A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Faith in Justice, Restored (by JoAnne Page)
Sentencing Peter Liang to prison would be wrong. Ken Thompson, the Brooklyn district attorney, should be commended for resisting the pressure to punish Mr. Liang as “compensation” for the system’s failure to achieve justice in cases like the death of Eric Garner.
But the decision by Mr. Thompson should come as no surprise. He has demonstrated a commitment to justice and community safety rather than focusing solely on punishment.
Federal Housing Officials Warn Against Blanket Bans of Ex-Offenders
Private landlords who have blanket bans on renting to people with criminal records are in violation of the Fair Housing Act and can be sued and face penalties for discrimination, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development said.
Landlords who exclude ex-convicts may be breaking the law, HUD says
“A housing provider violates the Fair Housing Act when the provider’s policy or practice has an unjustified discriminatory effect, even when the provider had no intent to discriminate,” reads Monday’s release. The new rule advises landlords against imposing a blanket ban against tenants with criminal records, although it does permit case-by-case assessments of whether tenants could pose a threat.
Landlords Will Face Tougher Consequences For Discriminating Against (Most) Renters With Criminal Records
“When landlords refuse to rent to anyone who has an arrest record, they effectively bar the door to millions of folks of color for no good reason,” HUD Secretary Julian Castro told WNYC this week. According to HUD, any landlord or home seller with a blanket policy against renters and buyers with criminal records is practicing racial discrimination, because black and Hispanic home-seekers are disproportionally impacted by the criminal justice system.
Fair Housing for Ex-Offenders: What’s the Real Story?
The basic principle is, if the application of a rental policy has a disproportionate impact on a class of home-seekers who are protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act, then the policy could be discriminatory, even in the absence of “intent” to discriminate. The Times quotes Secretary Castro from a prepared statement saying, “Right now, many housing providers use the fact of a conviction, any conviction, regardless of what it was for or how long ago it happened, to indefinitely bar folks from housing opportunities.”
Correction Officer Charged With Beating Inmate in Bronx
A New York City correction officer has been arrested on charges that he used a radio to brutally beat an inmate in a holding cell at the Bronx County Courthouse, officials said on Thursday.
The officer, Bradford Jones, an eight-year veteran of the Correction Department, was arraigned on Wednesday evening on four assault charges, as well as criminal possession of a weapon and official misconduct. He was released after posting $40,000 bail.
New York State Steps Up Arrests of Parole Violators
The members of Team 7 were part of an unusual mass roundup in Manhattan last month aimed at some of the city’s 2,800 parole violators. In the past, these “absconders,” as they are called by law enforcement officials, had usually been a relatively low priority.
But this was the third major push by the state in the past three months to apprehend them, part of an initiative by the Corrections and Community Supervision Department to crack down on violators.
Students Are Fighting to Force Colleges to Stop Asking About Criminal Records
In late March, dozens of current and former NYU students occupied the school’s student center for 33 hours, demanding that the Common App and their school “abolish the box” from admissions. According to the activists, the administration threatened disciplinary action for trespassing if they didn’t leave—and barred them from using the bathroom overnight. Still, the two parties eventually came to an agreement: The students would meet with Common App officials the next week, and they’re now set to meet with NYU’s president, Andrew Hamilton, sometime before graduation in May.
Doe Fund Graduates Step into a New Future
“When I was 14, I didn’t see any graduation in my future,” Lopez, who is the Class of 2016 Valedictorian, said in his remarks. “Someone asked me where I saw myself in 5 years, I said ‘in jail.’ I thought I was being funny. Turns out, I was right.”
Lopez was incarcerated for two years for attempting to sell drugs to an undercover cop. After his release from prison, he found out about The Doe Fund’s program at a local shelter.
White House promises to speed up clemency program
So far, Obama’s commutations have come in batches released every few months. December’s was the biggest set to date, at 95. At that time, too, administration officials promised more speed. On Friday, Eggleston said he believes the “infrastructure is now very much in place” to file and process clemency petitions.
“You’re going to start seeing a lot more very quickly,” Eggleston said. “I think you’re going to start seeing them on a more regular basis. I did want to get a little out of the notion that each one had to be more than the one before because that’s sort of an artificial floor.”
Garland Fight Overshadows Effort to Overhaul Sentencing Laws
A bipartisan overhaul of criminal justice laws was supposed to be a defining issue of this Congress, a rare unifying moment for Republicans, Democrats and President Obama. Instead, the members of the Judiciary Committee who wrote the criminal justice package are at war over whether to consider Mr. Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick B. Garland.
White House Eager to Rekindle Criminal Justice Effort
President Barack Obama is eager to rekindle work with congressional leaders on a bipartisan bill to overhaul the country’s criminal justice laws — but this key legacy item could falter due to a crowded legislative calendar and dissension within the GOP ranks.
Justice Reform, RIP?
Even the decidedly modest reforms that had some momentum a few months ago – measures that would mainly reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenders – have run into fierce opposition from law-and-order hawks such as Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark, who credits mandatory minimums for the 25-year decline in violent crime.
Justices asked to rule that racial bias trumps jury secrecy
But a Supreme Court appeal from a Hispanic defendant in Colorado raises the prospect that a juror’s comments during deliberations can be so offensive that they deprive a defendant of a fair trial.
The justices could say as early as Monday whether they will take up a case in the fall involving competing tenets of the legal system: a defendant’s constitutional right to trial by an impartial jury, and the need for secrecy in jury deliberations.
Justice Department Restarts Program That Allows Cops To Seize Assets From The Poor
The Center for American Progress report includes one example of a Philadelphia woman in her mid-60s whose house was seized by police after her niece’s boyfriend was arrested on suspicion of dealing drugs outside the house. She was eventually able to recover her house with the help of pro bono legal assistance, but most people caught in the asset forfeiture system aren’t so lucky.
Jesse Webster, an Inmate Serving Life, Turned to His Last Hope: President Obama
This time, things were different. Soon his lawyer, Jessica Ring Amunson, was on speakerphone. She had toyed with making a joke about the commissary, but thought better of it.
“I have some wonderful news, Jesse,” Ms. Amunson said. “Your sentence has been commuted.”
Instagram Project Vividly Captures the Human Toll of Mass Incarceration
For decades, stories of mass incarceration have been told through the rhetoric of statistics—through numbers, mostly—but Zara Katz, a photo editor and visual producer, and reporter Lisa Riordan Seville have decided that it is past time to present more compelling (and more human) stories of prisoners, ex-prisoners and those who love them by curating a captivating visual storytelling project on Instagram (with an accompanying blog on Medium) called Everyday Incarceration.
Privacy, weekend leave, keys…This is prison?
We found that American politicians and prison supervisors are looking for new ideas — in Germany. The main objective of German prisons is rehabilitation, not retribution. Germany spends less money on prisons, but gets better results. Their recidivism rate is about half the U.S. rate. We wondered if Germany had found a key to prison reform. So we visited three German prisons, but our trip started in a small resort town about 100 miles north of Berlin.
Prison Without Punishment
Marcantel noticed the lack of security cameras. “Try to find one,” he said. “There aren’t any!” He traded details with Bernie Warner, the head of Washington state’s prison system, who noticed the smell of cigarette smoke, a rarity in U.S. prisons, where smoking is usually prohibited. Along with Scott Semple, their counterpart in Connecticut, they took turns looking into the cells. Every prisoner had his own cell—the word “room” would be more fitting—outfitted with a telephone and a twin-size bed. Marcantel coined a descriptor that would serve him throughout the week: “IKEA-ish.” The bathroom contained a white ceramic toilet, a far cry from the stainless-steel bowls bolted to the wall next to the bed in so many American institutions.
What We Can Learn From German Prisons
What I learned from the Germans and Missourians is what America’s penal system needs to absorb from examples of this sort. Once we return the humanity to our system and view those in it — be they people who work in prison, or those incarcerated there — as human beings and not just inmates or file numbers, we’ll have taken an important step towards reducing mass incarceration and creating a system that matches our stated values as Americans.
A Prosecutor’s Regret: How I Got Someone Life in Prison for Drugs
It’s thrilling to know Lewis is going to get out and have another chance at life. Now I’m thinking about what I can do to help him transition. He will be on probation for ten years. He has to stay crime free, and part of that is being gainfully employed, so now I’m going to do what I can to help him find a job.
You’re talking about a decade-and-a-half in prison. It’s a big transition, going from confinement to freedom in one day.
Prosecutors have too much power. Juries should rein them in.
Over the past several decades there has been a massive shift of power toward prosecutors, the result of politics, over-criminalization, institutional leverage and judges’ failure to provide supervision. It’s time to redress the balance. Although it doesn’t go far enough, New Hampshire’s proposed legislation is an excellent start.
In U.S., Concern About Crime Climbs to 15-Year High
Americans’ level of concern about crime and violence is at its highest point in 15 years. Fifty-three percent of U.S. adults say they personally worry “a great deal” about crime and violence, an increase of 14 percentage points since 2014. This figure is the highest Gallup has measured since March 2001.
Here’s what happens to you during 19 years of prison
The thing about prison and prison culture is just because you’ve changed doesn’t mean the environment has changed. And It’s still the law of the jungle. The rules of engagement are very different from civil society. And it’s very difficult to navigate that world without understanding that you have to defend yourself or result to violence, if you don’t have conflict resolution skills.
Statistical proof that America doesn’t care about ex-cons
The irony here is not that felons who have paid their debt to society have need of a largely indifferent public; it’s that this same public needs them, too. We need them to succeed: as fathers and mothers, as breadwinners, as citizens — as people who make the most of a second chance. Our society can’t hope to flourish with 20 million modern-day outcasts in our midst.
Wayward prosecutors go unpunished as prison time for victims piles up
“The prosecutor’s misconduct forces the friends and family of the victim to relive the trauma of the crime and again suffer the ordeal of a trial. The prosecutor’s misconduct penalizes the defendant, who again must undergo the fear and anxiety associated with a criminal trial. Why, then, is the prosecutor, whose conduct results in such consequences, not named in our opinion?”
A Policy Shift That Can Reduce Incarceration as Well as Crime
In some states, threshold changes have sparked fears that crime will go up. Retailers and other critics have cautioned that higher thresholds might embolden offenders and cause theft rates, in particular, to rise. However, new research from The Pew Charitable Trusts finds that these concerns, while understandable, are misguided.
After 15 Years in Prison, One Drug Offender’s Search for Meaning
“People are wrong to think everyone in prison deserves to stay there, because eventually they are going to get out,” Bowerman told The Daily Signal in an interview. “I’ve met some of the best people I’ll ever know in prison. And I left a lot of people behind who don’t deserve to be there. They are no threat. All they want is to go out and see their grandkids be born or spend time with their kids. Not everyone is bad. They just need a second chance.”
Guam Adult Re-entry Court a model for smaller jurisdictions
Guam is “trailblazing” a path for smaller, similar-sized jurisdictions to implement an Adult Re-entry Court Program, said Suzanne Brown-McBride, deputy director of the Justice Center. Brown-McBride, Bonnie Sultan and David D’Amora are part of the National Reentry Resource Center. The three visited Guam to assess the island’s resources and offer expert guidance prior to the launch of the Guam Adult Re-entry Court Program.
Unable to Pay $100 Bail, Homeless Man Dies in New Hampshire Jail
Mr. Pendleton’s death has drawn attention to New Hampshire’s practice of putting in jail people who cannot make bail, often on misdemeanor charges. As The New York Times has reported in a series of reports, specialists say the money-based bail system in the United States routinely means that poor defendants are punished before they get their day in court, often keeping them incarcerated longer than if they had been convicted right away.
Oops, We Took 20 Years of Your Life by Mistake. Have a Nice Day.
Lucky or not, we all find ourselves mentally battered from fighting to get out, to re-enter society and win compensation. Before prison, I was a 17-year-old who enjoyed cookouts and holidays with aunts and uncles. When I came home, many of those aunts and uncles were near death, and new family members had been born who knew me only as a face in a picture or a voice on the other end of a prison phone call.
The Prison Population Is Actually Falling in the U.S.
More flexible sentencing, more post-release support to avoid recidivism, and alternatives to incarceration are among the drivers of the decline, according to a study by the Urban Institute. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and The Pew Charitable Trusts, have helped participating states investigate why so many people are sentenced to prison and brainstorm how incarceration rates can be reduced.
Discrimination in Parole Hearings Keeps Trans Prisoners Behind Bars, Advocates Say
In its decision, the board did not mention Blue-Sky’s gender identity or address the statements made by the deputy district attorney, who in effect argued that one’s gender identity constitutes a reason to deny parole. Do these comments and the board’s failure to interrupt such remarks indicate a more systemic problem of transphobia and trans discrimination in the parole process?
Eliminating employment barriers for ex-offenders
“EEOC has been clear that while a company may choose to use criminal history as a screening device in employment, Title VII requires that when a criminal background screen results in the disproportionate exclusion of African-Americans from job opportunities, the employer must evaluate whether the policy is job related and consistent with a business necessity,” said P. David Lopez, EEOC’s General Counsel.
How Reality TV Tackles the Issue of Black Incarceration
Today, many Blacks in America are faced with dealing with having a loved one who is doing time in prison. Bringing this into our living rooms are reality shows like VH1’s Love and Hip Hop New York (LHHNY) and Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA), whose fans watch creative, yet authentic ways in which African American families mediate the realities of mass incarceration on the shows.
Austin “Bans the Box” To Ensure People With Convictions Have A Fair Chance To Work
Last week, the Austin City Council passed a new ordinance that prohibits employers from asking for a job applicant’s criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. The Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance was voted in on March 24, 2016, with eight members for, two members against and one not present for voting. It’s the first such local ordinance in any Texas city, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
Licensing law aims to clear reentry path for drug offenders
Shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday, thousands of Massachusetts drug offenders became eligible to have their driver’s licenses reinstated as Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill repealing automatic license suspensions for most drug crimes not related to the operation of a motor vehicle.
Va. attorney general on Harward case: ‘The commonwealth got it wrong’
Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring has asked the state Supreme Court to act as quickly as possible to exonerate Keith Allen Harward of a 1982 murder and rape in Newport News, which recent DNA testing shows was committed by another former sailor.
Williams: ‘Destined path’ takes her from federal prison to the White House
Since her release, she has been an advocate in the fight for voting rights of former offenders and on behalf of the women she left behind in prison. She has been outspoken against the harsh sentencing laws cited by the White House. And using her experience as a cautionary tale, she lectures students on the consequences of their choices.
Post-prison support the goal of 3 new bipartisan-backed bills at Louisiana Capitol this session
A bipartisan group of criminal justice reform advocates is backing three pieces of legislation at the Louisiana Capitol this session that supporters say will make it easier for offenders to re-enter society and keep them from ending up back behind bars.
The move marks the U.S. Justice Action Network’s foray into Louisiana legislative politics, bolstered by broad support from prominent legislators from both sides of the aisle, as well as a bipartisan slate of advocacy groups.
Reentry struggles of Montana’s incarcerated Native Americans discussed
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and other agencies put on a two-day training seminar in Pablo this week called “Reentry in Tribal Communities” where speakers from several local agencies presented their take on why Native Americans make up such a large part of state incarceration and arrest rates.
Ex Con ID
Someone who has just been released from prison faces numerous challenges. One state legislator thinks getting a state-issued ID shouldn’t be one of them.
People who have completed serving a sentence in Illinois are issued a temporary ID after release. To procure a permanent ID, however, they need to produce identifying papers like a Social Security card or birth certificate — a daunting task for many who’ve lived lawlessly.
Pepper Sprayed In Youth Jail
Pepper spray is a hotly debated topic in juvenile incarceration. Around the nation, it’s rare for pepper spray to be used inside juvenile facilities. But in California, some large counties like Los Angeles and San Diego allow the chemical spray to be used on incarcerated minors. Alameda County is one of just three counties in the Bay Area that allows guards to use pepper spray in juvenile hall.
Inside the New Orleans public defenders office, where attorneys are so overworked they’re turning down new clients
Frampton is currently assigned to about 150 open felony cases at the same time: robberies, assaults, drug sales, some of which could come with mandatory life sentences if defendants are convicted. In some cases, he can only spend a few minutes talking with clients before he has to start representing them. Thanks to years of ever-deeper funding cuts and staff reductions, Frampton and other public defenders in the city typically handle 300 different felony cases every year, compared to the national standard of a maximum of 150 cases.
Glover files bill to compensate Glenn Ford’s family
“For 30 years, Glenn Ford lived in a cage not fit for human beings. He was a castaway that was forgotten by society. The proposed change to the definition of ‘factual innocence’ makes it very clear that the Glenn Fords of this world would have a realistic chance of some compensation for their mistreatment. If we are indeed a civilized people, this proposed amendment should have no problem being readily and fully endorsed by the legislature of this state.”
Accused New Orleans candy snatcher facing 20 years for pocketing $31 in sweets
“It’s obviously an example of some of the situations that you inevitably end up seeing when you have some of these habitual-offender laws,” Kane said. “There’s no perfect solution. We always face this dilemma: Do you make sentences very flexible and run the risk of people who have done something bad not getting tough enough sentences, or do you make them very rigid?”
Letter from Orleans Parish DA Leon Cannizzaro: Advocate ‘candy snatcher’ story ‘shameful’
The sad part about these cases is that no one cares about them until one of two things happens: the defendant is repeatedly returned to the streets without any rehabilitation and he ultimately hurts an innocent person or himself; or he is given a harsh prison sentence because of his extensive criminal history.
Blacks hit hard by Iowa’s mandatory sentences
Iowa’s lopsided statistics have prompted the state’s Public Safety Advisory Board for three consecutive years to recommend that the Legislature ease sentencing mandates on two crimes — first- and second-degree robbery — that have been especially tough on African-Americans, said Thomas Walton, the board’s chairman and a Des Moines attorney.
Iowa must join wave of sentencing reform
Strong arguments in favor of reforming mandatory minimums include saving taxpayer dollars, ensuring sentences are aligned with the seriousness of the offense, allowing for certain judicial discretion when mitigating factors are present and the realization locking up nonviolent, low-risk offenders for longer amounts of time has proven to be an inadequate solution.
Youths branded by Measure 11
As Multnomah County takes steps to move away from mass incarceration and seeks to usher racial equality into its criminal justice system, Measure 11 serves as an antiquated holdover from the tough-on-crime era of the 1990s. Data show Multnomah County prosecutors use Measure 11, without any oversight from other arms of the judicial department, to send youths, primarily minorities, into the adult court system.
New City Hall Staffer Helps Inmates Ease Back Into Hartford
Now, Smith is staying at Stewart B. McKinney Emergency Shelter on a 90-day pass. He’s got new clothing and personal-care items thanks to a voucher from Hartford Community Court, and he’s been splitting his days between posting resumes online and going to job interviews that he set up using the phone in Jones’ office.
Black Businessman Presses the Reset Button to Help Give Ex-Offenders, Veterans and Homeless a Second Chance
Rocky McKay — also known as Rocky the Roofer — started an organization in 2010 called The Operation Organization Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Operation Reset, an initiative of this unique organization, is designed to provide training, skills, education assistance and confidence-building to returning citizens, including veterans, nonviolent ex-offenders and homeless individuals looking for a second chance. Operation Reset is reducing recidivism and homelessness, and as the group says, reaching out “to those that have been told ‘NO’ for so long due to their backgrounds, poor decision making, lack of work experience, or simply because they’re homeless.”
Re-entry: Stopping the Cycle of Reoffending
This was a bar when Ward bought it nearly 30 years ago. He made money from the bar, and he became an alcoholic there, too. But when he got sober, Ward found a new calling. He turned the ramshackle building into a re-entry center in the mid-1990s and runs a snack and cigarette stand up front, which employs some of the ex-felons he aids. Now he provides tutoring, financial counseling and job placement for young adults coming out of prison.
Prison reentry program seeks to reduce recidivism
Corrections Corporation of America took the step of opening a stand-alone “Re-Entry Center,” where inmates can learn job and interview skills, write and upload their resumes online, learn how to get their driver’s license back, and take classes and programs designed to ease their transition outside the fence. Job fairs held twice a year draw between 160 and 200 inmates.
New re-entry program helping inmates prepare for life outside of jail
“The program positions the inmates to maximize their job potential. If they can get the training before they’re released, they’re ready to hit the ground running once they’re released,” he said. “I think the community needs to be aware that many inmates who have done their time, serve their sentence, are ready to be a productive citizen and I would encourage family members who will hear about this program to encourage their loved, get involved, get involved now so that upon release they can reintegrate back into society hopefully with gainful employment.”
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