A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
GNC and 7-Eleven Are Breaking a Law Meant to Give Ex-Prisoners a Fair Chance of a Job
Josh is responsible, smart, friendly, outgoing and hardworking—everything you might want in an employee. But his “record” is still preventing him from getting a job and moving on with his life.
Josh hasn’t let the barriers to entry stop his job search. He recently applied for a position at a 7-Eleven, where he worked before he was incarcerated. There was a request for a background check on the initial form. He left it blank, and is hoping that he’ll get a fair chance to be considered.
Rikers Guards Beat Inmate to ‘Set the Tone,’ a Prosecutor Says
Jahmal Lightfoot was unarmed, outnumbered and savagely beaten by men responsible for reducing violence at Rikers Island, a Bronx prosecutor said on Wednesday as the trial began for nine correction officers charged with assaulting Mr. Lightfoot when he was an inmate at New York City’s main jail complex and then lying about it.
Rikers Island could be handcuffed by refusal to act on drug smuggling data in strip-search suit
Grottano — along with other visitors who’ve alleged illegal strip searches — sued the city and Department of Correction in November 2015, but their lawyer argues in new court papers the city has ignored its own research on contraband smuggling — writing that DOC heads know visitors are unlikely to bring drugs into the complex when compared to jail staffers.
Case settled against NY woman who spent years in solitary
Of her first 29 months in jail, Hailey served about 27 of them in 23-hour isolation for breaking jailhouse rules and was frequently involved in confrontations and scuffles with guards. She regularly hurt herself by banging her head against her cell wall or cutting at her wrists with broken light fixtures. And at least eight times during her time in solitary, she was hospitalized for suicide attempts that included swallowing a hair remover product.
U.C.L.A. Center on Police-Community Ties Will Move to John Jay College
A national research center focused on interactions between the police and the communities they serve will open this summer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, with the college’s first endowed professor as its director.
Phillip Atiba Goff established the Center for Policing Equity at the University of California, Los Angeles, a decade ago, and it recently began collaborating with police departments around the country to standardize, track and compare statistics on law enforcement behavior, including stops and use of force.
Murder Conviction Vacated for Man Who Served 20 Years
Mr. Rosario, 40, who has served 20 years in prison, was able to walk out of the courthouse with his wife and children on Wednesday afternoon after a judge threw out his murder conviction in the 1996 shooting death of Jorge Collazo, 17, on a Bronx street.
New York’s Bail Reforms Making Little Impact, Lawyers Say
The three-month old program grants defendants accused of some misdemeanors new bail hearings, in front of a different judge, within 10 days of the initial court appearance. The program is one component of former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s longstanding effort to reduce the number of people held on Riker’s Island solely because they couldn’t afford to post even small amounts of bail.
Brutal abuse by Southport correction officers, $10M payout to prisoners over past five years
Belot testified in court that the four officers punched and kicked him in the face, head and body and jerked his dreadlocks from his scalp. The officers almost dislocated his shoulders by forcing his cuffed arms over his head as they inserted a baton or other hard item into his rectum.
A Rochester jury awarded him $65,000 in compensatory damages and $55,000 in punitive damages.
Bronx con claims jail beating caused hearing loss
At Bronx Central Booking, officers brought Aquino, 34, out of a holding cell for a strip search. After the search, Aquino looked around. An officer then “aggressively” asked “why he was looking at their badges.”
That officer and another then “punched, smacked, and/or otherwise struck Mr. Aquino in the head and back,” the suit charges.
This Prison-Themed Gym On The LES Is Run By An Ex-Con
He was 5′ 8″ and 230 pounds, and prison doctors told him there was a good chance he’d die of a heart attack within the next five years. “I said I was not going to die in prison,” he recalled. “So I began running the yard and doing dips and I had one guy come up to me and ask me to start working out with him, and it was like the Forrest Gump following.”
We talked to Marte this week about solitary confinement, hiring discrimination, and prison-themed marketing.
National Reentry Week: An Essential Part of Our Mission
To encourage and highlight this important work, the Justice Department is designating the week of April 24-30, 2016, as National Reentry Week. During this week, we are asking the Bureau of Prisons to coordinate reentry events at their facilities across the country — from job fairs, to practice interviews, to mentorship programs, to events for children of incarcerated parents — designed to help prepare inmates for release. We have also asked each U.S. Attorney’s Office to coordinate reentry events.
The Deadly Consequences of Solitary With a Cellmate
The cells are more cramped, the inmates’ movements, more limited. There’s the unrelenting pressure of living with another, potentially mentally ill or dangerous person — a pressure that can fester into paranoia and rage. “You never know what to expect from a crazy person because there are so many types of crazy,” Daniel Delaney wrote in a letter to The Marshall Project. Delaney is currently at ADX Florence in Colorado for killing his cellmate in solitary in 2010 at another federal prison.
The Tricky Business of Measuring Crime and Punishment
“Using the punishment rate to examine the U.S. criminal justice system, Pew found that all states became more punitive from 1983 to 2013, even though they varied widely in the amount of punishment they imposed,” the report says. In 37 states the “punitiveness” more than doubled.
Punishment Rate Measures Prison Use Relative to Crime
A more nuanced assessment of punishment than the ratio of inmates to residents is that of inmates to crime— what The Pew Charitable Trusts calls the “punishment rate.” This new metric gauges the size of the prison population relative to the frequency and severity of crime reported in each jurisdiction, putting the imprisonment rate in a broader context.
All agree his sentence was too harsh, but he may still stay locked up forever
The judge who sentenced Raymond Surratt Jr. to life in prison didn’t think he deserved that tough a penalty. His attorneys said it was based on bad math. Even the government lawyers who prosecuted him say the sentence was a mistake.
Yet they all also agree Surratt might stay locked up forever.
The Prison-Commercial Complex
It’s not just that this system is exploitative and cruel, taking from those who have little enough already. But this profiteering is also imposing costs on society. It’s been established that regular contact between inmates and their friends and family on the outside lowers the rate of reoffending upon release. So, if that contact is rationed because of phone company profiteering, the result is more recidivism.
Prison phone company says rate caps will make inmates angry and dangerous
Prison phone companies are trying to stop a new Federal Communications Commission effort to impose rate caps on intrastate calls, with one executive claiming that immediate enforcement of new caps will cause “jail unrest.”
The phone companies and the FCC have different interpretations of a stay order issued on March 7. Prison phone companies say the court order should mostly preserve the status quo, while the FCC argues that the order lets it apply its existing caps on interstate call rates to intrastate calls.
Long After Landmark Decision, Evan Miller Still Waits for Resentencing
In the nearly four years since the U.S. Supreme Court decided that juveniles can’t be subject to mandatory life-without-parole sentences, hundreds of juvenile offenders have been given a chance at eventual release.
Evan Miller — whose name is on that decision — isn’t one of them.
Justice Department touts success in charging fewer but more serious drug cases
The Justice Department is hailing new statistics showing federal prosecutors pursuing fewer but more serious drug cases as evidence that criminal justice reforms the Obama administration set in motion several years ago are bearing fruit.
“We are really gratified with the results,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told reporters Monday. “We are bringing fewer but more impactful cases against more serious defendants.”
How Washington can help end mass incarceration
Congress can pass a modern day crime bill that directs federal funds to states that reduce their prison populations, while keeping down crime. (The Brennan Center has proposed such a bill.) Today, $3.8 billion in federal grants run largely on autopilot, on the outdated notion that increasing prison populations brings us wins against crime. The next president can champion such an Act. Even without Congress, the next president has executive authority to redirect much of this money, helping create a major nationwide shift.
My journey to justice: I toured prison systems around the world looking for ways to improve our own
There is an irony in all of this wishing, and it is among the most powerful lessons I learned by visiting prisons around the world: Profound justice can be hard at work in the most unlikely of locales. Across the globe, broken systems are generating avenues for progressive reform. It’s time to start paying attention to them.
Welcome to Dilley: What happens when the largest detention center in America opens next door?
Almost as soon as the public outcry came the lawyers and the volunteers hell-bent on releasing those like Dalila and ending the practice of family detention. Supervised by three fulltime staff, each week anywhere from 5 to 30 volunteers parachute into Dilley from around the country to help secure the women’s release. They cram into the Days Inn just off I-35 — one of many hotels in town that are the product of the most recent oil boom.
A Life (Without Parole) Story
Johnson has been locked up for 21 years. If Alabama has its way, and Johnson reaches the average African-American male lifespan of 72, he will have served 53 years in prison for a heat-of-the-moment offense committed when he was a teenage adult.
His story is an example of the enduring after-effects of the politicization of American justice through legislated sentencing mandates. A generation ago, experts say, Johnson likely would have served fewer than 20 years for a comparable crime. Even today, he would be parole-eligible in many states.
A prescription for mental-health policy
On any given day, one in five people in jail or prison has a severe mental illness. This means that people with serious mental illness are ten times more likely to inhabit a jail cell than a hospital bed. Besides contributing to jail and prison over-crowding, mentally ill people are especially vulnerable to victimization by fellow prisoners, spend more time in solitary confinement, and become suicidal behind bars at higher rates than non-mentally ill inmates. They also cost the correctional system considerably more than otherwise healthy prisoners.
How I Survived ‘Ninja Shakedown’ Cell Searches
The one-day shakedowns are conducted by an SRT team of officers from our own prison. Officers who know us, who know that I’m not one of the troublemakers, that I keep to myself. But then there are the three-day shakedowns, which are conducted by officers from other prisons. The out-of-town officers treat every single person like shit. They always seem to be having a competition to see who can break the most stuff.
The Felony-Murder Rule Sends Non-Killers to Prison and Doesn’t Even Reduce Crime
In states with a felony-murder rule, a person could be convicted of murder if someone died during the commission of a felony, even if the person did not intend for the death to occur. This rule, while seemingly straightforward, has been applied broadly to cases in which individuals had no knowledge a murder—or even a crime—had occurred. Simply being connected to a felony crime in some way, however small that connection may be, allows the state to charge an individual with murder.
To change the world, start with prisons
Prison officials, departments of corrections, faith groups and other organizations can work together to create a more restorative prison culture—one that offers the perpetrators of crime an opportunity to face proportional accountability for their actions, make amends and prepare to be good citizens and good neighbors upon their release.
Alabama riots reveal maximum security prison was a bomb waiting to explode
Prisoners in Alabama had outpaced their jailers, using new technology to smuggle in phones, weapons, drugs and money. Meanwhile the state’s antiquated, overcrowded prisons grew increasingly unmanageable.
All the worst factors converged, according to Bob Horton, spokesman for the state department of corrections: “Overcrowding. Staff shortages. A lack of modern technology. A propensity for violence,” he said. Something was bound to erupt.
Prisons have become today’s mental hospitals, a result of the state’s failure to invest in public systems that serve Oklahoma’s most vulnerable residents — at-risk children, the developmentally disabled and those with mental illnesses.
Oklahoma spends among the least in the nation on its mental health system, despite having some of the highest rates of mental illness and substance abuse in the United States.
In Louisiana, the Poor Lack Legal Defense
The constitutional obligation to provide criminal defense for the poor has been endangered by funding problems across the country, but nowhere else is a system in statewide free fall like Louisiana’s, where public defenders represent more than eight out of 10 criminal defendants. Offices throughout the state have been forced to lay off lawyers, leaving those who remain with caseloads well into the hundreds. In seven of the state’s 42 judicial districts, poor defendants are already being put on wait lists; here in the 15th, the list is over 2,300 names long and growing.
Federal judge finds Florida county’s ‘prison gerrymandering’ is unconstitutional
Prison gerrymandering, much like regular gerrymandering, is still about manipulating district boundaries for political advantage. This particular practice happens when “states and local governments count incarcerated persons as residents of the areas where they are housed when election district lines are drawn,” according to the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Essentially, inmates who can’t vote are being counted when drawing electoral maps.
The education of Julie Jones, Florida’s prisons chief
During the past year, Jones has faced some of the toughest challenges of her 31 years in state government. She has been interrogated by state lawmakers, dressed down by veteran corrections officers and overwhelmed by complaints, grievances and lawsuits filed by the families of inmates who allege that prisoners have been beaten, medically neglected and mentally and sexually abused.
A formula for prison failure: Mix of mentally ill, criminals
The Florida Department of Corrections’ approach is not of the kinder, gentler variety. For instance, when a cell-bound inmate — psychotic or not psychotic — refuses to cooperate with being handcuffed, the cell extraction team, not the treatment team, gets the call. At Florida State Prison, the combined weight of the first two officers charging the cell with a shield is about 750 pounds. Chemical agents are another fairly common intervention used when dealing with insubordinate inmates.
Pence reinstates mandatory minimum prison terms for some drug crimes
Gov. Mike Pence is toughening his stance toward drug dealers ahead of a likely bruising re-election campaign where he’ll have to answer for Indiana becoming the nation’s methamphetamine capital on his watch.
The Republican signed into law House Enrolled Act 1235 on Monday, reinstating a 10-year mandatory minimum prison term for a person convicted of dealing meth or heroin who has a prior conviction for cocaine, meth or heroin dealing.
Proposed Georgia budget shifts money to community programs for juveniles
The latest budget proposal from Gov. Deal calls for closing one long-term youth detention facility and moving more than $5 million into community-based alternatives. For example, the budget proposal includes $2.7 million for 40 “step-down” slots that help move kids from secure detention to residential facilities.
Now is time to restore voting rights
State legislators need to put families first and ensure that all children, including those affected by incarceration, have parents who can participate fully in important electoral decisions to create the strongest future for our commonwealth. They can do that by passing a “clean” version of HB 70 this session – no further exclusions and no additional waiting period.
Rethinking our approach to incarceration
From my time serving as the U.S. Attorney here in Nevada I know that the criminal justice system works as a deterrent primarily because of the certainty of punishment, not the severity of punishment. In other words, those considering criminal acts are dissuaded because they might be caught and punished, not because of the amount of time they may end up serving. I’ve seen how our harsh mandatory minimum policies for nonviolent offenders too often end up doing more harm than good, preventing people from rebuilding their lives without even decreasing crime.
Texas Mothers Jailed 5 Days in Louisiana Over 2 Hot Dogs
Two Texas mothers, who police said had no criminal record, spent five days in a notorious Louisiana jail over charges they ate two hot dogs, milkshakes and an Icee at a convenience store. The women were ordered held on $1,500 bond each despite the fact they had just voluntarily driven over 400 miles from Dallas to show up in court to contest the charges against them.
Maryland justice reform at risk
The issue here not really whether Maryland saves $34 million over 10 years or $250 million. It’s whether people are stuck in prison for longer than they need to be for no good reason, or whether they’re sent back there arbitrarily for offenses that did not put the public at risk.
Freed from death row, Anthony Graves uses compensation to help other inmates — including his best friend
In the last two years, Graves has invested more than $150,000 – part of the money the state paid him to compensate for the years he spent wrongly imprisoned – to launch the Anthony Graves Foundation. The still budding nonprofit is dedicated to freeing other innocent inmates and providing health care to recently released prisoners with medical problems and no means to pay for treatment.
Helping ex-offenders find work opportunities after prison
“15,000 ex-offenders are released from jail yearly and the bulk of those ex-offenders return to New Orleans. They want to come home and if we don’t have the resources here for them when they come home, they are going to become everybody’s problem. They are going to Lakeview and put a gun to somebody’s head,” Rugon said.
Prison Zine ‘Tenacious’ Offers Female Prisoners a Chance to Speak Out
In 2003, a group of female prisoners incarcerated in Oregon noticed the absence of women’s experiences in prison literature. They reached out to prison abolitionist and writer Victoria Law and asked her to be their outside publisher for a new zine. Several hundred fliers calling for submissions later, Tenacious: Art & Writings by Women in Prison was conceived.
Winchester jail supports idea of expanding inmate access to college courses
It was recently decided that inmates in Virginia’s Department of Corrections will be able to take college level classes while they’re behind bars.
Governor Terry McAulliffe announced that Virginia prisoners can get ACE Credit for five ACE recommended courses they take while they’re incarcerated, making Virginia the first state to offer the program.
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