Second Chance Pell Grant Program gives incarcerated an opportunity to earn a college degree

After being selected by the US Department of Education, The University of Baltimore has partnered for several years with the Jessup Correctional Institution through the Second Chance Pell Grant Program

The Program is a Federal initiative started during the Obama Administration that allows incarcerated people across the United States to receive a college education.  

Second Chance offers mentorship and tutoring services under its educational platform in a similar capacity to what UB provides for all of its students. The Program’s mentors and tutors are other incarcerated men who take on leadership roles because of their commitment to higher education.

Second Chance is available depending on the nature of the admitee’s convictions and probable parole dates, with the caveat that good behavior is required. Under director Andrea Cantora, Second Chance admitted 52 individuals in the 2017-2018 academic year as University of Baltimore students.

Each semester, enrolled students take two to three courses with an additional 10 hours of weekly half sessions. In these study sessions, the students are provided access to computers, time studying with a tutor or mentor, and general counseling as needed. 

Second Chance allows students to start coursework at JCI with the idea that they will transfer to the University of Baltimore campus when released. When incarcerated students transfer to UB’s campus, there are re-entry strategies in place to help guide them. 

Dr. Nicole Hudgins, an associate professor of History at JCI, has taught classes through Second Chance. 

“As UB is a four-year school, it is able to offer bachelor’s degrees where a good number of colleges on the coveted list are community colleges and can only offer associates with the ability to transfer,” Hudgins said.

At JCI, UB offers a B.A. in Human Services Administration with an option to minor in Entrepreneurship. 

The training for the Human Services Administration degree not only allows felons to have a degree from a reputable institution like UB but also takes into account their skills and ability to use a social justice lens when taking on jobs in the human services field.

Program graduates have entered fields such as public service, addiction counseling and social work. 

“I went into JCI with trepidation but soon discovered that the men were excellent students. Not having technological distractions, they read the assigned texts carefully and arrive to class fully prepared to discuss what is often challenging reading.” Hudgins continued, “It was a revelation to see that the students understood theoretical material perfectly. Anything dealing with injustice, oppression, like Frantz Fanon or Karl Marx, they had a good understanding of the arguments.” 

Spring 2021 starts a new semester at JCI. With Covid-19 making its way into all aspects of everyday life, prisons are no exception. Remote learning may seem to be a challenge to some, but Cantora is familiar with the landscape and is fiercely dedicated to this program succeeding.

Graham Antreasian is a staff writer for The Sting.

Hogan establishes redistricting reform commission


BOWIE, Md. — In the latest effort to resolve a gerrymandering issue in the state, Gov. Larry Hogan, R, this month announced the formation of the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Hogan’s executive order comes 18 months after the Supreme Court declared that federal courts had no jurisdiction in resolving the issue of partisan redistricting. In a 5-4 court decision, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the burden of adjusting the redistricting process fell on the legislative branch. The governor said he had tried to introduce a Redistricting Reform Act five times, but none of the bills gained traction in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. 

The commission would be in charge of redrawing legislative maps that have been the subject of criticism from advocates and the challenge in the Supreme Court. The nine-member panel will consist of three Democrats, three Republicans and three  independent voters. Members of the commission must be registered Maryland voters who have either registered for the same party or remained unaffiliated for at least three years. Lobbyists, political employees or representatives for office in the General Assembly or Congress are ineligible. 

Three members who will serve as co-chairs on the committee are:

Judge Alexander Williams, a registered Democrat, served as a district court judge in Maryland for 10 years.

Dr. Kathleen Hetherington, an independent voter with a doctorate in education, is the current president of Howard Community College. 

Walter Olson, a registered Republican and senior fellow at the Cato Institute, authored two studies on gerrymandering in Maryland.

Co-chairs will have final say on who occupies the remaining six seats on the panel.

Once chosen, the commission will come up with redistricting maps with respect to population and geographical borders. 
Redistricting maps are redrawn and voted on by the General Assembly after each census. Common Cause Maryland, a redistricting reform advocacy group, said that the commission “helps our collective efforts to ensure Maryland’s line-drawing process is open and transparent.” 

The commission’s makeup and its duties were drawn from recommendations of a bipartisan 11-member Redistricting Reform Commission the governor ordered in August of 2015. The commission, of which Olson and Williams were co-chairs, released a 62-page report on the issue in November of that year. The report found that legislatures in charge of redistricting had “an incentive to produce redistricting maps that favor their particular party.”

Even state houses with split-party control face issues, according to the commission, as both parties tend to favor maps that protect their current members. Maryland has seven Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives compared to one Republican, despite Democrats outpacing Republicans by a ratio of 2-to-1.

Hogan made redistricting reform one of his talking points during his 2014 campaign just two years after maps were redrawn by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, D, after the 2010 Census. The maps drew voters from Democratic strongholds in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties as well as Baltimore into more traditionally Republican districts.  That resulted in heavily edited districts, including what the Washington Post called “The most bizarrely gerrymandered district,” Maryland’s third.

District three, which extends from north of Baltimore out to Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties, earned the dubious title of the nation’s most gerrymandered district by the New Republic. District three’s makeup was an example of how “a healthy and strong two-party system” was impossible in Maryland according to Hogan.

While Hogan championed the commission as a way to curtail partisan map redistricting, its ability to do so is ambiguous.
Any new maps proposed by the redistricting commission have to be approved by the General Assembly before they take effect. Redrawn maps that provide equity to both parties could still be rejected by the Democratic supermajority in Annapolis.  
Some have criticized the governor’s efforts on redistricting as the state continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and a sluggish vaccine rollout. 

“It feels like political theatrics at a time where Marylanders are struggling in ways that are unimaginable,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore said during a Jan 15 press conference. 

A date for the first meeting of the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission has not yet been set. 

Parksville Crabs, A Frequent SEB Partner, Begins Recovery After Fatal Accident

Image Source: News Break

Parksville Crabs, a frequent SEB partner, was involved in a fatal accident on Friday, December 18. 

Shortly after 12:30 PM, a car drove through the front window of the restaurant located on Harford Road in northeastern Baltimore County. Both the car’s driver and passenger, despite extensive damage to the building, did not sustain any injuries. 

Debris from the crash, however, ultimately claimed the life of Deanna Jean Allik, an employee of the restaurant who lived nearby. 

“Parkville Crabs is and has been a great partner of [UB and the SEB] … their number one priority is the community they serve,” said Kevin McHugh, former Student Events Board president who coordinated with Parkville Crabs for last year’s Crab Feast. “What has happened was profoundly devastating, and I hope that they come back better than ever with the support of the Baltimore community.”

This year’s crab feast was cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

A GoFundMe page has been established to support Parksville Crabs and the Allik’s family during this critical time. 

Jennifer Peach, a spokesperson for the Baltimore County Police Department, said that the accident seemed purely accidental but reminded the public that vehicular fatality investigations take at least ‘a month or two’. No arrests or charges have been made at this time. 

Graham Antreasian is a staff writer for The Sting

Congressman, Actress, and Federal Economist Among Maryland’s Top Donors

By GRACIE TODD, Capital News Service

Three Maryland couples – including Rep. David Trone and his wife, June – contributed more to federal campaigns this cycle than all the other 1.7 million reported contributions under $15 in the state combined, illustrating one way, according to some analysts, in which the wealthy have outsized political influence. 

The Trones, along with Stewart and Sandra Bainum of Howard County and Chani and Steven Laufer of Montgomery County, have given a combined total of over $8.3 million to House, Senate and presidential elections since the start of 2019, almost entirely to Democratic committees, according to Federal Election Commission records current through Oct 14. 

Those six people accounted for $4.5 million in donations to former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign and supporting groups. They gave around $28,000 to congressional candidates in Maryland, and at least $900,000 to congressional candidates in 29 other states.

Those candidates included incumbent Democratic Reps. Katie Porter of California; Elissa Slotkin of Michigan; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California; and Democratic Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama and Gary Peters of Michigan. 

Trone represents Maryland’s Sixth District in the House and co-owns Total Wine & More, an alcohol retail chain. He gave over $1.4 million to federal races. June gave over $830,000. 

Stewart Bainum gave over $3.2 million. He is a former member of the Maryland General Assembly, serving in both the House and Senate. He unsuccessfully campaigned for Congress twice in the 1980s and considered a run for governor in the 1990s. Bainum leads Choice Hotels International, which has a presence in over 40 countries and was founded by his father. His wife Sandra, who has produced a full-length film and acted on Broadway, gave over $1.1 million. 

Chani and Steven Laufer gave over $960,000 and $730,000, respectively. Chani is a former lawyer and journalist, and Steven is an economist at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

Only the Laufers gave any money to Republican committees, each contributing the maximum amount permitted by an individual to a candidate in a single election: $2,800, to Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey GOP congressman running for reelection.

Michael J. Wallace of Annapolis appeared to be the largest Republican-leaning donor, giving over $340,000, including over $130,000 to committees supporting President Donald Trump and over $33,000 to congressional candidates in 10 states outside of Maryland, FEC records show. Wallace advises the president on homeland security as a member of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council. 

The Trones, Bainums, Laufers and Wallace did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Donors giving over $100,000 in an election cycle are part of an elite group, representing less than 0.00001% of the United States population, but accounting for over one-fifth of all contributions to federal elections, according to figures released by the Center for Responsive Politics in late September. 

The candidate who raises the most wins roughly 9 out of 10 times in House elections and roughly 8 out of 10 times in Senate elections, according to the center, which is nonpartisan. In 2016, Trump was the first presidential candidate since 1976 to win against a candidate with a bigger budget.

Wealthy donors may have a greater impact on policy-making, along with campaign contributions, according to research from Princeton University, the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, the University of Utah, and other organizations. 

“The evidence shows that wealthy individuals have more political influence,” Tabatha Abu El-Haj, law professor at Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law, told Capital News Service, adding “how much of that is a product of donations is less clear.” 

Abu El-Haj said the influence of wealthy donors can only sometimes be directly traced to their contributions. More often, she said it is a consequence of an increasingly wealthy group of politicians who listen to and interact with other wealthy individuals. 

“It’s not the money that gets (donors) the policy response, it’s the fact that their phone call is going to be picked up by the elected officials,” Abu El-Haj said. “Because they gave in the last election, and because they’ve been at the same parties.”

As the cost of campaigning increases nearly every cycle, Abu El-Haj said, those with elite backgrounds – disproportionately wealthy, white and often educated at top law schools – are more likely to be elected because these candidates tend to “have an initial social network that’s going to bring enough money.”

Over half of lawmakers in Congress are millionaires, according to a Center for Responsive Politics report last spring. The richest member may be Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Georgia, who is halfway to amassing $1 billion. There has not been a single non-millionaire president since Harry S. Truman in 1953.

Charlie Cooper, president of Get Money Out of Maryland, a volunteer group that opposes the influence of big donors in politics, said for wealthy donors, “campaign contributions are chump change.” 

“They’re doing that for access,” Cooper said, adding that this comes with a tradeoff: when wealthy people have greater access to politicians, politicians “can only pay so much attention to their constituents.” 

Cooper and the group he founded in Baltimore advocate for an amendment to the United States Constitution that would require regulation of money in politics “for the sake of political equality.” 

The amendment, proposed in 2019 by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, would effectively overturn Citizens United, a controversial 2010 Supreme Court ruling decided by a 5-4 vote that limiting the amount of money that corporations and other outside groups can spend on elections threatens the First Amendment right to free speech.

“When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court’s majority. “This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”  

Then-President Barack Obama, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, then-Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders all expressed opposition to the court’s decision. Obama has said the Citizens United ruling “has caused real harm to our democracy.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has defended removing limits on corporations and outside groups, saying the court decision “leveled the playing field for corporate America and union America” to express their ideas in the same way media organizations do before elections.

But with unlimited corporation and outside group spending, “we feel that they’re drowning out the voices of the people,” Cooper said. “The policies show very clearly that the interest of the average working person just is not taken into account at all.” 

David Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester, said “the preferences of wealthy donors get heard more in Washington and in state legislatures than the average American.” 

Primo’s research, presented in a book he recently co-authored, “Campaign Finance and American Democracy: What the Public Really Thinks and Why It Matters,” warns that campaign finance reform alone would not restore the public’s trust in government, as the reasons for that distrust are far deeper and broader.

Still, small donors can benefit candidates in ways their wealthier counterparts can’t. 

This year, presidential candidates in the Democratic primary required a certain amount of small donations to qualify for debates. Small donations also “send a signal that a candidate has a broad base of support,” Primo said. 

Julián Pérez-García, a senior at University of Maryland studying government and spanish who gave $8 to Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign last winter, says he doesn’t expect his small contributions to have much impact, but the inequalities in campaign finance are “discouraging, disheartening.”

“We need to change how campaigns are financed, because the fact that it’s even necessary to give that much money to a campaign is unfortunate,” Pérez-García said. 

Pérez-García said he plans to go into government to “affect change from within,” adding that it’s important to be politically active outside of donating. Why did Pérez-García give? “I liked the candidate,” he said. “I think ultimately that’s why anyone should donate, because they like the candidate

The Bums of Baltimore?

In 1939, Willard Mullin of the New York World Telegram got into a taxi and asked the driver how the hapless Brooklyn Dodgers were doing. 

“Dem bums are bums,” the cab driver said.

The name stuck as long as the Dodgers were in Brooklyn despite numerous World Series appearances and a title in 1955. But it’s hardly fitting to call them that anymore. In the past eight years, they have made the postseason every year, with World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. 

If we were to bestow the “dem bums” title upon another team, who would it be?

Easily, the Baltimore Orioles.

Now I don’t say that to be ungenerous. In fact, I’m a lifelong Orioles fan who makes about five or six games a year, in addition to Ironbirds and Keys games. However, this is the fourth year in a row that the Orioles losing record has disappointed me. Night after night (or Sunday afternoon), I sat in front of my television screaming at the poor performance or sheer horrible luck that plagued my favorite team.

2020 has been a bizarre year across the board. Baseball has been no exception. After postponing the season during spring training in March, baseball returned in Julyfor a 60-game season, a little more than ⅓ the length of a normal season. There were unorthodox new rules, including a universal DH, placing a runner on second base during extra innings, and 7-inning double headers.

Despite the unconventional changes, the season went on. The Orioles, described last season as “hapless” by Sports Illustrated, had a better performance this year, even finishing ahead of the 2018 World Champion Boston Red Sox. Even with some slight improvements, the Orioles still have some inadequate areas.

For starters, the team needs drasticrefinement in baserunning. Third-base coach Jose Flores was sloppy at his job, often signaling runners to advance when there wasn’t enough time, leading to easy outs. Ferocity in the style of the great Pete Rose should be admired, but not stupidity that sees your players getting thrown out when they have a chance to score runs if they had just been held at second or third for another at-bat.

Pitching still torments the Orioles too. Despite the team improving their ERA by one whole run, a 4.51 ERA is still a staunch reminder that the Orioles pitchers have their work cut out for them. Starters and the bullpen both have been mediocre at best. Cole Sulser, who seemed like Brandon Hyde’s go-to guy in the bullpen, has a long way to go if he’s hoping to be in a class with former Orioles O’Day and Britton.

Dean Kremer, the first Israeli to be drafted by an MLB team, made his major league debut this season with a respectable .500 record and a 4.82 ERA. Not great, but the 24-year old has promise. Heading into next season, I hope he’ll be able to improve his ERA and walk percentage, and become a solid part of the Orioles’ pitching rotation.

Perhaps the best news on these fronts is that Jose Flores and pitching coach Doug Brocail are gone, with the organization announcing Wednesday that they wouldn’t return.

The Orioles also saw their fair share of tragedy this year. In March, outfielder Trey Mancini was diagnosed with colon cancer and missed the entire shortened season to undergo chemotherapy treatments. One of the Orioles’ most valuable players, Mancini was immensely missed in the lineup this year as other players tried to pick up the slack where they could. Mancini recently finished his treatments at Johns Hopkins, so he will hopefully be deemed cancer free and will be able to return to the team next year.

Ace pitcher John Means was dealt a blow when his father died after a battle with pancreatic cancer in early August. Upon his return from the bereavement list, Means was in poor form.

Dealing with feelings of anger over his father’s death, Means was unable to control his pitching. He dealt with those personal issues and was able to finish the season on a strong note, including two quality starts in September.

And then there’s Chris Davis: the bane of the Orioles’ existence. Davis again had a disappointing year, finishing the season with an abysmal .115 batting average. Although he spent most of the short season on the IL, Davis hasn’t looked good since 2015 when he hit .262. The Orioles are stuck paying him $23 million a year through the 2022 season.

So, glass half-empty or glass half-full? 

The Orioles still have a long way to go before they approach their former glory from the era of Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson, but they’re starting to get on the right track. Only making the playoffs three times in the last 20 years, the Orioles really are bums. 

But at the end of the day, who cares if they’re bums? I still love the Orioles, and so do many long-enduring Baltimoreans. The Red Sox waited 86 years for a World Series title. The Cubs waited 108. We’ve only been waiting 37.

The Orioles will get there, but I hope we won’t have to wait much longer.

Tony Sheaffer is managing editor for The Sting.

Bmore Community Fridge attempts to fight hunger in the city

Baltimore might soon have a community fridge system. 

New York City and Baltimore City soon might have something in common: both cities will have community fridges. 

In Baltimore, Bmore Community Fridge has announced plans to open a community fridge in hopes of expanding access to food not available in food pantries or government assistance programs but is struggling to find a space to host the fridge.

Bmore Community Fridge assured The Sting that they will remain in touch for follow-up information.

Community fridges are public refrigerators focused on providing underserved communities with healthy and nutritious food while reducing food waste. This not only furthers access to foods not available in food pantries or government assistance programs but also builds community, as neighbors and businesses can donate food as well.

In New York, individual volunteers and organizations, such as the nonprofit organization A New World In Our Hearts, have established refrigerators throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn with community members maintaining these spaces. Everyone works together to make sure that the fridges are kept clean and that food remains stocked. Some of the fridges even have social media pages that list what’s available daily.

The community fridge system, although novel in many American cities, is a familiar concept in other parts of the world. A volunteer-run organization called Foodsharing pioneered the idea and began setting up community fridges across Germany in 2014 after they had started peer to peer food saving and sharing in 2012. The concept became extremely popularized in Berlin and has made its way over to the United States with community fridges in cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Miami.

Kopper Boyd is a staff writer for The Sting.