Infographic: Women in the US’s Criminal Justice System

Over the past decade the female prison population in the United States has continued to grow at an alarming rate. Between 2000 through 2009 the number of women incarcerated in state and federal prisons rose by 22% compared to a 15% increase in the male prison population. While the number of incarcerated men still far exceeds the number of incarcerated women (which was estimated to be ~ 200,000 in 2010) the growth of the female prison population has a distinct effect on families and communities that are torn apart as a result. What’s more, sexual violence, domestic abuse, and poverty are all strongly correlated with women’s incarceration. We are locking up victims and survivors instead of providing them with the treatments and services they need to live healthy and product lives.  

Here is a quick look at the stats related to women that are serving sentences in our country’s prisons:

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Tech for Good: Using Tech To Catalyze Social Change

By:  Firoz Memon, CrowdDefend Co-Founder

With the proliferation of the internet and mobile phones, technology and social networks have evolved to become an all consuming part of our lives. Because of this mass adoption, our communities and our world are more connected than ever before.

This has both positive and negative implications. Social networks are blamed for loss of privacy, video games for encouraging violent behavior, and the internet as a whole for being a distraction from real world interactions. On the other hand, there are an increasing number of internet-based companies and organizations that are using technology for social good. Social media has been used to organize demonstrations and even revolutions around the world, crowdfunding is being used to raised funds for a variety of impactful causes, while several other sites allow us to more effective communicate with corporations and government.

In December of 2010, as events that led to the Arab Spring were underway, activists turned to social media to not only spread news, but to organize demonstrations. While there is much debate on the actual impact of social media or whether these revolutions would have had the same outcomes without Facebook and Twitter, it’s clear that the proliferation of these networks allowed for the rapid exchange of information and ideas. Even just last month, #ArabSpring was used over 10,000 times on Twitter. The Occupy Wall Street movement maintained a huge social media presence as a key tool in getting their message to people. In particular, they cite the virality of videos taken during the movement as key to getting a diverse and broad group of supporters interested and involved.

Other technologies have made it so anyone can communicate and influence governments and corporations. Change.org is able to organize people to sign online petitions with the hopes of ultimately prompting action. A recent petition on Change.org aimed to get Delta Airlines to end transporting of animal trophies in an effort to decrease poaching of endangered animals.  Three months after starting, the petition garnered nearly 400,000 signatures, enough get Delta to change their policy. Other successful causes on the platform include a petition to end fines for those who give food the homeless in Denver, and a petition attempting to lower medical fees for cancer treatments. Change.org has proven to be a great resource for communities to elicit real action and impact.

Crowdfunding, a concept near and dear to our hearts here at CrowdDefend, is being used in many ways to help society. A number of organizations are using crowdfunding to not only change the way individuals discover and fund projects they care about, but also to fund critical yet underfunded sectors. For example, Experiment.com uses crowdfunding to raise funds and awareness for a variety of scientific research projects. Another company, Patreon, is using crowdfunding to help artists sustain their crafts. At CrowdDefend, we use crowdfunding to help fund access to justice. Lastly, Watsi, which has seen an immense amount of success in the past few years, is a crowdfunding site that raises money for medical procedures for people across the globe. Watsi has already been able to provide life changing (and saving) healthcare to nearly 5,000 people. These sites, among many other, are able to impact society at many different levels by galvanizing far-flung, yet like minded individuals towards a single goal.  

As we continue to grow as a society and technology continues to change and evolve, it’s great to see an ever increasing effort to use tech for good to make a positive, lasting impact on the world. As more and more of the world and daily activity moves online, I can’t help but think of what great innovations are yet to come.

Sources:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/10/04/small-change-malcolm-gladwell

https://www.change.org/p/delta-air-lines-end-the-transport-of-exotic-animal-hunting-trophies

http://berkeleyjournal.org/2014/11/bringing-the-organization-back-in-social-media-and-social-movements/

July #A2J Round Up

Lets be honest. July is one of the best (if not the best) months of the year. Year after year you can count on July to deliver a healthy dose of BBQ’s, pool-time, and sun.

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This year we got all that and a little something extra — a lot more media coverage and conversation around the access to justice (#A2J) gap. We’re incredibly excited by this trend and hope to see it continue.

In case you missed them, here is a short list of some of our favorite July #A2J related pieces:

The Price of Justice: The Marriage Equality Victory and What’s Next

Ray Brescia, Huffington Post

Funding shortfalls limit access to legal services for poor

Susanne Cervenka, Asbury Park Press

Why fair legal representation remains elusive for the poor

Lane Anderson, Deseret News National

Addressing the Access to Justice Gap

Hiraa Khan, MerusCase Blog

U.S. needs renewal of a core value: access to justice

Jean A. Lastine and John G. Levi, MinnPost

Courthouse too expensive for too many

Sun Sentinel Editorial Board

How to save families from losing everything

Thomas Perez and Martha Bergmark, CNN

#InvestInJustice

While legal aid programs work primarily with low-income and/or vulnerable populations, multiple statewide studies demonstrate that investing in these programs produces positive economic effects for residents of all income levels.

The returns to society manifest themselves in a number of ways. For example, when individuals receive legal help to avoid wrongful foreclosures they are able to stay in their homes and out of publicly funded shelters and other social services programs. In immigration cases, for example, individuals who receive legal status are no longer at risk of being detained and can become taxpaying wage earners. In these ways, and many others, legal aid reduces the burden on state and local budgets, and produces both short and long-term returns.

Here is a quick look at how far $1 invested in justice goes in various US states.

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Defending California’s Waterways Through Legal Channels

As the threat of climate change continues to grow, it is no secret that rampant industrial pollution is further harming our already fragile ecosystems.

We know that these violations are occurring, but what can we, as citizens, do about it? CrowdDefend sat down with Caroline Koch of Lawyers for Clean Water to learn more about violations of the Clean Water Act that are taking place at an industrial facility in Northern California. Caroline and her colleagues are working with the California Sportsfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) to take legal action against the violator.

You can help Lawyers for Clean Water and CSPA fight this injustice by donating to their legal fund on CrowdDefend.

Tell us a little bit about the violation that is taking place. How long has it been occurring?

For at least the past 5 years, the A.L. Gilbert Company, the owner and/or operator of an industrial dairy feed manufacturing facility in Oakdale, California, has been violating the Clean Water Act. Despite repeated notifications from citizen groups, the facility has not implemented the required measures that are needed to prevent and reduce the concentrations of toxic pollutants discharging from its facility. As a result, each time storm water runs off the industrial facility, high concentrations of pollutants are discharged into the nearby Stanislaus River. By our estimates the facility has discharged pollutants into the River on nearly 150 occasions since 2010.

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What is the Clean Water Act? 

The Clean Water Act is the federal law enacted to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” that mandates “that discharges of pollutants into the navigable waters be eliminated…”

The Clean Water Act categorically prohibits any discharge of a pollutant from a source without permit, and all permitted discharges must comply with applicable permit requirements.

Why isn’t the government doing anything about this violation? 

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, a subdivision of the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is charged with regulating industrial facilities in its jurisdiction, which includes the A.L. Gilbert Company. Unfortunately, California’s environmental regulatory agencies are often understaffed and/or unwilling to enforce the laws to prevent pollution and preserve our waterways for generations to come.

Fortunately, however, Congress specifically provided a provision for citizen enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Under this mandate, citizens and citizen groups, like California Sportsfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), have the power to enforce the Clean Water Act against anyone in violation of the Act.

What are the potential consequences if this violation does not stop? 

Polluted storm water discharging from A.L. Gilbert Company’s industrial facility contains heavy metals such as copper and zinc, among other pollutants. Such contaminants can be acutely toxic and/or have sub-lethal impacts on the avian and aquatic wildlife in the Stanislaus River. Additionally, the State of California has identified the water quality in the Stanislaus River as so degraded that the River cannot support its intended uses, such as wildlife habitat and recreation.

If A.L. Gilbert Company’s Clean Water Act violations persist, polluted storm water discharges from the facility will continue to contribute to the River’s further degradation. A.L. Gilbert Company’s ongoing violations will also continue to impair the public’s use and enjoyment of the Stanislaus River for fishing, boating, swimming, bird watching, picnicking, viewing wildlife, or scientific study—the very uses the Clean Water Act is meant to protect.

What, specifically, is your organization doing to help? 

CSPA sent the owners and/or operators of the A.L. Gilbert Company facility, and the relevant state and federal regulatory agencies, a 60-day notice of intent to file suit in Federal court based on these Clean Water Act violations. This notice provided the owners and/or operators notice of their Clean Water Act violations and an opportunity to come into compliance.

As the 60-day notice period has now ended and the A.L. Gilbert Company’s violations are ongoing, CSPA has filed a citizen-complaint in Federal court.

As a result of its lawsuit, CSPA expects that the A.L. Gilbert Company will come into compliance with the Clean Water Act requirements by significantly improving its storm water management and pollution prevention measures at the facility. These improvements will either be in response to an order by the court or via a settlement reached between the parties.

Legally speaking, what are next steps? 

Currently, the parties’ technical consultants are engaged in ongoing discussions about needed improvements at the facility.

At the end of July 2015, the parties will appear before the federal magistrate judge to set the litigation schedule for this case. Once a schedule is set, CSPA will continue its investigation into A.L. Gilbert Company’s Clean Water violations by propounding discovery requests allowed by the federal rules of civil procedure.

How can concerned citizens help? 

Concerned citizens can help by contributing to CSPA’s CrowdDefend campaign. As a non-profit organization, CSPA’s Clean Water Act citizen-enforcement depends entirely on grants and donations.

CSPA will use any contributions to its current campaign to hire technical consultants and experts to advise CSPA on the most effective remedies to prevent storm water pollution from being discharged to the Stanislaus River and the Delta from the A.L. Gilbert Company facility. Contributions will also help CSPA pay for its legal filing fees and the costs of investigation, including collecting and analyzing storm water samples.

CSPA’s attorneys work on a contingency basis, and contributions will not be used to pay attorneys’ fees.

Our Favorite TED Talks — Access to Justice

If you’re like us, you love yourself a good TED Talk. This week we’re sharing our favorite TED Talks about access to justice in the U.S and around the globe. These talks are not only inspiring and informative, but also sure to get you pumped about addressing the access to justice gap!

Once you’re sufficiently moved, head to crowddefend.com to start investing in justice.

Why you should care about access to justice | Andrew Pilliar

We need to talk about an injustice | Bryan Stevenson

How I defend the rule of law | Kimberley Motley

How to stop torture | Karen Tse

Did we miss one of your favorite TED Talks about the justice system? Feel free to let us know in the comments section.