Returning To Life From Life: A Daughter’s Journey To Freeing Her Mother From Prison

Check out this moving video made by De-Bug’s Jean Melesaine on Lisa Carter, the first woman in Santa Clara County who won her release from a life sentence due to Proposition 36.  Judge Deborah Ryan granted Lisa release after serving 18 years in prison for a $150 shoplifting charge (her 3rd strike), with the tremendous support from her family, friends, community, and public defender. This video will be part of the Time Saved series, chronicling stories of families bringing loved ones home from incarceration.

ACJP//De-Bug Family Member Featured in Mercury News for Innovative New Re-Entry Program!

At a forum ACJP//De-Bug held at the end of last year, as Santa Clara County imagined the best ways to build a realignment strategy that reduces recidivism, Steeda McGruder gave her testimony as an offering of hope to a crowd of community members, elected officials and public safety officials. She shared a vision of peer mentorship built from ideas she developed while she was incarcerated. She called her dream “Sisters That Been There.” She made her dream real, and now Sisters That Been There has become a unique blueprint of redemption, re-invention and tangible impact. Check out the Mercury News profile of her success story!

Ex-convict with ‘street cred’ leads unique San Jose support group for repeat offenders
By Tracey Kaplan

For a Santa Clara County contract employee, Steeda McGruder doesn’t exactly have a pristine résumé:

Age: 29

Occupation: Drug dealer/user, thief

Work history: In and out of custody for past 17 years

Attitude during last jail stint: Angry, suicidal, high-risk (allowed out of maximum-security cell only every 48 hours to shower)

So why has the probation department eagerly put her on its payroll at $400 a week?

Because officials believe her criminal record, powerful rap and magnetic personality make McGruder the ideal person to run a support group for recently released repeat female offenders called “Sisters That Been There.” Continue reading

Wall Street Journal: Jail Shift Makes Waves in California

In a Wall Street Journal article, written by Vauhini Vara, on the impact of realignment on local county jails statewide and on the individuals that inhabit them, it is made clear that community input and local political pressure is helping shape how the criminal justice system is adjusting to the changes. One expert calls it “justice by geography.”  This article is a reminder that ACJP public advocacy for alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders truly can and does make a difference. The people of Kern county need an ACJP in a big way! — Post submission by Aram James

BAKERSFIELD, Calif.—Under a court order to ease overcrowding in state prisons, California moved last year to divert thousands of lower-level offenders to local jails. Now the fallout from that shift is reverberating through several sections of the state, including this area north of Los Angeles.

In Kern County, Sheriff Donny Youngblood’s jail was so near capacity this spring that he had to release hundreds of inmates—monitoring them with electronic devices or assigning them to do supervised labor such as working as janitors. Read more>>>

San Mateo County Board of Supervisors Vote to Build New Jail

Last Tuesday, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted to spend approximately $155 million to build a new jail in the county.  Proposed by Sheriff Greg Munks, the construction of a new jail is supposed to relieve overcrowding in the current jail, create space for a women’s facility, and address the potential overflow as a result of AB109, the California realignment plan that makes counties deal with low-level offenders.

Instead of addressing why there are high incarceration rates to begin with, the County chose to just figure out how to house the growing population.  Community advocates such as All of Us Or None led by Dorsey Nunn, Critical Resistance, and Youth United for Community Action in East Palo Alto showed up at the Board of Supervisors meeting last Tuesday to state their opposition to the jail, saying the money put towards the jail only takes away from community services. “This is a jail for future generations,” Dorsey said. “Not only will they take our sons and daughters, but our grandkids.”

YUCA, a youth organization in East Palo Alto committed to environmental and social justice, first got involved about 2 years ago when the jail was being proposed to be built in East Palo Alto.  They collected over 400 petitions and got the City to declare their opposition to the jail construction in the community.  However, regardless of where the jail was in the county, YUCA youth were also opposed to the idea.  Anna Turner, a longtime resident in the community and is a Program Director at YUCA, attended the Board meeting as well.  “We should be spending the money on preventative measures, targeting the root cause of crime, not just locking people up.  Plus, we don’t want this jail to target undocumented people as well.”  YUCA and community advocates are looking to challenge the county’s decision.

At De-Bug’s ACJP, we’ve seen incarceration be too easy of an answer for San Mateo County.  We have seen some of the harshest sentences imposed on San Mateo County defendants, and on the front end, some of the most extreme charges placed on people that will almost always guarantee a plea bargain.  Compounded by this is ICE’s Secure Communities Program that has entangled immigration and criminal justice laws, and turned every police officer into an ICE agent.  We have seen immigrants with ICE holds beat their charges, have their charges dismissed or dropped, or could have been eligible for drug programs like Prop 36 but because of their ICE holds have been sent away to federal detention facilities.  

We feel that this decision to build a jail is counter to what seems like a regional trend of dealing with criminal justice issues in a more holistic and progressive way.  We hope the county rethinks this decision, and takes a more courageous, creative, and cost-effective stance to deal with the criminal justice system. — Submission Post by Charisse Domingo

A Vision of What Realignment Could Be

As counties across California scramble to implement plans for realignment, in Santa Clara County, one humble program born from the opportunity of realignment is taking off. In this picture Steeda McGruder, founder of Sisters That Been There, reads through a butcher paper full of quotes from recently released women who are participating in her program through the auspices of the county probation department. The quotes are from larger writings the women did on messages they would send out about their hopes and challenges for their new lives free of incarceration. The women range in ages of 59 to 22 years old. Powerful work, be on the look out for more work from Sisters That Been There! (click here to check out the video when Steeda shares how she was inspired to create the program while incarcerated.)

Son’s Advocacy Steers Court Away from 2 Year Prison Sentence for Mother

This is Herlinda going through the ACJP ceremony of erasing her name from the case board! When this happens at ACJP, it means that the family member who has been coming every week to our meetings (her son in this case) finally won the justice they were fighting for, and their loved one is home. Herlinda was facing a 2 year prison sentence for a minor violation. The court was set on sending Herlinda, who has a serious medical condition, to prison. Her son Daniel fought for his mom, brought in the support of the ACJP/De-Bug community, and now she is home with her family, participating in an outpatient program. Their family is a powerful testimony to what is possible when a family and community stand up and refuse to be dissuaded from the justice they deserve. Be on the lookout for the upcoming video profiling this powerful victory!

De-Bug’s ACJP members featured in Mercury News article on prison re-entry

A front page Sunday Mercury News article focusing on California’s realignment plan entitled, “California prison realignment to put more low-level offenders on streets”features the story of two ACJP members Glenn Maxwell and Brenda Valencia. The article uses their story to illustrate how expensive, and often times unnecessary, prison commitments have been in California. Both Glenn and Brenda are great examples of community members who are working hard to be great parents, and contributing members to our county. You’ll be reading more about both in time to come on ACJP!

Glen Maxwell (Karen T. Borchers/Mercury News)
Brenda Valencia (Karen T. Borchers/Mercury News)