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  • The Importance of a Mitigation Specialist

    Season 6 episode 4's special guest was mitigation specialist Ronda Swenson. Ms. Swenson is currently working on Death Penalty Cases, juvenile transfers and Franklin/ Youth Offender Parole (YOP) cases. She has extensive education including a bachelors and masters degrees and completed 2 years of law school as well as courses towards completion of a PhD. Ms. Swenson is a forensic social worker and has over 20 years of experience in working in the legal field. She began as a paralegal but spent the majority of her career as a social worker/investigator. Ms. Swenson works on serious felonies, Franklins and Millers, juvenile transfers, and capital cases on both state and federal levels. What is a Mitigation Specialist? Mitigation Specialist create comprehensive psychosocial biographies of adult and juvenile clients who face incarceration. The biographies should include all relevant information to paint a picture of who the client is aside from the incident that led to court involvement. The information collected by the the mitigation specialist is used to aid in consideration that the client should receive less harsh sentencing or allowed alternatives to incarceration. Mitigation is generally responsible for telling clients stories, trying to humanize them to judges, district attorneys, and jurors in hopes of mitigating the sentences. When is a mitigation specialist needed? Ms. Swenson believes that mitigation specialist should be utilized and at the forefront in all cases not just in the sentencing stage. Mitigation is required in all capital cases. In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled jurors could consider mitigating factors based on the diverse frailties of humankind when deciding death penalty or life in prison. Ms. Swenson's services are also crucial in these cases: Franklin Hearing Consideration for resentencing an individual who was convicted under the age of 26 and who was given a lengthy sentence Millers Resentencing for youths previous sentenced to life without parole Juvenile Transfers Transfer youths to adult court 1172 Petition Recall a sentence and resentence a person to a lesser sentence Gun Enhancements 25 years to life for certain felony offenses if you use a gun in the commission of the crime. Gang Enhancements additional punishment to a felony imposed to an individual who committed the initial infraction for the benefit of or in association with gang. The above mentioned are specific to California. Although there may be similar policies or laws in your state. What is included in mitigation report? Ms. Swenson combines her sociology, legal, education, and compassion to researching and compiling an individuals life story and community and social upbringing. Our system focuses so much on the crime that we forget that if all these other things didn't happen, the person wouldn't have committed the crime. She reminds us that poverty, community violence, mental illness, abuse, academic struggles, intergenerational trauma and inadequate supports among other things contribute to an individual's mind state and propensity to break the law. Client's are often taught their story does not matter or they are simply the sum of their actions. Ms. Swenson creates a visual social history for her clients. It includes pictures of the client, client's family, community and racial justice issues that were going on at the time of the offense. Mitigation specialist take care not to retraumatize their clients rather to help them connect the dots and begin to understand why they acted in that manner. Success is not just release or reduced sentence it is also how the work impacts the clients. What training is needed to become a Mitigation Specialist? Mitigation specialists are commonly forensic social workers which typically requires a master's degree (including specific coursework), clinical training, and forensic certificate. Ms. Swenson believes that education pathway is broader. She emphasized how her sociology background regularly assists her in looking at the impact of society. Strong writing skills are essential. Overall, she notes that anyone can do this work if they are passionate, dedicated, pursue training, People connect to stories; we want people to connect to our clients, so we have to be able to tell stories. Learn more Ronda Swenson's webiste Resentencing laws have been passed California, Washington, Louisiana, Illinois and Oregon. Federal Second Look Act National Alliance of Sentencing Advocates and Mitigation Specialists

  • A Woman and Her Fight for Self Actualization

    Season 6 has been so impactful. Episode 3 continues in that vein with another dynamic guest Sandra Brown. Ms. Brown is a Senior Advisor/Writer in Residence for the Women's Justice Institute in Chicago. She has an MA in Humanities from California State University-Dominguez Hills and is a doctoral student enrolled in California Coast University's Ed.D in Organizational Leadership program. She also served 22 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections as an incarcerated survivor. the first incarcerated woman in Illinois history to pledge and gain acceptance into the Gamma Pi Delta Honor Society, earn an academic Master's degree, and be accepted into an academic doctoral program. Brown is a two-time recipient of the Davis-Putter Scholarship and the Marilyn Buck Award. Brown is also the author of Odyssey in Progress. The book highlights Brown's experiences pre involvement with the carceral system, during her time inside, and speaks about the collective issues of incarceration. Browns book is available through most online retailers. Brown believes that women in prison are often an afterthought which perpetuates myths and leads to further inequities. Since the 1980s, the rate of female incarceration has catapulted to over 700%. Women are often left out of prison reform discussions. Women's voices and stories are missing from the narrative because prison reform is a male-dominated issue. There is no consideration of the pathways that lead to women becoming involved with the carceral system. Brown urges us to consider the social constructs contributing to individuals making incredibly difficult decisions to survive or provide. Women, especially those who are justice impacted or incarcerated, are treated differently than men. The harms done to women in prisons replicate the harms that are done to women outside right down to the part that our narratives are missing. Brown shared about her tireless pursuit to obtain her education while incarcerated and the obstacles along the way. She highlighted three things that aided in her resilience the thought of reuniting with her son, the care and encouragement from a woman, and Langston Hughes's poem Dreams Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams For when dreams go Life is a barren field Frozen with snow Some factors that contribute to difficulty obtaining education while incarcerated Access to technology. Women desiring higher education first must locate a school that will allow a student to receive and turn in assignments and exams via traditional mail. Money. Women must have funds to cover the cost of classes as well as funds for materials. Ms. Brown had to save seven months to buy a typewriter to complete her assignments. Time & Space. Women with longer sentences are put on waitlists that can take many years to receive approval. In addition, individuals who are incarcerated do not have autonomy over their time. They also share space with other individuals. Both of which impact availability to study and add length to program completion. Women rarely have access to quiet, uninterrupted space to focus on their studies. Despite all these factors, Ms. Brown earned a Master's degree and acceptance into an Honor's society. Because of her first-hand experience, she is currently in the process of launching the Women's Justice Initiative Independent Scholars Program to aid in mitigating the aforementioned struggles. Ways to support women impacted by the carceral system VOTE! Utilize your access to the polls. Examine your legislators voting record regarding rights and access for individuals who are incarcerated. Register to vote Use your voice! Talk to your legislator about SB2260. SB2260 is an Illinois bill however, you can still discuss with your local legislators something similar in our state Donate books and materials. Donate money. Women who are incarcerated earn approximately $10-$20 a month. Donate to Women's Justice Initiative Purchase Odyssey in Progress by Sandra Brown Ms. Brown invites justice-impacted women in the Chicagoland area to a Healing Circle at the Women's Justice Institute on March 4. The healing circle assists women in understanding the pathways that led them inside the carceral system and connects them to resources that will help them in their journey in the free community. Copies of Odyssey in Progress with also be available there. Reach out to the Women's Justice Institute for more information. You can watch the replay of Ms. Brown's episode here. Ready for another thought-provoking and engaging episode. Join us for the next episode on Saturday, March 4, at 10:00 am CST live on our Facebook page.

  • Survived & Punished

    Season 6, Episode 2, aired on Saturday, February 11, 2023, with special guest Neda Said, from Survived and Punished. Neda Said is an organizer and connector working toward abolition, liberation, and ending gender-based violence. Their experience includes program design, facilitation, management, social justice, and domestic violence education and training. Survived and Punished affirms the lives and self-determination of all survivors of domestic and sexual violence. They endorse efforts to abolish these anti-survivor systems and create new approaches prioritizing accountable, community-based responses to domestic and sexual violence. Knowing that abuse and incarceration are meant to isolate and diminish the person, they hope for more restorative resources and options for survivors. Survived and Punished believes we must organize for a world in which survivors are always supported by their communities. Survived & Punished's coalition of freedom campaigns and organizations believes that policing, immigration enforcement, and the prison industrial complex are violent institutions that primarily target poor communities of color. They are fundamentally racist, anti-family, anti-trans/queer, anti-woman, anti-Black, anti-Native, anti-poor, and anti-immigrant. Said, along with Dr. Sade Lindsey, wrote Punished By Design: The Criminalization of Trans & Queer Incarcerated Survivors. Here is an excerpt Queer, trans, and gender nonconforming people are both disproportionately impacted by the criminal legal system (CLS) and significantly more likely to be survivors of domestic and/or sexual violence. In fact, two common pathways to the CLS involve victimization and abuse, which results partially from the criminalization of self-defense and other survival tactics as well as the scrutinization of the character of survivors who report abuse. Survivors typically must fit within a “perfect victim” narrative to be deemed worthy of protection and support. Queer, trans, and gender nonconforming survivors of color also face disparate treatment and outcomes due to their race, sexuality, gender, and class, in addition to any criminalization or sex work histories. The full report can be downloaded 90% of people in women's prisons are survivors of sexual and domestic violence The vast majority of people in women’s prisons, and many in men’s prisons, are survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Survivors are criminalized while attempting to navigate dangerous conditions of abuse and coercion. Prisons and detention centers perpetuate cycles of violence through the “abuse to prison” pipeline and because they are themselves sites of systematic gendered violence. Once incarcerated or detained, many women (including trans women) and trans & gender non-conforming people experience sexual violence from guards and others. Power & Control Wheel from Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration Chicago was re-conceptualized by Monica Cosby. Graphic by Sarah Ross. Survivors are criminalized for being Black, undocumented, poor, transgender, queer, disabled, women or girls of color, in the sex industry, or for having a past “criminal record.” Their experience of violence is diminished, distorted, or disappeared, and they are instead simply seen as criminals who should be punished. Decades of research confirms that the legal system systemically fails to protect survivors from domestic and sexual violence, and then punishes them when they save their own lives. Said also highlighted the current system devalues and disregards all incarcerated people. However, there are heightened risks and palpable dangers for those who are further marginalized. They brought up the slow and incomplete response to COVID-19 to illustrate the system's concern for health and safety. For trans and queer people, particular medical needs are often unmet. It is easy to become jaded. The more we learn about the injustice and mistreatment, the more pervasive and engrained the poison appears. But organizations like Survived & Punished and their allies have been very impactful and identified how we could contribute. We challenge The Justice Beat Family to become active and show support. We have listed several opportunities. Ways to Support Sign Petitions Write Letters Donate & Fundraise Support Commutation Campaigns Explore Toolkits Watch the full episode here. Join us for the next episode of The Justice Beat Talk Show on Saturday, February 18, at 10:00 am CST on Facebook Live.

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  • Host | The Justice Beat Talk Show

    Back MEET YOUR HOST L. Elaine Sutton Mbionwu S1:E7 March 7, 2020 Women Trailblazers and Justice Reform | Photo by: Bobby Murphy, former Technical Production Manager (UMSL Intern - 2020 Cohort 1) "Strategic, Creative & Active Engagement Builds Beloved Communities" With 30 years of direct professional experience and exposure in civil rights, social change, and justice reform, Elaine always envisioned creating and establishing a digitized media broadcast vehicle for the benefit of marginalized, unmet, and undeserved people. At this point in her career she finds herself giving back to young people through mentoring, coaching, teaching, training, consulting and advising through internship opportunities. On this page, please enjoy a timeline (in 3 pgs) of our Hosts' dedication to the cause and the youth that carry on this work. Interns selected for placement in the NxGen Media Internship Program have The Justice Beat Talk Show assigned as their direct-project. NxGen Media utilizes a hybrid model in which internships are offered primarily as remote opportunities with some aspects of the internship onsite for live-taping. Due to COVID-19 NxGen Media will operates in a fully remote posture at this time.

  • Video Digest | The Justice Beat Talk Show

    Djembe' "Talking Drum" Video Digest Season 1 | Episode 1 of The Talking Drum, video digest for The Justice Beat Talk Show Season 1, Episode 1 This link to educate yourself on minimum standards of care in jails in prisons This link to volunteer to be involved in the rehabilitation of offenders This link to support campaigns— ACTIONSTL, ArchCity, Bail Project attack on mass incarceration — people routinely remain incarcerated due to their inability to afford unconstitutionally high cash bails Season 1 | Episode 2 of The Talking Drum, video digest for The Justice Beat Talk Show Season 1, Episode 2 This link outlining a plan to permanently shutter the City’s Medium Security Institution, commonly known as the Workhouse. This link to find out who your alderperson is and call mayor lyda krewson and demand action now (314) 622-3201 Inquire about volunteering email or call (314) 722-5196

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