I wrote this letter below last year and presented it in a live testimony to the DC City Council when Bowser tried to add the GPS “tampering” to her policing bill. Although I was working for and representing University Legal Services (ULS) at the time, these are my words and my position has not changed. And I am appalled at the Council that they supported this emergency bill.
October 21, 2015
Council Member Kenyan R. McDuffie, Chairperson
Committee on the Judiciary
Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004
Dear Council Member McDuffie:
Thank you for giving University Legal Services (ULS) the opportunity to testify today in regards to the various proposed Bills regarding making our City a safer place.
I am Taylar Nuevelle, and I spent four and half years in custody—First at CCA/CTF while I awaited sentencing and then I was shipped to a Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia and then transferred to a higher security prison in West Virginia. I also am a survivor of severe trauma and struggle with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I now work for University Legal Service (ULS), with their Jail and Prison Advocacy Project. ULS is a Protection and Advocacy Organization that works with individuals with mental health, intellectual disabilities and co-occurring substance abuse issues. JPAP specifically works with individuals releasing from the Jail, Prisons and Halfway houses in DC who struggle with severe and persistent mental health issues.
The Mayor’s proposed Public Safety and Criminal Code Revisions Amendment Act of 2015 will negatively impact returning citizens and this is a gross violation of individual rights and a complete waste of the city’s resources. We completely reject the mayor’s bill and its police state approach. While others will testify in detail about all aspects of the bill, I will highlight a couple of the bill’s problems that are of particular concern to our clients, who have serious and persistent mental illness, co-occurring substance use disorders and intellectual disabilities.
Title II of the mayor’s bill would allow a 72-hour hold for violating a stay away or tampering with a GPS device. I want to address the GPS device. DC has the most antiquated GPS devices and they are often faulty. This is not like charging a cell phone, because a cell phone is not physically attached to your leg.
This attachment that I have here with me today is what the device in the picture is attached to and is charged at night. The Mayor’s proposal to incarcerate citizens on release with the GPS tracker if they “tamper” with the device is tragically flawed. There were times when I thought I had charged the device and then it would begin to vibrate while I was out and send a signal to the agency that my device was low. However, I was unaware that it had failed to charge in the night. Imagine someone who is not as capable as I am. Someone with complex mental health issues or cognitive disabilities will struggle with this device. Many of our clients have trouble remembering to take their medication, not because they are non compliant, but because of their mental and developmental disabilities.
Yet, the Mayor wants to swoop in, arrest them for up to 72 hours for “tampering” with the device when there could be multiple reasons why the device is not charged, or sends wrong information about locations etc. While three days of incarceration may seem insignificant to someone with stable housing, a job and access to ongoing mental health, 72 hours of incarceration can ruin a returning citizen’s life. Three days could mean loss of employment and housing. Three days can mean serious deterioration in mental health because of lack of access to the proper medication. Let’s not forget that medications that are prescribed outside the jail are often not on the formulary and thus not available to those incarcerated—even for 72 hours.
Then there is Title III. This portion of the mayor’s bill would pay business owners and residents to place cameras everywhere. The people who are most likely to be affected are homeless people and as we know many of our returning citizens have no place to live. This portion of the proposed bill is a direct attack on homeless and/or people with mental illness. It is heartless and serves no purpose. All this will do is capture crimes of survival and the resources the mayor plans to dump into this project would be utilized much better through funding social service agencies instead of prosecution—which is just shy of persecution under this bill.
The Mayor and Chief Lanier continue to link the surge in violence in the city to returning citizens. These simplistic accusations paint all returning citizens with the same brush, casting us in a false light. When DC residents are released, 99% return home to our community with little more than a bus token, let alone the vital assistance they need. Instead of making such sweeping allegations, the Mayor and Chief Lanier would serve all DC residents by bridging the gap in services that come directly under the Mayor’s control: The Office on Returning Citizens Affairs (ORCA).
If the Mayor is truly committed to reducing recidivism, she must appoint new leadership at ORCA, develop an ambitious strategic plan, and commit sufficient resources to make the necessary changes. She must create an ORCA that will ultimately create opportunities for returning citizens to become emotionally, physically and financially whole and thus enable us to contribute positively to our families and communities.
Returning citizens need wrap-around services in place before they are released to the community –services that include housing, real employment training and job readiness opportunities and access to behavioral health services that address mental illness, trauma, and substance use issues. These needs are even more acute for DC’s citizens returning from far-flung federal prisons across the country, hundreds of miles from home and community resources they need to access.
We support a public health approach to violence prevention and intervention. ULS has been working to bring trauma informed practices to correctional settings and a step down unit to the jail. Returning citizens should leave the jail in better shape than when they entered, prepared to tackle the challenges of reentry. For that reason we also encourage DOC and the Council to end solitary confinement, particularly for individuals with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.
Paraphrasing the late amazing Justice Marshall, “When a person walks through the prison gate they do not give up their most basic Constitutional Rights.” If we don’t give up our basic constitutional rights while in prison, then surely once free we have protection of the constitution to its fullest.
University Legal Services
Jail and Prison Advocacy Project