A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
The New School Leads a National Public Reckoning with Mass Incarceration
Cumberbatch was one of the many individuals who shared stories of incarceration at the two-day national summit of States of Incarceration, a coalition of 500 individuals from 20 cities across the United States that is building a participatory public memory project on the history and future of mass incarceration. The public dialogues are part of a broader effort—including a national traveling exhibition, Web platform, public dialogues, a “Shape the Debate” mobile campaign, and a podcast series—to undertake a national public reckoning with one of the most pressing issues of our time.
New York City Council to Review 5 Bills Reining In ‘Three-Quarter’ Homes
Five bills will be introduced in the New York City Council on Wednesday that aim to tackle the problem of unregulated flophouses catering to addicts, people with mental illnesses and others who are trying to avoid homeless shelters.
The flophouses, known as “three-quarter” houses because they are seen as somewhere between regulated halfway houses and actual homes, have spread across the city in recent years and were the subject of an investigation by The New York Times last year.
Spare a Swipe? New York City Eases Rules for a Subway Request
For years, the police have been arresting people for asking for swipes in front of the turnstiles. That changed last month, when the police decided to try a more lenient approach against swipe-beggars and other low-level rule breakers, at least in Manhattan. Now officers are supposed to issue a ticket or court summons rather than make an arrest.
But new statistics and a review of court records show, for the first time, the lengths the police had previously gone to try to stamp out the practice of swipe-begging. Even counterterrorism officers had arrested violators.
Ex-Inmate Describes Rikers Beating as ‘Open Season’ for Guards on Trial
As Jahmal Lightfoot tells it, Rikers Island correction officers pummeled him without any words — or any mercy — as he curled up into a fetal position inside a cell to shield himself from their repeated blows.
“Basically it was open season for them to do what they wanted,” Mr. Lightfoot testified on Monday in State Supreme Court in the Bronx.
Rikers Curbs Use of Solitary Confinement
The number of inmates held in solitary confinement on New York City’s Rikers Island has fallen sharply, in what city officials say is a sign of a gradual turnaround at a jail complex marred by allegations of violence and abuse.
Rikers Island inmate, 62, dies after apparent seizure
A Rikers Island inmate awaiting trial on attempted murder charges died Monday after suffering what officials said was a seizure.
Zhi Zhang, 62, died shortly after he began to convulse inside city’s Robert N. Davoren Complex just after 3 p.m., according to jail insiders.
De Blasio guest commentary: Rikers debate cannot stall jail reform, (commentary by Mayor Bill de Blasio)
Today, as we continue to drive down crime, the idea of closing Rikers has returned to the forefront. Yet while this idea deserves serious consideration, we cannot allow the closure conversation to distract from jail reform needed now – long before any possible transition from Rikers could become reality. And we must make sure that in calls for Rikers’ closure, our city does not become more focused on shutting down the facility than ending the culture that gave rise to its infamy.
Shut It Down: Community Calls for Closure of Notorious Jail
“We are not going away, we are just getting started,” Glenn Martin, president of criminal justice reform organization JustLeadershipUSA, told the crowd, which chanted, “Rikers, Rikers, shut it down!”
Martin, who was incarcerated at Rikers Island at the age of 16 and again at 23, told TakePart that the protest’s goal was to put the voices of community members front and center.
If Rikers Island never closes, here’s why
If Rikers Island is ever to close, some elected officials will have to be brave enough to explain to New Yorkers why neighborhood jails near courthouses make sense.
Count Jeff Klein out.
The powerful state senator from the Bronx held a press conference over the weekend to announce his opposition to a proposed detention facility in the Hunts Point section of his district.
Located in the middle of the East River, Rikers holds about 10,000 inmates. It’s a volatile mix. Some have been convicted of minor crimes; but as many as 80 percent are awaiting trial. Many are there because they can’t make bail. And, in a trend that reflects a growing national problem, Rikers holds a rising number of mentally ill inmates. The mentally ill now make up more than 40 percent of the population.
Correction officers are not adequately trained to deal with this population. The result is a disturbing pattern of neglect and excessive force that is the focus of our story tonight. It has led the U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara, to intervene.
After He Was Beaten, Rikers Inmate Was Sent to ‘the Box’
Jahmal Lightfoot’s suffering did not end with a brutal beating at the hands of Rikers Island correction officers who wanted to teach him a lesson.
He was falsely accused of going at the officers with a weapon he had stashed in his waistband, and disregarding their orders to drop it, according to Bronx prosecutors. As punishment, he was sent to “the box” — a section of the jail where inmates were confined to their cells for 23 hours a day — for nearly four months.
Prison guard union plans PR blitz
The union representing the state’s corrections officers is going on the offensive with an approximately six-figure advertising campaign in an attempt to reshape a narrative that has painted the state prison system in a negative light in recent months.
In once again striking up its calls for additional resources and training, the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association also is explicitly calling out the state Department of Corrections and CommunityServices for “shifting the blame to the officers who put their lives on the line to keep New Yorkers safe” amid recent exposés on abuses of inmates that show both sides in similarly unflattering lights.
Wrongful Convictions in Brooklyn Due to ‘Systemic Failures,’ DA Says
District Attorney Kenneth Thompson shot down the idea that reputed rogue Det. Louis Scarcella was to blame for all of the wrongful convictions that have come to light in Brooklyn — saying that “systemic failures” by prosecutors, judges and even defense attorneys share more of the responsibility.
Prison Inmates Argue Their Way to a Win Against West Point
The debate team of New York prison inmates who beat Harvard College last fall had another triumph Friday, this time against the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
A spokesman for the state corrections department confirmed that all three judges voted for the men in a maximum-security prison. They are students in the Bard Prison Initiative, which offers a rigorous college program at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility in the Catskills.
Virginia Governor Restores Voting Rights to Felons
Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia used his executive power on Friday to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons, circumventing the Republican-run legislature. The action overturns a Civil War-era provision in the state’s Constitution aimed, he said, at disenfranchising African-Americans.
The sweeping order, in a swing state that could play a role in deciding the November presidential election, will enable all felons who have served their prison time and finished parole or probation to register to vote.
The Marshall Project Wins A Pulitzer Prize
“The rape story and the articles on prison brutality remind us that — in a time of shrinking attention spans — deep, patient reporting and great storytelling can win readers and bring results,” said Bill Keller, TMP’s editor-in-chief. “This work also reinforces the growing sense that journalistic collaboration is, to borrow a military term, a force multiplier.”
Solitary Confinement Is What Destroyed My Son, Grieving Mom Says
This week, an unusual coalition of corrections officers and policy experts will come together in Washington, D.C., with one common goal in mind — to limit the use of solitary confinement for juveniles.
The campaign has enlisted some powerful voices to warn about the harms of isolation for young people.
Time running out for major criminal justice bill
Yet, the bill’s sponsors have hinted at a formal rollout for weeks, with no official announcement. Aides said the delay is to buy more time to build support, and they’re targeting Republicans up for reelection this year or senators who haven’t already leveled pointed criticism at the bill, such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).
But time is running short, and other issues are competing for what’s left of it. The Senate is preparing to restart the moribund appropriations process. And after the Republican National Convention in July, the chamber will be largely out of commission until the lame-duck session in November and December.
Supreme Court skeptical of drunken-driving breath tests without warrants
A majority of Supreme Court justices cast doubt Wednesday on drunken-driving laws in 13 states that make it a crime for drivers to refuse breath or blood tests sought by police without a warrant.
While many justices acknowledged the laws’ good intentions — to crack down on drunken driving, particularly in rural states such as Minnesota and North Dakota that are plagued with the problem — they wondered why police can’t get warrants first.
Why Mass Incarceration Doesn’t Pay
But a general rule in economics — the law of diminishing marginal benefits — applies to incarcerating additional people or adding years to sentences. Research finds that more incarceration has, at best, only a small effect on crime because our incarceration rate is already so high. As the prison population gets larger, the additional prisoner is more likely to be a less risky, nonviolent offender, and the value of incarcerating him (or, less likely, her) is low.
Prison visits helped prepare me for life after release. Why are they under threat?
Anyone who thinks video visitation is a worthy replacement for personal contact – when it’s even working – doesn’t understand the connection between visitation and rehabilitation. Most people assume that the connection between visits and resuming a life of decency is that the visits make the prisoner feel valued, loved and ultimately welcomed back into society. That may be part of it, but any theory that links missing prison visits with committing another crime makes re-offending look like brattiness, a matter of attention-seeking outbursts from people who feel slighted. It’s not that simple.
Neuroscience Is Changing the Debate Over What Role Age Should Play In The Courts
The Supreme Court has increasingly called upon new findings in neuroscience and psychology in a series of rulings over the past decade (Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana) that prohibited harsh punishments—such as the death penalty and mandatory life without parole—for offenders under 18. Due to their immaturity, the argument goes, they are less culpable and so deserve less punishment than those 18 or older. In addition, because their wrongdoing is often the product of immaturity, younger criminals may have a greater potential for reform. Now people are questioning whether the age of 18 has any scientific meaning.
Jobs are the ultimate crime stoppers
Extensive research demonstrates that one of the best predictors of whether someone will re-offend is whether he or she can find a decent job. But ex-offenders’ odds of finding a job are poor. Survey data suggest as many as 60 to 75 percent of former offenders are unemployed a year after their release.
Institutional racism the problem, not ’94 crime bill: Biden
Vice President Joe Biden defended the 1994 crime bill — which has become a liability in the 2016 Democratic presidential race — as having “restored American cities.”
The vice president, a principal author of that Clinton-era bill while a senator, pointed specifically to stepped-up “community policing” enabled by the bill’s funding for 100,000 additional cops nationwide.
On Crime Bill and the Clintons, Young Blacks Clash With Parents
Young and energized African-Americans this election cycle are aggressively challenging longstanding ideas and policies, especially those carried out during the Clinton administration in areas like crime and welfare. But the activism is also laying bare a striking generation gap between younger and older African-Americans, whose experience, views of the former president and notions of how they should push for change diverge dramatically.
Another Clinton-Era Law that Needs to Be Repealed
Since the PLRA became law, tremendous burdens have been placed on prisoners wishing to file suit for violations of their constitutional rights. For example, one of the law’s provisions forces you to go through the prison’s administrative complaint procedures before bringing an actual lawsuit. This can take months. Imagine a prisoner who is in pain and in need of medical treatment, but ignored by prison staff: She must not only file her complaint with the same staff that is denying her treatment, but wait for a refusal, appeal that decision, and only after a judgment on that appeal can she then file a legal case beyond prison walls. By that time, it may be too late for a court to do anything.
What Caused the Great Crime Decline in the U.S.?
In the early 1990s, U.S. crime rates had been on a steep upward climb since the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency. The crack-cocaine epidemic in the mid-1980s added fuel to the fire, and handgun-related homicides more than doubled between 1985 and 1990. That year, murders peaked in New York City with 2,245 killings. Politicians embraced tough-on-crime platforms and enacted harshly punitive policies. Experts warned the worst could be yet to come.
Then crime rates went down. And then they kept going down.
10 (Not Entirely Crazy) Theories Explaining the Great Crime Decline
In 2010, the Bureau of Justice Statistics announced that the homicide rate had reached a four-decade low. (Since then, overall crime rates have remained relatively flat.)
While everyone agrees this is fantastic news, no one, least of all researchers and experts, can agree on exactly why it happened. Below are 10 popular theories for the decline, from abortion to lead to technology to the broken windows theory, with unvarnished views from three leading researchers.
How a 26-year-old white woman died a horrible death in an American jail
If we imagine someone least likely to be abused by the cops and courts, Pitkin had all the right identity markers. She was young, white, and pretty. She lived in the supposed left-wing utopia of Portland, Oregon. She was from a middle-class family that loved her and tried to help her after she was jailed. She got busted for a crime — drug possession — that is in the process of becoming de-stigmatized as a medical problem rather than a criminal one. She even tried to get help the “right” middle-class way, submitting her requests with the correct paperwork. Though very rich white-collar criminals get better treatment, she’s still about as sympathetic as inmates come.
To accelerate prison reform, put a human face on mass incarceration
It was the great short story writer, Flannery O’Connor, who said that in the long-run a people is known not by its statements or its statistics — but by the stories it tells. For the past several years, as part of the Kairos Prison Ministry International at Angola, I have been collecting stories of redemption told by both inmates and Kairos volunteers as they try to carry out the Kairos slogan: “Listen, listen, love, love.” Kairos in-prison retreats begin on Thursday afternoon and end on Sunday afternoon. Here are three of the stories.
Nebraska Just Abolished Civil Forfeiture, Now Requires A Criminal Conviction To Take Property
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts signed a bill on Tuesday that eliminates civil forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize and keep property without filing charges or securing criminal convictions. The bill, LB 1106, passed the unicameral legislature last week by a vote of 38 to 8.
Bill addressing child interrogation may get new life
The police who arrested Hobgood Elementary children would have been required to let parents or legal counsel be present for interrogation had proposed legislation become law.
“Under current law, they have no representation,” said state Rep. Mike Sparks, a Smyrna Republican who’d like to see the Tennessee General Assembly eventually adopt his legislation that addresses the arrest of children.
The Scandal-Singed DAs Who Want to Be Judges
For the past year, the district attorney’s office in Orange County, Calif., has been battling the fallout from revelations of a decades-old scheme of planting secret informants near defendants’ jail cells.
Under this practice, prosecutors gathered information from informers in the county jail — information they were obligated to reveal to the defense but didn’t — and then lied about it in court. Once these unethical and unconstitutional practices became known, the DA’s office was forced to dismiss or reduce charges or re-try cases for more than a dozen people accused of murder and other serious crimes.
Court: Guilty can’t sue for false imprisonment
Defendants who plead guilty to a crime cannot win damages under an Iowa law meant to compensate wrongfully imprisoned inmates — even if they are later exonerated by DNA or other evidence.
A ruling Friday from the Iowa Supreme Court shut off the path to relief despite evidence and studies that show plea bargains can result in false convictions such as from coerced confessions and the fear of a life sentence if convicted.
Mississippi Jails Are Losing Inmates, And Local Officials Are ‘Devastated’ By The Loss Of Revenue
County officials across Mississippi are warning of job losses and deep deficits as local jails are being deprived of the state inmates needed to keep them afloat. The culprit, say local officials, is state government and private prisons, which are looking to boost their own revenue as sentencing and drug-policy reforms are sending fewer bodies into the correctional system.
A Courtroom Divided
In Hinds County, Miss., a standoff between a circuit judge and public defenders has turned into a tangle of professional and personal animus — with consequences serious enough to warrant a Congressional letter of complaint to Attorney General Eric Holder. The conflict erupted onto the national scene in February, when District Judge Jeff Weill, a former prosecutor and investigator for the District Attorney’s office, barred Alison Kelly, an assistant public defender, from representing indigent clients in his courtroom. The judge also announced that he would reassign all of Kelly’s cases to private attorneys even though neither Kelly nor her clients had requested the change.
Reentry Council makes recommendations on jobs, housing, mental health
he Mississippi Reentry Council today made recommendations regarding employment, housing, mental health care and other issues affecting former inmates after their release from prison.
The Reentry Council presented its report to the Governor, the Legislature and the Supreme Court. The report examines, among other things, post-release housing, mental health care and job finding for inmates leaving prison, and calls for complete implementation of criminal justice reform law enacted two years ago.
How Ohio’s zero-tolerance policies destroy young lives
Ohio’s state legislature is currently considering House Bill 410, which aims to reform how the state deals with chronically truant kids by eliminating the “delinquent” label from a child that misses school. This is an important bill in addressing one of the counterproductive ways in which Ohio treats its students, but truancy is only part of the larger problem of zero-tolerance policies in our schools. Ohio needs to go further and eliminate zero tolerance throughout the state.
Rule targets prosecutors who don’t reveal innocence evidence
“If prosecutors have an ethical duty to avoid wrongful convictions, then they should have some sort of ethical duty to remedy wrongful convictions,” said attorney Brad Bannon, of the North Carolina Bar’s ethics committee.
He wants North Carolina to adopt a rule recommended by the American Bar Association, requiring prosecutors to come forward if they find “new, credible and material evidence” that an innocent person is serving time. Thirteen states have adopted the post-conviction rule. North Carolina isn’t among them.
Dying alone: A jail inmate’s health spiraled for 7 days and no one stopped it
Madaline Pitkin, a heroin addict, had spent seven days detoxing at the Washington County Jail before she died.
Medical files, police reports and autopsy results obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive show serious breakdowns in the way Pitkin received medical treatment inside the jail. The case also reveals scant accountability for the people responsible for her care.
Ohio prisons plan to still work with food banks after farms close
Vegetables grown at state prisons could still end up stocking Ohio Association of FoodBanks despite a plan to close prison farms.
Officials from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction met today with Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the agency that supplies 12 regional food banks statewide. Both sides said they hope to work out something after this year, when all 10 prison farms are set to close.
Helping San Quentin inmates navigate life after prison
Carroll, founder of the nonprofit California Reentry Institute’s Empowered Reentry Program, has been working to help inmates like Johnson navigate the move from imprisonment to freedom.
The comprehensive pre- and post-release program that started in 2010 has provided Johnson and about 70 other inmates with the tools and assistance to rebuild their lives and break the cycle of incarceration. The 18- to 24-month program has had a remarkable zero percent recidivism rate for all its graduates.
Diverse juries help combat racism, group says
Days after Louisville Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens agreed to a paid suspension, West Louisville leaders rallied Sunday to show support for the judge and urge the public to recognize the need for more diversity among juries – an issue West Louisville Urban Coalition Vice President James Linton said is vital if “we want to tear down the walls of racism.”
This Bakery Offers A Second Chance For Women After Prison
“These women face a lot of obstacles,” co-founder Stephanie Wright tells me as we gather in a small church kitchen in Alexandria. I watch as a group of six women work cookie dough with their hands. The kitchen is orderly, immaculately clean — a refuge from the chaos that some of these women have been navigating.
Solano Prison Inmates Given ‘Shark Tank’ Style Business Opportunity
Inmates at California State Prison-Solano in Vacaville will pitch their business plan ideas to successful Silicon Valley venture capitalists and entrepreneurs next week, prison officials said Wednesday.
The inmate who makes the best pitch during the “Shark Tank” style competition will win funding for a start-up business when he is released on parole. The inmates have been participating in Defy Ventures’ rigorous program, which teaches job skills and development of business plans.
Recycling electronics, restoring lives
PAR-Recycle Works, a nonprofit organization that responsibly recycles electronic waste, is helping to restore ex-offenders lives by providing them with job training and employment.
Chestnut Hill resident Laura Ford, 66, has worked in prison ministry and helped develop and run reintegration programs for formerly incarcerated men and women for almost 20 years.
“PAR- [People Advancing Reintegration] Recycle Works believes that one of the best crime deterrents is a job. Participants in this program go from costing society thousands of dollars a year to contributing to society.”
Monroe reentry program fits national initiative
The Monroe Day Reporting Center, funded by Louisiana Department Public Safety and Corrections and operated by GEO Reentry, is an example of how offender reentry programs can offer great benefit to our communities. The Day Reporting Center delivers intensive supervision, treatment and training so offenders develop the skills and motivation to live a crime-free life. Participants attend classes that focus on reducing criminal issues and technical violations and, ultimately, out of the system.
A new film explores the effect of mass incarceration on the American landscape
In the Bronx, a formerly incarcerated man sells care packages that comply with the restrictive rules on what’s allowed though the mail in prison, while a woman in Marin County, California, details her job fighting forest fires. The film delves deep into the effects of incarceration in majority black communities like Ferguson, where filmmakers profile a woman who was sentenced to 15 days in jail for failing to pay a fine for a missing garbage can lid.
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