Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ex-Offenders Voting Rights Act

This is a bill that has recently been put up to the House. Let's hope it makes it all the way to Obama so he can pass it!!

This Act may be cited as the `Ex-Offenders Voting Rights Act of 2009'.
(a) Findings- Congress makes the following findings:
(1) The right to vote is the most basic constitutive act of citizenship and regaining the right to vote reintegrates offenders into free society. The right to vote may not be abridged or denied by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, gender, or previous condition of servitude. Basic constitutional principles of fairness and equal protection require an equal opportunity for United States citizens to vote in Federal elections.

(2) Since the founding of the Nation, most States have enacted laws disenfranchising convicted felons and ex-felons. In the last 30 years, due to the dramatic expansion of the criminal justice system, these laws have significantly affected the political voice of many American communities. The momentum toward reform of these policies has been based on a reconsideration of their wisdom in meeting legitimate correctional objectives and the interests of full democratic participation. Forty-eight States and the District of Columbia prohibit inmates from voting while incarcerated for a felony offense.

(3) Congress has ultimate supervisory power over Federal elections, an authority that has repeatedly been upheld by the Supreme Court.

(4) Although State laws determine the qualifications for voting in Federal elections, Congress must ensure that those laws are in accordance with the Constitution. Currently, those laws vary throughout the Nation, resulting in discrepancies regarding which citizens may vote in Federal elections.

(5) Only two States (Maine and Vermont) permit inmates to vote. Thirty-five States prohibit felons from voting while they are on parole and 30 of these States exclude felony probationers as well. Two States deny the right to vote to all ex-offenders who have completed their sentences. Nine others disenfranchise certain categories of ex-offenders or permit application for restoration of rights for specified offenses after a waiting period (e.g., 5 years in Delaware and Wyoming, and 2 years in Nebraska). Each State has developed its own process of restoring voting rights to ex-offenders but most of these restoration processes are so cumbersome that few ex-offenders are able to take advantage of them.

(6) An estimated 5,300,000 million Americans, or one in 41 adults, have currently or permanently lost their voting rights as a result of a felony conviction.

(7) State disenfranchisement laws disproportionately impact ethnic minorities.

(8) Thirteen States disenfranchise some or all ex-offenders who have fully served their sentences, regardless of the nature or seriousness of the offense.

(9) In those States that disenfranchise ex-offenders who have fully served their sentences, the right to vote can be regained in theory, but in practice this possibility is often illusory.

(10) In eight States, a pardon or order from the Governor is required for an ex-offender to regain the right to vote. In two States, ex-offenders must obtain action by the parole or pardon board to regain that right.

(11) Offenders convicted of a Federal offense often have additional barriers to regaining voting rights. In at least 16 States, Federal ex-offenders cannot use the State procedure for restoring their voting rights. The only method provided by Federal law for restoring voting rights to ex-offenders is a Presidential pardon.

(12) Few persons who seek to have their right to vote restored have the financial and political resources needed to succeed.

(13) Thirteen percent of the African-American adult male population, or 1,400,000 African-American men, are disenfranchised. Given current rates of incarceration, 3 in 10 African-American men in the next generation will be disenfranchised at some point during their lifetimes. Hispanic citizens are also disproportionately disenfranchised, since those citizens are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.

(14) An estimated 676,730 women are currently ineligible to vote as a result of a felony conviction. More than 2,000,000 White Americans (Hispanic and non-Hispanic) are disenfranchised as a result of a felony conviction. In five States that deny the vote to ex-offenders, one in four Black men are permanently disenfranchised.

(15) Given current rates of incarceration, 3 in 10 of the next generation of Black men can expect to be disenfranchised at some point in their lifetime. In States that disenfranchise ex-offenders, as many as 40 percent of Black men may permanently lose their right to vote. Two million one hundred thousand disenfranchised persons are ex-offenders who have completed their sentences.

(16) The discrepancies described in this subsection should be addressed by Congress, in the name of fundamental fairness and equal protection.

(b) Purpose- The purpose of this Act is to restore fairness in the Federal election process by ensuring that ex-offenders who have fully served their sentences are not denied the right to vote.

(a) Protecting Right To Vote in Federal Elections- The right of an individual who is a citizen of the United States to vote in any election for Federal office shall not be denied or abridged because that individual has been convicted of a criminal offense unless, at the time of the election, such individual is serving a felony sentence in a correctional institution or facility.

(a) Requiring Notification-
(1) IN GENERAL- The Chief State correctional officer of each State shall ensure that, not later than 30 days after an individual who is serving a felony sentence in a correctional institution or facility in the State is released from the institution or facility, including an individual who is released on parole or probation, the individual is notified of the individual's right to vote in elections for Federal office and of the date of the next such election in which the individual may

(2) EXCEPTION FOR INDIVIDUALS CONTINUING TO SERVE SENTENCES- Paragraph (1) does not apply in the case of an individual who is released from a correctional institution or facility to serve a felony sentence in a different correctional institution or facility.

(3) DEFINITIONS- In this subsection--
(A) the term `parole' means parole (including mandatory parole) or conditional or supervised release (including mandatory supervised release) which is imposed by a Federal, State, or local court; and
(B) the term `probation' means probation imposed by a Federal, State, or local court with or without a condition on the individual involved concerning--
(i) the individual's freedom of movement,
(ii) the payment of damages by the individual,
(iii) periodic reporting by the individual to an officer of the court, or
(iv) supervision of the individual by an officer of the court.
(b) Application to Individuals Released From Federal Institutions or Facilities- Subsection (a) shall apply to the Director of the Bureau of Prisons with respect to individuals released from an institution or facility under the Director's jurisdiction in the same manner as such subsection applies to the Chief State correctional officer of a State with respect to individuals released from institutions or facilities in that State.

(a) Attorney General- The Attorney General may bring a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction to obtain such declaratory or injunctive relief as is necessary to remedy a violation of this Act.
(b) Private Right of Action-
(1) NOTICE- A person who is aggrieved by a violation of this Act may provide written notice of the violation to the chief election official of the State involved.
(2) ACTION- Except as provided in paragraph (3), if the violation is not corrected within 90 days after receipt of a notice provided under paragraph (1), or within 20 days after receipt of the notice if the violation occurred within 120 days before the date of an election for Federal office, the aggrieved person may bring a civil action in such a court to obtain the declaratory or injunctive relief with respect to the violation.
(3) ACTION FOR VIOLATION SHORTLY BEFORE A FEDERAL ELECTION- If the violation occurred within 30 days before the date of an election for Federal office, the aggrieved person shall not be required to provide notice to the chief election official of the State under paragraph (1) before bringing a civil action in such a court to obtain the declaratory or injunctive relief with respect to the violation.


(a) No Prohibition on Less Restrictive Laws- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit a State from enacting any State law that affords the right to vote in any election for Federal office on terms less restrictive than those terms established by this Act.
(b) No Limitation on Other Laws- The rights and remedies established by this Act shall be in addition to all other rights and remedies provided by law, and shall not supersede, restrict, or limit the application of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973 et seq.) or the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C. 1973gg et seq.).

Monday, May 11, 2009

May is Mental Health Month

With May being Mental Health month I thought it would be fitting to post an article about mental illness. Although the article is almost 10 years old, it is still very relevant today; strong stigmas are still associated with mental illness. With education and awareness, we can work to change people's misconceptions.

Understand the Weak Link Between Mental Illness and Violent Behavior
By Rohan Ganguli, M.D.
April 2000

A poll by a Columbia University researcher found that 80 percent of Americans believe that severely mentally ill individuals are more likely to commit violent crimes, that it is natural and appropriate to be afraid of someone who is mentally ill, or that former mental patients are dangerous.

Rohan Ganguli, M.D. is professor of psychiatry, pathology and health & community systems, and vice chairman & chief of clinical services, at Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic, UPMC. He is also president of the Allegheny County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board.

In fact, a large amount of carefully collected research data indicates a weak link between mental illness (even serious psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia) and violent behavior. These studies actually show that gender (male) and age (younger) are more strongly predictive of an individual's likelihood of becoming violent, than the presence of mental illness.
It was heartening to read Sally Kalson's March 7 Post-Gazette story in the aftermath of the tragic Wilkinsburg shootings ("Health Experts: Mental Illness Not a Valid Predictor of Violence"). The story pointed out that the constant mention of the alleged mental illness of the assailant, in the extensive news coverage of this tragedy, would only serve to fuel the public's exaggerated fears of the mentally ill.

Unfortunately, the public perception of the mentally ill as dangerous leads to stigmatization of those with these illnesses and contributes to increasing their disability and deprives them of participation in the life of the community. Ostracism, stigmatization and persecution of the mentally ill, including severe physical abuse and even extermination, unfortunately have a long history. Today, while there are few examples of physical abuse and neglect, the severely mentally ill still continue to live marginal socially isolated lives.

A number of research studies found that the majority of the public still have difficulty accepting mentally ill people as employees, tenants, spouses or neighbors. The misconception that most mentally ill people are dangerous is clearly one of the sources of these attitudes. Other factors which influence these common stereotypes include the belief that serious disorders like schizophrenia are untreatable and that mentally illness make an individual less intelligent and less capable of reasoning like an adult.

At least one research study found that knowledge of the treatability of schizophrenia positively changed participants' attitudes toward the mentally ill and even reduced the perception of the dangerousness. Unfortunately, insurance companies are still allowed to discriminate against the mentally ill by placing strict limits and exclusions on what treatments they pay for, reinforcing the notion that mental illnesses are not the same as other medical disorders, and are less treatable.

Research also shows that media depictions of mentally ill people as violent homicidal characters has a marked influence on public attitudes and contributes to stereotyping. This can be in the context of news reports of violent acts committed by mentally ill persons, as well as fictional accounts of psychotic criminals. Since the media do not emphasize the absence of mental illness in the perpetrators of 95 percent or more of violent acts, it is hardly surprising that the public has such an exaggerated impression of the risk of violence from the mentally ill.
Stigma places obstructions to social success for patients. In addition, the attitudes of the public toward them is often internalized and results in lowered self-esteem, hopelessness and despair for sufferers. Families also suffer from stigma, and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill has made eradication of stigma a major part of its national campaign.

A recent survey of the Pennsylvania's County Behavioral Health Directors also identified stigma as one of the biggest obstacles preventing the severely mentally ill from achieving the best quality of life possible for them. In 1989 the American Psychiatric Association dedicated their annual meeting to "Overcoming Stigma." Unfortunately all of these efforts suffer a setback when there is a media story which, rather than highlighting the rarity of violence by mentally ill people, suggests that the connection is common.

Discrimination against those with mental illness in health insurance also contributes to gaps between public perceptions and reality. A national coalition of mental health professionals, patients and families has recently come together to address alternatives to the present health insurance system to make it fairer, more compassionate and inclusive for all Americans.
The Pittsburgh Psychiatric Society has forged a coalition of professionals and consumers and will hold a public education and consciousness-raising event two weeks from today (April 1) at Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health.

A civilized society must reject old stereotypes and biases and dismantle the discrimination and stigmatization that accompany them. The media also have a responsibility to report accurately and fairly, correcting misconceptions when necessary.


Stand Up for Mental Health with comedian David Granirer at his show called "Im OK but You Need Professional Help: Using Humor to Fight Stigma!" David Granirer is an internationally recognized counselor, stand up comic, and author. This hilarious presentation is part comedy and part education. For this presentation David taught five local people to become stand up comics. Their acts look at the lighter side of taking meds, seeing counselors, and surviving the mental health system.

WHEN: Thursday May 21st @ 6:30 PM
WHERE: TC Williams High School Auditorium
3330 King St
Alexandria, VA 22302

Friday, April 24, 2009

Domestic Violence Facts

As we have seen with recent reports about Chris Brown and Rihanna, domestic violence does not discriminate between income, occupation, fame, age, or anything. Here are some startling statistics on domestic violence:

-Each day in the U.S., between 5 and 11 women are killed by a male intimate partner, between 1800 and 4000 a year.

-In the U.S. women are more likely to be killed by their male intimate partners than all other homicide categories combined.

-Studies show that the vast majority of women who kill their abusers do so as a last resort in defense of their own lives or and/or the lives of their children.

-Battered women who defend themselves are being convicted or are accepting pleas at a rate of 75-83% nationwide.

-Between 2.1 and 8 million women are abused by their partners annually in the U.S. At least every 15 seconds, a woman is beaten by her husband or boyfriend.

-The Surgeon General has reported for at least 10 years that battering is the single largest cause of injury to U.S. women.

-In many U.S. cities, more than 50% of women and children seeking shelter are turned away due to lack of space.

-Only (an estimated) 10% of incidents of domestice violence are reported, often due to shame, and fear that the abuser will retaliate when reported.

-The injuries battered women recieve are at least as serious as injuries suffered in 90% of violent felony crimes, yet under state laws, they are almost always classified as misdomeanors.

-In some surveys, 90% of battered women who reported assault to the police actually did sign complaints, but fewer that 1% of the cases were ever prosecuted...

[Facts compiled by the National Clearinghouse in Defense of Battered Women, Washington, D.C. ]

-If you or someone you know is being abused, speak up!!! Call your local domestic abuse hotline, and the police.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Friends of Guest House has been selected as a 2009 Leadership Awardee by The Washington Area Women's Foundation (WAWF). This has made us eligible to compete in an online vote to win a $5,000 prize! Voting is FREE and open to the public. Please show us your support by visiting: and click on the big Leadership Awards OnlineVote sign, scroll down to the bottom of the page and vote for Friends ofGuest House today!Voting is open March 17-30th and we need your vote. Please tell your friends, family, colleagues and help us win BIG!!Thanks for your support! Thanks!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

'The Guesthouse Women Poem'

This is a beautiful poem that the Guesthouse women wrote together, revealing what is on their hearts and minds.

I AM...
a child of God

ready for the next step

to be happy
to stay clean and sober
to proceed forward
to hold still
to succeed
to be successful

I AM...