Principal Ryan Puckett worked with RecycleForce President Gregg Keesling on the following opinion editorial originally published in the August 31, 2013 edition of The Indianapolis Star. The op-ed is in reaction to the 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
Dream of Equality Must Include Ex-offenders
by Gregg Keesling
On Aug. 28, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s empowering and invigorating “I Have a Dream” speech.
In that historic address, King spoke of the state of racial inequality in 1963. In the shadow of the statue of the man who signed the Emancipation Proclamation 100 years earlier, he lamented that black Americas were still not free. He rightfully accused America of writing a “bad check” that came back marked “insufficient funds”.
While there has been great progress since 1963 there is much ground to cover. As former President Clinton reminded us at the anniversary celebration, “there remain racial inequalities in employment, income, health, wealth, incarceration, and in the victims and perpetrators of violent crime.”
The demographics of the U.S. criminal justice system underscore this inequality. African-Americans constitute nearly 1 million of the 2.3 million incarcerated population. In Indiana, black males make up 4.3 percent of the state’s population , but 37 percent of its adult prison population .
If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime. Not only must we prevent this trend, we must change the way we treat those returning from prison, regardless of the color of their skin.
The destiny of white ex-offenders is tied up with that of African-American ex-offenders. The freedom of each of us is “inextricably bound” in the freedom of the former inmate.
We are destined to continue to fund prison budgets at astronomical rates if we don’t change the way we handle those who have served their time and if we fail to provide true, legitimate second chances.
The idea that by serving time one has paid his debt to society is ingrained in our social narrative, but it is not true. Once one is caught up in the tides of the criminal justice system it is very difficult to escape – recidivism rates in America exceed 66 percent. To borrow from King, it’s like “quicksand” of injustice.
But Dr. King’s words inspire me, “This situation can and will be changed” and I am not willing to allow formally incarcerated men and women to “wallow in the valley of despair”. As President Obama urged Americans during the celebration, we must continue to march.
Obama reminds us “that one’s liberty is linked to one’s livelihood, that the pursuit of happiness requires the dignity of work, the skills to find work, decent pay, some measure of material security.” For most ex-offenders, that liberty is elusive.
But not if we march.
We must march against a growing prison population – the world’s largest – filled with individuals who have not committed a new crime. Roughly one-third of the Americans entering prison each year return for a technical rule violation.
In 2012, of those on probation or parole who were subsequently remanded to the Indiana Department of Correction, 71 percent were remanded for a technical rule violation (TRV). A variety of issues can result in a TRV, but key to the definition of TRVs is that a new crime was not committed.
By providing flexible employment and immediate wage-paid work in combination with job skills training and supportive services, we can eliminate the massive amount of human capital languishing in our prisons for minor infractions.
But we must march. Indiana’s new expungement law is step in the right direction, but we must continue to march.
If we believe prison should be reserved to provide rehabilitative services to those who are a threat to society, and not how we punish those who are unemployed and unable to keep up with re-entry fees and obligations, we must march forward.
I march for second chances.
Keesling is president of RecycleForce in Indianapolis
Principal Ryan Puckett worked with RecycleForce Vice President Tom Gray on the following opinion editorial originally published in the February 7, 2013 edition of The Indianapolis Star. The op-ed is in reaction to an article by Star columnist Matthew Tully on reforming the Indiana state budget.
Let’s Train Ex-offenders, Don’t Send Them Back
Mathew Tully’s Jan. 27 column exhorts us to make smart reforms to the state budget. Our criminal justice system would seem ripe for smart reform as it represents one of the larger budget line items. For example, the Indiana Department of Correction spends $650 million each year to incarcerate more than 24,000 individuals. Smart reform would preserve public safety at the same time of realizing savings.
Roughly one-third of the Americans entering prison each year did not commit a new crime. Instead, they return for a technical rule violation. Upon release, they are subject to certain terms, conditions and supervision. They can be returned to prison if these conditions are breached. Minor rule violations such as missing counseling meetings, failing to pay a probation fee or failing to find employment can all lead to re-imprisonment.
According to the most recent data available, Marion County returned to prison 73 percent of those on probation and parole because of a technical rule violation and not because they had committed a new crime. Lack of employment and access to necessary supportive services is what’s behind a large percentage of these violations.
We propose that prosecutors and judges be given the option to sentence some of the technical violators to social programs. The cost savings could be significant. In Illinois, a recent study estimated that technical rule violations cost our neighbors more than $100 million a year. Furthermore, this approach would more adequately reintegrate ex-offenders into civil society. Numerous studies demonstrate that number one predictor of whether or not an individual will return to prison is a job.
At RecycleForce, we believe that we can no longer afford to waste the massive amount of human capital languishing behind bars for minor infractions. We see the value and potential in these individuals and that’s why we offer them transitional employment.
Let us cut what is not working and invest in what does.
Thomas Gray, Vice President, RecycleForce
I was honored to have the following op-ed published in The Indianapolis Star. As an advocate for mass transit in Central Indiana, this piece reflects an argument in favor of improved transit that has been on my mind for some time. I thought Labor Day was the perfect opportunity to express my point of view.
Let’s promote the right to get to work
Sep 2, 2012
Earlier this year, the debate over “right to work” legislation consumed the Statehouse and personified the partisan warfare dominating the Indiana General Assembly and electoral offices throughout the country. “Right to work” even got in the way of a bill before the House Ways and Means Committee, impeding an effort to consider a mechanism to create more transit, more transit options and more funding for transit.
Regardless of the merit of “right to work” legislation, and, as we celebrate the American workforce on Labor Day, I can’t help but think of another work-related right — the right to get to work.
While the majority of Hoosiers get a day of respite from the daily grind, many residents of Central Indiana are looking for work. Job seekers face a variety of obstacles, but enhancing transit is one where taxpayers actually can wield influence.
The fact is that transit options are a major hurdle for many locals looking to earn a paycheck. Anecdotally, I volunteered for Indiana Citizens’ Alliance for Transit at the Indiana State Fair this year to help collect petition signatures in support of more transit, and I heard from a number of people that they need better transit options for getting to work.
Many of us don’t understand this. We have our cars that comfortably and reliably move us back and forth to work each day. I’ve heard transit detractors say their fellow Hoosiers just need to get a car.
However, the notion that owning an automobile is a prerequisite for a job or necessary to access any job in the city seems simply unfair. I wrote something to that effect recently on my Facebook page and a friend shared an astute observation made by a youth worker she knew from the United Kingdom. He said that, for the most part, the dividing line for poverty in America isn’t education or geography — it’s having a car.
Many people simply can’t afford a car, much less a reliable one, while others may not be able to drive. Some people have had their licenses revoked for mistakes they’ve made. Should they also be unemployable too? Some people are simply physically incapable of driving for one reason or another. Should they have less opportunity to work just because of an illness, disability or life-altering accident? There are also men and women permanently disabled from a wound suffered while serving their country. Don’t these veterans deserve the right to get to work?
We hear from our politicians all the time about creating jobs, yet if these politicians are serious about creating jobs, they also need to make sure people can get to jobs. What good is a job when some Hoosiers are already eliminated from consideration for said job because they can’t afford a car or rely on our woefully underfunded bus system?
Again, at the State Fair, I heard anecdote after anecdote from people who must get a job within a certain radius of their homes or who can’t take a job because the bus doesn’t run late or early enough.
I recently ran across a blog post about a business owner who interviewed a potential student intern. The candidate opened up the interview stating that she would be taking the bus for her internship. The owner explained that for the first time he realized how the bus service (or lack thereof) dictated where she was going to work and that public transportation was going to be a factor in her career choices. Interestingly, she wasn’t applying for a minimum wage job; this was a young woman one year away from a college degree.
There are a variety of other reasons to support transit, including economic development opportunities, permanent jobs, environmental benefits, and other quality of life enhancements. However, the reality is that a truly sustainable region is a city at work, where all of us have the equal opportunity to earn a living. Without transit, that equality is lacking. Everyone deserves the right to get to work.
Puckett is principal of two21 LLC and a member of Indiana Citizens’ Alliance for Transit.
I was pleased to work with RecycleForce President Gregg Keesling on this opinon piece for the RecycleForce blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
I love planet earth. I think it’s a cool place and I like living on it. But I must admit that I struggle a little when my friends and colleagues talk about “saving the planet” or “protecting the environment” without talking about saving our citizens.
I know we have enormous environmental challenges before us, but the conclusion I’ve come to is that we can’t ask people to protect the earth if they don’t have a job.
Read the full post here: With Environmental and Social Justice for All
Since July 2011, I have been working with the Hoosier Environmental Council as the organization’s PR/media consultant. During the summer, HEC Executive Director Jesse Kharbanda led an effort to unite several advocacy groups and not-for-profits with an interest in sustainability. The coalition made every attempt to insert sustainability issues into the conversation surrounding the race for Mayor of Indianapolis.
The most recent effort is perhaps the most visible – an op-ed appearing in The Indianapolis Star on behalf of HEC and its coalition partners: American Institute of Architects-Indianapolis, Earth Charter Indiana, Friends of the White River, Green Broad Ripple, Growing Places Indy, Health by Design, an Alliance for Health Promotion Initiative, Hoosier Chapter – Sierra Club, Improving Kids’ Environment, Indiana Citizens’ Alliance for Transit, Indiana Public Health Association, Indiana Recycling Coalition, IndyCog, IndyHub, Irvington Green Initiative, League of Women Voters-Indianapolis, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Midtown Indianapolis, The Earth House Collective, and U.S. Green Building Council-Indiana Chapter.
I’m proud to have played a role in the publishing of this piece, doing much of the research, writing and melding of ideas together. I had a great deal of help too, especially from Jesse.
The op-ed can be found on IndyStar.com. I’m also pasting it below.
Our View: Take us to next level with vision of sustainability
November 4, 2011
Months before the first debate between the leading mayoral candidates, an unprecedented coalition of organizations convened with the determination to make sustainability — for the first time — a core theme of the next Indianapolis mayoral administration.
With all of the public debates in the rearview mirror, the race for mayor is near the end. Our organizations believe that sustainability — issues such as air and water quality, energy use, land use, recycling, availability of locally grown food, and lower impact transportation options — lies at the heart of Indianapolis’ future prosperity. It intersects with many of the aims that are core to the mayor’s role, including job creation, economic development, neighborhood development, public health and public safety.
We recognize a bipartisan commitment to making our city more sustainable exists. We appreciate Mayor Greg Ballard for his support of the Office of Sustainability and its initiatives in energy efficiency, urban gardens and bike lanes. We also appreciate Melina Kennedy’s “Sustainability Vision for Indianapolis” and her graduate training in environmental science.
Whichever candidate emerges as the victor — and our groups are not making endorsements — Mr. or Ms. Mayor has a unique opportunity to accelerate our movement toward sustainability in Indianapolis, and use the mayor’s “bully pulpit,” as President Theodore Roosevelt was fond of saying, to rally the public.
As part of a multiyear vision for Indianapolis, we urge our next mayor to embrace specific measures for how Indianapolis stacks up to its peer cities on various sustainability measures, such as bike lane density, proximity to farmers’ markets and recycling rates. We urge our next mayor to develop a compelling, fiscally responsible plan that underscores a commitment to make Indianapolis a city that truly rivals our peers in sustainability. At stake is the competition for talent and investment, which — in a tough economy — becomes even more challenging.
According to research by CEOs for Cities, “Two-thirds of mobile, educated, young adults are choosing the places they want to live before they choose their jobs. College-educated 25- to 34-year-olds want to live in cities that are clean, attractive, green and safe.”
As a great city, we can no longer be satisfied with the view that improving transit is important; we need a champion who will say, “We need dedicated funding to expand transit and I’m prepared to fight for it.” We need a message from the mayor’s office that not only is air quality important, but it’s worth committing dedicated resources to enhance our city’s ability to fight air pollution. We need our next mayor to not only fight for clean energy jobs, but to push for policy change at the Statehouse that empowers our city to invest more in clean energy.
We need a mayor who not only is committed to increasing and improving bike-friendly infrastructure, but will provide safeguards for bikers, pedestrians and motorists. We need a mayor who not only supports urban farming, but also expands the scope of urban agriculture to enhance food access and encourage food culture entrepreneurship. We need a comprehensive approach to assessing and remediating brownfields in such a way that encourages neighborhood revitalization and fosters economic development. We need a mayor who will not only repair the broken process for responding to illegal dumping, but also seek tougher penalties for dumpers and work with the health department and neighborhoods to prevent dumping and effectively enforce dumping laws. We need a mayor who will look seriously at best practices in building a sustainable infrastructure and create incentives to put those practices into action.
A few decades ago, Mayor Bill Hudnut made a commitment for Indianapolis to dust off its undesirable reputation as Naptown and transform the city into a vibrant, clean and dynamic city that delights its residents and pleasantly surprises its visitors. Indianapolis has largely achieved that thanks to vision and commitment.
Our next mayor, whoever prevails, has an opportunity to allow sustainability to play a key role in taking our city to the next level. And we believe that with focus, fiscal discipline, and a passion from the bully pulpit, he or she can harness the energies of our community to give our peer cities a run for their money, and continue our city’s upward climb.
Since the summer of 2009, I have had the pleasure of writing blog posts for IndyHub, an organization aimed helping Indianapolis residents in their 20s and 30s get more connected, involved, and energized. My posts are about sustainability and I’ve titled the column, The Great Green Hope. I intend to link those posts here on my blog going forward and hope that you’ll check them out!
I just posted a new one today about why and how the Indianapolis Colts should green their game. Check it out – The Great Green Hope: A Green Challenge for the Boys in Blue.
A few weeks ago, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke made headlines by announcing that the Fed would hold a news conference. You read that right, he made news by announcing he’d have news to share. This was news because banks, investors, lenders, economists and the financial media hang on the Fed’s every move.
Too often, executives want their public relations team to arrange for a news conference to make an announcement, share a milestone, issue a statement, etc. But a news conference may not be appropriate and it’s important to keep in mind that news conferences aren’t necessarily newsworthy.
(BTW, I prefer to use news conference over press conference, because press doesn’t accurately describe the audience you are trying to attract.)
So when do you actually need to hold a news conference? Here are four reasons:
- You have news that everybody wants to know about. These tend to be best served for major economic development announcements, a serious public safety issue, response to a major organizational crisis, any announcement for a product that begins with a lowercase “i” and a few other scenarios. Bottom line: The more people affected by the announcement, the more appropriate the news conference.
- You expect the media to have many of the same questions. The main point of a news conference is expediency. If you can have a few phone conversations or face-to-face meetings with a few journalists, you don’t need a news conference. Bottom line: If you expect drones of media to be calling and asking you the same questions, hold a news conference.
- You have a visual. This is especially true for working with television news. Nothing is more boring to a television news director than a bunch of talking heads behind a podium in a drab meeting room at a hotel or convention center reading a verbose speech written lots self-serving statements. The same holds true for the whole large check and ribbon cutting with extra large scissors. Those might be good for your own website, e-newsletter or even a printed newsletter or magazine, but they don’t make the news because if the media did that, that’s all they would have time to cover. Bottom line: If you have a visual that people must see for themselves, hold a news conference.
- You have a guest speaker with serious media cache. If your spokesperson is a well-respected professional and highly regarded in their field, guess what – the general public still doesn’t know who they are! If your spokesperson is a local celebrity who is in the news all the time or not necessarily a household name, even that person might not be a draw. Most local news outlets are appealing to the general public. Bottom line: If your spokesperson is somebody the media and the general public is hungry to hear from, arrange for a news conference.
So if you shouldn’t hold a news conference, what should you do? A simple pitch is likely the best route. In today’s local Indianapolis news, a philanthropic act grabbed headlines. Indy residents woke up to news that Wishard Health Services and Wishard Hospital will get a new name thanks to an extremely generous donation by the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi. Wishard staff could have held a news conference, but they went a different route and it worked!
Other, more guerilla ideas include the flash mob, a rally, or some other publicity “stunt”.
The other popular method these days: the tweet. Yes, with 140 characters you can eliminate worries over scheduling a bunch of busy executives, checking the weather forecast every few minutes, podium and audio rentals, purchasing donuts and coffee, the big check and the big scissors.
When do you think a news conference is necessary? What alternatives have worked for you?