By Clay

Justice Reform in Conservative States

"Conservative governors have focused on the fact that roughly 95 percent of those who are incarcerated will eventually return to our communities, and that we ought to see if there are things that can be done while these offenders are still incarcerated to address the problems these prisoners will likely face once they are free.

Currently, many offenders have substance abuse problems, or a lack of education or jobs skills, making them more likely to recidivate and pose a continuing threat to public safety once they have been released. Governors are encouraging offenders to participate in evidence-based programs designed to address their particular needs."

These governors need to look at ARPI's proposal for a SIB to be released in December.

Required Reading:

"As Clay S. Conrad notes in his Jury Nullification: The Evolution Of A Doctrine, to the framers of our Constitution, jury nullification was itself a feature, not a bug. Distrustful of the bureaucracy and even of the judiciary, framing-era Americans viewed a jury’s refusal to convict as an important protection for liberty."

It would be a good thing to have some required reading for juries in order to give them a better understanding of the importance of their role and the power they have. 

Affordable Housing Shortage:

"Modest apartment buildings like the Verona that cater to middle-class and working-class families are becoming scarcer as fewer are built nationwide and older ones are demolished. That has resulted in a severe shortage of midtier apartments, causing rents for these units to rise at a faster pace than for luxury ones."

UN's Sustainable Development Goals:

"The report unveiled today highlighted the need to create synergies between agricultural upgrading and rural economic diversification through development of rural non-farm economy. For the rural transformation, which has been taken as a primary concern to achieve the SDGs, the report has recommended some crucial issues, like financing productive investment, harnessing technology for agriculture transformation, promoting entrepreneurial rural economies and combining infrastructure investment that mainly impacts on productivity which subsequently creates enough livelihood activities in rural areas."      

Even though this has an international rural poverty focus, the crucial issues are the same in the rural US.  That issue of promoting entrepreneurial rural economies is our mission at ARPI.

Read the Whole Thing:

"In late October, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez issued a ruling that now makes it easier for those who manage pension funds and 401k plans to include socially responsible investments. According to an article in ThinkAdvisor, the new guidelines counteract language issued in 2008 by the Bush administration that had warned fund managers away from such investments.

“This is a landmark ruling,” said Surya Kolluri, managing director for policy and market planning in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s global wealth and retirement solutions business. Speaking at the recent Wharton Social Impact Conference, he predicted the new policy will catch on over time as managers become more comfortable devoting institutional dollars to social impact initiatives."




By Clay


Bubble?:  "The implication is the federal government is fueling a vicious cycle of higher prices and government aid that ultimately could cost taxpayers and price some Americans out of higher education, similar to what some economists contend happened with the housing bubble."

Soon, many American families will be priced out of college.

Kindred Spirits:  "Necessity being the mother of invention, governors in red, blue and purple states began thinking that there might be smarter ways of addressing their prison systems—ways that would lower costs and might even enhance public safety—and about whether there might be sensible alternatives to incarceration for some categories of offenders."

SIB News: "Despite the failure of the program, the experiment succeeded in blazing a new trail. “One of the things that was nice about this was that people were being brave, doing something bold,” said Susan Gottesfeld, who ran Osborne’s operation at Rikers. “They were doing an intervention that had never been done before in a place like Rikers on a scale never done before.”

A snapshot of poverty: "So, overall, around 3/4 poor people don't work, primarily because they are children, elderly, disabled, students, etc. For the 1/4th that do work, big chunks faced spells of involuntary unemployment or were out of the labor force for some weeks primarily because they were going to school or caring for others, but also in large part because they were discouraged or temporarily incapacitated. Thus, even the working poor is heavily stacked with those who managed to slip into a vulnerable circumstance that involuntarily limited their ability to work for significant chunks of the year."

Read the Whole Thing: "The law, we argue, essentially criminalizes not the physical acts involved in having a polygamous relationship, but the speech and symbolic expression involved in a wedding ceremony (and in holding oneself out as husband and wife). That makes it a speech restriction, and one that doesn’t fit within any of the exceptions to the free speech principle."

If you really support the 1st amendment--it better make you support some uncomfortable things.

By Clay


Rural America = Aging Communities and Health Disparities: "But for now, the best efforts to address rural health inequities, as identified by Gonzales and Wilger, remain the same no matter what the age group: Invest in communities, advocate for systemic change, and, of course, work together."

We particularly need to look for private investment.  Specifically the types of investments that are going to keep the young and talented members of our communities here.  It is a big challenge, and the lure of the city may be too much.

SIB News:  "Three years into the four-year experiment, an evaluation conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice found that the program did not lead to any statistically significant reduction in juvenile recidivism, leading the city to pull the plug and walk away without spending a dime of taxpayer money. "These vehicles are structured in such a unique way that they carry very little risk for the government," said Kristin Misner-Gutierrez, director of social services in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, who was involved in the development of the "pay-for-success" program."

This is being termed a failure, but it really isn't.  It got private investment involved in a social problem, and there was no cost to the taxpayer.  

Gini in a Bottle:  College Football polls are coming out...let's see how countries are ranked by Gini coefficient.


By Clay

Rural SIB: "We are certainly not going to distance ourselves from our explorations into doing social impact bonds because of what happened here," said Gary Hattem, head of Deutsche Bank's global social finance group. "This is the frontier of something."

What ARPI's work is trying to bring this new investing frontier to frontiers that are being ignored (ahem rural north Georgia).

Getting Worse:  "The rural child poverty rate grew by more than a third during the past decade, according to a new report from the USDA Economic Research Service."

As you look at the map, plenty of work to be done in our service area.

The Face of Rural Poverty“Without better quality schools, access to jobs and access to quality health care, whole communities are set up for failure. These factors especially impact rural black women, whose unemployment rate (23.6 percent) is four times that of white women in the same rural counties.”

The solutions for these problems are usually framed in the need for increased public funding.  Whether that is a good idea or not is a different debate, but there is the simple fact these communities don't have the spare funding to have an impact.  This is why we need to see private money and market discipline brought to bear on these social issues.  There really aren't many other options.

By Clay

Started some work in the community at the beginning of the year, which has made it tough to keep up the site.  Hoping to get back and do a better job of keep the site alive with poverty-related news updates.

We also finished up our first white paper, and will be publishing that in September.  We will have a service project related to publishing the paper.  If anyone is interested in helping with that project let me know.

By Clay

Cuomo's Anti-Fracking Decision and Poverty:  "Governor Cuomo’s decision to ban exploration of our natural gas resources is a punch in the gut to the Southern Tier. The governor has a moral obligation to explain to the people of our region how he will alleviate rural poverty. Families desperately need jobs and economic opportunity, not government handouts. Our young people are leaving in droves because they feel they don’t have a future here. Our rural communities are dying a slow, painful, poverty-stricken death and hope is scarce.  (emphasis added) Recovering our abundant natural resources would have brought an economic boom not seen for more than 100 years. It would have brought good paying jobs, relief for our overburdened local taxpayers, tax revenue to improve our schools, funds to fix our local roads and bridges, and income for struggling farmers. I am already hearing from numerous local officials who are deeply upset by the Governor’s decision. With three of the counties I represent ranking among the 12 poorest in our state, today’s announcement only serves to highlight our continued economic struggle."

Senator Catherine Young is not excited about Cuomo's decision (more on the decision here and here).  There seems to be a lot of angry people after this decision.

First, the portion I put in bold is a perfect description of rural communities here and elsewhere in the country.  Second, I really hope that the environmental lobby will now invest in those towns that lost out on jobs as a result of the decision.  Something tells me they won't.

Inspiring"Students in Piedmont have had more access to computers and the Internet since 2009, when the district adopted a one-to-one laptop program—equipping every pupil with a device—in its oldest grades. Since then, the district has been adding online courses, and in 2012 it installed a wireless network over the entire town, so that students and their families can access the Internet at home.  Unlike many school districts with digital programs, Piedmont has a goal that’s broader than creating high-tech classrooms. According to Matt Akin, the superintendent of Piedmont City Schools, the district hopes to resuscitate a dying rural town. "That’s always been the bigger picture," Akin said. "What can we do to revive a community?"

More, please.

USDA'S Rural America at a Glance: Unemployment rate down because of low participation.  Smaller incomes.  More poverty.  More people leaving.  Less educated.  Doesn't sound very good.  But we knew that.

2015 Will be Big Year for Social Investing:  Hopefully we can bring some here to the rural south.

Good Summary of SIBs

Merry Christmas!


By Clay

Marshalsea cont'd:  "The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that it is constitutional for private probation companies to supervise misdemeanor offenders but illegal for courts to lengthen a probationer’s sentence after it’s been imposed...Georgia uses private probation companies more than any other state. Those companies collect about $40 million a year in supervision fees from low-level misdemeanor offenders, primarily from people who didn’t have the means to pay court fines for offenses such as illegal lane change, drunken driving or trespassing...One of the lawyers for the probationers called the system “cash register probation” because additional requirements are tacked on by the companies in order to increase fees they can collect."

I was talking to someone on the phone who told me about this GA Supreme Court decision.  So, thanks for the tip!  I haven't read the actual opinion yet (and don't know the legal reasoning), but from a policy perspective this is the right call.  This also falls on defense counsels (which the Wall Street Journal pointed out this week).  They need to be advocating for a realistic fine that the accused can afford.  

More here.  This quote is particularly troubling and should bring together the strange bedfellows of fiscal conservatives and social justice warriors:

"In many jurisdictions around the country, failure to pay criminal debt extends an otherwise law-abiding individual’s entanglement in the justice system.  Many states extend the term of supervision for failure to pay, despite the reality that supervision costs money.  Another enforcement mechanism – the issuance of warrants for nonpayment of fees – pulls individuals before the court and may result in incarceration. Therefore, an individual can pay a penalty for an offense, and then be incarcerated for failing to pay off the debt incurred as a result of that offense...Ironically, these tactics are costly to the state.  Probation officers, judges and court personnel must spend time serving as debt collectors. The privatization of debt collection is increasingly common, but the success of these companies is difficult to assess.  By 2011, uncollected criminal justice debt in the United States totaled $50 billion. Very little of this debt will be collected.  Florida, for example, expects to recover just 9 percent of the fees and fines imposed in felony cases.  In Washington State, the county clerks collect, on average, less than 5 percent of the total fees and fines imposed in a particular case."

For a refresher on Marshalsea.

The Middle Class Squeeze:  "The American middle class has absorbed a steep increase in the cost of health care and other necessities as incomes have stagnated over the past half decade, a squeeze that has forced families to cut back spending on everything from clothing to restaurants.  Health-care spending by middle-income Americans rose 24% between 2007 and 2013, driven by an even larger rise in the cost of buying health insurance, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of detailed consumer-spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  That hit has been accompanied by increases in spending on other necessities, including food eaten at home, rent and education, as well as the soaring cost of staying connected digitally via cellphones and home Internet service."

There has been a lot of discussion in the last week or so about the middle class, as the WSJ's article above shows.  A kerfuffle started by Sen Schumer's comments about missed opportunities to help the middle class (here's a liberal organization's take on it) kind of kicked it off.  As the WSJ article points out, the healthcare cost squeeze on the middle class predated the Affordable Care Act.  But I'm not sure we fully know what the impact has been.  Here's an article arguing why ACA is good for the middle class and one arguing that it is bad

Bit of a poor transition, but I'm interested in the impact of falling gas prices and spending habits of the middle class.  I'd love to look into that as well as how other policies impact the middle class.  I think one of the most important jobs ARPI will do is fully research the impact of policy on middle class families in the region, and to make sure those policies help to keep middle class families out of poverty.

I'm Sure They'll Politely Decline:  Good for him.  And if you are not familiar with his story--do yourself a favor and get to know it.

What is the Meaning of Life?  Find Meaning.:  "In his bestselling 1946 book, Man's Search for Meaning, which he wrote in nine days about his experiences in the camps, Frankl concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing: Meaning, an insight he came to early in life. When he was a high school student, one of his science teachers declared to the class, "Life is nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation." Frankl jumped out of his chair and responded, "Sir, if this is so, then what can be the meaning of life?" As he saw in the camps, those who found meaning even in the most horrendous circumstances were far more resilient to suffering than those who did not. "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing," Frankl wrote in Man's Search for Meaning, "the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

I think the lesson that Frankl shares with us is equally applicable to poverty.  It isn't as simple as solving the shortfall in money.  It is also helping people get to the point of finding meaning or purpose in their lives.

By Clay

Approaching Third World Care: "A new model for rural health care may be needed, said Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn), who co-chairs the panel."

Read the whole thing.

I'm Trying...:  "No one should imagine that rural conditions are somehow vastly improved. On a number of factors, conditions in rural America are tougher, but we have yet to see philanthropic resources mobilized in the way they should be to make progress in reversing rural homelessness, deficiencies in rural healthcare provision, and the persistence of rural poverty."

Rural Education:  "In the 21 years it took for poor, rural school districts to fight the state government in court for more adequate funding, South Carolina saw five governors, four education superintendents and three U.S. presidents."

Is this the modern-day equivalent of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce?  I'm afraid to even ask how much this court case has cost.  I would guess that the state would have been better off just sending the money to these districts as opposed to fighting the case. 

Besides providing an adequate education, this is my greatest concern for my community that was highlighted by the article:  "Rogers said poor, rural areas like his Dillon County district have long struggled to attract professionals, including new teachers. He said people have moved out of Dillon County due to the lack of jobs.  'You can’t get the best and brightest to come to those areas that are so poverty-stricken,' Rogers said. 'There’s just nothing there for them.'"

There is a real need for rural communities to come together and have this discussion.  They need to be asking: "How do we retain what like about our communities, while ensuring we are on a sustainable economic footing?"

Justice?:   "The 2011 study by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of about 1,600 misdemeanor cases in Florida found over one-third of defendants didn’t have a lawyer at their court arraignment. Of those, 80% pleaded guilty or no contest at that time—two pleas that are effectively identical—compared with 64% of those with court-appointed counsel and 61% of those who hired lawyers. The hearings took less than three minutes to complete, on average, with more than one-third finished within one minute, the study found.  High-volume misdemeanor courts can be chaotic places.  In a Houston courtroom one day recently, defendants—sometimes individually, sometimes in groups of up to nine—approached Judge Michael Fields. Many had lawyers; some didn’t. Some defendants pleaded guilty, received their sentences and got a “good luck” from the judge in less than 30 seconds.  Judge Fields had an average of 68 cases a day on his docket in 2013, according to court records, below the average of 79 for the county’s misdemeanor courts."

The WSJ is reporting that in small counties in Texas there is a significant population of people that don't receive legal representation for misdemeanors.  I haven't looked at the numbers for Georgia, but this appalling.

Even more concerning is this quote from the article:  "Judge Fields ordered her to wear a device around her ankle that can detect alcohol consumption. Ms. Carrion, now working part time on a relative’s food truck, said she had been paying $360 a month to the monitoring company but recently got permission to switch to an $80-per-month device. To save money, Ms. Carrion, her husband and their 2-year-old daughter moved into a trailer behind her in-laws’ house."

A fine for a crime is one thing, but when do the requirements for a guilty plea to a  misdemeanor become economically unrealistic for people and their families?  This was an issue we highlighted back in August (read more here).

SIB News:  "Social impact bonds have several advantages but face challenges to success including complexity, scale and difficulty proving their effectiveness, according to a report commissioned by the Big Lottery Fund."

Good summary of the challenges social entrepreneurs face.

More Players Jumping In:  "The Cheyne Social Property Impact Fund, which was able to start investing on Thursday in Britain, aims to raise about 300 million pounds with target returns of 10 to 12 percent with leverage. It is expected to charge investors about a 1.5 percent management fee and a 10 percent performance fee after it hits a return rate of about 6 percent."

Rural Poverty vs. Urban Poverty:  "Job growth in urban areas has helped to shorten unemployment lines. In rural areas, though, labor force participation dipped from 62.2 percent to 60.2 percent in the last four years.  As a result, rural unemployment rates dropped despite limited employment growth, USDA said. Job growth declined in 779 rural counties between 2012 and 2013, according to the agency.  In addition, the rural median household income hasn’t caught up with its 2007 level; at $41,198, annual income in 2012 was 8.4 percent below its inflation-adjusted, pre-recession peak."

Although the report gives a good and bad news feel--the stabilization of the poor economic conditions is not really good news.

Poverty in Georgia:  "Statewide, the trends are the same or worse. According to the AJC report, disadvantaged students have been the majority in state public schools for the last seven years and now account for 62 percent of total enrollment.  What has been happening, educators and others say, is that student poverty has not only risen alarmingly since the onset of the recession, but it has spread from poor rural and inner city school systems, where it has long been a problem, into more suburban and small-town schools."



By Clay

Had a lot of fun meeting with some folks at the Bank of Lafayette yesterday.  They were kind enough to hear my donor pitch and give feedback.  A nonprofit management class taught by Professor Wilson at UT-Chattanooga did the same thing today.  They gave wonderful feedback and a number of good ideas that I hope to implement in the near future.  Thanks to both of those organizations.