What is Collaborative Law and Social Work

Collaborative Family Law offers divorcing couples a new approach to untangling marriage. The traditional approach has family lawyers settle disputes with at least the threat of litigation.

Collaborative Family Law takes the threat of litigation out of the equation to concentrate on helping the parties settle between themselves yet with legal support. Litigation is not an option.

Lawyers practicing Collaborative Family Law report more satisfaction with this form of practice and believe that negotiated settlements leave the parties more intact as individuals and as parents.

Along with the new approach to settling disputes, there is a new role for those professionals who would otherwise practice divorce mediation or provide custody and access assessments.

These professionals, often social workers and psychologists, are being reenlisted by Collaborative Lawyers as Divorce Coaches and Child Specialists.

In traditional family law, a Divorce Coach may be hired to prepare one parent for court in order to gain a strategic advantage in the litigation process. In the Collaborative Law context, the Divorce Coach helps the parent to understand emotional issues that could cause him or her to be unreasonable.

In other words, in the former context, the coach helps make a better warrior for the battle of litigation, while in the latter context the coach helps make a better conciliator to facilitate settlement. Within the Collaborative Law model, each parent has his or her own Divorce Coach.

The “Child Specialist” is generally described in therapeutic terms, working with the children directly. In this context, the Child Specialist meets with the children to help them deal with the impact of the parents’ divorce on their lives. The Child Specialist may also share information with parents to help them protect the children from untoward outcomes.

There can be challenges arising when using individual Divorce Coaches and Child Specialists as described. Each coach may provide perspectives or information to their respective client that pulls them in different directions, confounding settlement. Certainly “over-identification” with one’s client is a risk inherent in any form of individual support.

Further, when a Child Specialist meets alone with children, there can be conflicts of interest and confidentiality issues if the Child Specialist then reports to parents. Some jurisdictions have confidentiality rules for counsellors working with children, particularly early adolescents.

There are ways to mitigate these issues.  Social workers have a rich tradition in working with entire family. As such, the social worker can engage the entire family in a consultant role. Within this role, perhaps titled Family Divorce Consultant, one social worker would be assigned rather than hiring two separate coaches.

Working from a system’s theory perspective and using clinical discretion, the social worker would have latitude to meet with the entire family system and/or pertinent subsystems (marital, sibling, parent-child and even individuals) as necessary.

The Family Divorce Consultant’s involvement would be time limited and goal directed. The goal is to facilitate the transition to a new family structure (pre-divorce to post divorce) whilst maintaining the integrity of pertinent relationships. Further, the consultant would provide education to the parents to facilitate their mutual interest – the well-being of their children now and developmentally.

Social Work has much to offer Collaborative Family Law. Social Work is built on a tradition of inter-disciplinary teamwork with the goal of win/win outcomes. The structural changes sought to facilitate post-divorce adjustment meet well with the training and values of social workers. Collaborative lawyers and social workers make a natural team.

Collaborative lawyers looking for social workers should consider those with; a “systems” perspective; custody and access experience; current knowledge of relevant theory and practice of divorce and child development; and good inter-personal boundaries. Collaborative Law marks a revolution in thinking. Next will be interesting to view the evolution. Social work is a good fit.

New Research Shows Bail Reform is the Key Fix for Jail Overcrowding

Could bail reform be the answer to changing the trajectory of America’s current problem with mass incarceration?

That question is central to a new book published this month by University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Shima Baradaran Baughman and Cambridge University Press titled “The Bail Book: A Comprehensive Look at Bail in America’s Criminal Justice System.”

The book is the first comprehensive analysis on bail in the U.S. since 1970 and comes at a time when efforts to implement widespread bail reform across the country are gaining momentum. Senators Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif. — have introduced a bill to overhaul the nation’s bail system in an attempt to prevent individuals from being taken advantage by bail bondsman who often charge high fees and prey on disadvantaged people after an arrest.

University of Utah Law Professor Shima Baradaran Baughman

The bill, titled the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act, is designed to address what the senators see as flaws in the system. Baughman’s book gives states concrete ideas on how to reform bail and save money, which would be even more feasible using reforms provided under the proposed bill. Other states have recently implemented their own bail reforms, including Colorado, New Jersey and Kentucky.

The time is ripe for sweeping changes, according to Baughman.

“Mass incarceration is one of the greatest social problems facing the United States today. America incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any other country and is one of only two countries that requires arrested individuals to pay bail to be released from jail while awaiting trial,” Baughman states.

In the book, Baughman traces the history of bail and demonstrates how it has become an oppressive tool of the courts that disadvantages minority and poor defendants.

She draws on constitutional rights and new empirical research to show how we can reform bail in America to alleviate mass incarceration. By implementing these reforms, she argues, the nation can restore constitutional rights and release more defendants while lowering crime rates.

Baughman is a former Fulbright scholar and national expert on bail and pretrial prediction and her current scholarship examines criminal justice policy, prosecutors, drugs, search and seizure, international terrorism, and race and violent crime. Her teaching and scholarship at the University of Utah focus on criminal law and procedure and her work is widely featured in media outlets like the New York TimesWall Street JournalEconomist, and NPR.

She began researching bail issues early in her career after realizing that the most consequential decision in criminal justice besides arrest is the decision whether to detain or release someone before trial.

“It ends up impacting everything in a criminal case — from whether a person goes to jail and for how long, whether they are able to keep a job, home, and kids, and whether they will recidivate or be rearrested again. All of these impacts result from a two-minute decision of whether a judge allows someone to be released or not,” she said.

“And usually it is decided based on whether the person can afford to pay the bail. That’s, unfortunately, the biggest factor. Almost 90 percent of people who are arrested cannot get out of jail before trial just because they don’t have $200 or $500 to pay to a bail bondsman.”

Baughman’s research presents a customizable plan for instituting bail reforms, including use of pre-trial risk assessments and helping judges to use predictive methods to release the right people on bail without increasing crime rates.

Her research may provide a helpful framework as conversations about the future of bail in America continue.

“There’s a lot of momentum on bail,” said Baughman. “Conversations are happening in every state to decrease the number of people incarcerated. Most of the people in jail are not people convicted of any crime and we can change that.”

Innocent African-Americans More Likely to Be Wrongfully Convicted

African-American prisoners who were convicted of murder are about 50 percent more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers and spend longer in prison before exoneration, according to a report released today.

“The vast majority of wrongful convictions are never discovered,” said MSU Law’s Barbara O’Brien, the author of a companion report, “Exonerations in 2016,” and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations. “There’s no doubt anymore that innocent people get convicted regularly—that’s beyond dispute. Increasingly, police, prosecutors and judges recognize this problem. But will we do enough to actually address it? That remains to be seen.”

“Exonerations in 2016” found a record number of exonerations for the third straight year and a record number of cases with official misconduct.

The National Registry of Exonerations is a joint project of the University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science and Society, University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. The registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989 – cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence.

The 2016 data show convictions that led to murder exonerations with black defendants were more likely to involve misconduct by police officers than those with white defendants. On average, black murder exonerees waited three years longer in prison before release than whites.

Judging from exonerations, a black prisoner serving time for sexual assault is three-and-a-half times more likely to be innocent than a white person convicted of sexual assault. On average, innocent African-Americans convicted of sexual assault spent almost four-and-a-half years longer in prison before exoneration than innocent whites.

In addition, the report, officially titled, “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States,” found innocent black people are about 12 times more likely to be convicted of drug crimes than innocent white people.

Since 1989, more than 1,800 defendants have been cleared in “group exonerations” that followed 15 large-scale police scandals in which officers systematically framed innocent defendants. The overwhelming majority were African-American defendants framed for drug crimes that never occurred.

“Of the many costs the war on drugs inflicts on the black community, the practice of deliberately charging innocent defendants with fabricated crimes may be the most shameful,” said University of Michigan Law Professor Samuel Gross, the author of “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States” and senior editor of the National Registry of Exonerations.

Last year, there were more exonerations than in any previous year in which government officials committed misconduct; the convictions were based on guilty pleas; no crime actually occurred; and a prosecutorial conviction integrity unit worked on the exoneration.

Social Work Silent as Proposed Legislation Strips Their Peers in Puerto Rico of Democracy


Legislation that voids millions of American citizens of its Constitutional right to have a democratic government has been introduced to the House claiming to help Puerto Rico overcome its fiscal problems. Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin introduced H.R. 5278, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act known as PROMESA, a bipartisan bill that claims to hold the “right people accountable for the crisis,” while shrinking the size of government and creating an independent oversight board to help get Puerto Rico into fiscal health.

This bill states that PROMESA “holds supremacy over any territorial law or regulation that is inconsistent with the Act or Fiscal Plans.” This bill eliminates any illusion of democracy in the colony and comes with harsh austerity measures, as well as the “authority to force the sale of government assets,” yet somehow forgets to address economic development for the island.

PROMESA states that the President of the US will appoint every member of the oversight board whose responsibilities include ensuring the payment of debt obligations, re-structure the workforce, reduce or freeze public pensions while supervising the entire budget of the Commonwealth government, its pension system, public authorities, leases and contracts with union contractors and collective bargaining agreements. It also includes a provision to lower the minimum wage in the island to a paltry and laughable $4.25.

Nearly all economists agree that a reduction in the minimum wage would only cause Puerto Ricans to have even less purchasing power and coincidentally happens to be a great way to keep a nation poor, more dependent on the US, and thus, sadly, impotent and unlivable.

The proposed bill states that if the governor or legislature of Puerto Rico isn’t in agreement with any recommendation, the oversight board can take any “action as it determines to be appropriate” to implement its recommendations. Under PROMESA, anyone who obstructs the oversight board or its decisions can be imprisoned.

An oversight board is a point of contention in Puerto Rico as it faces local elections this November. As different groups lobby in favor or against of PROMESA, others like different groups of the private sector lobby in favor of allowing Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy. Still, despite a promise by Paul Ryan to take action before March 2016, Congress has yet to take meaningful action that will tackle the root of the real problem.

Meanwhile, over 7,000 social workers are at the front lines living and seeing firsthand the effects of the ongoing economic crisis and its social effects. However, social services are currently dwindling due to austerity measures as over 50% of children live in poverty in Puerto Rico. Social work positions get eliminated due to budget cuts; new openings for case managers, service coordinators, and social technicians are the trend. These positions call for the same academic preparation as a social worker despite paying $7.25, the federal minimum wage. The Colegio de Trabajo Social, a leading organizing group of the profession in Puerto Rico, is against an oversight board.

While many wait for Congress to act, thousands of Puerto Ricans leave the island each week for the United States in hopes of better opportunities as their beloved island undergoes a humanitarian crisis that has yet to resonate with Americans on the mainland, especially the social workers who are bound to fight for social justice.

Migration waves are not new to Puerto Rico. Shortly after Operation Bootstrap, a 1948 economical project that sought to develop the island into an industrial nation, showed signs of slowing down, officials concluded that the problem was an oversupply of labor: population growth needed to be controlled. One of the ways to achieve this, besides the mass sterilization of women without their knowledge, was by promoting better opportunities and working conditions in the US.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, over 250,000 Puerto Ricans left the island, primarily for New York City. Sixty years later, as a new migration wave brings a new generation of Puerto Ricans to the United States due to an ongoing humanitarian crisis, it’s disheartening the lack of support social work organizations in the US have given to its peers in Puerto Rico.

While much has been said about the $72 billion dollar debt Puerto Rico has amassed since the enactment of its Constitution in 1952, one thing remains the same: average Puerto Ricans are suffering. Pensions are on the brink of insolvency, social services are being eliminated, schools are being closed, and unemployment hovers around 12.2% — more than double that of the mainland, and a number that doesn’t even take into account those who have given up on finding a job entirely and are now part of the informal economy.

To understand this, the island’s economy must be understood as one based on tax incentives and entirely dependent on United States policies, since the inception of Operation Bootstrap in 1948. These tax incentives lost relevancy at the end of the 1950s due to an increase in average salaries of manufacturing and the inability to compete with the new markets that were now open to the US after the implementation of the “General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.” As a result of the oil embargo of the 1970s, Puerto Rico’s economy started to shrink. To prevent economic collapse, the government absorbed the jobs lost in the private sector, making it the primary employer on the island.

It was during this decade that the decline of the economy lead the central government to incur extreme debt in order to finance the island’s burgeoning industrialization. Keep in mind, Puerto Rico didn’t then — and still doesn’t today — have the power to negotiate its commercial treaties, maritime tariffs and duties, or to negotiate prices for purchasing oil. As a colony, it is entirely dependent on any restrictions and limitations placed on it by the United States government.

Instead of addressing these issues as the result of a structural problem, two federal patches were implemented: the approval of Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Tax Code in 1976, and food stamps for Puerto Ricans in 1977. The elimination of section 936 under President Clinton resulted in the closing of important manufacturing companies and thus contributed to the loss of thousands of specialized and high-paying jobs.

When finally fully phased out in 2006, Section 936 catapulted Puerto Rico into a deep economic recession in which all important economic indicators waned. When the Great Recession hit the mainland two years later, only furthering a retraction of the country’s GDP, Puerto Rico’s already battered economy was unable to recover. Lacking the autonomy to set its own fiscal and monetary policy, it had little choice but to wait for its colonizer to act.

When social conditions worsen and violence increases, more people are in need of services, which result in higher stress, burnout and turnover for social workers. It’s at a time like this, when social workers are needed and the government must supply the resources needed for them to do their work.

As a response, social workers in Puerto Rico have proposed Bill 2705, “Law of Social Work Professionals in Puerto Rico,” which would temper and regulate the profession to the current reality of the island. The bill would establish academic requirements and promote the highest ethical standards to achieve social justice, the defense and implementation of human rights while caring for the best interest of Puerto Rico’s citizens. So far, very few if any social work organizations in the United States have lent their support to their peers in Puerto Rico, not even those in cities with high population of Puerto Ricans.

After all, social workers in Puerto Rico are bound by the same National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics as we are in the United States. We must uphold standard six of the Code, which establishes our ethical responsibilities to the broader society. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and as such social workers and social work organizations have a moral obligation to stand by them and join their fight.

Protecting Young People Online: Negative Practices Parents, Carers and Professionals Should Know


Just like there are laws we have to abide and adhere to everyday, it is also a similar set of  rules and code of conduct within online worlds. There are things that you can do and other things which are strictly forbidden. There is much focus nowadays of the dangers children are exposed when playing MMORPGS in virtual worlds, but there is very little information of what your child should not be doing and what we as parents or social workers should be teaching children not to do when playing in these online environments.

Gaming studios do take time to “lay down the law” when it comes to protecting their game, players and the virtual economy. However, this can be compromised by some of the practices, children, young people and adults are taught to use to progress quicker through the game by “stealing” from others or illegally using other methods to “get things done” quicker or to make another person’s online experience an  unpleasant one. Therefore, the purpose of this blog today is to highlight some of those practices, but this is by no means covering all aspects of this problematic topic.

1. Be a Scammer

Scamming is a term used in online communities where players will try to steal other people’s “stuff” or account information in order to transfer their stuff to their account.  The perpetrators of these methods are often using psychological methods, such as deception, trust and betrayal to lure their victims by getting sympathy or persuasion.  In reality, the motive behind scamming players can range from not being able to afford buying or obtaining their own “in-game wealth”, or they do not want to pay for these services altogether. However, an alternative route for scammers will be to exploit flaws in gaming systems, also known as glitches to steal other players stuff.

There are a variety of different methods players can use to scam other players and it is worth for parents and social workers to be aware of a few of these methods, however for the purpose of this article I will not be covering all the methods of scamming as this varies from game to game.

 Password scams

As the title suggests, password scams. These are scams in which a person attempts to steal another person’s password. This is pimagesrobably one of the most common scams because it is the easiest to perform, but could be argued to be the most serious since victims of this type of scam and lose their account forever.

Gaming studios usually, (but not always) attempt to filter people saying their password out aloud. However, it has been known for scammers to trick victims into saying their password backwards by using asterisks (******) to claim their password is being filtered backwards, when it actually is not, they are actual asterisks.  The scammer will then obtain the victim’s password and log into the victim’s account.

Premium items, membership or free stuff scams

We have all heard that nothings free in this world right? Same in an online world I am afraid. Sometimes, scammers will log into the games and start communicating with other players claiming to give them free stuff.  But the aim really is to steal the other players stuff. The most common types:

Gaming scams: Player (A) hosts a game; and player (B) wins and wants to obtain their prize as they have paid to play to game with in-game wealth. Player (A) runs off with their stuff and does not give them a prize.

Casino scams:  Players bet with their own stuff, mostly rare items or high value stuff. After a player wins a game, a dealer will scam them by refusing to pay the winner.

Duplication scams:  Player (A) will claim they can duplicate a person’s wealth by using a software program, (this is not true). Player (B) will give them their stuff in hope they will double or duplicate it. Player (A) runs off with their stuff.

Game of chance scams:  Player (A) will host a game and use an item like a dice or something similar to create a game of chance. Player (B) will bet if they roll a 2-3 they get a prize. If player (B) wins, player (A) will run off with their stuff and not give a prize.

Types of in-game scams will vary from game to game. Therefore, it is important to communicate with your child affectively to gain information about the types of scams they are aware of and additionally for you to do your own research of the common types of scams that specific game is suffering with.

Read more on how to Avoid Scams

2. Be a Phisher

A Phisher or Phishing is when a hacker tried to fool a player into giving away their account information and similarly to scammers will steal or cause havoc with your account. However, Phishers will use forms-fake websites, bogus emails and threatening in-game chat to obtain their victim’s information.

Fake websites

One way player’s Phish information is through the use of fake websites, but they look official.  It is important for parents and social workers to communicate effectively to gain insight of what sites children and young people are visiting in relation to the game and making sure they are official. If they are visiting websites that are not official you should be sceptical because logging into a fake website with your personal account information could jeopardise your account security and run the risk of losing your stuff.

Want to find out if a specific address is a fake website. Check PhishTank, where many commonly reported phishing sites are listed.


Like a hacker can use a fake website, they can also use fake email addresses making it look like they are from official gaming studios. Phishing, or phantom emails will be used to lure victims into fake promotions that give you something for free in-game if you log into their website to “claim” the thing.  The Phisher may even threaten to account suspension or closure if they do not log-in to “confirm” a person’s account information, even though this is untrue.phish

It is important to for parents and social workers to be aware their children and young people are not responding or sharing Phishing websites or emails to lure in new victims. Even if the email or website looks “real” they should still be potential hackers.

In terms of emails, they may look real but they may have come from somewhere else. To be absolutely sure, check the email’s headers  to see where they actually came from.

Threatening in-game behaviour

Some phishers will go to the extreme to gain your personal information to steal your account and your in-game stuff. Another tactic one may use to obtain information is to impersonate or claim to be a staff member of the company the game is made by. This again is a phishing attempt because no staff member would EVER ask you to produce your personal information within the game itself.

Parents and social workers should be communicating with children and young people this does happen and should be educating them to “click and report” players who try to trick them in this way.

These are all very serious issues, and children and young people should be educated on these matters when entering an online environment.  In addition, it is equally important for children and young people to not carry out the above as it can make other people distressed, uncomfortable and not giving them a pleasant experience in an online open environment.

3. Be an Internet Troller

One of the most unpleasant experiences of the online world, apart from getting your personal accounts or identity stolen is internet trolls. In short, internet trolls or just “troll” is someone who goes out of their way to try and upset people by posting inflammatory, extraneous or off-topic messages within an online community to provoke someone else into an emotional response which usually turns into bullying or an aggressive argument.

In 2012/13 the ChildLine review found that over 4,500 young people talked to ChildLine about online bullying and found children and young people who are affected by this often:

  • Do not tell anyone because they feel ashamed or guilty
  • May not know who to tell
  • May not realise they are being abuse

Additionally, a MacAfee survey conducted the number of children who are victims of cyberbullying doubles in a least a year. This was based on a poll of 11 to 17 year olds undertaken by the American global computer security software company and found that 35% of children and young people have experienced cyberbullying – compared with 16% the previous year. Furthermore, 4 in 10 said they have seen others being bullied online. That statistic doubled the 22% recorded the previous year.

Case studies

There have been many cases where internet trolls have damaged and made the lives of victims fearful due to internet trolling and cyberbullying on online spaces. But even more saddening some children have committed suicide due to being trolled and cyberbullied over the internet.  Just to note of few:

Ryan Patrick Halligan 1989 -2003

Amanda Michelle Todd 1996-2012

Megan Taylor Meier 1992-2006

These are only few of the many cases to date of children and young people who have taken their own lives due to the cyberbullying and trolling over the internet. It is important for parents and social workers to communicate open and honestly with their children the importance of telling someone if they are being trolled or cyberbullied on the internet, but even more importantly not retaliating and bullying others back.

Large social networking sites, virtual worlds and MMORPGS more often than not do have their own reporting system to notify a member of staff someone is breaking the rules. I would advise all parents and social workers to educate themselves with the online communities their young people and children are visiting and find out the report functions that are available on that specific site.

4. Be a Gold Farmer

Gold farming is a termed used in massively multiplayer online games to acquire in-game wealth at a rapid rate in exchange for other players to buy it for real-world money. Many gaming studios to date ban these kind of practices from their game because this creates an unbalanced economic in the game, also known as economic inequality, this is usually highlighted in their EULA (End-user license agreement), or terms of service.

Why should I be teaching my child not to gold farm on an online game?duke0ic

It is a very good question. But the bottom line is for most gaming studios are that you are cheating the game and taking liberties on people’s good fortune. In addition to this these practices create an unsafe online environment as most gold farming websites and personnel are through third party sites and this increases the likelihood of being scammed, or having personal information stole from you. Furthermore, it has been known gaming companies have made Lawsuits against individuals and small businesses for these kinds of practices.

Cases of interest

Zynga Inc. v. Playerauctions.com

Zynga, the developers of FarmVille, sued to stop online sales of its in-game currency. However, this case never went to trial.

Bot busting

Jagex, the developers of a very famous game RuneScape, have taken legal actions against several gold farmers and bot programmers. They called this “programme bot busting” within their game for a short time and were open and honest to their players they would take legal action against certain players who disregarded their terms, conditions and agreements.

Blizzard Entertainment v. Peons4Hire

Finally, Blizzard Entertainment, the developers of the well-known online game World of Warcraft won their case against In Game Dollar, who was trading under the account name of Peons4Hire. The court ordered for a permanent injunction to be put into place in order to shut down all of Game Dollar’s entire World of Warcraft operation.

Just like a person is bound by the law not to commit fraud in the real-world, but there are also laws put in place to protect the virtual world too and these are also enshrined in real acts of parliament. Gold farming can wreak other player’s experience of the game as other players are cheating and creating an unbalanced, unfair system. In addition to this, they are also creating a dangerous, toxic environment for children and young people as gold farmers usually target players to buy into their product for a much cheaper price, yet, as established in the above this is risky and dangerous of compromising our personal information.

5. Be a Botter

Botting, (Internet Bot) also known as Maroing is the use of third-party software that can be used to create an unfair advantage in MMORPGs. The terms often used within online games to describe players who use these programs are: macroer, autoer, botter or bot. However, the majority of gaming companies tend to take proactive approach to stop players using these types of software my detecting their accounts and banning them or in much worse case scenarios taking legal action as we established in the above.

Macro software can perform a variety of tasks to break game rules, such as Gold farming as we established in the above, but they can also perform a variety of other tasks for example:

  • Autotyping: To repeat a specific message to advertise real world trading websites
  • Autoclickers: To click in the game area where the player desires to “level up” quicker from
  • Autobuyer: Buy large amounts of virtual items from in-game shops and can be sold on to create a profit elsewhere in-game.

Macro program risks

Again this poses the question, why is this a problem? As established in the above we are already identified gaming companies are taking legal action against players who use these types of programs, but in terms of account safety there are further problems. Many of the websites who host undetectable macro programming for a game may not just progress you further through a game, get you banned or get potential civil lawsuit on your hands, but between all of that this can also lead to keyloggers and other malicious software programs to get into your computer and steal your other personal information.

 What are keyloggers?

These third party software programs are usually copies of expensive programs they are usually cracked and contain other types of software that can infect your computer. One of these is known as a keylogger and this kind of software records everything that you type on your keyboard and transfers this data back to a hacker for them to use at their own will. This type of malicious software is part of the Trojan horse family and there are many others methods aside from keylogging in which a person can steal someone’s information. It is worth reading up on thBote following timeline of computer Viruses, Trojans and Worms

Final reflections

Now, I know there a lot of information to take in, and yes it is mind boggling. But, this is only scratching the surface of what children and young people can be exposed to online, but even worse carrying out some of the practices to make other people’s online experience a fearful one. As I have said in the above and previous blogs, it is important for parents and social workers to have a working knowledge of the risks and dangers of the virtual world, but additionally some of the cyber threats what are also out there. If this is not really an area you are knowledgeable or is completely new to you the further reading section may offer some new wisdom and knowledge.

Further reading

Little book of scams

Current Analysis and Future Research Agenda on “Gold Farming”: Real-World Production in Developing Countries for the Virtual Economies of Online Games

Trolls just want to have fun

Threatsaurus – The A-Z of Computer and data security threats

Computer malicious software – Further reading

The ABLE Act Explained: Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE)

The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) was signed into law by the President on December 19, 2014. Tax-free savings accounts can now be built for a population that has historically been forced to live in poverty. Up until now, in order to be eligible for SSI and Medicaid, a person could not have more than $2,000 in cash and property ($3,000 for couples) or make more than $700 monthly (!) in order to be eligible for Medicaid or SSI.

This means they can’t save money for things that Medicaid and SSI don’t cover like education, housing, a job BLOG_12232014coach or transportation. While the rest of society is encouraged to save for emergencies, unforeseen expenses and rainy days, people with disabilities – who have naturally higher expenses and higher medical needs – were forced to scrape pennies and do without due to archaic laws and discriminatory notions held by society in general.

What is the ABLE Act?

This bi-partisan piece of legislation will give people with disabilities and their families freedoms and security never before experienced. It amends the IRS code of 1986 to allow savings accounts to be set up for individuals with disabilities much like the college tuition accounts known as “529 accounts” that have been around since 1996.

The Treasury Department is currently writing all of the regulations. There will then be a period of time where public comments on the proposed rules will be allowed. Before the end of 2015, every State will be responsible for establishing and operating an ABLE program.

How does it work?

In a nutshell, an ABLE savings account can be opened up by an individual with a disability or by someone else on their behalf. Up to $14,000 may be deposited yearly untaxed, with that amount to be increased as inflation rises. If an account surpasses $100,000, the owner of the account will no longer be eligible for SSI but would not be in danger of losing Medicaid. When a person dies, Medicaid will be reimbursed first from the account before it is dispersed to the person’s estate.

What can the funds be used for?

Any disability-related expenses, including:

  • Education
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Employment training and support
  • Assistive technology and personal support services
  • Health, prevention and wellness
  • Financial management and administrative services
  • Legal fees
  • Funeral and burial expenses

This is a great step forward in the right direction for this community. Let’s hope the regulations are completed sooner rather than later so that individuals and families can begin saving for a better life!

Clare’s Law: Background Checks for Partners

International Women’s Day 2014 saw the Domestic Violence Scheme, better known as Clare’s Law, applied nationally throughout the United Kingdom. The scheme is a result of the ‘Right To Know’ Campaign led by Michael Brown whose daughter, Clare Wood, was strangled and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend in 2009.

clare's lawAfter Clare’s death, it transpired that she had been unaware that her ex-boyfriend had an extensive violent history, including kidnapping a previous partner at knifepoint. The new law now gives people the right to contact the police to find out whether or not their partner has a history of violence. The aim is to give people the chance to make informed decisions about a relationship and ultimately prevent any further deaths as a result of domestic violence.

There are concerns from various charities throughout the UK who work with victims of domestic abuse that Clare’s Law will not protect victims. The concern is that there is not enough follow-up support for someone who discovers their partner has a violent past. However, there is another glaringly obvious issue that needs to be addressed as a priority with regards to this Law.

The language surrounding Clare’s Law has done little to acknowledge men as victims of domestic abuse. Home Secretary Theresa May’s deliberate decision to launch the scheme on International Women’s Day further perpetuates the myth that when it comes to relational violence, women are victims and men are perpetrators. There is a lack of understanding at the highest levels of Government, as demonstrated by May’s comment, that the government are implementing measures to keep “women and girls safe”. Comments such as this are likely to discourage men from using this Law and they will consequently not receive the protection it affords.

In the UK there are currently numerous television and poster campaigns which aim to highlight to young people what abuse looks like, but common to all of them is the critical flaw that the man is never victim. I have worked with many teenage boys who have been in violent relationships and all too often they allow their girlfriend to hit them during an argument because “she’s only a girl” and they could “never hit a girl”. This has corrosive consequences for both genders. Firstly, it belittles the female, as if they are in some way inferior, both physically and in terms of being able to manage their behaviour. Assault is assault; if you make a choice to hit or punch another person, it does not matter whether the punches are light, that relationship is unhealthy and all women and men deserve better.

Secondly, the likelihood that the boy will begin hitting his girlfriend increases if she is allowed to continuously beat him every time they have an argument. Every person has their breaking point and therefore a crucial aspect of domestic abuse prevention is telling women that they also cannot hit their partners. Similarly, we cannot expect men to accept violence without implicitly fuelling the cycle of male violence. If we do not allow space for men to be victims then the only role left for them is that of aggressor.

Of course the majority of domestic abuse victims are female, but we have to ask ourselves if we really know the extent to which men are abused. Clare’s Law is a necessary step in tackling a problem that sees approximately two women a week murdered in Britian alone. However, around thirty men each year are also killed in the same context. If men are made to realize that there is no shame in being victims and support is made equally available to them, we may just find that the problem of domestic violence against males is much higher than we first thought.

Will this new law be considered as a model for replication in other countries with high mortality rates due to domestic violence?

Long Term Disability: Understanding the Process

Seal of the United States Social Security Administration. It appears on Social Security cards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Disability rulings are commonly issued by the Social Security Administration, although reaching a decision on what qualifies a person as disabled can be a long and frustrating experience.

According to socialsecurity.gov, “Disability is a subject you may…not think of as something that might actually happen to you. But your chances of becoming disabled are probably greater than you realize. Studies show that just over 1 in 4 of today’s youth will become disabled before reaching age 67.

What many applicants do not understand is that receipt of monthly disability payments is the second part of the application process. The first step in a Social Security case settlement is declaring the recipient legally disabled.

A disability ruling can do several things. As an example, it can render a disabled individual unemployable if the state only has one workers compensation insurance company, and the company refuses to qualify the claimant for workers comp coverage. It is a legal ruling in every sense of the term, which, if you are a New York resident, can be better understood via the services of an attorneys office such as the  The Perecman Firm which was voted as a “best lawyer” by U.S. News.

Supplemental Security Income

Some individuals are only eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is awarded yearly based on personal financial assets and disability level. These recipients are usually not of age for standard Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSDI payments are based on the tax receipts from the claimant during their working career. SSI is awarded for serious medical conditions that will last for at least one year in which the recipient is receiving ongoing medical treatment. With “serious” being the operative word, SSI is often temporary, based on medical improvement. Older recipients are rarely re-evaluated, so this can amount to a permanent disability ruling for these individuals. Younger SSI recipients are encouraged to return to work through the Ticket to Work Program.

Social Security Disability Insurance

Social Security Disability Insurance differs greatly from Supplemental Security Income. SSDI claim approvals are permanent and total in nature, although disabled recipients can earn a nominal amount of money through part-time employment. Benefit amounts are determined by the tax receipts over the immediate previous ten-year employment span, with the applicant needing at least five complete years worked. This amounts to 20 credits of three-month employment deduction periods to qualify. Once the disability ruling is issued, the claimant will receive federal disability benefits for the remainder of their life.

Supplemental Security Income Funding

Supplemental Security Income is funded by Congress in the national operational budget that is normally issued every two years. The cost of the program has been the subject of much ridicule, but the program provides crucial medical benefits for disabled individuals who are in seriously declining health, many of which are in professional medical care facilities and hospitals. Both the monthly income benefit program and the medical funding for the program are included in the same action of funding.

Social Security Disability Funding

The Social Security Administration system was established with a trust fund that was used to pay recipients who have earned the benefit through tax deductions for program eligibility. However, individuals who become disabled before age 67 can petition the Social Security Administration for the disability ruling, which in turn makes the claimant eligible for monthly payments until death. In addition, disabled recipients dram an extra benefit allowance, so the disability ruling is worth more money.

Most beneficiaries attempt to win a disability ruling instead of waiting for standard Social Security retirement benefits. This situation clearly puts stress on the funding mechanism, which is determined by estimating the percentage of total tax receipts which are Social Security tax deductions and listed as an asset on the balance sheet. However, they are still a liability because the Social Security Trust Fund established in the 1940s was drained by Congress in 1987 and applied to the general fund.

This makes the Social Security program the largest reported expenditure of the government with no repayment of the transferred loans from the now-vacant trust fund, which is the primary reason Congress is highly concerned about the future viability of the program. This is also part and parcel to the absolute need for a Social Security Disability attorney like those at The Perecman Firm to represent these cases which often take years to settle because of funding problems.  When looking for an attorney in your area, us an accredited sites such as the U.S. News – Best Lawyers where “Best Law Firms” rankings are based on a rigorous evaluation process to find representation may be a wise choice.

Parenting Troubled Teens: Indications of their Cry for Help


It can sometimes be difficult for parents to determine the difference between normal teenage mood swings and having a troubled teen. Therefore, it is imperative to learn which signs to look for to help you figure out if your teenager needs you to intervene or simply give them some space. Fortunately, most troubled teens will give several indicators if they need help due to emotional or even legal difficulties.

1. Emotional Issues

Every teenager will battle with the occasional emotional instability that accompanies hormonal changes and dealing with peer pressure. However, it is estimated that at least 4,600 teenagers commit suicide in the U.S. on an annual basis, and every parent needs to be aware that issues such as sleeping all of the time and changing hygiene habits can be indicators that something is seriously wrong.

Sadly, you cannot rely on your teen to openly discuss this problem with you, so you need to carefully monitor their behavior so that you can take steps to assist them if necessary. Keep in mind that they might be resistant to the idea of discussing their problems, but getting them to open up to someone they trust or a trained counselor can help improve their outlook on life.

2. Legal Issues 

There are several different things that can cause a teenager to get into legal trouble, including drug usage, shoplifting and drinking and driving. Therefore, you need to be involved enough to recognize the symptoms of all of these risky behaviors. For example, someone who has been abusing drugs or alcohol is likely to exhibit mood changes, dropping grades and a tendency to be more secretive than usual. Additionally, if your teen starts wearing clothing that you have never seen before, this could mean that they have started shoplifting.

Unfortunately, any illegal activity could easily cause your teenager to get into legal trouble. If this happens, you need to provide them with emotional and legal support, and it is critical to hire an experienced lawyer. As stated by Kevin W DeVore, a Minnesota criminal defense attorney experienced in juvenile law, “Achieving a favorable outcome and minimizing or avoiding consequences after you’ve been accused of a crime is possible, but you should have a knowledgeable and caring advocate protecting your rights and fighting for you.” Your attorney should have a firm understanding of how to represent your teen’s case so they will have a much better chance of getting an acquittal or the minimum possible penalties.

3. Health Issues 

Some troubled teens are simply struggling with an undiagnosed health issue that is impacting their ability to live a normal life. ADHD is a common problem that can prevent sufferers from properly focusing on their schoolwork, and it could also cause them to lash out in frustration. Due to this, if your teenager seems to be having a difficult time staying focused and completing tasks, you should definitely consider taking them to a doctor for a checkup.

As you can see, there are many issues that can impact your teen, and it is highly likely that they will try to hide these problems from you. Fortunately, you can still take action to help them as long as you pay close attention to all of the potential indicators of an issue such as declining grades, hygiene issues and secretive behavior. 

Disability Claim Approved! Winning the Appeals Process for SSI

Social Security Administration
Social Security Administration

Most anyone who has gone through the Social Security or SSI disability system finds out how challenging it is, since most claims are denied the first time out. The chances of approval do go up substantially for those who appeal and have a disability lawyer to guide them through the process. Below is some information about the appeals and hearing process for disability claims.

Appeals Process

The appeals process for Social Security disability and SSI includes several levels. After the first round when the claim is denied, most states offer a chance at what is termed reconsideration. This must be requested formally within sixty days of the denial date. Because the process is complex, it is highly advisable to enlist the services of an experienced disability denial lawyer. Found online at www.disabilitydenials.com, a person can read more about what is needed for an experienced legal professional to help claimants prepare for and manage the appeals process.

Appeals Preparation

The most important thing to recognize with disability claims is that the decisions will be made based upon the information that has been provided. Therefore, claimants need to know what is in the file and have their own copies available. This is where having a lawyer on the case is very beneficial, since they know how the law works and what is necessary to establish and win the claim.

In order to respond to requests, claimants must understand their medical condition, what it entails and what doctors have reported. There is also a detailed work history and other data that Social Security and any disability claim will require. For instance, claimants must have this information at hand so that when it is requested it can be provided correctly. Otherwise, claims could drag out much longer than they need to or even continue to be denied.

Winning Disability Awards

1. Medical Records – One of the more important types of information that needs to be available are updated medical records. Hearings may take place a year or more after an initial claim is made and SSA may cease to gather medical evidence. Therefore, the file may not include the latest medical information. A disability lawyer representing the claim would be handling these tasks, which is another reason to enlist their services. In any case, claimants must gather all their medical updates and keep them handy to respond to SSA requests and be prepared for hearings.

2. Personal Records – The SSA will continue to request information about the disabling condition both in writing and at hearings. Therefore, claimants must keep good notes about how they feel and what they are able to do and not do. For instance, any activities that could be done prior and cannot since the condition should be noted. The precise reasons that a claimant is unable to perform their customary work-related responsibilities needs to be detailed so that when asked, the information is conveyed correctly to the administrative law judge (ALJ). Otherwise, decisions rendered without all of the pertinent information usually result in further claim denials.


After the first appeal is denied, claimants may request a hearing before an ALJ. The best way to win any appeal is to understand the process so that it may be navigated more efficiently. The average time that Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claimants wait for a hearing is around 400 days and as long as a year or more.

Statistically, the chances of winning any disability case are much higher when the claimant has engaged an attorney experienced in disability law. In these cases, attorneys usually do not charge fees until the claim is won, in accordance with the law. In fact, without an experienced disability lawyer, there is a very strong chance that the case will be denied repeatedly. As suggested online at www.disabilitydenials.com, anyone filing for Social Security Disability should seek counsel as soon as possible to greatly increase their chances of winning disability claims.

Government Shutdown Is Over But What Does It Mean

After 16 days of a government shutdown, the House finally allowed a vote which resulted in the passage of bi-partisan bill to reopen the government and avoid default. The 285 votes that decided to reopen the government was comprised of a unified democratic block and several moderate Republicans. However, the 144 votes to keep the government closed and not raise the debt limit were all cast by Tea party Republicans.

Since the government shutdown begin, Democrats and Senate Republicans have openly advocated for the suspension the Haster Rule which requires the “majority of the majority support” before a bill can be brought to the floor for an up or down vote. However, Speaker Boehner has refused to suspend the rule for 16 days stating there were not enough votes to pass a clean continuing resolutions to reopen the government and raise the debt limit. What was the purpose of keeping the government shutdown for 16 days, furloughed workers, and denying needed services to vulnerable populations? What did House Republicans get from shutting down the government other than an opportunity to do it again in another 90 days?  Not only could Speaker Boehner have ended this crisis weeks ago, he could have possibly prevented a government shutdown all together by allowing a vote on a clean resolution or on a budget that has already been passed by the Senate.

According to statement released by Speaker Boehner on Wednesday hours before the default deadline, he stated:

“Blocking the bipartisan agreement reached today by the members of the Senate will not be a tactic for us. In addition to the risk of default, doing so would open the door for the Democratic majority in Washington to raise taxes again on the American people and undo the spending caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act without replacing them with better spending cuts,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in statement Wednesday afternoon. “Our drive to stop the train wreck that is the president’s health care law will continue. We will rely on aggressive oversight that highlights the law’s massive flaws and smart, targeted strikes that split the legislative coalition the president has relied upon to force his health care law on the American people.”  Read Full

In the deal to reopen the government, the agreed upon terms will fund the government until January 15th 2014 and extend the debt ceiling until February 7, 2014. Republicans also added a provision to be instituted into Obamacare which would require income verification prior to receiving a federally subsidized health care plan. President Obama gave a speech to address reopening the government as well as reestablishing the trust of the American People. Prior to leaving the briefing room, a reporter shouted a question at President Obama asking if we will be back at another government shutdown in 90 days. His answer was simply, “No”.

View the President Speech below:


Lawmakers Arrested: March on Washington for Immigration Reform

With the government shutdown, gun control, and the roll out of Obamacare, immigration reform appears to have taken a back seat on the minds of lawmakers. What was once thought to be a foregone conclusion after the 2012 Presidential Election, many Americans believed immigration reform would receive a swift passage into law. Unfortunately, House Republicans have continued to use stall tactics, investigative committees, and prevention of a vote to keep pending immigration reform legislation from becoming law. On October 8, 2013, approximately 10,000 protesters ascended on the US Capitol to demand immigration reform which resulted in several dozen arrest that included 8 members of Congress.

According to MSNBC News,

Democratic members Charles Rangel, Al Green, Jan Schakowsky, Luis Gutierrez, John Lewis, Raul Grijalva, Joe Crowley and Keith Ellison were removed in plastic cuffs after blocking a street as onlookers cheered “Si se puede!”

The rally, organized by a coalition of immigrant rights groups and labor unions, featured speeches from dozens of politicians. Among the speakers was Nancy Pelosi, who recently joined Democratic members in introducing a new comprehensive immigration bill modeled on the Senate’s already-passed proposal. Many attendees carried signs or chanted slogans encouraging the House to hold a vote on the bipartisan Senate bill, which would have provided an earned path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants over a 13 year period.  Read Full Article


On October 5, 2013, a National Day of Dignity was held in cities around the country with immigrant communities, faith leaders, labor organizations and more. The rallies were held to call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform now. Republicans promised to work with Democrats in order to create a plan for comprehensive immigration reform. The Senate did its job and passed a bill that wasn’t perfect. However, it was a start towards removing barriers for some like the Dreamers who are caught in an undocumented limbo.

We are marching for commonsense immigration reform with legalization that leads to citizenship, legal immigration rules that promote family unity and protect worker rights, an end to the destruction of our families through deportations, and a halt to the rush towards massive wasteful spending on unneeded border militarization and for profit immigrant detention prisons.

We are marching for an America where our hard work is honored; where our many contributions to the nation are respected and where our families and children can dream of building lives of dignity and without fear. We cannot let the continued failures of Washington result in more families torn apart, more abusive employers and poverty wages, more children who cannot dream. October Immigration

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Yahoo News

Government Shutdown: Why Can’t the White House and Congress Get Along?

US Capitol

I have found that negotiation and mediation are advocacy tools that successful social workers use to bring about change within individual client systems as well as in policy making. Social workers sometime use creative advocacy techniques that may extend beyond traditional channels in order to protect their clients from harm while balancing organizational policies and procedures that often restrict their ability to do their jobs.  

The government shutdown over funding the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, reminds me that strong advocacy is often adversarial and can have negative consequences. What happened to using negotiation and mediation as advocacy tools?  While there are many benefits to Obamacare, few would dispute there is much opposition to the law and full implementation. Mediation is a viable and evidenced-based process for resolving disputes peacefully and collaboratively.  Why take the American people hostage?

Perhaps it’s time for each of us to become mediators. I would like to ask everyone who reads this column to become an armchair mediator with a fair and impartial in examining the government shutdown dispute. Before we can assume the role of armchair mediators, we must first put aside our political affiliations as well as our position on Obamacare to be objective in the matter.  We need to honestly ask each of the parties  “What if you are absolutely right, where do we go from here?”

A mediator would ensure all stakeholders, not just the loudest voices, at the table were heard. The politician, the everyman…Mediators ask difficult questions: for example, where is the opportunity for common ground and how do we respectfully acknowledge opposing points of view?  Read More

In my inaugural column for the Social Worker Helper, my hope is to share my expertise as a mediator  for over 30 years and highlight the use of mediation and negotiation as advocacy tools.  All opinions are valued.

Conversion Therapy on Minors Made Illegal in New Jersey

by Polly-Gean Cox, LCSWA

Monday August 19th, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey declared the practice of conversion therapy on minors  illegal in the state of New Jersey by signing into law bill A3500. Christie was found  in support of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) findings of conversion therapy in which results of conversion therapy were found to pose critical health risks including but not limited to depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem end suicidal thoughts.

“I believe that on issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards. I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.  Based upon this analysis, I sign this bill into law.” Read More…

New Jersey is the second state to declare conversion therapy illegal since California in 2012.

So What is Conversion Therapy?photo

According to the American Psychological Association, sexual orientation conversion therapy also known as reparative therapy refers to counseling and psychotherapy to attempt to eliminate individuals’ sexual desires for members of their own sex.  

How Did Conversion Therapy Originate?

In the 1920’s Sigmund Freud’s research on sexuality laid the foundation for future researchers to engage in Conversion Therapy. In the 1940’s and 50 Edmund  Bergler saw homosexuality as a perversion and believed he could “cure gay people with a punishment based therapy. When the original  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual DSM was released in 1952, homosexuality was listed as a mental illness in which aversion therapy, and conversion therapy was considered the best practice treatment method. It wasn’t until 1973, when homosexuality was removed from the DSM as a mental illness. Reparative therapy is no longer used or supported by several mental health organizations and looked upon as a harmful practice.

According to a statement issued by the  National Association of Social Workers:

“Aligned with the American Psychological Association’s (1997) position, NCLGB [NASW’s National Committee on Lesbian and Gay Issues] believes that such treatment potentially can lead to severe emotional damage. Specifically, transformational ministries are fueled by stigmatization of lesbians and gay men, which in turn produces the social climate that pressures some people to seek change in sexual orientation. No data demonstrate that reparative or conversion therapies are effective, and in fact they may be harmful.”

Despite the removal of homosexuality from the DSM, conversion therapy is still practiced by several religious institutions. This therapy is harmful and has dangerous ramifications, and it is considered by many professionals a legalized form of child abuse. I urge the rest of the United States to follow California and New Jersey’s footsteps on this issue because no child should endure this treatment.

Please watch the following video as Sam shares his experience with conversion therapy. Caution this may be difficult to watch. 



How to End the War on Drugs

By SCSJ Staff Attorney Daryl Atkinson

In a speech to the American Bar Association on August 12, 201,3 Attorney General Eric Holder stressed the need to end mass incarceration, alleviate racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and reduce mandatory minimum sentences for many people convicted of nonviolent drug crimes. The rise in the prison population is largely due to minorities serving extended sentences for non-violent drug offenses.

What does this mean for the War on Drugs? As the most prominent prosecutor in the country, Attorney General Holder criticized the wisdom of policies that have led to America becoming the world’s leading jailer.

“It’s clear—as we come together today—that too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason.” Although incarceration has a significant role to play in our justice system—widespread incarceration at the federal, state, and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable. It imposes a significant economic burden—totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone—and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate. We will start by fundamentally rethinking the notion of mandatory minimums sentences for drug-related crimes. Because they often generate unfairly long sentences, they breed disrespect for the system. When applied indiscriminately, they do not serve public safety. They—and some of the enforcement priorities we have set—have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color. ”

A major motivation for Attorney General Holder’s new “smart on crime” approach is the fact that although the U.S. has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has almost 25 percent of its prisoners. Another incentive may be the potential for increased bipartisan support of drug policy reform.

While this is good news, it is all happening at the highest levels of government and will take a long time to trickle down to those of us working on the ground with people who are the victims of America’s “War on Drugs.” Here at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, we work with individuals facing the lifelong collateral consequences of drug convictions. We know that federal policies have real-life consequences for the communities we love and support. So how do we make Attorney General Holder’s statements make a difference here and now for the people and communities where we live and work?

  • Make marijuana possession a Lowest Law Enforcement Priority (LLEP) –Local police departments have limited resources which forces them to prioritize which crimes they pursue, and which they do not. The Durham police department should make low-level drug crimes, such as possession of marijuana, a Lowest Law Enforcement Priority, which will allow the department to re-allocate resources currently spent on apprehension of low-level drug offenders toward the apprehension of serious violent criminals.
  • End racial profiling and selective drug enforcement— America is a country that champions equal protection and application of the law but currently in North Carolina this is not happening in many areas of the state. For example, in Durham, NC blacks are 162% percent more likely to be searched incident to a routine traffic violation than whites, and blacks are 400% more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than whites even though usage rates of the drug are roughly the same. Concerned citizens in Durham should demand that our elected officials reform and strengthen the Durham Civilian Review Board so law enforcement can be held accountable by an independent body that truly represents the interest of Durham citizens.
  • Local prosecutors should adopt pre-charge diversion policies for young people who commit non-violent crimes–North Carolina is one of only two states in the country that prosecutes 16 and 17 year olds as adults. Studies have shown that criminalizing young people at an early age hurts their future employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Diverting more young people away from ever getting involved with the criminal justice system is good public policy that will make our communities stronger and safer.

For more on how you can decrease the effects of the war on drugs in your own community, visit our website at www.scsj.org and check out our Criminal Justice section. There are also community organizing tools available in our Community Tools section. With your help, we can take back our communities from the decimation caused by the war on drugs.

About the Author
Daryl_9453_edit_crop-570x600Daryl Atkinson is a staff attorney at SCSJ focusing on criminal justice reform issues. Daryl received a B.A. in Political Science from Benedict College, Columbia, SC and a J.D. from the University of St. Thomas School of Law, Minneapolis, MN. Prior to coming to SCSJ, Daryl was a staff attorney at the North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services (IDS) where he co-managed the Collateral Consequence Assessment Tool (C-CAT).

Racial Profiling Is Alive And Well In The United States

racial-profilingThe George Zimmerman trial is one of the most hotly contested issues in the country today, with large portions of citizens contesting what they see as an unjust, racially motivated acquittal of a heartless killer. Others, however, agree with the jury and believe that Zimmerman was merely acting in self-defense, albeit over-aggressively. No matter what your views on the Zimmerman trial, criminal defense lawyers know perhaps better than anyone that racial profiling is still a huge problem in our country.

“Surely not,” you may say. “We are a progressive country. We’re tolerant, and we have a minority President.” Well, sure we’ve come a long way, but black men and women still make up a disproportionately large number of convicted criminals in this country. Earlier this week, New York City’s stop and frisk policy was determined to be racial profiling of minorities and found unconstitutional by a federal judge. According to CNN, Federal Judge Shira A. Scheindlin was quoted from her ruling in the class action lawsuit:

 “The city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” Scheindlin wrote. “In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution.” Read Full Article

Need more convincing? Check out the evidence presented in Michelle Alexander’s new book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Alexander, a law professor at Ohio State University, claims that today there are more black men in prison or on probation or parole than there were male slaves just prior to the Civil War. The U.S. Bureau of Justice reports that there were 846,000 black men arrested in 2008, and the U.S. census shows that while African-Americans make up 13.6% of the population, 40.2% of all prison inmates are black males.

ColorLine puts it another way:  In 2005, for every 100,000 arrests in the U.S., 2,290 people were black, while 412 were white. Alexander claims that even though crime rates have greatly dropped in the last few years, the number of black men in prison has soared.

Perhaps even worse than the initial incarceration is the high rate of black men who return to prison. Again, ColorLines reports that within three years, 78% of black men will be back in prison, versus 69% of white men. Bill Quigley, the Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, attributes this largely to the fact that it is exceedingly difficult to get a job after a criminal conviction. Another shocking statistic from ColorLines reports that only 5% of black men with a criminal record get a callback when applying for a job. In contrast, 17% of white men with a criminal background get a callback – a low number but a great deal better than the percentage of African-Americans. Alexander posits that the disproportionately large number of black men in prison, coupled with the difficulty ex-convicts have in getting a job, has essentially created a new group of black men without citizenship—a cultural phenomenon that’s remarkably similar to the state of society in antebellum America. In fact, today there are more black men prohibited from voting due to a criminal conviction than there were black men prohibited from voting in 1870.

Is there any one issue that can be identified as the core of the racial profiling problem? Actually, yes, says Alexander. The War on Drugs specifically targets poor minority communities, putting more black men behind bars than any other issue. A group of Christian pastors recently met in Nashville to call an end to the War on Drugs and what they see as racial discrimination. They stated that African-Americans comprise 13% of the U.S. population and 13% of drug users. Despite their minority status, 38% of drug related arrests and 59% of drug convictions are of black men.

There is no doubt that the George Zimmerman trial is a complicated issue, and both sides have legitimate points to make. But when you understand the full extent of the racial discrimination that still exists in our country, you can understand why there is such outrage over the verdict.

What is Domestic Violence

What is Domestic Violence

When most people hear the term “domestic violence”, they think of a physical altercation between a couple or a family member, and in many cases, this is true. However, the term is used often in matters of the law, and it is much more broad than most people would expect. Many people who find themselves in jail for domestic violence may not be violent at all and were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others, however, are completely at fault and may require a protection order for the safety of the victim. It depends on the incident and the circumstances leading up to it.

The 9-1-1 Call

Almost every domestic violence charge is preceded with a 9-1-1 call made by one of the people involved, or a bystander. This is where where multiple reports can lead to an he said she said type conflict. However, there are many conditions that factor into the officer’s decision to make an arrest.

Making An Arrest

If a person over sixteen years of age has been accused of assaulting a family member, household member, or significant other, and the officer present reasonably believes an assault resulting in a bodily injury within the last four hours, the officer will make an arrest.

Types Of Domestic Violence Charges

Physical assault is the most common domestic violence charge in Washington State. Case law has defined “assault” as a broad term, meaning “any unwanted touching”. Due to the vagueness of the term, the standard for arrested in domestic violence situation are low. Domestic violence charges can also be accompanied by a harassment charge, or even more serious charges such as endangering the welfare of a child, if a child was present during the initial incident. Each situation is unique, and it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss the details of the situation. With this type of charge, it is likely that you will have a few options for defense and you will want to explore them all.

Jail And Court Appearances

When a person is arrested on a domestic violence charge, they will be taken to jail and held without bail until seen by a judge at arraignment in Washington State. This will usually be your first court appearance which will determine the preceding events before your next court appearance. A no contact order or protection order may be put in place prohibiting any form of contact with the victim along with certain pre-trial probation conditions. In some cases, a home detention program may be instituted until your next court date. Each case is unique with many possible outcomes depending on the situation.

For information on Federal Domestic Violence Laws and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), I have attached the following information from the United States Department of Justice:

[gview file=”http://www.justice.gov/usao/gan/documents/federallaws.pdf”]

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Domestic Violence Speaker

North Carolina Voter ID Bill in the National Spotlight

By Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director

The North Carolina General Assemby recently passed a new set of voting rules that will disenfranchise an estimated 319,000 North Carolina voters, 30% of whom are African American. North Carolina voter id bill is gaining national attention because it will be the most restrictive voter id laws passed by any state in the country. SCSJ will fight to the end to ensure that every eligible voter is able to exercise their fundamental right. Here is the story of just one of the voters who effectively lost their right to vote thanks to the new Voter ID bill.

Alberta Currie is the Great-Granddaughter of slaves. Mrs. Currie, her parents, and her children all worked picking cotton and tobacco in the fields of Robeson County NC. She is the mother of seven, 78 years old, and does not have a birth certificate because she was born at home. She has voted consistently since she first became eligible to vote in 1956. She does not have a photo ID and cannot obtain one in North Carolina without a birth certificate.

When Mrs. Currie first went to vote in 1956, election officials made black voters wait until whites had voted while keeping them standing at the back of the line. In 2012, she and her daughters stood in line to be the first ones to vote on the date that early voting opened. When it was her turn, local election officials told her that she better not come back to vote unless she gets a picture id. She and her family consider it a matter of personal dignity to be able to go in person and vote. It is one thing that lets them say to the world that they are equal to everyone else.

Her is an excerpt of Alberta’s interview with CBS News;

Long Time NC Voter Alberta Currie
Long Time NC Voter Alberta Currie

But the North Carolina bill, entitled the Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA), goes much further. It rolls back the increasingly popular early voting period from 17 days to 10 days, even though 61 percent of ballots in 2012 were cast before election day. The bill outlaws early voting on Sunday, which is particularly popular with predominantly black churches bussing “souls to the polls.”

In 2012 in North Carolina, Democrats cast 47 percent of the early votes, and Republicans cast 32 percent, according to a CBS News analysis.

The North Carolina bill repeals same-day registration, which allowed 100,000 North Carolinians to register and vote early in one stop in 2008 and again in 2012. In last year’s general election, about 1,300 of those same day registrants, or one-and-a-half percent, could not be verified after the votes were counted, according to the State Board of Elections. Read Full Article

On July 25, 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly passed harsh new rules that will prevent hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians like Alberta from voting.

Here are some of the ways the new law will affect all NC voters:

  1. The early voting period will be shortened by a week, from 17 days to 10.
  2. Same-day registration during the early voting period will be eliminated.
  3. Straight-party ticket voting will be eliminated.
  4. Sixteen and seventeen year olds will no longer be able to pre-register to vote.
  5. College IDs – even from state universities – will not be acceptable forms of identification to vote.
  6. Out of precinct voting will no longer be allowed.
  7. Counties will no longer be able to extend voting hours due to long lines or other extraordinary circumstances.
  8. Political party chairpersons will be allowed to appoint up to 12 poll “observers” to monitor the polling places and to challenge voters they suspect of voter fraud.
  9. New restrictions make it much more difficult to set up satellite polling stations, which will make it more difficult for elderly and disabled North Carolinians to vote.

What you can do:

  • Educate yourself and your community about this bill – what it means and what it doesn’t mean. The requirement to have a state-issued photo ID to vote doesn’t go into effect until 2016 – that’s four years away. Make sure everyone knows that they can still vote without photo ID until that time.
  • Stay informed about the law. Great resources for updated information include Democracy North Carolina and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice www.scsj.org.
  • Help people get the ID they need – if you know someone in NC who doesn’t have access to state-issued photo ID, encourage them to call the Southern Coalition for Social Justice at 919-323-3380 x 152 so we can help them get the documentation they need to vote.
  • Make a donation to help overturn the voter suppression legislation. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is filing lawsuits in state and federal court to stop this law from taking effect. Limiting early voting, eliminating same-day registration, requiring state-issued photo ID, and other provisions of the bill will directly affect too many voters, and bring no measurable benefit to NC elections. Please help us fight for every North Carolinian’s right to vote. Your donation makes it possible for us to provide the best legal assistance to every individual affected by the new Voter ID law. With your help, we can make North Carolina a state where every eligible voter can exercise the franchise. Click here to learn more or donate.

On July 29, 2013 SCSJ staff attorney Allison Riggs appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show to discuss these issues. Below is Allison’s interview with guest host Melissa Harris Perry.

Moral Monday Showdown is Just Getting Started

by Deona Hooper, MSW

IMG_0429During the 2012 election, I remember riding in my middle class neighborhood seeing all the Mitt Romney for President and Pat McCrory for Governor signs. It was believed that Republicans would make a sweep in the North Carolina State election, and they did. It was clear to me then that many Republicans continue to vote against their own interest. However, the con game that Republicans have played on their middle class and poor constituents has served as the catalyst and growth for Moral Monday Protests.

In last year’s Presidential election, North Carolina was the only battleground state that did not implement voter id laws, but it was not from the lack of trying. Mitt Romney won North Carolina in a slim 51 to 49 percent split over President Obama. Many North Carolinians believe these numbers were reflective of a southern state making progressive movement towards equality and fairness. However, the North Carolina Republicans who came into power has proved this is not the case.

The 51 percent of North Carolinians, who helped vote them into power under the guise of jobs and smaller government, are now regretting their decision. The super majority Republican led legislature is no longer instituting policies that only affect welfare recipients and the impoverished. They have done an outstanding job at offending everyone who fall outside the top two percent tax bracket.

Republican blogger in the Raleigh News and Observer writes:

There was a time when I would have groaned with disgust at the coverage of the tumultuous Moral Monday protests. As a conservative activist and blogger (and registered Republican), my feet remain firmly planted on the right, but I have become surprisingly sympathetic to the passionate protesters who gather every week in Raleigh.

What changed? Last October I lost my job of 19 years and officially became a deadbeat. Now, Gov. Pat McCrory has never used that word officially to my knowledge, but he did remark, while campaigning in 2012, that filing for unemployment is “too easy.” Read Full Article by David Bozeman

Mr. Bozeman’s sense of compassion for Moral Monday Protest seemed to develop after GOP policies began to affect him and his ability to collect unemployment. North Carolina is the first and only state to disqualify itself from receiving federal unemployment benefit funds. This moved cause over 71,000 people to instantly lose benefits effective June 30, 2013 while those who remained eligible for benefits experienced drastic cuts to their weekly payout. Amazingly, North Carolina government decided to make these changes while having the fifth highest unemployment rate in the country.

In their first six months of power, Republicans have rolled North Carolina’s progress back decades with repealed and  new right wing laws relating to voting, education, fracking, taxes, abortion, and civil rights to name a few. On July 22, 2013, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and regular contributor to Social Work Helper was one of the speakers at yesterday’s rally.

“The Southern Coalition for Social Justice believes that recent state redistricting laws – as well as the General Assembly’s recent proposals to restrict the right to vote — violate both the State and U.S. Constitution. We will fight these laws all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. But at the end of the day it is individuals like you, standing together for your rights, that create change.” –Anita Earls, Executive Director, Southern Coalition for Social Justice to Moral Monday protesters

From my observation at the rally, Moral Mondays are waking people up from the backroom deals traditionally made by our elected officials which have in the past remained unnoticed. I saw people from all different backgrounds both young and old coming together to fight injustice. Churches were protesting along side organizations such as Durham People’s Alliance, NARAL Pro-Choice NC, and Equality NC. It appears that everyone is beginning to understand that it is going to take a collective effort to prevent our State from being ruined and ruled by the few.

Republican cuts to education is creating awareness on the political process to a new generation of voters. What appears to be insanity from the right is actually assisting baby boomers from the Civil Rights Era in teaching activism to today’s generation. Also while at the protest, I had the opportunity to talk with a group of students from Durham, North Carolina, and this is what they had to say:

Durham NC Student U (L to R) Jalan Bowling, Tabitha Ruffin, LaTosha Ruffin, Tiffany Ruffin, Jamaire Bowling, Ben Coreas
Durham NC Student U (L to R) Jalan Bowling, Tabitha Ruffin, LaTosha Ruffin, Tiffany Ruffin, Jamaire Bowling, Ben Coreas

This was our first Moral Monday that we attended and we honestly didn’t know what to expect. From this inspirational experience, we realized that we all have different beliefs, but at the end of the day,we stand up for what’s right. We learned that everyone has their own opinion (such as protesting against racial justice, equal rights, education, voting and many others) and that they have the right to express what they feel. We saw that they will do whatever it takes to stand up or sit down for what they believe in. We really enjoyed this protest and we all found it very inspirational. We know that when we feel that something isn’t right, we know that we need to stand up and say what we believe. NO MATTER WHAT others who don’t agree say!  We ARE Student U!  ~Tosha Ruffin

When people ask me if the Republicans are winning, I simply say regression is necessary. We have benefited from an era of prosperity as a result of those who died to get the rights we take for granted. There is more concentrated wealth and resources within minority communities than when our ancestors fought for equal rights. We are by no means powerless in achieving desired outcomes. However, we must have collective collaboration in order to achieve collective impact.

At this present time, North Carolina is trying to privatize education, make it easier to buy a gun than vote, destroy our environment with deregulation and fracking, and the list goes on.  However, Moral Monday Protesters have demonstrated they are in this for the long haul and not just to the end of this legislative session. The current total of Moral Monday arrests are now over 900 with over 70 protesters arrested yesterday.

I had the opportunity to see Reverend Barber address the people, and my hope is that more leaders in our churches especial in minorities communities begin to stand with him. As Rev. Barber says: We Fight! We Fight! We Fight!


Photo Credit: Deona Hooper

Voting Rights Act, Privileges, and Immunities of United States Constitution

George WillAs I scanned newspaper opinions on the recent US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down section 4 of Voting Rights Act of 1965, political columnist George Will’s Washington Post article immediately stood out.  He proposes that Justice Anton Scalia might have referred to the name of the 2006 extension as the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act.”   George Will stated upholding the United States Congress’ 2006 reauthorization would have been “anti-constitutional”.  What does he mean by “anti-constitutional”, and why not the “John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Martin Luther King Reauthorization and Amendments Act?”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1973 et seq.) prohibits States and their political subdivisions from imposing voting requirements or preconditions to voting, as well as standards, practices, or procedures that deny or curtail the right of a U.S. citizen to vote because of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.  Congress based its power to approve voting procedures on the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

  • Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

  • Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

I would ask Mr. Will, why the reauthorization is “anti-constitutional”.  The 15th Amendment does not provide any specific formula nor does it require any specific benchmark for Congress to remedy its application. The decision by the Supreme Court is more of a legislative action rather than a judiciary explanation.

The Fourteenth Amendment was written to attack the effects of State policies adopted under the stimulus of unambiguously pro-slavery and racist doctrines.  The drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment sought to strengthen and increase the reach of the old Privileges and Immunities Clause. Consequently, one of its first proposals for the Fourteenth Amendment was to give Congress the power both to enforce the clause and to confirm that all persons be protected in their person and property.

On April 28 of 1866, the “Joint Committee of Fifteen” voted in favor of a second draft proposed by Congressman John Bingham, which would eventually be adopted into the Constitution.  On May 10 of 1866 during the closing debate on the House floor, Congressman Bingham the primary author of the Privileges & Immunities Clause explained:

“[M]any instances of State injustice and oppression have already occurred in the State legislation of this Union, of flagrant violations of the guarantied privileges of citizens of the United States, for which the national Government furnished and could furnish by law no remedy whatever…”

The Fourteenth Amendment (Amendment XIV) to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868.  The amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws, and was proposed in response to issues, as earlier indicated, related to former slaves following the American Civil War. The Fourteenth Amendment specified in Section 1 of the amendment, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States” as citizens of the United States were citizens of the state in which they reside. This section also prohibited state governments from denying persons within their jurisdiction the privileges or immunities of U.S. citizenship, and guarantees to every such person due process and equal protection of the law.

Sections 2 to 5 reflect the immediate concerns of the Union’s political leadership following the North’s victory over the South in the Civil War (1861–65). Section 2, for example, penalized any state that attempted to abridge (curtail) the voting rights of its black male residents by reducing the state’s representation in Congress (there were no female residents of any race afforded the constitutional right to vote in the United States until 1920). Section 3 prohibited from holding state or federal office any person who engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” or otherwise gave “aid or comfort to the enemies” during the Civil War. Section 4 reasserted the United States’ commitment to pay its Civil War debt, while declaring all debts and obligations incurred by the Confederate government as “illegal and void”. Section 5 enabled, and continues to enable, Congress to pass “appropriate legislation” to enforce the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Given the history and purposes of the 14th and 15th Amendments, the Justice Department should be confident in its administrative efforts to curtail any State’s attempt to abridge American citizen’s right to vote.

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