Prison Labor at the Port of Olympia

[Follow up to The Port of Olympia Uses Prison Labor]

 

A spokesperson for the Port of Olympia responded today to my inquiry on the 14th.

Here’s the response:

Mr. Richards,
A Port Commissioner referred your August 14 email to me for response. Thank you for your questions regarding the Port’s use of Department of Corrections (DOC) Community Work Program.

The Port of Olympia was approached by DOC and invited to participate in their Community Work Program, which helps prepare individuals for employment prior to their release.

Please see the Department of Corrections response to your question.

The Washington Department of Corrections’ statutory duty as well as its own stated mission is to ensure public safety. The prescribed manner by which the department should achieve its public safety mission is by positively impacting those individuals within its custody by stressing personal responsibility and accountability. The community work program, as set out by state law in RCW 72.09.100, provides that incarcerated individuals can provide community services “to public agencies, persons who are poor or infirm, or to nonprofit organizations.” This work allows incarcerated individuals to adopt a work ethic and in an effort that benefits both themselves and the community.

The current work accomplished by those who have been convicted and sentenced to the department’s custody by a court of law provides the opportunity “to grow and expand their skills and abilities so as to fulfill their role in the community,” as prescribed by RCW 72.09.010. Currently, the work accomplished at the Port of Olympia airfield includes landscaping work and protective grounds work that avoids risks to the property, which if not accomplished could yield higher costs for taxpayers in the long run. During calendar year 2016, the work achieved by the community work crew amounted to approximately 1200 hours of service. This is vocational work that trains the men for potential skilled labor and employment post-release.

It should also be noted that, by state statute RCW 72.09.010, the Washington Department of Corrections should work to avoid idleness among the incarcerated population as idleness is “wasteful and destructive to both the community and the individual.” Idleness is also a known factor that affects facility operations. By working toward reducing idleness through the provision of meaningful work, the agency and community partners are contributing toward increased facility safety for both correctional officers and the inmate population.

Thank you.

My question to them was, “Does the Port use prison labor?”

This is a very long way for them to answer: Yes.

There are no data to support any of the assertions made by the DOC in this response. We don’t see lower recidivism rates among prisoners who participate in this program. No proof that they’re being prepared for life outside of prison, or that they’re developing skills, or that they get jobs when they get out. Zero. It’s just taking advantage of them for public benefit.

I urge you to reach out to the Port and ask them to end this practice. It’s exploitation, and it’s conducted at a huge cost to taxpayers while the profits are being reaped privately.

 

The Olympia City Council Says Your 1st Amendment Rights Stop Where Their Comfort Zone Begins

“First Amendment… more of a guideline…right?”

Tomorrow night (7/18/17) the Olympia City Council will have First Reading of a new section of the “Offenses Against Government” Ordinance (Chapter 9.08 of the Olympia Municipal Code) that will make it a misdemeanor to disturb, disrupt, or interfere with a city council meeting. It doesn’t define any of those terms leaving it wide open to charges being pressed anytime a council member squirms in their seat a bit because somebody is expressing dissent.

Where to begin?

  1. OPD – you think Chief Roberts wants his officers to make it a habit of arresting people on TV at City Council meetings? Seems like a national news story all wrapped up with a bow on it.
  2. Anything they’re going to cite as a reason why they need this is either already against the law, or something they signed on for when they ran for office. Making physical threats, intimidation, etc – those are all already against the law.
  3. Disrupting a public meeting as an expression of dissent should never be against the law – I know it’s a bummer sometimes, and it can get uncomfortable, but it’s your job.
  4. If we had a mayor who was more popular we wouldn’t even be talking about this. If our mayor didn’t publicly insult people, talk down to them, or look down on them, people wouldn’t be so angry and ready to lash out.

City Council – meet me at camera three… Hi there… Listen…This is your JOB. It’s what you signed up for when you threw your hat in the ring. If you don’t want to do it anymore, then resign or don’t run again. But you can’t suppress the voices of people who disagree with you or communicate in a way that makes you uncomfortable. Period. The Constitution says so. Also, there’s no faster way to escalate this than an ordinance like this one. Once again… you don’t want to talk to people, you don’t want to listen, you just want all those “others” to go away and leave you to your nice little town-building-happy-fun-time. Shutting people out never fixed anything and it’s not the kind of attitude about people that I want from my city council.

It’s not too late for you though. You can just take this terrible law and put it in the shredder and maybe next council meeting you come out from behind the dais and walk right up to one of those people who freak you out so much and extend a hand to them. Introduce yourself. Smile. Try to MEAN IT but fake it if you have to. That little act will get you way closer to what you want than a million ordinances ever will.

LINK TO PDF: Ordinance Relating to Interference with a Public Meeting

Draining The Swamp, Thurston County Style

Thurston County commissioners oust director of public defense

Thurston County to hire public defense director this summer

If you’re not following this story you should be, and here’s a quick-quick recap:

Daryl Rodrigues was the Director of Public Defense for Thurston County. Then we had an election last year and a couple Trump acolytes got elected. They immediately started “draining the swamp” and that meant firing people as if our county government was The Apprentice. Daryl is a spectacular individual who worked for tribes and as a mental health professional BEFORE he attended law school. He took that spirit of service into his work and championed alternative courts such as those for drugs, mental health, and veterans in order to prevent the cycle of people through the system and ultimately onto our streets with no way to get a leg up. This obviously wasn’t the approach our Cowboy Commissioners wanted to take to criminal justice in Thurston County… being of the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” ilk.

What’s the point?

The point is we should be paying close attention to who they hire. Be ready to head to the meetings, give testimony, and break out the torches and pitchforks if they hire someone with any less commitment to restorative justice. We don’t need privatization and more cells, we need jail diversion programs. We don’t need tougher laws, we need programs that break the cycle of incarceration.

I hope you’ll join me in urging our County Commissioners to do the right thing.

Democracy, Olympia Style

Inspired by the John Oliver’s segment on Gerrymandering…

I got to thinking some more about changes I’d like to see here in Olympia.

I first broached this topic in my grandiosely titled piece, A New Way Forward for Olympia, where I got a bit too far into the weeds. I want to fix that by going back up to the 10,000-foot level and providing a simpler layout of my plan.

What I’m talking about is a city charter. To get there we have to either convince our sitting council to put it on the ballot or gather the requisite signatures from voters via citizen initiative. After the charter vote, we have to have a freeholder election. 15 freeholders would need to be elected at-large who would then write the new charter for the city.

“But what do you want to DO, Rob?!”

Glad you asked. There are four things I want the charter to address and will urge freeholders to adopt:

  1. Districts
  2. Elected Executive
  3. Oversight Committees
  4. A Path Straight to the Ballot for Citizen Initiatives

First, let’s establish some grounds for discussion: 1. None of these things can happen overnight and will require phases; in some cases spanning years. 2. There are a lot of details and legalities to be sorted out and let’s not argue over specifics, but instead, find common ground and consensus on a set of goals like the ones I’m proposing here. 3. All of this is very possible, and I’m not proposing anything that has not been done before.

Ok, let’s get into it.

Districts – Quite simply put, our history of electing councilmembers has skewed dramatically toward the SE quadrant of our city. In juxtaposition, the SW quadrant, which contains the highest poverty rates in the entire county, have not been represented at least as long as I’ve been paying attention. We need better direct representation of ALL our neighborhoods.

I propose we split the city into 5 segments based on Emmett O’Connell’s map.

We would need to ensure that our districts can’t be gerrymandered so some kind of check would need to be baked into the charter that prevented a simple vote of the council from drawing new lines. An update to the map would need to require public approval of some sort.

Elected Executive – Right now the way our city operates, one person controls the entire city and its operations. The City Manager is not elected by the people but hired by the city council, which sets goals and priorities and passes ordinances and resolutions. The City Manager is not beholden to the Open Meetings Act and is free to “advocate” for issues behind closed doors without any public disclosure. Changing to a Strong Mayor System would remedy this and bring some sunlight into City Hall.

Oversight Committees – In my previous piece on this topic I laid out the “advisory boards and committees” that I would want in place and the structure I’d like them to take. I want to update that by changing the thrust from “advisory” to “oversight”. This isn’t just a semantic change, I would give each committee actual oversight powers. If you have a grievance, you can take it to the committee and they’ll review it. The process for that is something we can build out later but I think it’s very important that people know where to take their issue. Council, as we know it today, doesn’t have the time or capacity to take on this role which means a lot of people feel unheard.

A Path Straight to the Ballot for Citizen Initiatives – This one is pretty simple. If the people get together and gather signatures to put something on the ballot, then it goes on the ballot. Last year we saw council attempt to block an initiative that met all the requirements to go on the ballot. They argued against the merits of the initiative, and whether it would hold up in court. Well, I don’t think that’s appropriate and I think it’s undemocratic. Right now the initiative process is the only direct way the people of Olympia can influence city government. So, if the people meet the requirements of the initiative process then it shouldn’t pass through council first, it should just go on the ballot. Then we vote and if the initiative passes it’s City Hall’s job to bring it into compliance and put it back up for a vote.

I’ll reiterate that there are a lot of details to be sorted, but if freeholders can agree on these four goals then I think we’ll make some great headway and steer the ship of local government towards participation, transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness.

If you actually read this far, THANK YOU. Share it with someone you think would appreciate it!

Obamacare v. Trumpcare

A few big differences:

ObamaCare expanded Medicaid to cover 11 million people who weren’t covered before. TrumpCare gets rid of that expansion. So right off the bat millions of people will lose their coverage.

ObamaCare contained an individual mandate. TrumpCare removes it but allows insurance companies to charge you a 30% penalty for lapses in coverage. This seems totally nefarious. They’re not getting rid of the mandate at all, they’re shifting enforcement to corporations. All those penalties that would have gone into public coffers will now go to the insurance companies.

ObamaCare required large employers to provide affordable insurance to their employees. TrumpCare eliminates the employer mandate. Pretty straightforward, millions more will lose coverage.

ObamaCare distributed subsidies based on income. TrumpCare distributes subsidies by age. Age-based distribution is arbitrary and won’t help people who need it the most.

ObamaCare included tax credits for out-of-pocket expenses. TrumpCare eliminates those credits. Another big hit on low-income people who can’t afford those expenses.

ObamaCare capped the amount insurance companies can deduct from taxes for top level executives’ salaries. TrumpCare allows them to write off the entire amount of their executive’s salaries. The Obamacare cap was $500,000. This lifting of the cap incentivizes higher pay for corporate executives.

TrumpCare prevents Medicaid from funding Planned Parenthood, a potential $500 million loss of funding because they provide abortion services. Although ZERO federal funds go to abortion services, as mandated by the Hyde Amendment. The actual language states “abortion providers” but you don’t have to be a science rocket to know who they’re talking about. This is a direct assault on Planned Parenthood and a big reason we need to get active and fight Trumpcare.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING

COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

#VoteHimOut

Lisa Parshley for Olympia City Council, Pos 5

It’s local campaign season again and I’m jumping into it with a focus on winning progressive majorities on the Olympia City Council and the Olympia Port Commission. I’ll be Campaign Manager for a couple of candidates this year, and I wanted to tell you a little bit about one of them.

Lisa Parshley, a newcomer to local politics, is running for Olympia City Council, Position 5.

A little about Lisa… she is a doctor, a veterinary oncologist. She and her husband Tom own and operate the Olympia Veterinary Cancer Center. They have 50+ employees, pay everyone a minimum of $15, cover all medical and dental, and offer 3 weeks vacation every year. A consensus builder, she has held a couple of statewide leadership positions in veterinary industry groups, including helping one recover from financial turmoil, leading it through adversity among members and bringing divergent sides together, saving and strengthening the organization in the process. Lisa is running on a progressive platform with three main pillars:

Business For The Peopleour small businesses should be encouraged through opportunities, incentives, and by the example we set as a council to always consider the social, environmental, and economic interests of the community as a whole. A progressive business community can be the catalyst for social change and environmental protection; and it can lead the way toward a vibrant and robust local economy that inspires innovation and incubates great ideas.

Healthy Community/Healthy Environment –  For a city to be healthy it must embrace and protect all its people, without exception. This means ensuring diversity in our hiring practices and crafting policies that are inclusive both in outcome and in the language we use to write them. We also need to be decisive in our actions to meet the climate challenges ahead of us. By looking both “upstream and downstream” at the impact of our decisions, and by drawing upon the expertise right here in Olympia, we can act sooner rather than too late to address climate change.

Responsible Downtown – Downtown Olympia has always been about vibrancy and setting trends. Let’s harness that spirit to guide this great neighborhood through the period of growth it’s slated to experience over the next 15-20 years. As a regional hub, it bears the great responsibility of being the home, living room, playground, backyard, or job site of a half a million people from Grays Harbor to JBLM, and from Chehalis to Shelton. This also means we’ll continue to see folks who need our help, and it’s our responsibility to make sure no one is left behind, or falls through the cracks, especially if they’re suffering on our streets from untreated mental health or addiction issues.

I hope you’ll reach out to meet Lisa, I think if you do you’ll like her as much as I do. I should have website and donation systems set up this week and I’ll update everybody when I have it. Please donate! We’ll need volunteers to help with yard signs (nudgenudge Rob Alschwede), canvassing, house parties, and writing letters.

Thanks everybody, see you around the bend!

A Note to Olympia City Council Regarding Hate Speech

Text of an email I sent to council this morning. If you agree, please send them a note as well – citycouncil@ci.olympia.wa.us


Mayor Selby and Members of Council,

At the February 7th Olympia City Council meeting, during public comment, a citizen referred to people experiencing homelessness as cockroaches.
“Cockroaches” is a commonly used slur against this segment of our community. It strips people, who are suffering, of their humanity, and makes us think of them as a disgusting pest, to be stomped on. I’ve heard it used since I got started as a street outreach worker, about a dozen years ago.
This doesn’t represent my values, nor the values I’ve come to expect from Olympia, and I don’t believe it represents the values you hold, as a governing body, or as individuals.
I ask you to rebuke the use of this hateful term, and other such speech against this unprotected and marginalized group of people, and reaffirm the values you set in December in both the Charter for Compassion and Olympia Sanctuary City decisions.
I also ask that at future meetings, if hate speech is used against any group or person, that you immediately call it out, and remind the speaker of this community’s values.
I thank you for the work you do, the time you put in, and specifically for being innovative and taking the lead in our region on the issue of addressing poverty. Though we have a long way to go, the work is made easier by being inclusive, not exclusive.
Sincerely,
Rob Richards