ANTI-SCHOOL LUNCH SHAMING FACT SHEET

1) This is a bill to address “School Lunch Shaming” and to protect children at our schools. It's the humiliating practice of "lunch shaming" – school policies that publicly single out poor students in an effort to force parents to pay lunch bills – and it's happening in Virginia school cafeterias all because their parents cannot afford to pay for lunch. Legislative action could stop this appalling practice once and for all.

2) This is a bill to end lunch shaming and ensure all children have access to a meal, regardless of their parents' ability to pay. We must make this a priority and pass this bill before any more children are subjected to this deplorable practice.

3) News stories in the last few months detail young children – many who have language barrier issues – being shamefully singled out in school in front of their peers and forced to undergo public humiliation because of an unpaid lunch debt owed to the school.1 These students have absolutely no control over their families' finances, yet school administrators are abusing these children because of their parents' inability to pay.

4) A recent study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that nearly half of all school districts in the country practice some form of lunch shaming.2 And while some states like New Mexico have taken local action to stop these practices, federal law currently does not prohibit schools from stigmatizing students in this way, allowing schools to continue shaming children for no fault of their own.3

5) Specifically, the Anti-Lunch Shaming bill would

  • Prohibit schools from stigmatizing children with hand stamps, wristbands or other public means;
  • Prevent schools from forcing children to perform chores in order to receive a meal;
  • Stop lunch workers from disposing of a meal after it's been served to a child; and
  • Require all communications regarding lunch bills be directed to parents or guardians instead of children, if the letter is not distributed to the child in a manner that stigmatizes the child..

6) In 2016, the School Nutrition Association published a review of almost 1,000 school lunch programs, finding that nearly 75 percent of districts had unpaid meal debt.

7) The common sense approach to this issue is to provide school meals on the same basis that we provide school transportation and textbooks.

References: 1) Bettina Elias Siegel, "Shaming Children So Parents Will Pay the School Lunch Bill," The New York Times, April 30, 2017.  2) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Special Nutrition Program Operations Study: State and School Food Authority Policies and Practices for School Meals Programs School Year 2011-12, March 2017. 3) Bettina Elias Siegel, "New Mexico Outlaws School ‘Lunch Shaming," The New York Times, April 7, 2017.

REDUCING SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN VIRGINIA

Prolonged solitary confinement is torture. There is a strong consensus among mental health professionals, supported by scientific evidence, that isolation exceeding 15 consecutive days can permanently alter brain chemistry and cause lasting damage to mental health. It often creates illness in those who were healthy before their incarceration and exacerbates illness in those who were already ill. That is why the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners include a limit on isolated confinement of 15 consecutive days. Most people in prison will return to society one day; they should not emerge from prison worse than when they went in because of the harmful impact of solitary confinement.

There is growing recognition that the use of solitary confinement needs to be reduced to an absolute minimum. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in the last 6 years, Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, and Texas have passed legislation that either drastically restricts solitary confinement in state prisons or requires a comprehensive study of potential reforms.

Although Virginia has reduced the number of men in long-term solitary confinement at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge State Prisons through its Step-Down Program, serious problems remain unsolved by that program:

  • Solitary confinement is not being used strictly as a last resort.
  • Too many people with mental illness and other disabling conditions remain in solitary confinement even though that is virtually certain to exacerbate their underlying conditions.
  • Prisoners are not given written reasons when they are placed in solitary confinement and have no certainty about how long it will last.
  • Prisoners do not have unimpeded access to an effective mechanism for challenging their placement or retention in solitary confinement.
  • There is very little communication with prisoners about why they fail to advance or experience setbacks within the Step-Down Program, or why it takes so long to complete the program.
  • Even though VDOC operating procedures limit “disciplinary segregation” to 30 days, prisoners are sometimes kept in solitary confinement for much longer periods after receiving disciplinary charges.

Legislation is needed in Virginia to —

  • Ban solitary confinement for individuals who are (1) mentally ill or have mental or physical disabilities, (2) age 21 or younger, (3) age 55 or older, (4) pregnant, or (5) LGBTI or are perceived to be LGBTI;
  • Limit periods of solitary confinement for all other prisoners to 15 consecutive days, or no more than 20 days in any 60-day period;
  • Require a written justification for each placement in solitary confinement and provide for the right of the individual to appear, speak, and be represented at a hearing before an independent hearing officer no later than 72 hours after being placed in solitary confinement;
  • Create an independent mechanism outside of the Department of Corrections for annual auditing of the Department’s compliance with the provisions of the bill

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    * For purposes of this paper, “solitary confinement” means confinement of an individual to his cell for 22-24 hours a day.  Virginia Dept of Corrections states that it does not use solitary confinement.  It refers to confinement of a prisoner to his cell for 22-24 hours a day as “segregation” or “restrictive housing.

PHONE FAIRNESS FOR THE INCARCERATED AND THEIR FAMILIES
FACT SHEET

1) When a mother or father or a child or other family member receives a phone call from one of their incarcerated relatives, they are charged a connection fee and an additional commission fee of 62 cents for every minute the family members converse during that phone call. A prisoner’s family can be burdened with more than $22 for a single 30-minute phone call.

2) The burden of a commission fee (which is nothing more than an additional tax) needs to be lifted from families already suffering because a family member has been incarcerated. Weightinginnocent family members with additional burdens to bear has nothing to do with administering justice or setting things aright in society. This current practice should be considered nothing more than an act of vengeance, an action that clearly punishes the innocent members of a family.

3) The 35 percent commission that is added to the rate for making a phone call is penalizing innocent family members accepting calls from their incarcerated relatives. The commission on phone calls goes to the general fund. This amount totals about $2.6 million that the General Assembly takes in from the commission. What must be kept in mind is that this is money obtained by penalizing innocent citizens  -- many that are already impoverished and vulnerable  -- of the state with a commission fee (an additional taxonmany that are least able to pay it).

4) Adding an additional financial burden (tax) on the families that are among the most impoverished and vulnerable in Virginia is simply unconscionable, a violation of the basic principles of justice and an impediment to the strengthening of families and communities – it is not family-friendly in any way whatsoever. Telephone calls are not a luxury; instead, they are a necessary lifeline for people who are incarcerated. Research documents that maintaining relationships with loved ones is a strong indicator of success for anyone returning to his or her community after serving time.

5) The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has taken a significant step by capping the rates on prison family interstate phone calls, but that only covers a fraction of all the families at state prisons and jails. Far cheaper rates for current intrastate prison family calls are possible. We urge Virginia legislators to take the next step, to do  the right thing, by capping phone rates on state prison and jail phone calls.

6) Legislation is needed to assure that not only the rates for debit or prepaid telephone systems at state correctional facilities and jails are at the lowest available rates but that the unfair 35 percent commission be completely eliminated. This is an opportunity to do justice, to set things right and stop punishing and burdening innocent family members of the incarcerated.

VIRGINIA SCHOLARSHIP PLAN

1. The purpose of this program is to break the generational cycle of poverty.

2. Unspent TANF funds will finance a four-year pilot test to educate eligible TANF students at the Richard Bland College or at select Virginia Community Colleges.  Two hundred students from families eligible to receive TANF assistance will be awarded scholarships for tuition, fees and books. Average award is estimated at $4,000 per year for two years.

3. By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school, with 35 percent requiring a bachelor's degree and 30 percent requiring some college or an associate's degree.

4. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that education or vocational training beyond high school can yield substantial earnings gains. Over their lifetimes, young adults with higher education or vocational credentials will pay more taxes and need less government assistance to meet their basic needs.

5. In states like Florida and Arkansas, successful scholarship programs funded by TANF federal grant funds have educated thousands of impoverished students and liberated them from a life of poverty. .

6. Take Stock In Children currently operates in every Florida county. Its mere existemce breaks the cycle of poverty for low-income, academically qualified students by providing opportunities for a post-secondary education. The program currently serves 23,000 children throughout 67 Florida counties.

7. In three other states, Massachusetts, Wyoming and Montana, TANF Funds have been put to use funding scholarships for students who were children of eligible TANF recipients. The effect of these students successfully completing higher education or workforce credentials in their community colleges is to release them from the cycle of poverty and change them from dependents to tax paying citizens in the new economy.

8. The proposed program, to be funded entirely with unused federal TANF funds, can break the cycle of poverty. It can provide higher education for hundreds of academically qualified students. And it will create taxpayers out of previously likely lifetime dependents on public assistance and financial support. The program will provide college financial aid to qualified students who do not have access to other means of financial aid to pursue higher education.