Saturday, March 28, 2015

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXI): Newton County joins the prison industrial complex

This is a post I have not been in a rush to write because I find the development more than a little depressing.  It's the story of the opening of Newton County's long-awaited jail.  My lack of enthusiasm for this project is suggested by the title of this post.  Read more here and here (embedding links to many prior posts) about Newton County's jail travails over the past 7-8 years.

You see, the only way Newton County was able ultimately to open the jail was through a contract with the State of Arkansas to house state prisoners--those state prisoners being in addition to whatever local riffraff might run afoul of the law and wind up in the local jail.  Following are some excerpts from the Newton County Times over recent months, including this report from October, 2014:
“I'm proud to say that things have gone better than what I have expected,” said Sheriff Keith Slape. “Our current census is 19. We have many active warrants that we are pursuing now and I'm sure the census will go up. “ He also said on Friday, Aug. 29, that the jail standards committee was at the facility at 10:30 a.m. to do its final inspection. This should lift the lawsuit against the county that the state attorney general filed when the old jail continually failed inspection, he noted. 
According to the first monthly report of operations, the jail had a total census of 34 with an average daily population of 21 inmates. 
The Arkansas Department of Corrections was assessed $14,700 for housing state prisoners. Other inmates were charged pay for stay for a total amount of $9,765. 
Total meals served daily totaled 63 with the month’s total oft 1,890 meals served. The average cost per meal is $1.01. The month’s total food cost was $2,216.32, according to the report. 
The quorum court [County Board of Supervisors] adopted a jail budget totaling $85,237.16 for the remainder of 2014. 
The jail’s budget was contingent upon receiving fees to house Arkansas Department of Corrections inmates due to overcrowding in state detention facilities. The General Assembly met in special session recently and released funds to help the department pay counties to house its prisoners and to make new spaces for additional beds. 
Slape had been waiting to open the jail until he received a written commitment from the department of corrections. He said he met with the corrections board and received that commitment. 
This editorial, which appeared in the Newton County Times on October 7, 2014, provides more information about the relationship between the State of Arkansas and counties across Arkansas:
When the Newton County Jail opened in September it was contingent upon an agreement from the state prison system that it would pay the county to house state prisoners. The state’s detention facilities are overcrowded. An agreement was reached, but the state is only paying the county $28 per prisoner per day. The state said they would pay for 15 beds, but would be willing to pay for more. Under the current agreement the state is paying the county $12,000 per month. This money is dedicated to the jail’s operation. Statewide, county jails estimate the reimbursement rate of $28 is well below the actual cost to counties, which is more like $45 per day. 
According to the Arkansas Association of Counties, there are about 2,300 state inmates being held in county jails throughout Arkansas. 
That is more than the largest state prison and this is despite the General Assembly appropriating in excess of $6 million to the Department of Corrections to hold more state prisoners during the Second Extraordinary Special Session of the 89th Arkansas General Assembly this summer. About 25 percent of county jail beds statewide are being used to hold state prisoners. 
At 2,300 state inmates, one year of reimbursements would be almost $24 million but the General Assembly appropriated only $16.5 million. Of this, $7 million is in category “B” funding, which will not be accessed until May/June 2015 and will actually manifest only if state revenues are better than projections. This means that the counties are owed from the state $1.95 million each month, but can only be paid, on average, about $750,000 each month to cover payments it owes to counties. 
The County Judges Association of Arkansas and the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association recently agreed to actively pursue a solution to a shortfall in state budgeting for county jail reimbursements for state inmates housed in county jails. They want the governor to call a Special Session of the General Assembly to amend the appropriation and funding of county jail reimbursement to provide for the prompt payment of the anticipated shortfall.
Both the sheriff’s and judges also feel that a1,600 prisoner threshold should be respected and adopted in budget recommendations by Gov. Beebe and the 89th General Assembly, and that the next governor of the state of Arkansas and 90th General Assembly duly provide for direct or indirect payment to private contractors for holding state inmates in excess of the 1,600 inmate threshold and to promptly appropriate, fund and pay the just debts of the state to the counties for holding state inmates for remainder of FY 2015 and FY 2016 at $45 dollars per day. 
Lawmakers will have to determine what is more cost efficient, building more and larger prisons or paying counties more for housing state prisoners. If it is the latter, we believe counties should be reimbursed for their actual costs. In some cases it may be less than $45 per day. In others it may be more.
You can see more clearly why I am thinking that this brings Newton County into the prison-industrial complex if you read this earlier post about the practice in Louisiana.

Here's more from the Newton County Times, starting with a January, 2014 Editorial, "Take Advantage of the Prisoner Boom":
During legislative budget hearings in preparation for the 2014 fiscal session, the governor presented a balanced budget proposal that projects more than $5 billion in general revenue spending. 
About $10 million in additional funding would go to the state Correction Department, which operates state prisons. About $7 million of that amount would be spent to reimburse county jails for costs incurred while holding state inmates.

Although the inmates are under the jurisdiction of the state, they are housed in county lockups because of a lack of space in state prison units. 
Newton County could receive some of that money if it’s [sic] jail gets up and running.
The Newton County Jail was dedicated in December 2011, but is still not housing prisoners. However, it may be open this spring thanks to an Arkansas Rural Development Commission Grant of $400,000. The grant comes from an appropriation made on behalf of the county by State Sen. Michael Lamoureux. The county’s cost of $1,050,000 and in-kind services used to build the facility serves as the local match. 
According to Newton County Sheriff Keith Slape, the grant will be presented to the county in two cycles. The county is receiving $219,004.31 in the grant’s first funding cycle. The second cycle goes from April through June and that is when the remainder of the grant is expected to be allocated. 
Slape said other sheriffs have told him the state has been about 100 days late in paying them for housing state prisoners, but the counties are being paid.

Presumably, the additional $7 million proposed for the state budget will get the state caught up with its commitments to the county jails. 
Newton County has also had to house its prisoners in other counties. A savings should be realized when the county can start housing its own prisoners. 
We also learned last week that the old jail, which is currently housing the Christian Food Room, will be reclaimed by the sheriff’s department for use as extra space for housing state prisoners. 
We should not consider this a long-term funding opportunity for Newton County. The increased funding for the Correction Department would bring the department’s annual operating budget to $316.1 million, and would also allow the department to open new prison units with capacity for about 300 inmates.
As for using the old jail to house state prisoners, that seems impossible—and certainly contrary to civil rights law and perhaps the U.S. Constitution.  You see, the state condemned the old jail several years ago, which is why the county embarked on this long quest for a new jail—the one just opened.

And to complete the economic picture, here is the text of the August 10, 2014, story titled, "Newton Jail hiring."
Newton County Sheriff Keith Slape said the budget for the Newton County Jail approved by the Newton County Quorum Court this week will undoubtedly help the county’s economy. 
* * *
The jail, having been inspected and meeting standards, is expected to open in about two weeks. Jailers and dispatchers are undergoing cross training so all staff will be certified in both areas, Slape told justices of the peace [Quorum Court]. 
* * * 
Slape has been waiting to open the jail until he received a written commitment from the Department of Correction. He said he met with the corrections board last week at England, [Arkansas] and received that commitment. 
“It’s taken a while to get done,” Slape told the Daily Times
* * *
The budget establishes employees’ compensation for the final five months of the year: An administrator, $9,240; a sergeant, $8,360; eight full-time jailers, $7,480 each; two part-time jailers, $5,984 each and a nurse, $3,960. Along with Social Security, retirement, health insurance, unemployment and other fringe benefits the total budget is $133,177.50. 
* * *
Slape said the department of corrections wants to transfer its first inmates to Newton County from Sebastian County on Monday, Aug. 25. Newton County District Judge Tommy Martin is also eager to begin sentencing jail time to defendants found guilty of committing certain crimes.
As far as I am concerned, this is all really bad news.  Newton County was better off without a jail—especially if the only thing that made the jail viable was incarceration of state prisoners.  No two ways about it:  Little ol' Newton County, Arkansas has become part of the prison industrial complex.

Harry Reid's rural, working class upbringing—and his consequent attachment to place and bluntness

On the occasion of Harry Reid's announcement that he would retire from the U.S. Senate at the end of this term, Amita Kelly reported today on NPR that Reid has never forgotten his path to the Senate, starting with his childhood in Searchlight, Nevada, population 539, where he grew up in a miner's shack made of repurposed railroad ties.  Reid moved back to Searchlight, which is in Clark County (also home to Las Vegas) with his family in the 1990s.  Reid stayed there until last year, when he moved to Las Vegas to be closer to his children. 

President Obama surprised Reid by calling into KNPR yesterday during an interview with the Senate majority leader.  The president commented on Reid's respect for where and how he grew up:   
I don't know anybody who understands more his roots, where he came from, what it means to not have anything when you're born, and scramble and scrape and work to get something.  He has never forgotten the path that he took ... in terms of someone who's got heart and cares about ordinary people trying to chase the American dream, I don't think there's been anybody ever.
In a 2005 profile of Reid, the New Yorker noted that he has called Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan a "political hack," Clarence Thomas an "embarrassment" and George W. Bush a "liar" and a "loser." The writer seems to find this remarkable, but I see it as a working class kid speaking with the characteristic bluntness associated with those who grew up in the sort of hardscrabble circumstances in which Reid was raised.

Friday, March 27, 2015

From rural China to tall-building careers in Shanghai

Frank Langfitt reports for NPR in a two-part series.  The second is headlined "An NPR Reporter Chauffeurs a Chinese Couple 500 Miles to their Rural Wedding," and the related story from the prior day is "Two Brothers in Rural China Beat the Odds; Practice Law in Shanghai."

Here are some excerpts from the second story, which focuses on the village wedding of one of the younger son:
Chinese New Year is the world's largest annual mass migration, when hundreds of millions of people pour from the big cities on China's developed coast back to their rural roots.

* * *
"When I was little, I used a bucket to get water here to water plants," says Rocky, 30, as he walks through his family's farm fields. "We also helped harvest peanuts." 
Most of the village's young people moved to cities long ago to work in factories and offices, he says. "Now, nobody takes care of this place." 
The concept of one's hometown is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. 
"They are supposed to come back," says Guo of her two sons. "Even if you are at the ends of the earth, this is where your ancestors are from, this is your birthplace." 
But Rocky may not do that.  He is planning to buy an apartment in Shanghai.   Rocky comments:
We had thought about coming back to the village after we get old, but I think this may not come true.
Langfitt observes that China's booming economy in recent decades has enabled migrating children to send some of their urban earnings home.  Rural homes are now larger, and some villagers now own cars or motorcycles.  Yet the boys' mother, Guo, still cooks with wood, and her home is not heated.  She does, however, have running water and a flat screen TV.

And here are excerpts from the prior day's, which introduced the family, this time focusing on the two sons' fortunes as lawyers in Shanghai, having successfully escaped village life with education: 
[M]any educated Chinese choose English names. And this Rocky, he took his name from Rocky Balboa, the fictional boxer from my hometown, Philadelphia. It's quite appropriate. Both Rockys were real long-shots. Our Rocky, the lawyer, he's the son of poor farmers. 
Many farmers' kids do end up in factories on the coast, but it's a lot harder for someone like our Rocky to actually make it to a Shanghai law firm. We begin our story on Rocky's wedding day. 
I'm driving some wedding guests in my rented Buick van. And up ahead, Rocky and his college sweetheart - her name is Xiao Piao - they're standing halfway out of the sunroof of a black sedan. And they're racing passed these terrace rice fields. Rocky's older brother, Ray - he's also a Shanghai lawyer - he's driving. It was this great image. 
You get an incredible sense of how far Rocky and his brother have come from this small village. … They're in a BMW. And they've just driven past a woman, an old woman, who has a bamboo pole on her shoulders. And she has two wicker baskets on either side. 
ROCKY: (Through interpreter) Everyone's fate, career and job are the result of one's struggle. They don't fall from the sky. It has nothing to do with feng shui. If I didn't take the bar and sat around at home, what use would good feng shui have been?
Langfitt emphasizes the influence of the boys' mother:  
You know, to understand the brothers' journey and what it means, you've got to meet their mom, Guo. She's 58. She's a spark plug with copper-colored hair. 
Guo financed the boys' education by selling fruit and vegetables—and even funerals clothes, but also had to borrow money to pay for Rocky and Ray's education.

One of the anecdotes Langfitt shares is that the mother has prepared her own tomb, though it is traditional for one's children to do this.  She proudly offered to show the tomb to Langfitt when he arrived in town for the wedding.  You can see a photo of it on the story. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Colorado (and Dutch) food innovation: but is it all making rurality obsolete?

NPR reported yesterday under the headline, "Is Colorado Primed to Become the Silicon Valley of Agriculture?", but the story seemed to be as much about The Netherlands as about Colorado.  Here's an excerpt:  
[A]t the first Colorado State University Agricultural Innovation Summit, held Mar. 18-20, Governor John Hickenlooper didn't start by trumpeting the state's farmers or scientists or entrepreneurs. He started instead by touting the accomplishments of a European country six times smaller than Colorado. 
"The Netherlands isn't very big. And they don't have a whole lot of people," Hickenlooper said. But, he noted, the Dutch economy has become a powerhouse in growing vegetables, producing dairy products and processing poultry. 
What they lack in manpower, they make up for in science and cooperation. Dutch universities pass research on to farmers. Food processing companies have staked headquarters there. Small tech start-ups pop up to solve nagging problems. They do it all as neighbors, in a tightly knit area called the Dutch Food Valley. 
"What's interesting is we're doing that exact same kind of innovation right here in Colorado," Hickenlooper said. That's why Hickenlooper and economists are increasingly talking about Colorado's potential to become the Silicon Valley of agriculture.
And here's the part that makes me wonder why I'm writing about this on Legal Ruralism:  
"The urban core is in fact the heart of agricultural innovation in the state of Colorado," Graff said. 
New neighborhoods in Denver and otherNorthern Colorado cities are being structured around gardens, small farms and food hubs,taking the local food movement to a scale where it's actually having a measurable effect on the city's economy. 
"We're seeing this industry grow exponentially in Denver," said the city's mayor Michael Hancock. "Small businesses are going into incubators and they're coming out as stronger businesses ready to contribute to the marketplace." 
Denver's also home to some of the biggest players in food processing, hosting headquarters for the largest maker of mozzarella cheese in the world, Leprino Foods, and the country's biggest flour milling company, Ardent Mills. Greeley is home to JBS USA, the North American arm of the largest meat packing company in the world. Boulder has become a hub for the production and processing of organic and natural foods with companies like Celestial Seasonings and Justin's Nut Butter.
Is this another example of urban brilliance making the rural obsolete?  (Having lived in The Netherlands for three years in the 1990s, I seem to recall that it is perhaps the most densely populated counties in the world—and that suggests urbanity.  Yet the country is also associated with farms, with cows, with milk, with cheese.)  Read other illustrations of the virtues of urban farming here and (urban links to rural farms) here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"The Western, Rural Rustbelt: Learning from Local Fiscal Crisis in Oregon"

That is the title of one of Professor Michelle Wilde Anderson's latest publications, in the Willamette Law Review (2014).  The abstract follows: 
Oregon’s rural timber counties have a great deal in common with the historic, post-industrial towns and cities of the Midwest. In both settings, the Great Recession pressed more pain into areas already downtrodden by the automation of human labor and global marketplaces for construction materials like steel and timber. Gone are olden days of plentiful jobs at livable wages, when hard, steady work earned a man enough money to afford a patch of land and a safe, upwardly-mobile life for his children. When jobs are scarce long enough, individual hardship widens into collective hardship. Sinking revenues mean that local governments can no longer look out for people fallen on hard times, and public services drop to levels not seen since the days of the Wild West. Local voters, as well as state and federal legislators, face striking questions about how deep they are willing to cut back the public sector: Must there be police and ambulances available for emergency dispatch at night and on weekends? Do we need a safety net related to mental health disorders, drug addiction, and poverty in old age? 
Rural Oregon thus has a great deal to learn from — and teach to — state and local governments of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and other hubs of steel and coal country. A more complete and nuanced picture of local fiscal crisis emerges from viewing the two regions together, a picture that overturns some of the settled political expectations and alignments created by viewing the traditional Rustbelt alone. In support of remedial efforts by legislators, scholars, and courts, the present article seeks to synthesize such a national exchange of experiences and policy experiments related to local government fiscal management.
An earlier post about Professor Anderson's work in relation to rural (well, exurban?) California is here.  Other posts about the fiscal crisis in rural Oregon are here and here.

Veterans Administration still struggling to meet health needs of rural vets

NPR reported earlier this month on the impact of recent VA changes on vets who live farthest from medical services.  Those changes came under the auspices of he Veterans Choice Act, which gives veterans the option of using a doctor outside the VA system if VA facilities are more than 40 miles away or if the wait for an appointment at a VA facility is more than 30 days.

Steve Walsh's March 11 story explains that while the rule seems simple enough, making it easier for veterans to get the care they need has been challenging in practice.  His story features retired Army vet John Bridzell, a volunteer who provides transportation to veterans from their homes to the VA Medical Clinic in Crown Point, Indiana, on Lake Michigan.  But many are going to Crown Point not to use that facility but rather to catch a shuttle bus to a facility in Chicago where a much wider array of services and specialists are on offer.  Oddly, given that the Crown Point facility doesn't have the services they need, these vets are disqualified from taking advantage of the 40-mile rule to opt out of the VA system because they are within 40 miles of Crown Point.  Walsh explains:
The Veterans Choice Act has only been operating since November, but it is struggling out of the gate. The non-profit organization Veterans of Foreign Wars, recently surveyed more than one thousand vets who thought they were eligible. But 80 percent of them reported the VA didn't offer them the option of going outside the VA system.
Among those advocating giving veterans better options is Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind.  Walsh quotes him:
We owe it to veterans not to burden them further as far as this travel. But it has been long-standing and it remains to be addressed.
Among other things, Visclosky is pushing for clarity on how to measure 40 miles—as the crow flies or as the highways run?  And what about the time consumed by traffic jams?
Then, today NPR reported again on this topic, this time with an update on how the VA will henceforth measure the 40-miles—based on actual driving distance.  What this new rule will not do is fix the other problem facing vets like those whose closest facility is one like Crown Point, where relatively few services are on offer.  That close proximity—albeit to a small clinic—will still disqualify them from going outside the VA system.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

"Ornery Artist's Hand-Written Screeds" in rural Missouri now subject of major art exhibition

Greenville, California, March 2013
NPR ran this story last month about Jesse Howard's 20-acre compound of hand-painted signs, which he called Sorehead Hill, in Fulton, Missouri, population 12,790.  Here is the lede of C.J. Janovy's story:
By all accounts, self-taught artist Jesse Howard was cantankerous. In middle of the last century, it wasn't unusual to see hand-painted signs on country roads advertising a traveling fair or a farm sale. But Howard's signs offered Bible verses. They proclaimed his anger at his neighbors and the government, and his disappointments with the world around him. "Every word I'm saying's the truth," the artist said of his work. "Every word." 
Seen in Madison County, AR, May, 2010
Howard's work hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the American Folk Art Museum in New York and the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore. Now, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis has opened the first comprehensive survey of his work.

Court Street, Jasper, Arkansas 2011
Leslie Umberger, the Smithsonian folk art curator, explains the significance of Howard's work—and the work of others who built such environments in the 1940s and 1950s, including Sam Rodia in California and Fred Smith in Wisconsin.  Umberger says Sorehead hill was an
"art environment," or a personal space that's "built or constructed by an individual who, for whatever reason, decides to kind of reshape his or her corner of the world."  
According to Umberger, well-known artists like Roger Brown and Jasper Johns ultimately took note of what Howard, Rodia and Smith were doing.  Umberger continues:
And it makes a big difference because people start to really equate this radicalism with having a strong voice, a strong opinion, being truly original, for standing up for what you believe in and fighting for it.
Janovy reports, too, that Howard had to fight neighbors who "tore down his signs and vandalized his property," even seeking in 1952 "to have committed to an asylum," a fate he was able to avoid.

Hwy. 7 South, Jasper, Arkansas, November, 2011
All of this reminded me of some of the hand-painted screeds I have seen in rural places in recent years.  One is from Greenville, California, population, 1,129 (top), and the other near the community of Marble in Madison County, Arkansas, population 15,701.  These are similar to Howard in the sense of protesting against the government—or in the case of the Madison County sign, another individual--in one way or another.   

Hwy. 7 South, Jasper, Arkansas 2011; sign reads "Not Responsible for Accidents
The bottom photos are from Jasper, Arkansas, population 466, county seat of Newton County, Arkansas, population 8,330.  The first of these photos is of old fashioned junk shop and the last two, photographs of a ????? (outdoor junk shop?) taken two years apart.

Whatever it is, the owner is concerned about fending off liability because the latter version, two years after the first, features  sign that says "NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ACCIDENTS." (Very interesting for the torts professor in me).  While perhaps not political, all seem fairly artistic to me.  In particular, the last two photos of the same place two years apart show the proprietor becoming more artistic (and perhaps less entrepreneurial—less interesting in selling stuff than in displaying cultural artifacts in an interesting, even pleasing way) over time … 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Secure Rural Schools Act expires, taking rural school budgets down with it

NPR reported a few days ago from Idaho on the consequences of the expiration of school funding through the Secure Rural Schools Act.  Here's an excerpt:
The Basin School District in rural south-central Idaho has something most districts in the state don't: preschool. But now that's at risk because of federal funding cuts. 
It's not alone: Sparsely populated school districts and counties covered in federal forest lands will have less money this year — $250 million less — because Congress allowed the Secure Rural Schools Act to expire. 
* * *  
First approved by Congress in 2000, the Secure Rural Schools Act pays counties that have a lot of federal timber land. That land isn't taxable, you can't develop it, and resource and recreation opportunities are restricted. 
Now, federal-land-heavy counties across the country will get just a fraction of what they'd planned on because Congress allowed the funding to expire last September. 
Nearly every state in the country is losing money. Idaho got $28 million last year, but this year it gets $2 million.
According to the report,  Oregon's net loss—at $63 million--is the greatest of any state.  Montana and Washington are losing $19 million each.

Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) has introduced a bipartisan bill that would come to the rescue of these states and school districts.  That law would reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools Act and fully fund a separate support system for these rural counties called payment in lieu of taxes, or PILT.  Crapo explains:
This is not a spending program like most federal programs.  This is a responsibility the federal government has to the states, and frankly to the counties, for the impact on the counties that is being caused by the federal government.
Idaho has more federal land than almost any other state; 63 percent of Idaho is public, federally owned land. Basin School District's county is nearly 75 percent federal.  

At about the same time that this story ran on NPR, I saw a story in my hometown newspaper, the Newton County Times announcing that Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has signed into effect a law, Act 27, which will make a school district eligible for special funding as an isolated district if its student density is 1.5 students or less per square mile.  The prior threshold was 1.4 students per square mile, and the change was necessary if the Jasper district was to continue to receive the special funding as an isolated school.  The law was passed by the Arkansas House of Representatives by a vote of 95-0; the State Senate also passed it unanimously.  Representative David Branscum, R-Marshall, in neighboring Searcy County, authored the bill.  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What role is "rural" playing in this headline?

"Meet The 15-Year-Old From Rural Guatemala Who Addressed The U.N."

That was the headline NPR used for this story earlier this week, and I have been contemplating precisely why the media outlet included the word "rural."  Here's the gist of who the 15 year-old-Emelin is—the why she is in the news:  She spoke this week at the UN by invitation, in the "Every Woman Every Child" program, part of the Commission on the Status of Women.  Emelin spoke about the obstacles girls face in her community and how she and a friend persuaded the mayor to implement and fund policies to help.  

Having read the story, I surmise that the word "rural" is intended to convey backwardness, but then it seems all of Guatemala could be said to suffer from that malady.  Here's an excerpt of the story that discusses the young woman situation and motivation:  
Emelin lives in ConcepciĆ³n Chiquirichapa, which is located in the rural western highlands of Guatemala. Ninety-five percent of the population (including Emelin) are Maya Mam, an indigenous group that was one of the most persecuted during Guatemala's civil war. Only about 14 percent of girls there finish secondary school and about half have their first child by the age of 18, according to Denise Raquel Dunning, the founder and executive director of Let Girls Lead, a nonprofit organization that trains adolescents to advocate for education and health rights for girls and women. 
And Let Girls Lead lived up to its name. It gave Emelin and her friend Elba a chance to make a difference in their community. Through a Let Girls Lead initiative, the two teenagers met Juany Garcia Perez, who worked with the group and another nonprofit focused on girls' leadership. Juany became their mentor, teaching them about self-esteem, human rights, community organizing and public speaking. And they used these skills to make an impression on their village.
Now, it seems, Emelin and Elba have made an impression on the world—or at least had their 15 minutes of fame.  I hope their message about empowering girls—whether rural or urban—sticks!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Restrictions on medication abortions hurt rural women

NPR's Jennifer Ludden reported today on the ways in which states are increasingly regulating medication abortion.  Needless to say, this has an enormous impact on women who must travel farthest to reach an abortion provider—especially if other regulations in a given state require multiple visits to the provider.  In short, rural women stand to benefit most from the availability of medication abortion, especially if the medicines can be dispensed remotely—with the physician not necessarily in the presence of the woman.

Ludden contrasts Ohio, where lawmakers are seeking to further restrict medication abortion, with Iowa, where—until 2013—the drugs were dispensed using telemedicine.  Penny Dickey, chief clinical officer of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland described the Iowa process, in use from 2008 until Iowa's Board of Medicine—newly populated by appointees by a Republican governor—ordered it stopped in 2013:
"The physician and the patient connect via a HIPAA-compliant video conferencing system,"  The doctor reviews the woman's ultrasound online and they talk about her medical history. Then ... the doctor clicks in his or her computer to open a locked drawer where the patient is sitting. 
"It will say, are you sure you want to do this?" she says. "And they'll click again, and the drawer will open." 
Inside are the two medications. The woman takes the mifepristone in view of the doctor. A clinic staffer sitting with her confirms instructions on taking the second drug at home.
When in use, the program led to earlier abortions, which are also less expensive and safer.  Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has sued the state over the ban; the case is now before the Iowa Supreme Court.  

Meanwhile, 16 states have proactively banned telemedicine for abortion, and more such bills are expected in other statehouses this year.

For this story, Ludden interviewed Dan Grossman, an obstetrician who is vice president of Ibis Reproductive Health, a nonprofit that promotes safe access to abortion.  He says "medication abortion is so safe and so easy, you can imagine not needing to visit a clinic at all.
Medical abortion has the potential to be a real disruptive technology and change the way women access and experience abortion. …  It would really be quite easy for women to actually use this on their own … and potentially access this medication directly from a pharmacy. It could almost be eligible for the kind of medication that could be available over the counter.
I discuss medication abortion, in particular in relation to a Texas law limiting its use, in this article.  The Iowa shift on medication abortion was the topic of this earlier post.  Iowa's initial decision to permit medication abortion remotely was the subject of this post.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bare-bones legal aid group helping rural poor in central India

Max Bearak reports for the New York Times under the headline, "Shoestring Legal Aid Group Helps Poor in Rural India."  The story features 44-year-old Shalini Gera, who lives in Jagdalpur, India, and runs a shoestring legal aid organization serving the rural poor:  

Ms. Gera likes to joke that, until recently, the closest she got to rural life was in San Jose, Calif. But here in Jagdalpur, in the central state of Chhattisgarh, she has become intimately familiar with the rhythms of a deeply troubled countryside — and the legal travails of the region’s indigenous people, known as adivasis.

Five years ago, she was a consultant in the Bay Area pharmaceutical industry, and a homesick member of the large Indian diaspora there. But on trips back to India, she became more and more passionate about social justice. Sudha Bharadwaj, a firebrand trade unionist and lawyer working mostly with laborers in steel plants and mines, urged her to look at Chhattisgarh, where human rights abuses are often overlooked in the clamor of a long-running conflict.
“What we really need here, more than anything else, are good lawyers,” Ms. Bharadwaj told her at the time.

* * * 

In 2010, Ms. Gera enrolled in Delhi University’s law program. There, she met Isha Khandelwal, 24, who also had redirected her trajectory from studying computer programming to studying human rights law in the capital. Together, and with the help of Ms. Bharadwaj, they founded a private legal aid group, operating on a shoestring budget comprising scholarships, donations, and personal savings.
* * *
In July 2013, Ms. Gera and Ms. Khandelwal, together with another recent graduate, Parijata Bharadwaj, 25, who is no relation to Sudha, moved to Jagdalpur and founded the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, leaving behind fretful friends and families in cities far removed from the conflict. A year and a half later, the three are now four — joined by Guneet Kaur, 24, a recent law degree graduate from the University of California at Berkeley. The team of young lawyers is now known by a nickname reminiscent of a made-for-TV drama: JagLAG.

They live together, sharing spartan quarters in the office-cum-apartment. Mealtime conversations revolve around the dozens of cases they are juggling. There are no weekends, and trips home are few and far between.

Ms. Gera goes almost every week to the district court in a nearby town called Dantewada. On a recent morning, in an empty hallway of the court, she took a black sports coat out of her backpack, unfolded it, put it on, and affixed a white advocate’s collar around her neck. In a country where court complexes are ordinarily filled with commotion, this one was a scene of relative serenity. Barely a handful of people milled about. Lawyers and judges sat on plastic chairs in the courtyard, sipping tea in the winter sun.