Several Issue Cafes in February inform and motivate community leaders

Payday Lending Issue Cafe

35 leaders met at Urban Abbey on February 28 to hear from Ken Smith, lawyer with Nebraska Appleseed about the state of payday lending in Nebraska. With the passage of LB 194 in last year’s legislative session, a few small steps were made to close a loop hole that could allow payday lenders to register as “Credit Service Organizations,” give a once-a-year payment plan option, and require more reporting to the Nebraska Department of Banking. The first report came out in December 2019 (view it here). See our analysis here of what this report shows about the status of where payday lending happens, how many loans are made, what people have to pay, and the average percent rate of 404%.

Ken Smith also asked supporters to practice how to respond to common arguments for payday lenders:

  1. Payday lenders offer a valuable service to people who can’t go to other lines of credit.

Response: This is a good notion, but the issue is that fees are too high and don’t follow the basic parameters of other loan products. There is a lack of transparency in what you are signing on to and what your options are.

  1. There are no alternatives to these types of loans

Response: There are some loan alternatives from some credit unions and nonprofits. See the Community Hope FCU in Lincoln and a nonprofit start-up in Omaha (still working on getting their credentials to offer low-interest loans)

  1. Government should not make a habit of putting an industry out of business. The market should regulate itself.

We are not trying to put payday loans out of business, but just putting in reasonable requirements on loans. If you can’t meet those requirements, maybe you shouldn’t be in business. The Legislature actually exempted these companies from usury laws, which all other lenders have to follow, so we just want payday lenders to follow the same rules as everyone else.

Visit Pew Charitable Trust to learn more about efforts to reform payday lending around the country.

The evening started with a few minutes of the Frontline documentary Last Days of Solitary which shows the Maine solitary confinement system and the changes they’re made. The film really shows the inhumane conditions prisoners live in when they are considered a treat to other prisoners and staff, and are put in what Nebraska calls “Restrictive Housing.” Restrictive housing is defined as less than 12 hours out of the cell in a week. In Nebraska, the cells are 8 ft. by 10 ft. and include a bed, desk, toilet, and chair. Because of the massive overcrowding, inmates in restrictive housing are often doubled up in the small cell. There are currently 325 inmates in restrictive housing in Nebraska, and ten have serious diagnosed mental health issues.

Climate Change Issue Cafe

60 people gathered on February 26 to hear from Stonie Cooper, a state climatologist and meteorologist, about climate change and it’s affect on Nebraska

Rental Housing Coalition Issue Cafe

40 people gathered at the Urban Abbey for an issue cafe about the current status of code enforcement and efforts for proactive policy change. OTOC leaders and housing coalition partners presented how the current code enforcement system works (and doesn’t work), the proactive registration and inspection policy we promote, what ordinances and policies are being drafted and discussed by local and sate policy makers, and how we as citizens can a raise a voice to be a part of that policy decision. Attendees heard from Beth, a tenant recently displaced from her home because of substandard conditions. If Beth’s rental home had been inspected regularly and the landlord keeping up the property, Beth and her daughter would still have a home and fewer major health problems due to mold and cockroaches. Erin Feichtinger of Together explained the politics of the current situation- LB 85 still sits waiting for a vote in the legislature, with Omaha City Council and the Mayor drafting various ordinances. Until the ordinances become public, we still encourage community members to call their city council member and their senator affirming the need for rental inspections, so that as proposals are brought forth, all policy makers know what Omaha needs. The city council will be hearing several ordinances on March 5.

Solitary Confinement and its Affects on Mental Health Issue Cafe

Seventy-five IPL, OTOC and community leaders heard from Doug Koebernick about Solitary Confinement in Nebraska and the harmful affects concentrated isolation has on mental health on February 5th

There are many factors that lead to having such a large number of inmates in restricted housing:

  • Restricted housing is supposed to be for the protection of other inmates and staff, so you get put in when you’ve done something dangerous. There is no set amount, you just get reevaluated every 90 days on if it is safe to bring you back to the general population. 114 inmates have been there for over 180 days. Some inmates do not know why they have been sent there, and are not able to advocate for themselves.
  • Overcrowding and the older facilities that have less common and classroom spaces have lead to less programming available for any type of restorative justice approach to help people before they get sent to solitary, while they are in there to get out faster, or for any sort of reintegration process.
  • Overcrowding leads to many more issues like less oversight and lack of space to attempt any type of reform. The state penitentiary is twice as full as it was designed for, and also has twice the number of staff.

Negative Effects of Restrictive Housing:

  • Psychological damage and mental health from lack of human contact and extreme boredom. Often leads to self mutilation.
  • Impacts future behavior. Though this is supposed to be for the safety of others, the failing mental health while they are in can lead to more violence when they get out.
  • Disproportionately affects Spanish and Native American inmates.
  • Negative impacts on staff safety and mental health as well as retention and recruitment.

Links to more info on Solitary and the Frontline Documentary:

LAST DAYS OF SOLITARY | Watch S33 E19 | FRONTLINE | PBS | (Warning: graphic content)
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/last-days-of-solitary/

JUDGE RELIES HEAVILY ON HANEY’S TESTIMONY IN CASE BANNING SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
https://news.ucsc.edu/2018/01/haney-canada.html

“WHY WE ENDED LONG-TERM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN COLORADO” BY RICK RAEMISCH
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/12/opinion/solitary-confinement-colorado-prison.html

MANDELA RULES- UN STANDARD MINIMUM RULES ON THE TREATMENT OF PRISONERS
http://solitaryconfinement.org/mandela-rules

2018 RESTRICTIVE HOUSING ANNUAL REPORT
https://corrections.nebraska.gov/sites/default/files/files/39/ndcs_rh_report_2018.pdf

OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL OF THE NEBRASKA CORRECTIONAL SYSTEM 2017/2018 ANNUAL REPORT
https://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/105/PDF/Agencies/Inspector_General_of_the_Nebraska_Correctional_System/600_20180911-222502.pdf