$3.4 Trillion Mistake: Want More School Books or More Prisons?

From 1983 to 2012, Americans spent $3.4 trillion more on the justice system than they would have if the system had stayed the same size as it was in 1982.

A report by four organizations, “The $3.4 Trillion Mistake,” explores how else the money could have been spent.

Juan Evangelista, a youth organizer for Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, and Tonii Maggitt, of Communities United, discuss the report.

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Righting the Wrong: Rontorius Russaw

Incarcerated for burglary and grand theft auto as a teenager, Rontorius Russaw, 23, struggled to trust people until he found a mentor through the nonprofit Redemption & Advancement Alliance.

"I just thought he was a person that was just trying to talk my head off, and I was like: 'Man, I don't want to hear that,' but as soon as I started trusting the process and started seeing the results, everything started to come to life for me," Russaw said.

The Redemption & Advancement Alliance is an Atlanta-based organization dedicated to helping people live productive lives outside of crime. Their deliberate process includes introspective counseling, employment and community service, and mentoring.

Russaw is the latest voice to be featured in the "Righting the Wrong" series, which focuses on people who committed crimes during their youth.

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Righting the Wrong: Denny Chow

"The worst thing about prison is accepting it ... You still have this sense of hope that: 'Hey, [being in prison] is a dream; this is not real. There is no way that I am in prison right now,'" said Denny Chow. He remembers coming to terms with his inmate status after being sent to prison for robbery at age 23.

Chow is featured in the first installment of the "Righting the Wrong" series, which focuses on people who committed crimes in their youth but now live on the straight and narrow thanks to solid policy and caring mentors.

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Naloxone in Georgia

Naloxone, a medicine used to stop the effects of an opioid overdose, can be easily applied via a squirt through the nose or a shot in the arm. Because of the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law, both civilians and first-responding law enforcement can administer Naloxone themselves or seek help without fear of punishment in a situation where seconds can count.

“[Officers] stood there and actually had to watch this person go into cardiac arrest and respiratory arrest, starting CPR because they didn't have the means or the tools to do anything," said officer Shane Bonebrake of the Woodstock Police Department in Georgia. "Now we've got this tool, and they can actually see the [benefit]. It's amazing.”

Naloxone, or Narcan, has saved more than 400 lives in Georgia since the bill's passage in the spring of 2014, according to Georgia Overdose Prevention.

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Reporter’s Notebook: A City Expecting the Least From a Broken Criminal Justice System

BALTIMORE — The rumors were out a few days ago that Officer Caesar Goodson had been acquitted on murder and other charges in the death of Freddie Gray, and the streets around the courthouse were filled with protesters. Among them, a black mother dressed as a mime holding a sign on one hand reading: “Modern day lynching got America stinking,” while the other hand pulled a luggage strap wrapped around her neck symbolizing a noose.

“I’m telling you, don’t touch my baby. I only got one,” she yelled, her face half painted in white. “The truth is that somebody needs to be held accountable.”

I asked a resident standing outside the courthouse whether he knew of any protests planned that day. “There’s gonna be something at North-Penn. The metro takes you right there,” said James Gantt, who used to be a correctional officer, then a cab driver, then a tourist guide, but now describes himself only as a poet. Gantt, who calls himself a “Niggerologist” on his business card, said he’s a representative for the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America.

JJIE New York Metro Bureau logoLater in the afternoon, I took a train to North-Penn station, about three miles north west of the city center. As soon as I got out of the station, I found myself in front of the CVS store I saw burning on live TV during the riots following Gray’s death. A little over a year ago, the anger of this community had turned into violence filled with fire, looting and massive disorder as National Guard and police clashed with protesters in clouds of tear gas.

Last Thursday evening, however, the scene was startlingly different. The city had prepared for the worst but the worst never came. Instead, after a spasm of frustration at a perceived injustice, life turned toward the quotidian.

A handful of people lined up in front of a fried crab truck ready to buy early dinner.

Commuters walked to and from the Metro station minding their business. No sensible tension was in the air.

A few police officers stood by watching, while others patrolled the neighborhood in small groups, though their presence never felt overwhelming.

A mime artist simulating a hanging during a protest following the acquittal from murder charges of one of the police officers involved in the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray.
A mime artist simulating a hanging during a protest following the acquittal from murder charges of one of the police officers involved in the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray.

The lack of a large scale protest speaks to what many here said was a lack of faith in the institutions that govern their lives. Young people on the block were not surprised by the lack of violence, in part because they had long anticipated what the verdict would be. They learned to mistrust institutions when it comes to justice, in particular when the defendant is a cop.

[Related: Young Protesters React to Not-Guilty Verdict in Baltimore]

“The verdict was what everybody expected,” said a young resident of the neighborhood who did not wish to give his name. “What I can say is that despite what was expected, there was no violent reaction, you feel me?” The young man said he was proud his community was reacting with composure at the news of Goodson’s acquittal.

Journalists were the only people looking out of place.. A radio reporter walked around with a microphone and a recorder looking for people to interview. Three broadcast news trucks were parked on different sides of the intersection of Pennsylvania and West North avenues, with camera operators waiting hours for something to happen.

It never did.

Children playing around a police car near the intersection of West North and Pennsylvania avenues in Baltimore. The intersection has been the stage of the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray in April 2015.
Children playing around a police car near the intersection of West North and Pennsylvania avenues in Baltimore.

At about 7 p.m., they finally had something to shoot, though perhaps, not what they had expected. Half a block away from the intersection, in the parking lot of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, music was blasting from the speakers of an unusual venue: a police car, with a door open.

Children were playing basketball in the parking lot, shooting into a net brought there on a trailer. Police officers were dancing with the kids, trying to loosen up despite the weight of their belts and the loaded guns they carried. Some of them seemed to do pretty well. Media broadcasters and photographers were all around them, following what in that moment was news: no unrest whatsoever, but instead a quiet neighborhood and a police department trying to defuse tension and calm fears.

Earlier reports had given the National Guard on alert, ready to intervene in case protests got out of hand, but that scenario seemed unlikely in the face of this unremarkable tableau.

Still, the specter of last year’s demonstrations was vivid among residents, who that morning said that the not guilty verdict was more proof of the lack of accountability with their police department.

“They gotta do something, unless they want the city to go back crazy how it was,” said Roy, a young man living in the neighborhood who wouldn’t give me his last name.

A mime artist holds a sign reading “Modern day lynching got America stinking” during a protest following the acquittal from murder charges of one of the police officers involved in the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray.
A mime artist holds a sign reading “Modern day lynching got America stinking” during a protest following the acquittal from murder charges of one of the police officers involved in the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray.

A group of protesters showed up at around 8:00 p.m. They had signs and banners and were chanting “All night all day, we will chant for Freddie Gray.” Among them, I recognized some of the same people who awaited the verdict in front of the courthouse hours earlier. The protest was peaceful and didn’t last very long. Police officers guarded the intersection wearing regular uniforms rather than riot gear.

After sunset, the neighborhood turned quiet. Barred windows and collapsed roofs on West North Avenue gave away the poverty of this community, whose population is more than 90 percent African American, and whose sense of urban decay resembles that of many cities in the country.

Hours after the sunset, there were no protests or indication of any coming unrest. Police presence on the street appeared to wind down. The CVS store, which was rebuilt during the winter, had a sign hanging from its window that read “Now Open,” stood there untouched. The news crews started to pack up. By 11:00 p.m., when the streets were nearly empty.

A heavy rainfall came soon after. To me it felt like it washed away the anger and the expectations that filled the day. What remained was uncertainty and doubt.

This story was written by journalists from our New York Bureau.

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21 Years Later, Father Still Grieves Son’s Shooting by NY Police

March Until ‘Shoot First, Ask Questions Later’ by Police Stops

Unarmed St. Louis Teen Fatally Shot by Police; Protests Turn Violent Overnight

‘Plastic Toy Guns Are Not Dangerous Weapons, It’s the Officers’

NEW YORK — Nicholas Heyward Sr., 58, remembers the night. It was a warm Tuesday in 1994 and the sun had yet to set. Neighborhood children trickled into the Gowanus Houses, the Brooklyn housing project where he lived, answering their parents’ calls, while others stayed outside to enjoy the remainder of a beautiful fall day.

Heyward’s 13-year-old son, Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr., was one of those few. His friends had called him from outside to play a quick game of cops and robbers. After finishing his homework and begging permission to go out, the honors student at Nathan Hale Middle School was ready.

JJIE New York Metro Bureau logoThe game was easy to divide into teams: five cops and four robbers. One of the boys had gotten the toy guns from the Atlantic Antic, an annual parade on an adjacent street. Throughout the evening, the boys laughed and joked as they ran through the 423 Baltic Street projects, including up on the building’s scenic rooftop — this was their playground.

On the ground below, a 23-year-old housing officer named Brian George reported for a routine patrol.

By 3 a.m., Heyward Jr. would be dead.

Over the last 22 years, New York City has seen 63 fake-weapon deaths. Last year, New York state tried to do something about the problem, passing a law requiring that retailers selling toy guns make them look more like toys.

And in December, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman described a settlement requiring fines of up to $30,000 for online retailers who sell illegal toys. The settlement followed an investigation revealing that 5,000 toy guns were sold within the state last year — most of which resembled or were replicas of deadly serious firearms, guns, pistols and rifles.

The settlement currently prevents 30 major retailers, including chains such as Walmart, Amazon, Kmart and Sears, from selling guns that are not fluorescent, “brightly colored or have colored striping down the barrel.”

The measure could save lives — but it brings little comfort to Heyward, who believes that the appearance of his son’s toy — a small Western-style popgun with a long orange tip — didn’t make any difference.

At about 7:30 p.m., Officer George committed what would later be deemed a “tragic accident” by Charles Hynes, then the Brooklyn district attorney. The young officer climbed the stairs of the housing project, allegedly in response to shots fired in one of the two housing towers.

With his finger on the trigger of the .38-caliber service revolver he carried, George cautiously climbed the stairwell. Simultaneously, Heyward Jr. and the three “robbers” energetically hopped their way down the steps with their old, 18-inch, brown and black Western carbine-styled toy guns in tow. They were ready to get the “cops” and win the game.

Heyward Jr. led the way. When he turned the corner he saw Officer George. The two faced each other, and in that split-second, each made a life-altering decision. Heyward Jr. dropped his toy gun, according to court testimony, as George shot his real gun.

The last thing his friends heard Heyward Jr. say was, “We’re only playing. We’re only playing,” but by the second sentence, George had already shot him in the stomach.

Following Nicholas’ death, Hynes described the boy’s toy as “virtually indistinguishable from a real gun,” and did not present the case to a grand jury, shocking Heyward’s friends and family. Heyward Sr. was furious.

“He lied and placed the blame on the toy gun. He had an entire table full of realistic-looking toy guns to show people what Nicholas and the other boys were playing with — guns resembling those,” he said. “But that’s not what Nicholas was holding when he was shot. That gun was obviously fake.”

Heyward Sr. wants to persuade Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson to re-examine his son’s fatal shooting. The statute of limitations has expired for most criminal charges, but not for murder. Last week he and about 23 other activists picketed Thompson’s office, urging action.

Hayward Sr. says George's statements about the incident have been inconsistent, especially as to whether he spoke to Heyward Jr. before firing the fatal shot. Hayward Sr. also wants Thompson to investigate the conduct of his predecessor Hynes, who ruled that the incident was an accident even though the toy gun Hayward Jr. had had an orange tip and was much smaller than a real lever-action rifle.


A spokesperson for Thompson said earlier this year he will re-examine the case but did not provide a timeline for when that would happen.

While the police collected and stored the original toy as evidence, Heyward Sr. said he bought a year later an identical gun at the same Atlantic Antic festival where the original had come from.

These days, he brings the toy with him to every gun violence protest he attends to show people how his son was killed. “Plastic toy guns are not dangerous weapons, it’s the officers,” he said. “You’re telling me trained police don’t know the difference between a toy and a real gun?”

At the time of his son’s shooting, Heyward Sr. was picking up his niece from her school in the Bronx. He didn’t know it yet, but Heyward Jr. was lying unconscious in a 14th-floor stairwell.  “My pager was ringing like crazy,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

Moments after he fired his gun, George paced the hallway just outside the stairwell door, leaving a dying Heyward Jr. alone with his three friends. Uncertain of what to do, the officer called in the incident and left in search of a local resident. According to court testimony, he then brought an elderly Hispanic woman to the scene and began to question her.

“Do you know this kid?” he asked. “Can you go get his parents?”

Heyward’s then-wife, Angela, rushed to the scene minutes after eight — but she was too late. By the time she arrived, as many as eight officers were already blocking off the stairwell door, refusing her access.

“She was right there and she couldn’t even touch him,” said Heyward Sr. “She was there on the 14th floor and right behind the door was her son, bleeding out and dying.”

Angela Heyward would be deprived of the chance to see her son twice more before his death — once on the ambulance ride to the hospital and again during his surgery at St. Vincent’s Medical Hospital.

Shortly after their son’s death, the Heywards separated, leaving Heyward Sr. in search of relief through community activism.

“I help parents who’ve lost their children,” he said, “like I’ve lost mine.”

He is a full-time community leader and activist for two nonprofit organizations — Parents Against Police Brutality and the Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr. Memorial Foundation. He balances his days between organizing and speaking out about gun violence around the country. When Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy holding a pellet gun, was killed by a police officer in Cleveland in 2014, the eerily similar case struck a chord for him, 20 years after his son’s death.

“I cried in front of the television when I heard that,” he said. “The fact that the officer wasn’t held accountable, and that he was only a boy with a toy … it all just reminded me of Nicholas.”

This year marks the father’s 23rd annual day of remembrance for his son. Each November, he gathers alongside hundreds of community members for a day of basketball games, arts and crafts activities, and local musical performances in the Boerum Hill park across the street from his housing project. In 2001 the park was renamed Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr. Park due to his father’s push to honor his memory.

In the days leading up to his death, Heyward Jr. was practicing every day to make the basketball team at his school. He would die before hearing of his acceptance.

Every other day, Nicholas Heyward Sr. takes a stroll through the park.  It is a reminder, he says, of what could have been.

Locked in the Box: Student Assignment – 24 Hours in Solitary

"Before, I perceived solitary confinement as just another cruel sanction of the government. After just 24 hours, I testify that solitary confinement is hell on earth. Solitary confinement is legalized torture," says Anyssa Williams, a Georgia State University student who spent 24 hours in an 8 by 8 cell replica for a school assignment.

[Related: Legalized Torture: A Solitary Confinement Experience]

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Lost in the System: Girls, Foster Care and the Commercial Sex Trade in L.A. County

Hundreds of L.A. children are sexually exploited every year. Experts in the field say it's not surprising that 70 percent of them are in foster care.

"A lot of times, pimps want them to get arrested or want them to end up in foster care or whatever the case because they have the [better] ability to recruit when they do that,"says Charity Chandler-Cole, board member of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and a former foster child, in regard to the criminalization of girls who have been victims of commercial sex trafficking.

"When I realized that threatening them with these sort of punishments was not effective, I realized that I need to find another way to engage them and help them," said Judge Catherine Pratt of the Compton Juvenile Court in Los Angeles.

Now Judge Pratt spearheads the STAR Court (Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience), where girls receive specialized supports and bring together a multidisciplinary team "who are invested and passionate about providing intervention services for youth."

Boys, too, are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. STAR Court documents note that they focus on girls specifically because girls comprise 95 percent of the young people referred by law enforcement for prostitution-related crimes.

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You Gotta Believe!

“Aging is not safe. Aging out leaves kids with sort of a lifetime of potential dire outcomes and loneliness," says Susan Grundberg, executive director and CEO of You Gotta Believe (YGB), a New York City nonprofit organization that focuses on finding permanent families for young adults, teens and preteens in foster care.

The organization understands the important role permanent relationships can play when these young adults age out of care and face issues like homelessness and unemployment. Every year, as many as 25,000 of the 400,000 young people in foster care will age out, generally at age 18. According to YGB, more than 1,000 will age out of care in New York City this year alone.

Young adults gather monthly for the organization's Nobody Ages Out Meeting, where participants support each other, discuss strategies for addressing challenges in care and problem-solve. This peer network for youth in care provides a central space for giving and receiving love — while the organization advocates for the end of aging out and the focus on permanency.

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Watch What Happens When Former NYC Foster Kids Speak Truth to Power

You can hear the frustration — and need — in each of their voices as this group of young adults, who grew up in foster care, give youth workers some heartfelt advice on working with foster youth.

These current and former foster youth participated in a two-day gathering focused on transitioning from care, hosted at New York University. One emphatic reminder they offer: "These kids need more resources, these kids need more help, these kids need someone they can trust."

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