A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Here Are City Documents on ‘Effort’ to Close Rikers That De Blasio Denies
Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week there was “no concerted effort to look for sites for an alternative to Rikers Island.”
But city documents show that five city agencies produced a presentation for First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris titled “Alternatives for Rikers Island.”
The presentation, which DNAinfo New York has posted below, was given to Shorris, the second-highest ranking city official, in October. City Hall also examined a plan to shut down Rikers as recently as last month, according to sources.
New York State Corrections Dept. Takes On Guards’ Union Over Brutality
Investigators had often been reluctant to challenge the powerful corrections officers’ union, and the disciplinary system was so stacked in the union’s favor that a guard could be found guilty of brutalizing an inmate and not be fired.
But the internal affairs unit had been overhauled. It was now prepared to take the fight to the union, Daniel F. Martuscello III, the department’s deputy commissioner, declared.
Correction officers union boss Norman Seabrook pushed for inmate cash system, sources say
A city official is demanding an investigation into a contract with an inmate money transfer system that sources say was backed by the correction officers union boss who is now at the center of ongoing federal probe.
The service, JPay, is used by city inmates and their visitors to transfer money primarily for phone calls and commissary purchases.
Drugs hidden behind stamps spur city jail officials to confiscate packaging of inmate mail
A new wave of drugs painted on envelopes or hidden behind stamps has spurred city jail officials to confiscate the packaging of all inmate mail, the Daily News has learned.
Correction Department spokeswoman Eve Kessler said the measure started last month.
The department “began giving inmates their letters without envelopes in order to better find drugs hidden or painted on envelopes,” she said.
Former Rikers Inmate Can’t Identify Officer He Believes Ordered His Attack
Mr. Lightfoot’s testimony is at the center of the criminal case against the nine officers in what prosecutors have described as an orchestrated assault and attempted cover up. The officers face a variety of charges, the most serious being attempted gang assault in the first degree. A conviction on that charge could carry a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. Other charges include attempted assault, tampering with physical evidence, falsifying business records and official misconduct.
City Takes a Chance on Non-Violent Defendants Struggling to Make Bail
During an arraignment, a judge typically either sets bail or releases someone with the understanding they will return to court on their own. Supervised release allows for another option — a defendant gets released, but only if they agree to regular check-ins with a caseworker who will be monitoring them until their case is resolved.
Getting Fit, Prison-Style
From that chance encounter sprang ConBody, which Mr. Marte bills as a “prison-style boot camp,” located in a basement studio on Broome Street, just down the block from a spot where he used to sell drugs. The business now draws 300 to 400 clients a week to its 40 classes, which are based on a regimen Mr. Marte developed in prison after doctors warned that soaring blood pressure and cholesterol levels threatened his life.
Teaching Neuroscience in Prison
To the outside world, they are inmates, but in the classroom, they are students enrolled in the Cornell Prison Education Program, or “CPEP.” Per New York State Department of Corrections rules, we have permission to use the inmates’ last names only—which is also often how we know them best. Those who graduate from the program—taught by Cornell instructors—will receive an associate’s degree from Cayuga Community College.
New York County Clerk’s Quest to Diversify the Jury Pool
“I have been in and around the courts for about 50 years of my life,” Tingling said. “Having been an attorney and selecting juries and looking at the jury pool and the ability to select jurors that would be reflective of the type of jury pool I would want, it simply hasn’t happened. In the many years I was a judge, I have never seen a majority-minority jury in the county of New York. Most times it is completely to the contrary.”
Solitary confinement: What it’s like and how to reform it
A group of prison reform advocates and former inmates held a rally in Albany to end solitary confinement in correctional facilities.
This past September, 4,029 inmates were in solitary and was the first time since 2012 the amount of inmates surpassed 4,000.
An agreement between the state and NY Civil Liberties Union was recently made to release 1,100 inmates from solitary and to limit sentences. But should it be completely abolished?
11 US jurisdictions pledge to slash jail population in exchange for funding
New York, St Louis and New Orleans are among 11 jurisdictions pledging to slash their jail populations by as much as a third, in exchange for grant funding aimed at curbing mass incarceration.
The Safety and Justice Challenge selected the cities to receive between $1.5m and $3.5m each towards diversion programs, training and other interventions meant to curb overreliance on pre-trial incarceration. The initiative, if successful, would cut thousands from the jail rolls of the participating cities and jurisdictions.
Starbucks, Google, Others Sign on to Obama Job Effort for Ex-Inmates
Google, PepsiCo, American Airlines and more than a dozen other large companies weighed in on the Obama administration’s latest criminal justice reform effort on Monday, pledging to help ex-felons through what is often the most daunting task of their return home: getting a job.
To some prison reform watchers and advocates, the initiative, which also includes Facebook, Uber, Starbucks, The Hershey Company and Coca-Cola, signals a dramatic shift in how large corporations handle people with criminal records.
FACT SHEET: White House Launches the Fair Chance Business Pledge
Today at the White House, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, and other White House officials hosted 19 companies from across the American economy who are standing with the Obama Administration as founding pledge takers to launch the Fair Chance Business Pledge. The pledge represents a call-to-action for all members of the private sector to improve their communities by eliminating barriers for those with a criminal record and creating a pathway for a second chance.
Outrageous Sentences for Marijuana
Lee Carroll Brooker, a 75-year-old disabled veteran suffering from chronic pain, was arrested in July 2011 for growing three dozen marijuana plants for his own medicinal use behind his son’s house in Dothan, Ala., where he lived. For this crime, Mr. Brooker was given a life sentence with no possibility of release.
Labor fight threatens inmate health care
A bitter labor dispute pitting unionized civilian staffers at the federal Bureau of Prisons’ medical facilities against uniformed members of the U.S. Public Health Service is threatening to worsen already critical staffing shortages within the vast prison system, officials said.
Ban the Box Keeps Families and Communities Together
In 2003, “All of Us or None”, an organization I co-founded, started the “Ban the Box” campaign to give formerly incarcerated people a better chance at getting a job – so we can provide for ourselves and our families, and fully reenter society. Most important, we have harnessed the power of the community of millions of formerly incarcerated people to organize for ourselves, to speak in our own voices, and make demands on the system.
Should Prisoners Be Allowed to Have Facebook Pages?
In the last few years, multiple family members of victims have asked the Texas Department of Criminal Justices to get Facebook to remove pages made by third parties for prisoners, according to Andy Kahan, a crime victim advocate for the City of Houston. “There’s a concern about continuing to give individuals who have done terrible things infamy and immortality and a platform to pontificate,” he says.
Debate Over Prison Population Turns to the States
Some 87 percent of the country’s inmates are in state prisons, so any moves to cut the country’s prison population would rely on states and counties to lock up substantially fewer people. Some states are taking steps that could lead to this outcome, but not on a scale or at a pace that would end what has been called mass incarceration.
So can Congress and the federal government come up with new laws and policies that might stop states and counties from imprisoning so many people?
Norman Brown Was Supposed To Die In Prison. Instead He’s Pushing Obama To Help Those He Left Behind.
So instead of being locked up for life, Brown is now adjusting to life in the city he hadn’t seen for himself since George H.W. Bush was president. He’s buying new clothes for the first time this century. He’s spending time with his daughter, who was conceived shortly before he went to prison; his sister, who is putting him up; and his fiancee, a woman he first met in high school. Working with groups like Families Against Mandatory Minimums, he’s also telling his story — including on a panel at the White House — in hopes of aiding the thousands of federal prisoners who are seeking relief from their sentences.
A Fair Chance After a Conviction
The Obama administration has worked diligently over the last five years to ease the marginalization of more than 70 million Americans with criminal records that can shut them out of jobs, housing, higher education or the consumer credit system — sometimes for minor offenses in the distant past or arrests that never led to conviction. By addressing this problem, Mr. Obama is pushing the country to re-evaluate longstanding policies that trap people with criminal records at the very edges of society, driving many of them right back to prison.
The Prison Visit That Cost My Family $2,370
After decades of tough-on-crime policies, Hawaii is one of four states that solve their prison crowding problem by shipping inmates out of state, usually to facilities run by for-profit companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group. California prisoners go to Arizona and to the Mississippi Delta; Vermont prisoners go to a remote corner of Michigan; and Arkansas prisoners go to Texas. The U.S. Virgin Islands also sends its prisoners away, to Florida, Arizona and Virginia. Often, the best-behaving prisoners — those with no disciplinary record, escape history or medical issues — are the most likely to be sent far from home.
Why I refuse to send people to jail for failure to pay fines
Enough people in Ohio were being locked up for failure to pay fines that, in 2014, the state’s chief justice issued a warning to all judges to stop jailing indigent defendants. In March, the U.S. Justice Department released a letter stressing that courts should not incarcerate defendants for nonpayment and that alternatives must be considered. “In addition to being unlawful,” the letter read, the practice “can cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal and erode trust between local governments and their constituents.”
What’s wrong with ‘work or jail’
Debt peonage may indeed be the lesser evil relative to debtors’ prison. But why accept those choices? At issue are government-manufactured debts born in part of racial profiling and “broken windows” policing. Why not change the criminal justice practices that produce these debts? Moreover, debtors’ inability to pay is born of unemployment and the degradation of jobs. Only by ignoring a failing labor market can we celebrate coerced, unpaid, unprotected work just because human caging is even worse.
State prisons need federal scrutiny
Since our committee hearing last fall, I have been calling for independent oversight of the state correctional system to create transparency and accountability, and ultimately to prevent further incidents. Federal oversight is an important way to fix parts of our correctional system in the short term, but to institutionalize these changes we need more permanent legislative action.
Case Now Strong for Ending Probation’s Place As Default Disposition in Juvenile Justice
In a series of carefully controlled studies since 2012 testing a variety of strategies to prevent delinquency or reverse behavior problems of already adjudicated youth, Ludwig and his team have documented dramatic positive impacts on violent offending, other offending and the closely linked domain of academic success.
The Lesser Known Hindrance for the Formerly Incarcerated
While some recent attention has been placed upon lifting employment barriers, as seen with President Obama’s Fair Chance Hiring initiative launched this week and a burgeoning movement to “Ban the Box” has gained traction across the country, little attention has been placed on the housing barriers faced by people with criminal histories. That’s why the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) recent issuance of federal guidance that makes clear that automatic bans on people with any criminal history may violate the Fair Housing Act is an important development in the fight against mass incarceration.
Prison Rate Was Rising Years Before 1994 Law
For some critics, the 1994 crime bill has come to epitomize the late-20th-century policies that sent incarceration to record levels and ravaged poor communities, taking a particularly devastating toll on African-Americans that political leaders are only now working to reverse.
History and statistics tell a more complex story, according to criminologists.
Why Mrs. Clinton Needs to Say More About the Crime Bill
It’s puzzling that Mrs. Clinton hasn’t addressed in detail the trade-offs and the consequences, good and bad, of that legislation. That’s a problem, because even though Bernie Sanders voted for the crime bill (it contained certain provisions he supported), some of his supporters view the bill as the type of compromise that they reject.
Unlocking the Truth About the Clinton Crime Bill
As counsel to the House Subcommittee on Crime led by Charles E. Schumer, then a representative, I spent 18 months helping to draft and negotiate the 1994 crime bill. Anyone who thinks the bill was just about locking people up is simply wrong.
If the battle over the 1994 bill was just campaign noise, we could shrug it off, but what’s really at stake is the future of crime policy. If we are going to move forward thoughtfully — keeping our neighborhoods safe without consigning huge segments of the population to life behind bars — we must understand how we got here.
The real reason mass incarceration happened
And when trying to understand what really caused mass incarceration, it’s important not to overthink it. Mass incarceration happened because mass incarceration was popular.
The crime rate was high in the 1980s and ’90s, so there were plenty of criminals to lock up. And people wanted them locked up. The public favored longer, harsher prison terms, more executions, and a punitive rhetoric that would back those things up. Indeed, the public didn’t just favor these things — it demanded them.
Prison is horrifying. For transgender people, it’s hell.
It had been almost 10 days since Hill, a transgender woman, was placed in an isolated federal prison cell with the man who would rape her — a member of the Latin Kings gang. In those 10 days, he had physically attacked her and sexually assaulted her multiple times. In a secluded, small special housing unit — typically used for solitary confinement — no one acted on her screams for help.
Improving treatment of ex-offenders impacts community crime rate
Burdened with a criminal record, formerly incarcerated individuals must clear high hurdles just to meet basic needs. That criminal record goes everywhere with them, as if it is tattooed on their foreheads. Instead of treating them as outcasts, we will be better served to work with them as they strive for self-sufficiency.
The power of second chances
Todd is one of the 97% of prisoners who will be returning to our communities at the conclusion of his sentence — very few people are given a life sentence. The overwhelming majority of those inside prison will be back on the outside, returning to our neighborhoods and communities. The question for us as policy-makers is: What can we do to set them up for success, so that they make good life choices that put them on the path to being productive members of society rather than returning to a life of delinquency and dependency?
Hundreds of Migrant Teens Are Being Held Indefinitely in Locked Detention
Pablo is one of more than 200,000 migrant kids traveling without their parents who have been detained at the U.S.-Mexico border over the past five years. He’s part of a wave of Central American children fleeing violence, as criminal gangs in El Salvador and neighboring countries have come to wield terrifying power with impunity, and weak governments struggle to respond. That violence is a legacy of the civil wars of the 1980s, subsequent migrations to the United States and the deportation of gang members back to their home countries in the 1990s.
Commentary: Different approach needed after inmates are released
It’s time for a different approach — one that focuses on a restorative model.
When individuals return to their communities after being incarcerated, they tend to cluster in the most disadvantaged and under-resourced neighborhoods, places with concentrated poverty and economic segregation. We must tackle these challenges, not only to help those who have been involved in the criminal justice system, but also to strengthen families, reduce delinquency, decrease health problems and increase the economic stability of the community as a whole.
Free From Jail, Imprisoned by Debt
At 36, Marcus White has spent half of his life in prison. Today he’s no longer behind bars, but now he’s imprisoned by something else: debt.
When White was sentenced, he was saddled with $5,800 in criminal fines and fees. By the time he was released, he was stunned to learn that with interest, his debt had grown to $15,000 — and continues to grow even now.
Editorial: Grassley’s sentencing bill deserves passage
If there’s one initiative congressional Republicans and Democrats have agreed on this year, it’s the need for criminal justice reform.
It’s a priority of President Barack Obama, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. In fact, the reform bill that was introduced by Grassley last fall has more than two dozen co-sponsors and is backed by the White House.
Alabama’s Solution To Prison Riots: Build More Prisons
Alabama may soon shut down 14 of its troubled prisons, swapping them for four massive new “state-of-the-art” facilities. The proposal, dubbed the “Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act,” cleared the state Senate this week and is now headed to the House. Legislators hope the plan will solve chronic overcrowding, neglect, and violence in the state’s corrections system.
Proposed bill could ban asking about convictions on job applications
For the formerly incarcerated, one check-off box on a job application form may mean the difference between employment and a return to jail or prison, according to statistics, local officials and inmates.
A new bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Robert Dold, R-10, could make asking about prior convictions illegal on preliminary job applications.
Lawsuit blames Florida prison system for inmate’s death
Exactly two years to the day that inmate Matthew Walker was killed by officers at Charlotte Correctional Institution, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed on Monday against the state, alleging that the Florida prison system and its private health care company were responsible for Walker’s death.
Walker, 46, was killed April 11, 2014 during a clash with officers, who had roused him in the middle of the night to order him to pick up a cup and a magazine he left out in his cell
Murderers are mentors in prison once notorious for violence
A maximum-security prison in Louisiana once notorious for its violence is experimenting with a novel way to keep criminals out of trouble: Murderers and other “lifers” are now mentors, teaching job skills and morals to nonviolent offenders, preparing them for another shot at freedom.
No Lawyers? No Jail. Judge Demands Constitution Be Respected in Louisiana Public Defender Catastrophe
In an eleven page ruling, Judge Hunter explained that since Louisiana has failed to adequately fund indigent defense it has violated the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel and the Fourteenth Amendment right to Due Process of seven men. The men appearing before Judge Hunter could not be represented by the public defender because of budget cutbacks and private lawyers appointed by the court, who were denied funds for investigation and preparation of the cases, asked that the prosecutions be stopped and their clients released. Hunter ordered the men released but stayed their release until his order could be reviewed on appeal.
Behind bars: Officer misconduct in Oregon’s prisons
After reviewing a trove of reports detailing Oregon correctional officer discipline from 2010 to 2015, a picture emerges of a prison system short on officer oversight and fraught with complacency.
The reports were released to the Statesman Journal after a months-long public records battle with the Oregon Department of Corrections, which operates 14 state prisons housing more than 14,600 inmates. After release, each misconduct report was examined line by line and assembled into a searchable online prison-discipline database.
Right to an Attorney? Not Always in Some States
Since August, public defenders in Miami-Dade County have been dispatched to courtrooms to work on misdemeanor criminal cases. Public defenders across the nation typically don’t show up for the low-level cases, which include petty theft and marijuana possession. But Glatzer said putting lawyers in these courtrooms can prevent indigent defendants from taking disadvantageous plea deals that result in prohibitive fines and court costs. Convictions can also have long-term consequences: They can make it hard to get a job or get into public housing, she said.
Idaho prison officials hunt for place to put 16-year-old killer
Last week, 1st District Judge Benjamin Simpson sentenced him to spend the next two decades in prison, starting immediately. But federal laws prohibit minors from being held within sight or sound of adult inmates.
The only way for Idaho prisons to meet those standards is to place the teen in solitary confinement.
Ex-offenders ask tough questions of Baltimore mayoral candidates
On Wednesday, ex-offenders had a chance to ask tough questions to a handful of Baltimore mayoral candidates. The forum, hosted by Communities United, was held at Douglas Memorial Community Church. The candidates answered questions about jobs, housing and re-entry support.
A conservative case to ‘raise the age’ in Michigan
Another important goal of criminal-justice reform, generally overlooked by conservatives, should be to address inequities within the juvenile-justice system. Too often, children who aren’t old enough to buy cigarettes legally nonetheless are thrust automatically into an adult penal system ill-suited to the unique challenges and opportunities teenagers present.
Our Views: Whitewash at Angola a challenge for Edwards
Defenders of the status quo at the state corrections department cheered last month when three separate probes cleared Burl Cain, former warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
Investigators left a lot of questions on the table, though, and voters may not be as impressed. The probes dealt with activities that occurred before Gov. John Bel Edwards took office. But it’s up to the new governor, who left Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc in place from the previous administration, to make sure the Department of Public Safety and Corrections is accountable.
Opinion: Let’s get it right on Justice Reinvestment
After a long day of intense conference committee negotiations Saturday, Maryland’s House and Senate — recently at odds over key provisions of the Justice Reinvestment Act — finally agreed to strong compromise legislation that changes the way we treat those who have committed crimes in the best interests of a just society. As the only nonprofit representative of the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council, I urge lawmakers to approve and adopt this thoughtfully developed legislation.
Crime victims argue for say in lenient plea agreements
“The issue with the crime victims’ rights law in Ohio is it doesn’t really have teeth,” Ms. Well said. “In some states, if the prosecutor doesn’t confer with the victim prior to accepting a plea and the court finds out, they can set the plea aside, basically undo it, but that’s rare.”
Northeast Ohio Re-entry Business Summit lobbies employers to hire ex-offenders
Countless job seekers are still finding it difficult to land employment. Many ex-offenders have found it almost impossible.
But it shouldn’t be, says Brandon Chrostowski, founder, president and CEO of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute on Shaker Square, which is dedicated to employing formerly incarcerated people in the hospitality industry.
Novel doula training for incarcerated women and those at risk grows
Faculty and students from the UC San Francisco schools of nursing and medicine had one main goal when they created a program to provide doula services to women incarcerated at San Francisco County Jail.
It was to offer “loving, respectful and empowered” birth and postpartum support to these women. Essentially, doulas are trained nonclinical birthing companions – a role that has existed for centuries in nearly every cultural tradition.
Merle Haggard Could Easily Have Died in San Quentin
Young Merle Haggard had a long rap sheet, and he could easily have been a victim of the bizarre and unpredictable three-strikes law.
But if he were in the California prison system now, that probably would not happen. Haggard’s death wouldn’t be mourned in obituaries around the country. It would be registered in a prison ledger.
The race of their lives: Marathon offers diversion for offenders at Oregon youth correctional facility
On April 30, a half-dozen youth offenders will run what is believed to be the country’s first marathon held wholly inside the fence of a youth correctional facility. The public is not invited to run on marathon day, but a barbecue and band will be on the grounds to create a big-race atmosphere.
Formerly incarcerated woman wants to help others transition back into society
Hughes said a program called Get it Right helped her discover who she really is. Through her experience, she said, she also learned who her true family and friends are.
“Going there, it changed my life,” she said. “It was meant for me to go there.”
Hughes said she now questions who she was before being sent to prison and realizes how judgmental she was. She looked down on people and also assumed anyone who was incarcerated had done something wrong.
No appointment necessary!
Call us or stop by our main
office in Long Island City
headquarters during visiting
hours to learn more about
our programs and services.
29-76 Northern Boulevard
Long Island City, NY 11101
Mon-Thurs: 8am - 8pm
Fri: 8am - 5pm
625 W. 140th St.
New York, NY 10031
No walk-ins accepted at this location. Please call or visit our main office in Long Island City.
630 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10031
No walk-ins accepted at this location. Please call or visit our main office in Long Island City.