Kalena Thomhave

Kalena Thomhave is a writing fellow at The American Prospect.

Recent Articles

Democrats Battle Over How to Raise the Minimum Wage

The overwhelming majority of House Democrats support a $15 federal minimum wage. But a centrist bill to institute regional minimum wages is standing in the way.

Brandon Ruffin holds a sign as speakers address a crowd during a "Fight for 15" rally where fast food, home care and child care industries employees demanded a $15 minimum wage, Durham, North Carolina, 2016.
Kaitlin McKeown/The Herald-Sun via AP Brandon Ruffin holds a sign as speakers address a crowd during a "Fight for 15" rally where fast food, home care and child care industries employees demanded a $15 minimum wage, Durham, North Carolina, 2016. The call for a $15 minimum wage is getting louder, and more people are hearing it. The Fight for $15 has won numerous victories, as states (including California and New York) and localities have passed their own laws to institute a $15 minimum wage—or even higher. In January, Democratic Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia and independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont introduced the Raise the Wage Act (RTWA), which would make $15 the national wage floor by 2024. As of now, 31 Democratic senators and 205 House Democrats have signed on to the proposal. But Democrats need to persuade a few more members to ensure they can pass the bill in the House (it will go nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate)—if all House members vote...

How to Help the Multiple Victims of a Wrongful Conviction

Restorative justice may open a path to healing for the exonerated, the state, and even the victim of the original crime.

Rectify: The Power of Restorative Justice After Wrongful Conviction By Lara Bazelon Beacon Press screen_shot_2019-04-05_at_9.04.02_am.png WHEN AN EXONERATION FOR A WRONGFUL CONVICTION OCCURS , the media’s images of the aftermath follow a familiar pattern: the exonerated prisoner—almost always a black man—leaving prison, or leaving the courthouse, all smiles. There may be balloons and signs waiting, as well as hugs from family members who may not have even touched their father, son, or husband in decades. It seems something like a rebirth, the injustice of the cell far behind. As old cases are reviewed and sometimes overturned, these scenes sporadically pepper the news cycle, so much so that the idea of a person being locked away for no good reason for upward of 40 years and then, suddenly, free becomes somewhat commonplace. These happy scenes obscure what often comes next, and the other lives that were shattered due to a judicial system all too ready to lock up black...

Another GOP Brainstorm—“You’ll Be Healthier If We Take Away Your Health Care”—Struck Down in Court

trickle-downers_35.jpg Last week, a federal judge struck down the Trump administration’s approvals for work requirements in Medicaid programs in both Kentucky and Arkansas. In June 2018, after a go-ahead from the administration, Arkansas began requiring Medicaid recipients to document 80 hours of work each month in order to continue receiving assistance. Since then, the damage on the ground in Arkansas is apparent. Over the past several months since implementation, approximately 18,000 Medicaid recipients in the state have lost their coverage. Though Kentucky had planned to implement its own work requirements beginning in July 2018, the same judge, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, had ruled against Kentucky’s federal approval last June, writing that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar “never adequately considered whether [Kentucky’s program] would in fact help the state furnish medical assistance to its citizens, a central objective of Medicaid...

Prison Advocates Declare Win as Proposed Prison Phone Industry Merger Dies

Last year, two prison phone company giants, Securus and Inmate Calling Solutions (ICS) announced they planned to merge, sparking concerns of duopoly in an industry already dominated by a just a few major players. Such consolidation has long impacted poor people and those of color disproportionately, along with their families, as prison phone companies charge exorbitant rates for inmates who have few alternatives. If approved, the merger threatened to put more than three-quarters of the market in the hands of just two companies, Securus and Global Tel Link. But yesterday, Securus withdrew its application to buy ICS after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) indicated that they would not approve it.

FCC Chair Ajit Pai, normally not one to raise concerns over corporate consolidation, said in a statement that:

Based on a record of nearly one million documents comprised of 7.7 million pages of information submitted by the applicants, as well as arguments and evidence submitted by criminal justice advocates, consumer groups, and other commenters, FCC staff concluded that this deal posed significant competitive concerns and would not be in the public interest.

That line about the “criminal justice advocates” is important: groups such as the Prison Policy Institute, the Wright Petitioners, Worth Rises, and others have highlighted for months how the merger would affect prisoners, including through filings submitted to the FCC. Because the two largest companies in the industry would no longer be competing with each other, the merger would have likely meant even more expensive phone calls for prisoners and their families who only want to speak to each other while separated. Even now, without the merger, these calls can be incredibly expensive—sometimes up to a $1 per minute. These costs often fall on families of the incarcerated, who, like their imprisoned family member, tend to be very poor.

“Every day, these companies profit off of the separation of families and communities by exploiting the natural need for human connection. This win gets us closer to stopping them,” executive director of prisoner advocacy group Worth Rises Bianca Tylek said in a statement.

What’s next? Perhaps it’s time to make those prison phone calls free.

Could California End Childhood Poverty?

America’s most liberal state government has a far-reaching plan to do just that. But does it have the will to enact it? 

This article appears in the Spring 2019 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . If there’s one state we can call the progressive homeland, it’s most likely California. The state is overwhelmingly Democratic and disproportionately liberal. Democrats hold more than three-quarters of the seats in the legislature, while Governor Gavin Newsom has already demonstrated he’s clearly to the left of his predecessor, Jerry Brown. Sacramento is abuzz with progressive proposals from both Newsom and the legislators. The governor wants to have Medi-Cal (the state’s Medicaid program, which serves 14 million Californians) bargain directly with drug companies over prices. He also wants the state to fund universal pre-K for four-year-olds. Legislators are mulling over proposals to invest major sums in affordable housing. Perhaps the most far-reaching set of proposals to come before legislators is that developed by a task force the legislature established two...

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