The DC Council Committee on the Judiciary held a public hearing on the confirmation hearing of the Governing Board of the Corrections Information Council (CIC).
Those looking to be confirmed were: Michelle R. Bonner, Rev. Samuel W. Whittaker, and Katharine A. Huffman.
On the DC Council‘s website it says,
The state purpose of PRs19-537, 19-538, and 19-612 are to confirm the appointment of Ms. Michelle R. Bonner, Mr. Samuel W. Whittaker, and Ms. Katharine A. Huffman to the Corrections Information Council (CIC). The purpose of this hearing is to receive testimony from government and public witnesses as to the fitness of these nominees for the CIC.
Councilmember Phil Mendelson, Chairperson of the Committee on the Judiciary, said in part, “The Corrections Information Council was established as part of The Revitalization Act of 1997, adopted by Congress…and amended by the DC Council to offer inspection of all facilities housing District of Columbia inmates who are under the jurisdiction of either the Bureau of Prisons or the Department of Corrections, and for the monitoring of the treatment of District of Columbia inmates incarcerated in those facilities. This seems like a very simple, but also broad mandate for the CIC.
Mendelson also said that he thought the CIC would benefit the DC Council and mayor’s office by serving as additional eyes and ears for the city, and particularly to District of Columbia inmates who are housed in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
President and CEO of Campaign for Youth Justice Liz Ryan, Director of the D.C. Prisoner’s Project (within the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs) Philip Fornaci, and public witness Christina Whittaker testified before those who were set to go through the confirmation process were given a chance to speak.
Ryan said, “As I understand it, the BOP has been placing a number of DC inmates in regional jails in the state of Virginia. The conditions in these jails are unsafe,lack standards, and there is apparently very little medical care. Additionally, DC inmates must pay exuberant rates when calling their loved ones.
“According to one of the 18-year-olds who recently wrote us a letter said that [where he is in Virginia] there is no commissary, no visits are allowed, no phone calls, no lunch on the weekends, no outside rec or law library time, or any contact with anyone.”
Ryan added that she was very concerned about the situation and wanted the CIC to investigate the issue when its finally up and running again.
Christina Whittaker (Rev. Whittaker’s daughter) said, “I’m here to attest to the character, integrity, and dedication of Rev Samuel W. Whittaker…Rev Whittaker has always been an advocate of servant leadership.”
Rev. Whittaker has been an active and loyal member of the [DC] Re-Entry Task Force and Mayor Gray’s Faith-Based Initiative Team, and a community called the The Action At Work Network Group…”
During Fornaci’s testimony, he mentioned that the DC Re-Entry Task Force has kept the issue of re-entry alive during the five or six years that we’ve had no council. Fornaci also praised Mendelson.
“Let me give my praise to Mendelson for his tireless efforts on the matter,” he said. “The work of the CIC is complicated because there are many places where DC inmate residents are being housed; just like the regional jails in Virginia are probably one of the things not foreseen by the CIC when it was established, and it will probably be one of their first priorities.”
One of the problems of the previous CIC was the members (who are volunteers appointed by the mayor and the DC Council) were expected to do all the work. Many in the re-entry community thought the city should offer some sort of incentive for those willing to serve on the CIC. Some years ago, the DC Council tried to help take off the work load for members by having much of the work transferred to the Executive Director of the CIC.
“The reason why the CIC is so valuable to me is I work with the DC Prisoner’s Project, and we’ve often felt like we were the only ones that knew there were DC residents in the BOP – us, and a few stray advocates and the inmate’s families. The DC government was not all that aware and all that involved in the conditions of incarceration. This is an opportunity to bring that information back to the council and bring it back to the community in DC that this is what our men and women who are incarcerated is going through.”
Fornaci did issue some concern.
“We [the DC re-entry community] are concerned about some comments [DC] Deputy Mayor Quander has made about hiring an executive director, and I hope that is not the case; that it is just a stray remark.”
Michelle Bonner testified, “[The CIC] has been designed to be the DC’s eyes and ears of where their residents are incarcerated. The entities that incarcerate our residents include the Federal Bureau of Prisons, DC Department of Corrections, and residential re-entry centers, otherwise known as halfway houses.”
She noted that in February 2012, there were about 111 different BOP or BOP contracted facilities around the country that housed DC residents. She added that this didn’t mention the transfer stations in Virginia where inmates are currently housed.
Rev. Whittaker said that he is excited about the opportunity.
“I am ready to serve on the CIC and continue to provide support for the city’s incarcerated and returning citizen population,” he said in his testimony. “I want to help build on the mayor’s One City direction.”
Katharine Huffman said, “The establishment of the CIC once again shows the city’s criminal justice system’s commitment to improving conditions of the District’s citizens who are incarcerated and their families.”
After the hearing returning citizen John Staford said, “Getting this CIC back up and running is a step in the right direction. The Fenty Administration basically shows us what he thought of us by doing away with the CIC. It looks like the Gray Administration is doing things differently.”
Capitol Hill resident Jack Westmoreland believes people should have help in jail, but questions how the CIC will be financed.
“I’d rather see the money used in aftercare program instead of being spent on a council that would go around looking at jails and stuff,” he said. “Jails are designed to be uncomfortable. They are suppose to be a terrible experience for a reason. If the re-entry task force could show me stats that says having the CIC makes economical sense, then I’m all on board. Until then, I just don’t really see the need for it.”
Wilma Albright, who is a DC resident and supporter of the re-entry task force, is glad to see the city council moving to re-constitute the CIC.
“The city council is doing the right thing by bringing the CIC back. I think it shows that the council hasn’t forgotten that almost everybody that goes to jail has a release date,” she said, “that these men and women are coming home one day, and the conditions that they live in while incarcerated can greatly determine how they act and react once released. people make mistakes in life, but it doesn’t mean you forget about them and throw away the key.”
Mendelson did show concern about the monumental task before the CIC.
“There is some concern because you all have a great task before you that goes far beyond just your typical commission,” he said. “You’re really sort of setting the course for the future.”
The three potential CIC members responded by saying that the time for waiting has passed, there’s only time for action.
Mendelson said that he hopes to have the CIC’s budget and appointee confirmation by June 2012.
The DC Re-Entry Task Force is co-chaired by Louise White and Louis Sawyer, Jr.