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Glenn E. Martin Discusses America’s Incarceration Epidemic | Bob Herbert’s Op-Ed.TV

December 11, 2019


♪♪ [THEME MUSIC] ♪♪>>>BOB HERBERT: Hi, I am Bob
Herbert. Welcome to Op-Ed. T.V. The United States has five
percent of the world’s total population but twenty five
percent of its prison population. Why in heaven’s
name is that the case? Why is our prison system
so often so barbaric? Why isn’t it more humane and why
is such an enormous percentage of America’s prisoners comprised
of African Americans? The data seemed to holler that
we’re doing a lot that is very wrong. We’ll discuss all of this
and more with my guest Glenn E. Martin, a former top
executive with the Fortune Society and the founder of
the prison reform advocacy group Just Leadership USA. Glenn, great to see
you. Thanks for being here. You know sometimes it
seems like the United States is trying to lock
up everybody in sight. In New York City
where we are now, you can get a hauled in for some
of the most minor offenses. Why does the United States
lock up so many of its people? GLENN E. MARTIN: You know when
people hear that we have two point three million
people in prison that figure tends to give them reason
to pause but it’s even worse. Sixty five million
Americans have a criminal record on file and in
addition to the two point three million in prison
we have another five point six million under criminal
justice supervision, parole, probation, G.P.S.,
so it’s an even larger number of Americans who
are now caught up in the footprint of our
correctional system and I think a big part of it is
that we’ve abandoned the values that we say we hold
near and dear as Americans when it comes to our
criminal justice system and the only value
left this punishment. So we’ve gotten rid
of proportionality and parsimony and social justice and the room
for redemption. And instead have decided to criminalize poverty
and criminalize lack of access to health care and
jobs and housing and so on.>>>BOB HERBERT: Was this sort
of a slow creep because you know when I was a youngster
it was not nearly this bad. Is this just something
we didn’t pay enough attention to and we just
got gradually worse and worse? GLENN E. MARTIN: You know you
have to ask yourself is there a correlation between the ending
of the civil rights era, if you will, and then the spike
in incarceration rates in the United States. So what you have
is mass incarceration really has only existed for the past
four and a half decades or so beginning in the late
sixties early seventies and not only do you
have this huge spike in incarceration but if you
extrapolate the data it’s mostly men of color here
in the United States and then if you add on
what we call collateral consequences or invisible
punishment the fact that once you have a criminal
record you lose many of the rights that we
hold near and dear as Americans, the right to
get certain types of jobs and housing and education
and so on and then you think of the civil rights
era where we fought for what I call the
four E’s, education, employment, enfranchise,
equality and all of those things have been eviscerated
for so many Americans through involvement in
the criminal justice system.>>>BOB HERBERT: Now you
grew up in New York City in Brooklyn I believe and you were
actually imprisoned yourself. Tell us your story. GLENN E. MARTIN: So I grew up,
single parent household, on public assistance
in Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn at a time when it was
a really tough neighborhood. In fact they called it
“Bed-Stuy do or die” and you know there were many
things in the streets that really pulled us away from
the family unfortunately. And I found myself
incarcerated here in New York serving six years
for a robbery conviction. But as soon as I got
into the system I saw the hypocrisy that was
built into the system. But you know
what I also saw, I saw that we lock up some of
America’s best and brightest. I met so many men while I
was serving time in prison who didn’t fit the
narrative that America gives us about who we
incarcerate in this country. I saw many men who were there
with crimes so much less serious than the one I went to
prison for who were doing three, four times the amount of time I
was going to serve in prison. Many of them for drugs and
you know I lived in New York through the crack
epidemic and you know when you think of what people
do in these communities to try to survive and to
try to be successful, crack cocaine was it for a
really long time and a lot of people, at very
young ages in their lives, sixteen
seventeen, eighteen, started selling
crack or using. And they found themselves
under New York State’s notorious
Rockefeller drug laws, locked up for a really
long stretches of time and for me I just having
earned the two year liberal arts degree while
I was in prison something that rarely exists any
longer since Congress took away Pell Grants
many years ago, I felt as though to
whom much is given much is required and I just couldn’t
walk away from what I saw in the prison system
and not do something about it.>>>BOB HERBERT: So you’ve
actually said that when you left prison you saw that
period of time as a rebirth. What did you mean by that? GLENN E. MARTIN: So you know I
went to prison with a narrative in my own head that I
grew up with in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn that
allowed me to survive, right. It was about how people of color
are treated in this country, it was about slavery, it was
about Jim Crow, it was about all the justification I needed as
a person to engage in the behavior that I did and
then I went to prison and a correction
counselor said to me, he said, you
should go to college. He looked at my grades and
no one had ever said that to me before not
even in college, in high school,
before I went to prison. And sent me to a prison
ten hours away from home where there happen to
be a college program, a very small college
program that was privately funded and I remember
watching a film on the Holocaust and at one point
in the film a piece of bulldozer equipment pulls
up to dead human bodies stacked about six high and
shovels them into a mass grave and I just remember
that being a moment that challenge the narrative
that I grew up with and helped me understand that
human beings have so much more in common rather than
the differences that we have. And that was a slight
opening for me that I just kept opening wider
and wider and we know education does this for
everyone not just for people involved in the
criminal justice system. So coming out of the system
I saw it as an opportunity. An opportunity to take the
skills that I already had, the education I had gained and to do
something different with it. And I started facing all the
barriers everyone else faced. I visited about fifty
employers here in New York City. Almost every single one
turned me down immediately because of the felony
conviction and the one or two that offered me
the job hours later they called back and rescinded
the offer usually because by the time it
gets to H.R. the H.R. department says no way,
even if the person who interviewed you
was interested. And then in New York
for instance you get your voting rights back
when you get off parole. I remember getting
off parole and being so excited about getting
re-involved in being a citizen and being part of decision
making and having the board of election here in New York
State tell me I couldn’t vote even though the law
clearly said I could but they through misinformation
was further disenfranchising me. And we have five point
eight million Americans who are disenfranchised
based on having a felony record who can’t vote and
then I would argue that there are millions more
who are disenfranchised just based on lack of
knowledge about what the laws are from
state to state.>>>BOB HERBERT: Now you
mention the loss of Pell Grants, which make it more
difficult for inmates to get any kind of
college education. Beyond just the
educational aspects, what’s daily life like
in prison for people? What does it do to people?>>>GLENN E. MARTIN: Yeah,
it’s torturous. It’s torturous because you enter a system
that’s called a correctional system and so you
go there looking for that. You go there looking
for an opportunity. By the time you get to
state prison you know how much, you have a sense of
how much time you’re going to do and you
become, for most people, resolute to do something
to change your life. And then you find out that
for most people the best you can hope for is a job as a porter
cleaning up the housing unit. Day after day after day
watching television day after day after day maybe
going to the yard and working out and the best
part of it becomes the fellowship and
the camaraderie, the other men there,
particularly the older men who are serving time who
help teach the younger folks like
literally educate you. I mean me having the
chance to go to college didn’t only mean that
there was an investment made in me to keep me out
of the system but I tell you, I tutored countless
number of other people in prison to help them get
their lives together. But for the most part it
sends a message particularly to young people because we
lock up so many young people these days about how America
feels about them, right. At a time in their lives
when they should be out there establishing
their identity, figuring out who they are,
figuring out where they fit into society, we’re
sending them a strong message that we’re willing
to throw them away. We’re in a society where
we’re trying to recycle everything except human
beings it seems like.>>>BOB HERBERT: But there
is also another side to prison life, a brutal
side to prison life, for folks on the outside
looking at this as and trying to be good citizens,
how should we view that? What should we take away
from it and what’s our obligation to either change
it or accept it or whatever?>>>GLENN E. MARTIN: I think the
biggest solution to the violence that we see in prison is
light, light and more light. I think that our prisons
are not very transparent at all and most people
don’t know what happens in prison and the examples
that you’re referring to are the exception
and not the rule. If prison where as violent
as we see on television a guy like me wouldn’t have been
able to survive. I mean there were guys there much bigger than
I and yes there was violence, I mean I saw some violence
that I had never seen in the community and I grew up in
a pretty tough neighborhood. At the same time what I
saw more of were people trying to turn their lives
around and people sort of reckoning with how they
ended up in the system and you have to ask yourself
why do these moments of extreme violence
happen in the system? It’s because it is a
system that’s a pressure cooker. I mean when I went there,
the system was double and triple bunked, I mean
essentially the system was over fifty percent over
capacity at the time when I was there and so can you
imagine you’re in a cell block that’s meant to
hold fifty people and yet there’s one hundred twenty
people in that cell block. And you know that sort of
pressure and the trauma that comes with that would
cause almost any human being to explode and
I remember so many situations where the older
men in prison again would talk to the younger folks
about the importance of keeping themselves busy,
staying out of trouble, staying away from drugs and gangs
and the sort of things that get you in trouble in prison but
that was the exception. The violence that I saw in
prison and I was there for six years, I think I
saw a three very violent incident in the
entire six years.>>>BOB HERBERT: Your
organization is called Just leadership
USA before that, as I mentioned, you had
been with the Fortune Society. So I want you to explain
what Just Leadership does and hopes to achieve
but also explain how you became an advocate
in the first place.>>>GLENN E. MARTIN: Sure maybe
I’ll start with the second part first. Actually when I came out
I told you I couldn’t find a job. I went to an organization
like the Fortune Society, a re-entry organization,
and got placed in a public interest law firm here in
New York called the Legal Action Center literally
answering the phone, at the front desk, making
seventeen thousand dollars a year and owing the state
of New York about one hundred thousand
dollars in fines, fees, restitution
and child support. And yet I landed in an
environment where people cared about my growth and
people invested in me and ultimately left the Legal
Action Center six years later. I didn’t plan to go to law
school and so I wanted to be in an environment where
I was talking to people who were exiting the
system every day and Fortune was just the best place for that and
went there to do policy work. Built the David Rothenberg
Center for Public Policy, named after the founder,
and learned from the Legal Action Center how to
establish the sort of relationships it takes to
move policy forward and had a chance to peek
behind the curtain and see how decisions are made
that impact the very same communities
that I grew up in. And as much as I
appreciated the opportunity to do that
sort of high level policy work, drafting
legislation, moving it forward, getting
the governor to sign off and so on, I was actually
hugely dismayed at the lack of voice in those processes by the
very people most impacted. And Just Leadership USA we
say people closest to the problem are closest to the
solution and the reason I believe that is I find
myself now in rooms with people who advise the
United States attorney general, mayors
around the country, legislators around the
country and when I walk out of those rooms
people often say to me, you know your input in
there was just invaluable and initially in the first
few years of my career I didn’t understand where
that was coming from. These people are
Harvard educated, Yale educated and so
on, and what they were referring to was
experiential knowledge. The ability to hear
people’s proposals many times well intentioned and
sort of run it through the lens of my experience and
giving them feedback on how I think that would
land for individuals in the situation that
I used to be in. And so throughout my
career I’ve made sure, I’ve spent a lot of time
listening closely to the people exiting
prison every day, going into many many
prisons around this country to listen to
the people who are most impacted because they have
solutions to their own problems and we don’t
want to believe that. We dehumanize them and
we believe they don’t add value and I don’t
think that’s true. So at Just Leadership
USA we invest in the leadership of people who serve time to be
part of the solution. So rarely are
they invested in, right. They face the stigma of
having a criminal record. We often don’t think of
them as assets in the work to undo mass
incarceration. At Just Leadership we
do, we actually invest in them. We have a year long
leadership training. We source people from
all over the country. So our leaders now in our
current cohort represent fourteen states in four
regions around the country and they are people like
myself who have served time and their experience
in the system has motivated them to want to do something
to change that system.>>>BOB HERBERT: So if
someone comes out of prison for example and they get hooked
up with Just Leadership, you guys are making an
investment in their future. Specifically how
does that play out? What happens to
those individuals?>>>GLENN E. MARTIN: Sure so most
of the people we end up identifying have been out
for about three to five years. Re-entry is a really tough
process even for people who are closely connected to their
family and have resources. It’s a very bumpy road. People are couch surfing, people
are trying to figure it out. So we look for people who
are three to five years out who are much more stable.
They fill out an application, they get scored, ranked,
interviewed, we make decisions. We bring them to New
York four times a year and while they’re here we
bring in communications experts, fund raising,
experts policy advocacy experts, we bring in
leaders in the field of criminal justice reform to
help widen their network. We build on their
existing skills, we did some research with
Columbia University the Center for Institutional
and Social Change at the law school and we
paid close attention to existing leaders to hear
from them what’s worked for them, what’s
built their capacity, what do they care
about the most? So for
instance, storytelling, people who have been
involved in the system have gone through a lot
of trauma and yet they’ve learned how to take their
stories and turn their stories into powerful
narratives about what could have been done
differently in their lives. How could the criminal
justice system have served them differently and so we
help them hone that skill to be able to not just
tell their story but tell it strategically and
towards moving forward the policy reform that
they hope to see happen.>>>BOB HERBERT:
African-Americans represent about twelve to
thirteen percent of the American population but
fully forty percent of the nation’s
prison population. Why are so many
blacks in prison?>>>GLENN E. MARTIN: In this
country we criminalize the color of a person’s skin. That is
clear and it starts with policing and it ends all the way
at the end of the line with parole and probation and
who gets prison versus who gets community based
corrections and so on. Having said that
unfortunately the research shows us that the better
job we do of helping Americans understand
disproportionate impact of the criminal justice
system on people of color, so the blacker we
paint the criminal justice system is the less
white Americans want to do something about it
and that is troubling. And it means that we have to
obviously tell the truth. The data shows that this
disproportion impact but at the same time think about
convergence of interest, right. How do you help white Americans,
particularly poor white Americans, realize that this
system similarly is swallowing up their children, their lives,
their opportunity and hope for a future?>>>BOB HERBERT: I’ve
covered a lot of this and then went back and looked
at some of the research and you know it’s clear about
this disproportionate treatment that you’re talking about. So
blacks are more likely to be jailed than whites for
the same offenses. They’re more likely
to receive a harsher sentence. They’re more likely to
be arrested in the first place. African-Americans get
less favorable plea deals, you know, less likely
to get mental health treatment. So you’ve been paying such
close attention to this for such a long period of
time you seem like you’re a reasonable
even tempered man. How do you keep from not just
sort of going off into a rage? You know why are you not
just so angry about this?>>>GLENN E. MARTIN: I’m very
outcome focused. And so I can rile
against the system. People do it all day long
you know when I look at my social media feed there’s
enough people out there reminding Americans of how
this system really crushes the spine, the entire spine,
of communities of color if you will and I think that
is important work and I think that power concedes
nothing without a demand. I love the folks who are doing
the black lives matter stuff. I think their work is hugely
important. I think young folks are going to be a big part of
getting us to the finish line. At the same time I have
experienced what it is to walk into the room with
the decision makers in this space and they need
to hear from someone who they feel comfortable
enough with to hear the message and so I would
argue that I deliver a very similar message to the
folks who are rallying against the system except I deliver it
in a way that decision makers hear it and I think that
it is really important. If you look at my track
record of accomplishment we’ve gotten a lot done by
the approach we’ve taken. Folks who visit our
website who look at the messaging of Just
Leadership USA will realize that one we’re
being very visionary. Our goal is to cut the number
of people under correctional supervision in the United
States in half by 2030. Why? Because the field has become
extremely incremental. When you’re fighting
against such a formidable system it’s so easy to
take the wins where you can get them, the small
wins and yet I would argue that we are at a point in
this country now where the ground is
fertile for reform. When you have people like
John Legend putting his career on the line to say,
I’m going to join this effort to end mass
incarceration. Steve Buscemi, an actor just finish supporting
our work at a recent benefit. You have people now who just
five ten years ago may not have been willing to put their name
and their reputation on the line. I think it’s definitely
different environment, Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul, you
know almost every presidential candidate as they’re launching
their initiatives is saying something about criminal
justice but that has to translate into reform and
that is the goal of Just Leadership to try to
have that translate into structural systemic reform
so that when we look back in ten twenty years we
realize that we didn’t just reduce the number of
people in prison but we created a justice system
that’s fairer and more just.>>>BOB HERBERT: Now
you’ve written that nearly seventy five percent of
people in local jails are there for nonviolent
offenses. Talk about that. What kind of offenses are
you talking about and why are so many locked up
for those offenses?>>>GLENN E. MARTIN: These are
offenses that weren’t even considered offenses just
ten fifteen twenty years ago. We have decided to use
policies like stop and frisk and broken windows
and what these things do is that they
net widen, right. So they turn police
officers into occupying forces and it gives them
tools to target behaviors that again just ten years ago
wasn’t considered criminal and what happens is that once people
get pulled into the system. I mean it is a system
with many many ways in, one way through
and no way out. And so even if people come in
with the most minor of charges it is so hard to extricate
yourself from that system. Some people say, well
what’s the difference if you know, you get arrested,
you spend a night in jail and you get one hundred dollars
fine. A one hundred dollars fine
may as will be a million dollars to a person who
cannot afford one hundred dollars and then
when they don’t pay it, it turns into a
warrant and now the next interaction with a police
officer through stop and frisk or one of
these other heavy handed policies, turns into maybe
resisting arrest or some other more serious charge
and then people just get pulled in further and
further and further. I was in my
neighborhood recently, Harlem, and one of the
young guys on the corner just saw me walking by
he said, Mister, I need a job. I said, well that’s not
usually how people look for a job but I’m glad you
at least said something to me and then we engaged in
a conversation about why he was having such a hard
time finding a job and he talked about all of these
minor arrests he’s gotten over the last seven or eight
years, many of them for hanging out in the neighborhood, nothing
to do, and yet he now believes that there’s just no chance
for him. Like forget about if that’s true or not, this young
man, twenty eight years old, has decided that he’s done,
that there’s no space for him in the labor market and the truth
is that he may be right based on our current policies
unfortunately.>>>BOB HERBERT: Proponents
of ever-longer prison sentences, of
stop and frisk, of broken
windows policing, they will say, look we’ve
done this for a long time now and crime has
gone down therefore it’s working and you’re on
the wrong side of history here. What’s your response?>>>GLENN E. MARTIN: Well you
know I was at City Hall a couple years ago with then Mayor
Bloomberg and we were having a discussion about
stop and frisk and at one point he said,
Oh come on Glenn. He said, it’s all the blacks and Latinos
committing all the crime. Where do you want me
to send all my cops? And I said, with all
due respect Mr. Mayor, I want you to send your
cops where there’s crime. Communities that are high
crime want public safety, right. Like, the we have this
weird narrative where you say, I don’t want stop
and frisk and people say, Oh, so you don’t
want police officers. No. No one’s saying that. At the same time those
police officers don’t have to violate people’s civil
rights and that is what was happening and so if
you look at the numbers, at one point eight hundred
thousand people were stopped and frisked, and
if you look at the number of guns we got up the street,
infinitesimally small.>>>BOB HERBERT:
Hardly anything.>>>GLENN E. MARTIN: Yes and so
the mayor said to me, you know would you rather
have those guns on the street and I said,
you know Mr. Mayor. If you’re going to violate
the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of
people in this city to get a couple of guns
off the street, I think I may have to
actually choose the latter.>>>BOB HERBERT: And close
to ninety percent of the people that they stopped had done
absolutely nothing wrong. No reason to stop them. I used to really get frustrated
covering those stories.>>>GLENN E. MARTIN: You know
when I moved to Harlem the police officers at the corner
when they would see me come home dressed like
this they would say, you know good evening.
How are you? One day on the weekend a
few weekends after moving there I was dressed in
jeans and boots and I’m driving my car,
pretty nice car, and I get pulled over by
the same police officer that says, good evening to
me when I come home and he was, he had his partner
searching my car while I was outside the car
pressed against the car. I had my driver’s license,
I had my registration, there was no reason to
even take me out of the car and this is the same
police officer who was treating different,
treating me differently solely based on how I was dressed from
one day to the other.>>>BOB HERBERT: We’ve
got about thirty seconds, left are you optimistic or
pessimistic about the direction we’re going when it comes to
criminal justice reform?>>>GLENN E. MARTIN: I’m actually
hugely optimistic. I’ve been doing this work
long enough now to know that we’re in a different
space than we were before and you know who I give much of
the credit to, young folks. I think young folks are
going to bring to bear this sort of pressure and
demands that we need to get policymakers ten
thousand feet up to actually do something and
the question is how much should we hold their feet
to the fire and how much do we get done? But
I’m hugely hopeful.>>>BOB HERBERT: Glenn
E. Martin, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.>>>GLENN E. MARTIN:
Good to be here.>>>BOB HERBERT: We’ll be back
in a moment with a final word.>>>BOB HERBERT: It’s
the shame of this city. Nearly sixty thousand
people are crowded into our homeless
shelters every night. Twenty five thousand
of them are children. State Assemblyman Andrew
Hevesi said New York City is experiencing its worst crisis of
homelessness since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
Why is this not a big story? When you’ve got tens of
thousands of families left with no place to stay but
in a shelter you’ve got a profound tragedy
on your hands. In New York City the
number of families in that dismal category has
increased by more than twenty five percent over
the past decade despite our so-called
economic recovery. For African-American
families with children the number in homeless
shelters has increased a staggering
forty one percent. And yet we’re
barely paying attention. Twenty five thousand
children will be guided into the shelters
again tonight but most New Yorkers won’t even
bother to notice. Shame on us. That’s all for now.
See you next time. ♪♪ [THEME MUSIC] ♪♪

2 Comments

  • Reply Connie walker-carter May 31, 2015 at 1:56 am

    Very informative.

  • Reply Eva Staitz February 4, 2018 at 12:21 am

    Glenn E. Martin – 3 women have come forward to accuse him of sexual predatory behavior.  he is a complete phony.    check out feb. 3, 2018 new york times for the unpleasant details.  his father was retired police officer, brother u.s. marshall and corrections officer!   he has 'resigned' just leadership u.s.a. sorry bob you were used on a loser!

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