A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Department of Correction Commissioner Open to A Rikers Island Shutdown Plan
Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte weighed in after City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito proposed shrinking and eventually closing Rikers, setting off a debate on the issue. “I think it’s a concept that’s worth talking about, worth exploring, and we would be happy to engage in that,” Ponte told the Council, later adding, “I am open to it.”
Rikers Commission Chief Knows the Challenges Ahead, and Says He’s ready
Former chief judge Jonathan Lippman has no illusions about the political obstacles of the job he’s been tasked with: drawing up a plan to possibly close Rikers Island. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito outlined that vision during her State of the City speech last month, when she said she wanted to get the jail’s population so low that the “dream” of closing it could become a reality.
Setting The Record Straight On Federal Prison Reform
If we’re going to have a meaningful conversation about how to fix our overcrowded and costly federal prisons, we must have a shared analysis of the problem, based not on political rhetoric, but on data and evidence. I spent the past year leading a bipartisan blue ribbon commission of experts examining the federal corrections system and producing a blueprint for reform. Armed with that knowledge, it’s time to debunk some of the most widely held myths about federal prisons.
Seven Things to Know About Repeat Offenders
Of all the mind-numbing statistics thrown about in the criminal justice system, perhaps none is more important than the recidivism rate – the likelihood that someone who broke the law once will do it again after being set free. This is the number that tells us who we would be wise to keep locked up, and who is (statistically) safe to send home. This is the number that tells us whether prisons are doing their job, making us safer.
Brooklyn Man Is Exonerated After 25 Years in Prison for Murder
A wide smile spread across Mr. Hatchett’s face and the audience burst into applause as a judge vacated the conviction and dismissed the indictment, carrying out the joint request from prosecutors and Mr. Hatchett’s legal team, which includes lawyers from The Innocence Project. “I’ve been to hell and back, but it feels good to be free,” Mr. Hatchett said, his arms draped over his sisters as they walked through Downtown Brooklyn.
Man Wrongfully Convicted of 1991 Murder Where Victim Was Found in Brooklyn Handball Court Walks Free
The Brooklyn man, who has special needs and whose right leg was in a cast at the time of the murder, was convicted based on the eyewitness testimony of career criminal Gerard “Jerry” Williams. The Innocence Project, after launching a review of the case, found that Williams initially identified another man as Carter’s killer — a piece of information that was never disclosed to Hatchett’s lawyers.
Locked Away for 24 Years, an Exonerated Man Still Feels Imprisoned
He is angry at the justice system for locking him up and taking so many years of his life. He is resentful toward his ex-wife, who divorced him while he was in prison. He is estranged from his surviving daughter and her family, he said. He has accused the leadership of his former church of not sufficiently coming to his defense when he was being investigated, even as the church raised about $80,000 over the years to help pay for his legal representation. And he has alienated some of his most ardent supporters.
From the Big House to the White House
His journey from a federal prison to clearance by the Secret Service to work in the White House illustrates Obama’s particular philosophy that the United States is “a nation of second chances.” The societal reclamation of Poulos, a once-homeless teenager from Portland, Maine, shows what that kind of thinking looks like in real life.
My Brother’s Keeper (by Senator Cory Booker)
I was holding the free clinic to help men learn how to expunge their records. I hoped to help give the men in that basement a clean slate, to help them break out of what Michelle Alexander calls the “American caste system,” in which they were judged by their criminal past. Rather, I wanted them to be judged only by their promise and their determination to work hard and play by the rules.
I Ride a 9-Hour Overnight Bus to See My Husband in Prison
“To be honest most people just see desperate women taking these trips, dragging their kids along to see their boyfriends not really understanding that we make these trips so that we can keep our families together,” says Candis. “Despite what might have put them in this situation, they remain our family members. As women, mothers, spouses, sisters we try to keep our family together as best as possible.”
Death by Indifference: Remembering Robert Knott, A Case the Justice Department Would Rather You Forget
This sorry story is one of cognitive dissonance. On one level the feds had good intentions toward Knott. On another level, though, Knott never stood a chance. Washington can come up with all the well-meant policies and practices in the world, but unless the prison guards sworn to implement those policies behave better than they did in this case our federal prisons will continue be places where displays of severe mental illness are considered a spectacle, or at least a nuisance.
Funneling the Mentally Ill Into the Criminal Justice System
Stewart’s life offers a glimpse into how the inadequacies of our mental health system tend to funnel the mentally ill into our jails and prisons. His crime in the first place stemmed from his illness; he punched a delivery man and stole food while he was homeless and off treatment, for which he served six months in jail. When he violated probation terms of attending regular mental health appointments, he landed a longer term in prison.
Stop the Treatment Industrial Complex
As more individuals are being treated and rehabilitated both inside and outside prison walls, for-profit companies are stepping in and profiting. Their success depends not on being effective, but in keeping as many people as possible under supervision for as long as possible. The lengthier, deeper and more expansive the treatment, the greater the profit.
American Indian Girls Often Fall Through the Cracks
Native American girls have the highest rates of incarceration of any ethnic group. There are programs on tribal lands that work with Native girls who have been caught up in the system, using federal funds. But American Indian girls often find themselves without state or local social service programs tailored to their cultural backgrounds and experiences, which are distinct from other girls living in or on the edge of poverty.
It Is Possible to Heal Our Caged Children
Reaching out and connecting with these young gang members is challenging due to their distrust of people and an oath of secrecy they have taken. However, those of us who serve as teachers, guidance counselors, therapists, mentors, foster parents, probation officers and health care professionals have opportunities to make a positive impact. Following are some of the ways that we can help heal and guide these troubled teen.
Free of Prison, Shaka Senghor Looks Back on a Life of Violence, Trauma and Child Abuse
Detroit native Shaka Senghor is a rare voice in the fight against mass incarceration and extreme violence in many black communities. The onetime drug dealer, who was shot at age 17 and sentenced to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder at age 19, has used every bit of his time since his release in 2010 to raise awareness about much-needed prison reform and, more importantly, the need to disrupt young people’s path to prison in the first place.
“One of The Most Barbaric and Inhumane Aspects of Our Society”: Shaka Senghor On the Horror of Solitary Confinement
When I was in there, the thing that I will never forget is the smell of defecation, feces, urine being thrown on each other, mingled with pepper spray, which the officers used to subdue men who were sometimes having mental illness episodes, but were treated in a criminal way as opposed to treated with the expertise of a psychiatrist. The noise level was deafening — lockers being beat on, walls being beat on, screaming and hollering, officers barking orders — just a very chaotic environment. I was locked down for 23 hours a day with one hour out for recreation in a dog kennel, basically.
Sheriff David Mahoney: Reforming Sentencing Laws Will Keep Communities Safe
The federal bill would prevent nonviolent drug offenders from being subjected to harmful mandatory minimum sentences, giving these individuals an opportunity to become productive members of society instead of wasting away in prison. I know from my early years as an emergency medical technician, as well as from serving on the Wisconsin Supreme Court Task Force on Mental Health and Criminal Justice, that many nonviolent drug offenders do not pose a threat to public safety. Rather, they suffer from mental health issues that are not addressed in prison.
Polls for Prisons
The logic behind felony disenfranchisement within prisons and without is so deeply rooted in American ideas of crime and punishment it can seem tautological: Of course prisoners can’t vote; they’re prisoners! However, recent primary elections in Vermont, Maine, and Puerto Rico challenge that common knowledge and provide a glimpse of what the country’s voting process might look like if the franchise was extended to those serving time.
In Montpelier, A New Project Will Help Drug Offenders Get Treatment
The Montpelier Police Department will work more closely with local agencies to get people it apprehends for drug offenses directly into treatment. Police Chief Antony Facos says the department still plans to enforce the law and in most cases will continue to arrest and process those it apprehends in possession of drugs. What will be different is police will also offer to drive the person to a treatment provider.
Why Is It Still So Hard for Ex-Cons to Vote in Florida?
Florida joins Iowa and Kentucky as the only states in the union where a person’s voting rights are banned for life unless restored by the governor or a clemency board. Civil rights advocates claim barring felons from voting disenfranchises minorities from participating in the democratic process; according to 2015 data released by the Sentencing Project, one in 13 African Americans nationwide is unable to vote due to felony convictions.
SF Schools To Reassess Curriculum For Kids With Incarcerated Parents
Thousands of other San Francisco youths like Williams, whose parents are incarcerated, are set to receive more support at school in the coming months as school board members on Tuesday decided to roll out new curriculum and training focused on the vulnerable students. With the passing of the resolution, the San Francisco Unified School District will perform a “top-to-bottom assessment” of its curriculum to find out how incarceration is addressed in coursework.
‘It appears that no one cares’: Report Slams Juvenile Hall for Filthy Conditions and Poor Leadership
A new county report on Los Angeles County’s Central Juvenile Hall depicts it as a leaderless operation with “unacceptable” and “deplorable” conditions similar to a “Third World country prison.” Some walls were covered in gang graffiti and filth that no one made an effort to wash away. Morale among staffers was at “dungeon lows from a workforce that claims to be victims.”
Felony Murder Rule Should Not Apply to Juveniles in Illinois
But one area not yet reformed is the so-called “felony murder rule,” which allows anyone involved in murder to be charged with that murder even if someone else pulled the trigger and even if the others involved are children. Justin Doyle, a rural Illinoisan involved in a 2008 crime, is now growing up in prison because he was at the scene when his 14-year-old friend was killed.
Tim Atkins Was Wrongfully Imprisoned for 23 Years—Why Is California Denying Him Compensation?
In 2000, California passed legislation offering compensation to people exonerated of their alleged crimes. Atkins’s case seems like one tailor-made for compensation: He was wrongfully convicted, with no known perpetrator to claim compensation from, no real evidence of police or prosecutorial misconduct, and no assets owned by the person most at fault, the so-called witness. Compensation from the state is all that Atkins can hope for to pay him back for the loss of all those years. But the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board has denied Atkins twice.
Inside the Florida Jail that Doubles as an Exotic Animal Zoo
On Selander’s first day there were 25 animals roaming around. Most of them farm animals. Most of them of the petting zoo variety. Today, Stock Island Detention Center is home to 150, including Maggie, one of three sloths, and an alpaca named Snowflake. Then there’s Peanut, a miniature horse found wandering in the Everglades after being abandoned by her owner.
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