Most district attorney's offices have broad discretion when prosecuting criminal cases. In virtually every county or municipality, racial, economic, and gendered characteristics most clearly explain criminal justice disparities. With the election of a new, progressive district attorney in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, I realized a policy window to train community volunteers to view district court proceedings and record qualitative and quantitative data from their experiences. The district attorney's office has already fulfilled its promise to decrease its reliance on cash bail. Now, we hope to record data that will catalyze the fulfillment of other reforms while also noting any continuing disparities.
The district attorney's office does not record the most relevant demographic data as of 2019. With the support of the local district attorney's office, the Berkshire County NAACP, and members of local grassroot organizations, we launched a CourtWatch program. The program compiles information on defendants and their criminal cases as they appear across the three district courts in Berkshire County (Southern Berkshire in Great Barrington, Pittsfield, and Northern Berkshire in North Adams). We averaged around 20 citizens per training, and we conducted trainings between Williamstown and Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Immediately, the data taught us two lessons. The first is that substance abuse is prevalent in our County, and addiction poses an extenuating circumstance in many cases. Secondly, we noticed an uptick in dangerous hearing, which result in pre-trial detention for defendants. Black and Hispanic defendants were overrepresented relative to county demographics by approximately 3-fold and 4-fold, respectively. Slightly more than half of the cases were traffic offenses, of which defendants of different races were almost equally likely to be charged.
Our analysis informs several observations. The first is the need for the Berkshire County District Attorney's Office to collect data on their criminal proceedings and the need to publicize the data. The second is the increase in dangerousness hearings, which have increased as the reliance on cash bail has declined. Lastly, we'd like to highlight the racial disproportionality of defendants appearing before district courts. We want to bring attention to any related social problems contributing to such disproportionalities ranging from biases in policing to housing insecurities and substance addiction. With the Q-Side Institute's help, we have analyzed our preliminary data and made it available to both the Berkshire County District Attorney's Office and the general public. Criminal justice issues are pervasive and relevant to rural communities. As a result, rural residents ought to be empowered to inspire change in their local criminal justice systems through mechanisms such as a citizens' CourtWatch Program.
For the full report, related materials and media coverage of this project, please visit the Examples of Past Sentinels Proposals & Reports section.
The United States of America has the highest prison rate in the world with approximately 2.3 million people in state prisons, federal prisons, juvenile correctional facilities, local jails, Indian Country jails, military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and state psychiatric hospitals. This booklet, created for course credit (PSCI 21) and to complement a re-entry simulation held during Claiming Williams, looks into the specific system of U.S. reentry post-incarceration, or the reintegration of returning citizens, individuals who were formerly incarcerated, into society. Within one year of release, 56.7% of returning citizens will be rearrested, within two years of release 67.8% will be rearrested, and within three years of release 76.6% will be rearrested. This is a direct result of the many hardships returning citizens encounter post-incarceration such as the inability to find stable housing, employment, higher education, and support for mental health and drug abuse. An individual's process of reentry defines the remainder of their life, as well as the community they will be serving. It is imperative that returning citizens' hardships are no longer largely ignored. Through effective programs beginning during their sentence and continued through their integration back into society, recidivism rates can be reduced and returning citizens can regain a sense of identity as well as purpose in their community, and in society as a whole.
- Returning Citizen's ReEntry, A Second Chance (PDF of Complete Paper)
I am a sophomore at Williams College. My interest in community land initiatives targeted at addressing impoverishment was fostered through my Break Out Trip to Jackson, Mississippi. In Jackson, I was able to see the negative impact of housing inequity and gentrification but also, and most importantly, the dynamics of community empowerment. By working with and learning from activists, community members, and political advocacy groups, I saw the many ways there are to address a socio-economic issue. Further, this trip allowed me to share what I learned there on a global platform. By partnering with Catalytic Communities, I was able to relate Mississippi’s use of community land trusts to the global initiative for equitable housing. It has always been my goal is to shine a light on the many ways to combat systematic inequity, so to have this opportunity was extremely exciting.
During winter study 2019, I chose to ditch the college campus and travel to Austin Bat Refuge so I could expand my exotic animal care expertise with my favorite animal, bats. Austin Bat Refuge is a non-profit organization located in Austin, Texas that gives bats a second chance through rehabilitation, release, education, and conflict resolution. Austin Bat Refuge is run by two married retirees, Lee Mackenzie and Dianne Odegard, that have devoted the past decade to rehabilitating and releasing bats native to the entire central Texas area. The refuge is a 24/7 workplace, and during specific seasons of the year they are responsible for hundreds of injured, orphaned, and juvenile bats that require around the clock feeding and medical care. Over the past decade Austin Bat Refuge has worked with the city of Austin’s urban development committees to ensure the millions of bats that live and migrate through the city are not forgotten during urban expansion. They prevent bat colonies from being destroyed as well as offer services for bat exclusions that are both safe and responsible. They problem-solve areas where bat-human interactions could be problematic, teach people how to respond when they find a bat, and perform bat rescues to relocate bats which have found their way into homes, libraries, school, and businesses.
These sensational people quite literally run a two-person operation dedicated to animals that are hated and feared by a majority of the population. They work every day to dispel myths generated by misinformation and media sensationalization that are harming bats survival and replace them with love and understanding. My work with Austin Bat Refuge was incredibly hands-on and I formed such strong relationships with my bats and my mentors. My duties were daily nutrition, habitat maintenance, wild bat rescues, fundraising, flight training, physical examinations, and various other tasks related to organizing a non-profit organization. My day to day was never the same, and each day presented new surprises and complications! When you work with wild animals the payoffs are incredible, but most of the work is time consuming, painstaking, and heartbreaking. I loved each bat I was responsible for, and I was even allowed to release two fully rehabilitated bats back into their colony under Congress Avenue Bridge! The emotional experience at ABR was so positive, but more so was the learning experience. Dianne and Lee taught and trained me to be a bat advocate as well as caretaker, and I can’t wait to spread my love for bats with audiences that are mislead to malign these amazing species.
It is well established that bats are disliked, but why? Are they “dirty”? Are they “diseased”? Do they attack people, or sneak into houses at night and drink your blood? The answer to all of these is a big NO. You probably grew up seeing bats swarm people in scary movies, or heard your parents tell you “Don’t get near bats! They’re dirty!” The belief that all bats are rabid and suck blood has continued in our society due to a very deeply embedded primitive fear of the unknown and ancient iconography in which bats are portrayed as evil creatures of the night. Unfortunately, news sources rarely report on bats except when a certain species is convicted of carrying genetic information linked to pathogenic disease, or when a bat with rabies is suspected of transmitting the virus to a person. Media bias and full-story botch jobs not only victimize groups of people, but also groups of animals. Dispelling the first myth, bats don’t “carry” rabies. Bats like all other wild animals can become infected with rabies, and like every other animal they die from it. On average, less than two people in the U.S. contract/die from rabies annually. This is compared to the roughly 55,000 cases of rabies around the world, 99% of which are transmissions from rabid dogs. Secondly, the bats in North America are also all insectivores, yet even vampire bats don’t suck blood. Of the 3 species of vampire bats in the world, only 1 of them targets mammals and even then they only lap blood from open wounds.
Many more myths people believe in regards to bats are products of miseducation. Bats are not blind, they have eyes and see well with them. Yangochiropteran bats actually use echolocation as well and have better night vision than any other mammal, thus it is highly highly unlikely a bat will ever fly near you. What surprises people most is that 47 species of bat make their home in North America. All of the species are within the order Yangochiroptera and are classified by their insectivorous diet and ability to echolocate. Although bats (Chiroptera) are the second largest group of mammals around the world, they are still North America’s most threatened terrestrial vertebrates with over ⅓ of the populations in decline and 18% at risk for extinction. The sad reality for bats is that even though they do nothing to us yet most people distrust them, they are still affected by human expansion and ecological degradation. Every year habitat loss/fragmentation, wind turbines, urban development, and disease like White-Nose Syndrome puts bats in greater decline. Throughout the presentation I give examples of all that threatens our fuzzy, flying friends, why they’re important, and what we can do as a collective to promote the bat populations we live amongst.
One in ten people in Berkshire County is an immigrant -- but what does immigration mean for our county and our country, and how can we understand this in the context of national policies as well as global migration and refugee crises? This workshop, presented on Sunday, December 2nd, 2018 at the First Congregational Church in Williamstown by No Lost Generation, a student-led refugee and immigrant advocacy group at Williams College, offered an overview of immigration issues, examined the myths surrounding immigration rhetoric, and suggested ways to most effectively advocate for newcomers. Prior to this presentation, attendees were encouraged to watch Refugees of the Berkshires, a short film produced from interviews conducted by Williams students during Winter Study in January 2017.
Founded in 1999, the Playwright Mentorship Program (PMP), run through the Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshire County, MA, aims to bring together youth aged 13-19 who are survivors of trauma. It utilizes dramatic and comedic improvisation as a form of community building. It lasts 6 months, typically from late October to late April, and culminates in the participants performing a play where scenes are traumatic moments from the children’s lives at most local middle and high schools to spread awareness of the issues involved and of the program. The study reveals the numerous physical and mental health benefits of the program and aims to warrant a broader implementation of drama therapy as an effective tool of medical rehabilitation for trauma.
As a peer mentor who led one group of children during 2016-2017, I observed first-hand the positive changes in the behavior and mental health of participants throughout the duration of the program. As a researcher with two current publications in the British Medical Journal that evaluate the health benefits of clinical intervention in neonates, 1,2 I desired to quantitatively and analytically evaluate the behavioral, mental, and physical health benefits in all adolescent participants of PMP (if they existed). Program director Jane O’Leary had been implementing pre-PMP and post-PMP surveys since the program’s conception, which made for easy access to comprehensive data that at least in some ways tracked changes before and after the intervention. Therefore, this project aims to elucidate the potential health benefits of the integrative drama therapy program, the Playwright Mentorship Program, as well as to provide recommendations for the director to bolster its data collection.
- Equal Housing for All: A Report on Race Based Housing Discrimination in the United States (PDF of Complete Paper)
This report shares findings from a research project focused on improving Barrington Stage Company (BSC) patrons’ experiences travelling to and from shows at the Main Stage and Blatt Center. The research consisted of multiple site visits to the areas adjacent to the BSC buildings, careful study of Google satellite images of the streets in question, and benchmarking research on wayfinding techniques. I looked for conditions which potentially deter patrons from walking and driving in the area, including but not limited to poor lighting, landscape blight, and inadequate wayfinding. I followed up this research with an exploration of potential low-cost improvements that could be undertaken by BSC in partnership with other community stakeholders.
I recommend targeted landscaping, lighting and access improvements to the Polish Community Club, creative wayfinding techniques, a collaborative neighborhood beautification initiative, and the exploration of a pilot theatre-arts parking pass. Advanced together, these efforts could improve the look and tone of the neighborhood for non-locals as well as bolster the sense of pride among residents.
- BSC Parking and Pathways Improvement Project: Findings and Recommendations (PDF of Complete Paper)
Excerpted from "Intro" by Anna Pomper '18 and Keiana West '18
Print has always been a key tool in the creation of positive change. From Fire!!, the revolutionary literary magazine of the Harlem Renaissance, to The Black Panther paper, which served as a megaphone projecting Panther ideas across the country and the world, to Triple Jeopardy, the journal by the Third World Women’s Alliance which preserved their innovative coalition strategies for posterity. Newspapers have played crucial roles as both the voice of the movement, and the voice of the movement’s constituency. Print is where the conversation begins.
Unfortunately, the tradition of change-making newspapers has all but died out. In particular, there is no magazine of the kind we are particularly interested in, which is a strategy building magazine where readers and writers can share concrete ideas for implementing community programming and community organizing.
This absence is particularly felt on college campuses, where theoretical debates can sometimes distract from action. There’s a missing link, a need for a forum where theory can become practice. This is what we hope SUMMIT! can become.
Our focus on community programming reflects our belief that community programming and organizing represents the most viable site for positive change. We believe this for several reasons. In an unequal wo ld, providing people with equal access to fundamental needs inherently challenges those structures of inequality. Secondly, providing these community programs proves to people that your money is where your mouth is. It gives you credibility. People are a hundred times more willing to hear the theory if they’ve seen it in practice. Thirdly, community programming is excellent ground for coalition building. Allies are likely to be sympathetic to an organization that is providing free clothing or free housing to people in need.
As part of the Berkshire County Superintendents' Roundtable Countywide Professional Development Day in November 2017, this 6-hour professional development workshop provided middle and high school level faculty with history and up-to-date information about the current refugee crisis, local refugee resettlement, and immigration and migration as a vehicle for exploring American identity. The sessions included hands-on training and resources to prepare faculty to create their own oral history and/or service learning curriculum modules focused on building common ground through hearing and sharing stories of struggle. The workshop featured information on stereotyping and bias, oral history techniques, cultural competency, trauma and PTSD, and social & emotional learning.
The multi-session workshop was offered at Williams College with participation from faculty, staff and students, and leaders from other Berkshire County institutions, including the new Housatonic Heritage Oral History Center at Berkshire Commyunity College, the Pittsfield Public Schools, the Berkshire Immigrant Center and the Education Department and Playwright Mentoring Program of Barrington Stage Company.
Led by Emma Lezberg '20, No Lost Generation - Williams College (NLG) is the campus chapter of a national group supporting and advocating for refugees and immigrants. NLG's current focus is working with schools and local organizations to educate our campus and community about the global refugee crisis and migration.
Lack of accessibility—the ability to make a trip for a given purpose—has long been recognized as an urgent problem in Berkshire County. In a geographical area where it is difficult for conventional public transit to provide extensive service, those who lack access to a personal automobile often lack independent mobility. This is especially true of the senior population, who are less likely to be able to drive, walk, or use public transportation. This report analyzes the state of transportation in the Berkshires, and argues that as the Berkshire population continues to age a growing cohort of seniors will face severely limited mobility. This will likely result in increased social isolation, reduced access to health services, and added financial strain on this group, especially among the "old old" (those 80 years or older). This report argues that volunteer driver programs present the best solution to this growing problem. These programs are inexpensive, scalable, and simple to operate, and can supplement existing public transport services by filling in gaps and providing service to Berkshire County's most underserved groups. Specifically, this report recommends the TRIP program, a low-cost, voucher-based model. With minimal startup costs, the flexibility to serve a broad service area, and an approach based on empowering elderly clients, the TRIP model can reach a large number of underserved residents at very low cost.
In the past century, the livestock and dairy industry in the United States have undergone a major transformation. Currently, they are heavily reliant on intensive animal farming practices. This trend of consolidation and concentration has allowed for an increase in productivity and efficiency but has brought environmental issues, such as air pollution, soil depletion, and waste management, to the forefront of public policy regarding the U.S. livestock industry. There are also public health concerns such as spread of disease and an increasing use of antibiotics and animal welfare concerns as the number of animals per unit of land area increases.
In this report, I discuss this transformation and several of the concerns. I provide several federal policies related to livestock and dairy production, such as the 28 Hour Law, Federal Meat Inspection Act, and Whole Meat Act, and specific policies that attempt to address several of the concerns. I then address legislative state trends and highlight policies pending, passed, or failed to pass in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, State of New York, and State of Vermont.
Moreover, I explore the idea of transparency in farms and slaughterhouses and the history and status of ag-gag laws. I then give a brief overview of the rise of alternative food systems and local foods in response to a discontent with industrial agriculture. In addition, I discuss how there are far too few slaughterhouses to meet the growing demand for locally raised meat, creating bottlenecks of small producers, particularly in the Northeast states and how the number of dairy farms and cooperatives have also declined. Finally, I examine current policies, rulings, and regulations and suggest changes in public policy to address the rise of CAFOs; concerns of the environment, public health, and animal welfare; ag-gag laws and bottlenecks. My research required reading state bills, federal laws, books, newspaper articles, USDA/NASS statistical findings, as well as interviewing with local farmers and a former state legislator/agricultural commissioner.
In 2016, students in HIST 371, Oral History: Theory, Methods and Practice, produced North Adams Memories. Using interviews conducted in the class, the project tells some of the history of North Adams through the experiences and memories of people who lived and worked there. Please read and listen to their stories or download a PDF version of the site.