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Jesse Lava
Jesse Lava's career is about promoting public policies that serve the common good. He is now director of legislative affairs at the Chicago Department of Public Health. In that role he develops and advances legislation to improve the health of all Chicago residents. Previously he spent three years in Los Angeles at Brave New Films, which produces videos and engages social media to create a more just world. There he started and ran the group's Beyond Bars campaign against mass incarceration -- using visual storytelling to show the dysfunction of our nation's criminal justice system. Jesse has also done communications for progressive groups, worked to reclaim the national values debate from the religious right, and, in his first jobs out of college, campaigned door-to-door for political candidates. He got his bachelor's from Wesleyan University and a master's in public policy from Harvard University. Jesse lives in Chicago.

Entries by Jesse Lava

The Biggest, Baddest Prison Profiteer of Them All

(12) Comments | Posted November 5, 2013 | 10:42 AM

Co-authored by Sarah Solon, communications strategist at the ACLU.

"CCA" has become a dirty word.

Kanye West cited it when rapping about America's class of "New Slaves." Anonymous invoked it to describe a bad financial investment that undermines justice. And for state after state,...

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When Did 'To Serve and Protect' Become 'To Seize and Profit'?

(8) Comments | Posted October 29, 2013 | 2:38 PM

Co-authored by Sarah Solon, communications strategist at the ACLU.

Leon and Mary Adams had been living in their Philadelphia home for nearly five decades. They were eating breakfast one morning last year when armed cops streamed out of a bunch of vans and said the couple had 10 minutes to...

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As Immigration Reform Comes Up Again, Watch This Private Prison Company

(30) Comments | Posted October 22, 2013 | 1:43 PM

Co-authored by Sarah Solon, communications strategist at the ACLU

Now that the federal government is up and running again, President Obama has announced that immigration reform is his highest priority. The country's biggest for-profit prison companies already pull in hundreds of millions of dollars a year locking up immigrants...

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Should It Cost Less to Get Out of Jail If You're Rich?

(1) Comments | Posted October 15, 2013 | 1:33 PM

Eric Amparan likes the system the way it is now. As a bail bondsman, he's part of an industry that pulls in $2 billion in revenue every year. Eric lays out how he profits off of financial desperation in our latest video in the Prison Profiteers series:

Here's how it typically works: If you're booked into jail, you can either sit in a cell for months waiting for your trial -- losing your job and missing your childcare commitments in the process -- or you can pay bail to the court. Bail functions like a promise; the court will return it to you when you show up for your court date.

The average bail amount is nearly $90,000. If you don't happen to have this amount sitting in your bank account, odds are you'll need to borrow it from a bail bondsman, like Eric Amparan. Here's the catch: Eric will keep 10 percent of this amount as his non-refundable fee, even if you're found innocent. So you pay almost $9,000 to get out of jail if you're poor or middle class, but you pay nothing if you're rich.

Bail is not a fine. It is not supposed to be used as punishment. The traditional purpose of bail is simply to ensure that people will return for their court date. But the commercial bail industry's business model is to make it more expensive for people of lesser means to move through the criminal justice system.

Most states have laws saying that the default should be that people are released from jail while waiting for their trial solely based on their promise to return to court -- unless there's a really compelling reason to hold them. And these laws could work -- studies show that most people can be safely released based on their promise to return without jeopardizing public safety or fleeing.

But judges often ignore these laws, and instead make people pay bail -- which feeds right into the bail profiteers' business model. The higher the bail set by judges, the higher the profit for bail bond companies. The American Bail Coalition -- a lobbying group that represents the bail bondsmen, powerful insurance companies and wealthy investors -- is working hard to make sure these profits keep coming in. They spent $3.1 million dollars lobbying state lawmakers between 2002 and 2011 and drafted twelve bail bills that encourage judges to set high bail amounts and give the bail industry more leeway to profit off incarceration.

Four states -- Illinois, Kentucky Oregon and Wisconsin -- have abolished the bail bonding industry. Other states should do the same.

We shouldn't have two criminal justice systems -- one for the rich and one for the rest of us. The commercial bail industry needs to know we're watching.

The bail industry is just one the many powerful entities getting rich off mass incarceration. Meet the other Prison Profiteers and take action to fight their abuses at

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If You Get Sick, Pray These Guys Don't Treat You (Video)

(0) Comments | Posted October 8, 2013 | 3:28 PM

Co-authored by Sarah Solon, communications strategist at the ACLU.

Frankie Barton's son has Hepatitis C. It's treatable, but she says the for-profit Corizon Prison Health Management has skimped on giving him the proper treatment while he's incarcerated in Arizona. If he goes without care, he'll develop sclerosis...

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Meet the Prison Phone Company Profiting Off Love (VIDEO)

(2) Comments | Posted October 1, 2013 | 11:38 AM

While the two of us were writing this blog post, we called each other twice. Our organizations -- the ACLU and Brave New Foundation -- paid for the calls via flat monthly payments to our respective phone companies. The rates are reasonable, and if they weren't, our workplaces could switch...

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50 Years After MLK's Speech, This Is the New Dream

(1) Comments | Posted August 21, 2013 | 4:15 AM

Next week, it will be 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. gave the "I Have a Dream" speech. He railed then against "the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination," contending that the African-American was "an exile in his own land." Yet he could not have imagined that...

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Three Reasons Why Smart Is the New Dumb on Criminal Justice

(8) Comments | Posted August 14, 2013 | 5:35 AM

For decades, the political debate on criminal justice in the United States has been dominated by the swaggering, get-tough crowd. Jail more of 'em, jail 'em for longer, make their lives miserable when they come out -- this has been the conventional wisdom. Politicians from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton...

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What Orange Is the New Black Gets Right About the Prison System -- And What It Leaves Out

(16) Comments | Posted August 12, 2013 | 5:16 PM

Shows revolving around prisons and law enforcement have traditionally sensationalized crime and dehumanized criminals. Think Lockup, CSI, Oz, Cops, the Law & Order franchise -- there are good guys and bad guys, and the bad guys are really bad. But TV is changing. Pockets of programming are becoming sophisticated and...

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What Edward Snowden and Trayvon Martin Have in Common

(82) Comments | Posted August 3, 2013 | 12:43 PM

Edward Snowden is a white adult who had access to government secrets and was willing to be exiled and risk prosecution to reveal them.

Trayvon Martin was a black minor who didn't choose to get killed and certainly cannot flee to a safe haven now.


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Allegedly Racist Judge Has a History of Saying Awful Stuff

(7) Comments | Posted June 6, 2013 | 4:56 PM

If you were to make a list of things that a sitting judge should not believe, I suspect one item would be that some racial groups are inherently inclined to be guilty. Yet federal judge Edith Jones of Texas seems to have revealed precisely that belief. Attendees of a...

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To Offset Disaster Relief, Curb the Drug War (VIDEO)

(6) Comments | Posted May 21, 2013 | 5:09 PM

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) says federal aid to his home state after the tornado should be offset by spending cuts elsewhere. We'll see how well the ideological integrity holds up if offsets aren't quickly found, but nevertheless, the question of how to fund disaster relief is increasingly urgent....

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Would a White Girl Be Prosecuted for a Botched Science Experiment?

(659) Comments | Posted May 2, 2013 | 6:18 AM

By now you've probably heard about Kiera Wilmot, the 16-year-old Florida girl who botched a science experiment with a plastic bottle and toilet cleaner. The bottle ended up exploding, and though no one was hurt and no property damaged, Kiera was expelled from high school and is now...

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What If It's Not the Prisoner Who Needs Forgiveness? (VIDEO)

(4) Comments | Posted April 24, 2013 | 6:48 PM

Co-authored by Bill Mefford, director of civil and human rights at the United Methodist Church's General Board of Church & Society; and Sala Nolan Gonzales, minister for criminal justice and human rights at the United Church of Christ's Justice & Witness Ministries.

As Christians should know but often don't, mass...

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Why is this university president afraid of the truth on private prisons?

(0) Comments | Posted February 28, 2013 | 10:31 PM

The debate over Florida Atlantic University's decision to name a football stadium after a notorious private prison company has descended into deception.

Today, student activists confronted FAU President Mary Jane Saunders at a public forum to denounce the fact that the school is taking $6 million from the GEO Group...

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Did GEO Group Edit Its Wikipedia Page to Hide Its Past?

(32) Comments | Posted February 20, 2013 | 6:47 PM

Word came out yesterday that Florida Atlantic University had sold the naming rights to its new football stadium to the GEO Group, which is the second largest private prison company in America. Since that news broke, there has been an outpouring of criticism. Now, it appears that in...

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A Law So Awful It Literally Makes Judges Cry (VIDEO)

(2) Comments | Posted January 14, 2013 | 3:34 PM

Now that Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana, the momentum for reforming our nation's anachronistic pot laws is unmistakable. President Obama is finally talking about reform with a serious tone instead of dismissing it with jokes like he did early in his first term. And a

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Would Jesus Vote?

(27) Comments | Posted November 5, 2012 | 1:46 PM

I saw a headline here at Faithful Democrats the other day that asked, "Who Would Jesus Vote For?" The question gave me pause. What would it even look like for Jesus to vote?

Imagine Jesus walking into a polling place wearing his usual off-white tunic. He waits in...

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On One Issue, Two Empty Chairs

(4) Comments | Posted October 30, 2012 | 1:10 PM

With the presidential debates now over and little more than a week to go before the election, it's clear that the vigorous back-and-forth between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will leave out one of the great issues of our time: mass incarceration.

This issue doesn't get much...

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The Real Obama Betrayal

(777) Comments | Posted August 30, 2011 | 10:54 AM

Has Barack Obama betrayed the progressives who supported him in the 2008 election cycle?

Lefties have been outraged about Obama's repeated lunges to the right -- on the budget, on war, on the rule of law. Yet to hear pundits' tut-tutting response, you'd think these critics are naïfs.

In Politico,...

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