Chrysalis House Inc. (CHI) provides treatment for women with substance use and mental health disorders, while providing a safe and nurturing home for their children during their mother’s program of recovery. CHI is one of only three programs in the state that allows women to have their children live with them during residential treatment.
Many of our clients’ children come from traumatic situations, or have witnessed and/or been victims of abuse and neglect. They frequently suffer from developmental delays, behavioral issues, ADHD, and other challenges due to maternal drug use. It is our goal to give the children in our care the best possible start in life and break the generational cycle of addiction, crime, and poverty.
The AAWGT grant is providing a number of training opportunities for our Child Development Center staff. This includes a 90-hour early childhood certification, as well as specific training in trauma-informed care. Most of the children residing at Chrysalis House are between birth and three years old. This is a time of rapid cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, and motor development. The training is helping our staff provide a safe and loving environment, something that many of the children have been lacking in their young lives.
One of the training modules made possible through the AAWGT grant is a parenting training curriculum. Our Early Childhood Development Director, Denise Spencer, M.S., facilitates a weekly parenting skills group for our clients. Many of these women are first-time mothers and a significant number have not had positive parenting in their own families. It is vital that we provide them with the tools they need to become the most effective and loving parents they can be.
Chrysalis House is very grateful to AAWGT for this grant which allows us to offer vital training during these challenging COVID times.
Education Meeting: The Innocence Project: Causes of and Solutions to Wrongful Incarceration
June 8, 2022
On June 8, AAWGT presented a panel discussion for members and the community on Wrongful Incarceration and The Innocence Project’s work to free wrongfully convicted individuals and improve the criminal justice system. The virtual presentation was moderated by Carl Snowden, a longtime civil rights activist, founder of Carl Snowden and Associates, and the Convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders in Anne Arundel County.
Panelists included: Robyn Trent Jefferson, The Innocence Project, Post-Litigation Fellowship Program, with 34 years of experience as a paralegal litigation specialist
Lisa Woodward Lunt, a former federal public defender now teaching federal public defenders and court-appointed panel lawyers as Attorney Advisor, Defender Services Office — Training Division, Administrative Office of the US Courts
Michelle Murphy, an exoneree who spent 20 years in jail due to a wrongful conviction
What Is “Wrongful Conviction” and the Mission of the Innocence Project?
Wrongful conviction is when an individual either pleads guilty to—or is convicted by—a jury for an offense that that individual didn’t commit, described Lunt.
The Innocence Project is an independent nonprofit, whose work is guided by science and grounded in antiracism. Since inception in 1992, the Innocence Project has used DNA and other scientific advancements to prove that a conviction was wrongful. The organization has helped to free or exonerate more than 200 people who, collectively, spent more than 3,600 years behind bars. Such efforts have led to the passage of more than 200 transformative state laws and federal reforms. Today, the Innocence Project continues to fight for freedom and drive structural change. The Innocence Project is affiliated with 70 organizations nationally (for Maryland, see innocenceproject.org/policy/maryland/) and 13 abroad.
“The Innocence Project is intrepid and dogged in identifying the problems in the legal system, which often impact people who may be innocent of offenses,” said Jefferson.
The Close Link of Racism and Wrongful Conviction
Many agree that criminal justice system reform is sorely needed. “Systemic racism pervades society and is ‘baked into’ the criminal justice system—the way policing is done, the way laws are written, and the way mandatory minimums, which have a coercive effect, are applied,” said Lunt. Innocent individuals take plea bargains rather than risk getting a longer mandatory minimum sentence following a trial. “The system perpetuates racism, often leading to a disproportionate incarceration rate for people of color,” she said.
Relevant data for Maryland:
Maryland has a disproportionately Black prison population: 70% of its prisoners are Black, while Blacks in the state comprise only 30% of overall population. Maryland ranks #1 among the 50 states in such disproportionality. The Justice Policy Institute cited as possible reasons for such disproportionality the underinvestment in communities (particularly in Baltimore), over policing, extremely harsh sentencing and restricted parole practices. Disproportionality is most pronounced among emerging adults (ages 18-24). In Anne Arundel County, youth of color (ages 11-17) represent 41% of AAC’s youth population in 2020, yet 67% of juvenile complaints.
Nationwide, huge racial disproportionality is evident in the legal system, spanning arrest, conviction and sentencing. Systemic racism is baked into the overall criminal justice system and Maryland has a lot of work to do, particularly related to juvenile justice reform. Said Lunt, “It’s hard as a lawyer, particularly a new one, to come into Maryland’s detention centers and see primarily Black and brown prisoners in cages, and it gets harder and harder over the years.”
Said Jefferson, “‘Junk science’ has falsely convicted a lot of people, as have faulty eyewitness identification, police and prosecutor misconduct, and incentivized testimony from jailhouse snitches, and other people. It’s up to us as part of a community to work to stem and eradicate wrongful conviction.”
Michelle Murphy’s Story: A Victim of Wrongful Conviction
At age 17, Murphy, a single mother of two young children, awoke one morning in 1994, and her 3-month-old son had been brutally murdered in her kitchen. Murphy called the police. “I was raised to believe the police were the ‘good guys,’” said Murphy. But this wasn’t true in her case.
The officer who was in the room with Murphy during her eight hours of interrogation told her repeatedly that she was the one who committed the murder. His coercion included mentioning that the only way she’d get home to her 2-year-old daughter again would be to confess to the murder by claiming that she accidentally killed her baby. So, she confessed to a crime she didn’t commit.
In 1995, Murphy was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. “I was devastated,” said Michelle. “I lost everything.” Among other misleading evidence, at the trial, the prosecution falsely implied to the jury that blood recovered from the scene matched Murphy’s blood type. Murphy spent 20 years in prison.
Then, in 2014, after a five-month effort by lawyers and The Innocence Project, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, court exonerated her of the murder of her infant son based on DNA and other previously undisclosed evidence pointing to her innocence.
The long-term impact of wrongful conviction on Murphy has been, and continues to be, immense. “What kept me alive during 20 years in prison was needing to prove to my daughter that I was not who they said I was during my trial,” said Murphy.
How to Make a Positive Difference Individually and Collectively
As described by Carl Snowden, consider these actions:
Research: Educate yourself about Maryland’s criminal justice system. Visit the Anne Arundel Detention Center.
Investigate: Ask state’s attorneys and circuit court judges about Maryland’s diversion programs to reduce incarceration. What do they do to partner with the Innocence Project? This will indicate that the incumbent or candidate is interested in assuring that people who should not go to jail, do not go to jail. Be active in your investigation.
Vote: Know that voices and votes do make a difference. Coming up is one of the most consequential elections of a lifetime. When you look at your ballot, don’t skip any races like a judge, state’s attorney, or sheriff. These positions impact the criminal justice system in a big way. In advance of the election, inform yourself by asking the candidates questions, such as for a state’s attorney: What is she/he doing to assure that falsely accused people don’t go to prison? Will he/she be open to new discoveries of information that would lead to a new trial?
As described by Michelle Murphy, consider these actions:
Support the Innocence Project
Create local sources of help: If there’s not something available locally to help exonerees, create it. We all need help. If it were not for the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office, I still would not be able to have a job, because the crime is still on my record and a lot of people would not hire me.
Inform your vote: As mentioned by Mr. Snowden, be mindful of the kind of people, like State’s Attorneys and judges, that you elect to office. Do your own investigation, not following behind the leader blindly by accepting solely what that individual is saying in his/her campaign. Look into the candidate. It’s your vote that helps gets that person into office.
More than 20,000 families living in poverty in Anne Arundel County are headed by single mothers, and HOPE For All encounters these resilient women as our clients. Whether they need beds for their children to sleep on, desks to do schoolwork, or plates to eat their meals, HOPE For All helps families turn their houses into homes.
Anne Arundel Women Giving Together has been an encouraging and faithful supporter of our Turning Houses Into Homes program, where we help to stabilize the lives of people in our community who struggle to meet their daily needs. By supporting HOPE’s overhead costs, we can focus on serving women like Angela and Sheila as they raise their children and navigate their future while struggling financially.
Angela’s husband recently died, leaving her with four children ages 1-13. Three of her children are being home-schooled. They moved to a basement apartment and HOPE For All delivered beds, dressers, and other furnishings to Angela as she starts over on her own. We were also able to fulfill a special request for school supplies and books for the children.
Sheila is a grandmother who has been raising her 14-year-old granddaughter for the past 12 years. Sadly, Sheila’s husband died unexpectedly this year. HOPE supplied a bed, linens, and clothing for the grateful family.
AAWGT understands that nonprofits like HOPE For All need more than donated goods to continue to serve the community. We need to be able to pay for the roof over our heads, the salaries of our program staff, the gas for our delivery truck, and much more. The grant we received this year is helping us serve hundreds of people in Anne Arundel County who need our help and we are able to give them hope for a brighter future. We are indeed grateful for AAWGT and its work to improve the lives of women and families in our community.