A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Lipmann announces members of criminal justice commission
Former chief judge Jonathan Lippman announced Thursday the members of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform. The commission was formed by Lippman at the request of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who proposed the possibility of closing Rikers Island during her State of the City speech last month.
City inmate who previously tried to kill himself found dead after 70 hours behind bars with no psychological assessment
A city inmate with a history of serious mental illness was tossed into the jail’s general population and blocked from being fully evaluated by a psychologist hours before he hanged himself, the Daily News has learned. Jairo Polanco Munoz, 24, was awaiting trial on petty larceny charges when he was found dead inside his cell Monday in the Manhattan Detention Complex at 9:35 p.m.
Rev. Al Sharpton tours Rikers Island, doubts shutdown of jails by East River
The Rev. Al Sharpton toured scandal-plagued Rikers Island Tuesday — but stopped short of joining the growing bandwagon calling for the shutdown of the network of jails by the East River. “You can’t move a problem until you solve a problem — if you move it all,” Sharpton said hours after the visit to the George R. Vierno Center.
New Rikers commission looks to keep peace with Seabrook
Former chief judge Jonathan Lippman is working to place his newly announced criminal justice and incarceration commission in neutral territory in the ongoing fight between the correction officers’ union and the city over how best to address violence at the troubled Rikers Island jail.
New York City Council Backs Affordable Housing Plan
Council members said the plan would now ensure that any new housing built would include units affordable to more of the city’s lower-income residents, including rental apartments in some developments for those making an average of 40 percent of the New York City area median income, or about $31,000 a year for a family of three. The proposal is expected to pass the Council when it holds its next full session on March 22.
Trial of 10 Rikers Officers Charged in ’12 Inmate Beating Is Set to Begin
If convicted, the Rikers officers accused of beating Mr. Lightfoot could face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for the most serious assault charge, attempted gang assault in the first degree. They face a maximum sentence of four years in prison for the charges related to the alleged attempted cover-up, including falsifying business records.
President Obama expected to grant more clemencies to federal prisoners in coming weeks
President Obama is expected to grant clemency to another group of drug offenders in the coming weeks, part of his ongoing effort to provide relief to inmates in federal prisons who were sentenced to harsh terms in the nation’s war on drugs. The White House will also be holding an event on March 31 called “Life after Clemency,” that will include former inmates and their attorneys, along with some prison reform advocates. The White House gathering, which is not open to the press, will focus on one of the president’s centerpiece criminal-justice initiatives and will include a discussion on “ways to improve paths to reentry,” according to the invitation.
Justice Dept. Condemns Profit-Minded Court Policies Targeting the Poor
The Justice Department on Monday called on state judges across the country to root out unconstitutional policies that have locked poor people in a cycle of fines, debt and jail. It was the Obama administration’s latest effort to take its civil rights agenda to the states, which have become a frontier in the fight over the rights of the poor and the disabled, the transgender and the homeless.
A Federal Judge’s New Model for Forgiveness
Many judges might leave it at that, but in an extraordinary 31-page opinion released on March 7, Judge Gleeson stepped back into the case. Finding that this one conviction continued to scare off employers and make it impossible for the woman, identified in court records only as Jane Doe, to get hired as a nurse, Judge Gleeson gave her what amounted to a voucher of good character — he called it a “federal certificate of rehabilitation.”
The Gaping Hole in Clinton’s and Sanders’s Plans for Criminal Justice Reform
Most major politicians are now talking about reforming the criminal justice system. Hillary Clinton devoted the first major speech of her presidential campaign to mass incarceration; Bernie Sanders has said that by the end of his first term the United States would no longer imprison more people than any other country in the world. Many Republicans are talking about sentencing reform, too, though there’s plenty of waffling, and the GOP candidates themselves don’t seem to know what to say. But almost no one in the national spotlight is proposing remedies for the serious crisis facing public defenders and the people who rely on them.
Bickering should stop; pass bipartisan sentencing reform bill now
Lawmakers should not allow partisan bickering over the next Supreme Court justice to destroy a chance to find solutions for a broken criminal justice system. Instead, our leaders should seize the moment now to create a fairer system and get the nation to move in a much more productive path.
Obama’s prisoner clemency plan faltering as cases pile up
In April 2014, the administration of President Barack Obama announced the most ambitious clemency program in 40 years, inviting thousands of jailed drug offenders and other convicts to seek early release and urging lawyers across the country to take on their cases. Nearly two years later the program is struggling under a deluge of unprocessed cases, sparking concern within the administration and among justice reform advocates over the fate of what was meant to be legacy-defining achievement for Obama.
On Commutations, DOJ Blames Volunteer Lawyers for Failing to Do Its Job
One reason the Clemency Project has been moving so slowly is that it wanted to make sure the applicants it recommended met the DOJ’s excessively picky criteria, which require ascertaining whether a prisoner would have received a shorter sentence under current law, whether he has “a significant criminal history,” whether he has “demonstrated good conduct in prison,” and whether he has “significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels.” Applicants are also supposed to be low-level, nonviolent offenders who have served at least 10 years.
A Shocking Glimpse Inside America’s Privatized Detention Facilities For Immigrants
The issues many of the women identified aren’t unique to Hutto, however. They are the product of a sprawling immigration detention system increasingly reliant on partnerships with private prison companies. Those corporations have found a lucrative market in the growing detention of immigrants. Today, nine of the 10 largest detention centers in the country are run by private prison companies. Hutto, for example, is run by the nation’s largest for-profit prison corporation, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), through a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Poor offenders pay high price when probation turns on profit
Probation is supposed to substitute for jail or prison, requiring offenders to report regularly and maintain good behavior. But in this fast-growing county outside Nashville and more than a dozen states, probation for misdemeanors is a profit-making — and increasingly contentious — venture. Those with cash to pay fines when they’re convicted often avoid supervision, while poor offenders can be snared in a cycle of debt and punishment. Critics of for-profit probation say it can create a modern “debtor’s prison.”
Saunders: Darryl Hunt’s remarkable presence will be missed
The most remarkable thing to me about my brief encounter with Hunt, though, is that he could smile so often. Even when he wasn’t smiling, he exuded a peacefulness that defied my understanding, because if the law had done to me what it did to him – convicted him twice for a murder he didn’t commit – you don’t even want to know what kind of hell I’d have sought to unleash when I got out.
Man who experienced solitary confinement at age 15 joins movement to limit its use in juvenile justice system
The worst part of lockdown for 15-year-old Jacob Rusher was the excruciating loneliness. Jacob had moved a lot in his traumatic young life, but this detention center with its barred windows, locked doors and jumpsuits was new. A classroom blowup and tussle with adults in the lunchroom had left him with a broken ankle, an arrest and a newly shrunken world. It consisted of a small cell with a narrow metal bed, a metal toilet and sink and a big steel door that locked him in. This is where he would spend the next 41 days.
Sentenced to life at 14, man now learning to live free
A week into freedom, wearing a black shirt and one of the first pairs of jeans he had ever picked out for himself, Massey said he was going to take some time figuring out his next steps. His wife, now an investigator with the Snohomish County Office of Public Defense, took an extended leave to be with him. Whether he goes back to school or looks for a job, he said, he wants to volunteer with youth programs, as he did in prison as part of a group of inmates who talked to visiting teenagers. The message he said he most wants to convey: “that peer pressure is real.”
Formerly Incarcerated Moms Fight for Reforms to Save Families
Nearly two-thirds of women behind bars are mothers of children under the age of 18. Not all women who are arrested and jailed are sentenced to prison, but even a short stint can cause them to lose their jobs, housing, and children. For some, like Dianna, a past checkered with arrests and jail time is enough to rip apart their families. Formerly incarcerated mothers who have borne the brunt of the consequences from systemic mass incarceration are leading the fight—and winning—for protections that would not only help mothers rebuild their lives, but also help keep them out of prison in the first place.
Help Wanted: Nonprofits Hiring Young Adults With Criminal Histories In Supportive Work Environments
Community Connections for Youth and Good Shepherd Services hire young people with criminal records as youth workers to mentor and support other youth. Concrete Safaris recently received a Pinkerton Foundation grant to hire young adults served at neighborhood youth justice programs to work in its afterschool outdoor activity program in East Harlem. As evidence grows for the efficacy of credible messengers – people from the same communities who have had contact with the criminal justice system that serve as mentors for at risk youth – providers are not just offering a second chance but hiring the best people for the job.
New book sheds light on high U.S. incarceration rate
The U.S. incarcerates a greater proportion of its population than any other country in the world, with dire social and economic consequences for the incarcerated, their children and those who work in the criminal justice system. In his new book, “Incarceration Nation: How the United States Became the Most Punitive Democracy in the World” (Cambridge University Press), Peter Enns sheds new light on why.
Fixing the criminal justice system means far more than sentencing reform
Granted, a person in prison poses no threat to the community. The problem is that almost everyone who goes to prison is going to return to the community from which he or she came, and most will not have been improved by the experience of incarceration. It is axiomatic that social science cannot tell us what to do but can measure the results of what we’re doing.
Tamisha Walker: Women and mass incarceration
I grew up with no father and an addicted mother, I raised myself, became a mother at 15, dropped out of school, and struggled to support my child and siblings. It was a dark time. Living with poverty, surrounded by substance abuse and being neglected, I didn’t think much about the future. But nothing was as dark as waking up in a jail cell without remembering how I got there.
Alabama Prison Uprisings Come as State Grapples With How to Fix System
“It’s tragic, frankly, that it requires violence and fires and stabbings to get people to pay attention to the dire conditions in these prisons,” said Mr. Stevenson, who has represented Holman prisoners. “Unfortunately in these circumstances, conditions usually get worse rather than better, especially for the incarcerated people. That’s my fear.”
Deadline Looms for Prisoners Freed Under Prop. 47
In 2014, California’s Proposition 47 gave non-violent criminals a new lease on life, but a huge population faces a looming deadline to clean up their criminal records to more easily work and be productive. While thousands used the law to leave prison, there are many more — including a large Orange County population — who have been free for years and could use it to have their old troubling criminal records eliminated.
Releasing low-level offenders did not unleash a crime wave in California
The cost to society of a slight increase in property crime must be weighed against the cost of incarceration. Take the example of auto theft. Our data suggest that one year served in prison instead of at large as a result of realignment prevents 1.2 auto thefts per year and saves $11,783 in crime-related costs plus harm to the victims and their families. On the other hand, keeping someone behind bars for a year costs California $51,889.
Tennessee’s War on Women Is Sending New Mothers to Jail
Hudson was charged under Tennessee’s new fetal-assault statute, passed in the spring of 2014 as part of a push to combat an opioid addiction epidemic in the state. The newly revised measure, which is the first law of its kind in the nation, allows the state to prosecute women for illegally using narcotics while pregnant, if the child is born “addicted to or harmed by” the drugs. Courts in Alabama and South Carolina have upheld the prosecution of women for drug use while pregnant, but Tennessee was the first to codify this practice with a state law.
Minnesota prisoners decry aimless limbo in county jails
Last summer, things were different. As an inmate at Minnesota’s women’s prison in Shakopee, Gunderson was taking mental wellness classes and on her way to a GED. She took part in a parenting program that allowed her to spend four hours with her 12-year-old daughter every Saturday. Now her only visits are limited to 20 minutes through a video screen. Gunderson, who is serving a six-year sentence for identity theft, ranks among thousands of state inmates who have been shipped to county jails to alleviate overcrowding in Minnesota prisons.
Juveniles in Maryland’s justice system are routinely strip-searched and shackled
First, the courthouse guards shackled her with several pounds of metal that bound her ankles and connected her handcuffs to a chain around her belly. She fell to her knees as she attempted to hoist herself in the transport van. When they arrived at the detention center, a guard surprised the girl with an order: Take off your clothes. It was a strip search, and the first time a stranger had seen her naked. She was as scared as she was exposed.
Elderly Inmates Burden State Prisons
At 92, “Speedy,” as he is called ironically by fellow prisoners and guards, is frail enough to require a wheelchair to get around, and his inmate caregivers rushed to his side to grab from his shaking hand a coffee mug that seemed destined to spill all over his cot. A huge, bright orange star has been sewn on to the white blanket that covers the cot — an idea the unit manager, Kathy Walker, dreamed up to help Atkinson spot his own bed among the six rows of beds in the spotless unit.
Alabama agrees to improve conditions for inmates with disabilities following SPLC lawsuit
“This agreement is an important commitment by the Alabama Department of Corrections to address the discrimination and hardship these prisoners have faced for far too long,” said Maria Morris, SPLC senior supervising attorney. “Prisoners with disabilities must have an opportunity to serve the sentence they have received – not the sentence they must endure because the state fails to respect their legal rights.”
After several stalled attempts, Oklahoma group taking prison reforms to vote of the people
Steele, along with a bipartisan coalition of state power players, is hoping Oklahoma voters will accomplish what elected officials did not in several prior attempts: reducing the state’s staggering prison population. They hope to redirect some of the savings toward addressing root causes of crime, shifting the state toward a corrections system that focuses on rehabilitation, not solely punishment.
Oklahoma’s prison obsession will bankrupt the state and not make us any safer
The ridiculous part of the situation is this: Mass incarceration isn’t making us any safer. While Oklahoma has been pursuing retribution against minor criminals, other states have been trying to find them the treatment they need to deal with their addictions. As a result, Texas has closed three prisons and seen its crime rate go down. Oklahoma’s facilities are bulging at the seams, with the overflow going into expensive private prisons.
Deal struck on driver’s licenses for drug offenders
The state suspended the licenses of 5,431 people convicted of drug crimes in 2014, the length of the suspension varying with the severity of the offense. Possession means a one-year revocation, while trafficking carries a five-year penalty. Once a suspension runs its course, ex-offenders are required to pay hundreds of dollars in reinstatement fees to get their licenses back. Many who are unable to afford the fees drive without a license, risking more fines and jail time.
I am a big believer in rehabilitation. Once an individual has served their time, they need to have a chance to re-enter society. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system in our country is not designed to help formerly incarcerated reenter society without facing incredible hurdles. Although San Francisco is doing better than other jurisdictions, there are still some tremendous disparities in our jails.
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