A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Produce Giveaway Program In West Harlem Is Changing Lives, One Meal At A Time
Finding fresh produce in a big city is never easy, but for residents of West Harlem things just got a lot simpler, thanks to The Fortune Society.
The not-for-profit organization is best known for offering services like housing, addiction treatment and job training to formerly incarcerated men and women. But every Wednesday at 3pm, it also puts together fresh produce giveaways right inside their West Harlem location, at 140th street and Riverside in New York City.
Solitary Confinement Nears Its End for Young-Adult Inmates at Rikers Island
The city’s Board of Correction, an oversight agency for city jails, on Tuesday authorized the use of a new type of restrictive housing unit to hold the most violent and aggressive inmates between the ages of 18 and 21.
The decision allows Rikers to comply with a rule the board made more than a year ago to keep all young adults out of what the Department of Correction calls punitive segregation.
Bronx woman suing city after spending more than two years in solitary at Rikers Island
Hailey, who has numerous scars on her forearms from what she said were attempts to end her life, said she would use anything at her disposal — including pieces of plastic cups and broken light bulbs.
She also once swallowed a bottle of Nair, a hair removal chemical sold at the commissary, she said.
“Candie Hailey’s treatment by correction officers at Rikers Island was less than inhumane and invokes images of slavery,” said her attorney, Paul Prestia.
In the Bronx, justice is delayed & denied: Defendants’ rights are being abused
Take the case of Joseph Bermudez, who was represented by The Bronx Defenders and charged with a drunk-driving misdemeanor. He wanted to clear his name by having a trial. But each time he appeared in court — 38 times to be exact — he was told to come back. Then, 1,255 days after his first appearance, he was found not guilty of all charges.
Chirlane McCray hits D.C. in push for increased NYC mental health funding
First Lady Chirlane McCray is taking her mental health push on the road this week.
McCray, in an unusual move for a First Lady, will head to Washington, D.C., to advocate for mental health funding for New York and tout the city’s successes in handling the issue. She will leave Tuesday night and remain in the capital until Thursday.
Rikers violence drops compared to last year, Commissioner Joseph Ponte says
Violence has finally started to ebb at problem-plagued Rikers Island, Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte claimed Monday.
For the first four months of this year, use of force by guards that caused serious injury dropped 50% compared to the same period last year, and use of force causing any injury is down 17%, Ponte testified to the City Council.
Ponte to detail violence reduction at Rikers during Council testimony
Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte plans to tout improvements in safety and the reduction of solitary confinement use on Rikers Island when he testifies before the City Council Monday.
The testimony will cite numbers showing a sharp decrease in use-of-force incidents in the first third of 2016. Such incidents are indicative of the level of violence at the island jail.
Chronic Bronx Court Delays Deny Defendants Due Process, Suit Says
Court delays in the Bronx — so troublesome that state officials had to create special courts to clear a backlog of felony cases — remain unresolved and have “fatally undermined the right to trial” for tens of thousands of people charged each year with low-level offenses, according to a lawsuit filed on Tuesday.
The suit, which was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan and seeks class-action status, depicts a broken system in which hundreds of people arrive each morning and wait for hours or even a day for perfunctory court appearances.
Following Fees and Forfeitures: Where Do Bail Funds End Up In NYC?
Despite discussions about who cannot afford bail fueling a push for reforms, the current bail process, particularly how much money is involved and where it ends up, remains poorly understood. Neither the city or the court system follows the flow of all cash and bail bonds.
But after months of digging into the numbers, City & State has identified figures on how much bail gets funneled into the city’s general fund and broad estimates on how much law enforcement officials believe the city is owed in unpaid bail bonds.
A Nightmare Court, Worthy of Dickens
While trial delays are a problem in many New York courts, none are remotely as bad as in the Bronx — the poorest of New York City’s five boroughs and the poorest county in the state. Misdemeanor defendants who try to exercise their constitutional right to a jury trial wait twice as long as those in Manhattan, two-thirds longer than in Brooklyn, and half again as long as in Queens, according to the complaint.
Alerted to Danger, New York City Failed to Curb Harm at Group Homes
In March 2013, New York City’s child welfare agency put a Staten Island group home for troubled youngsters on notice. The home for children who had been convicted of minor crimes had become the scene of repeated violence and vandalism. Often, children at the home would simply run off for days or longer.
HUD slashes funding for some New York City homeless shelters
For years, some of the city’s largest transitional homeless shelters have relied on the HUD grants to help prop up their annual operating budgets, with the city of New York paying the rest of the costs.
But this year, 12 New York City area shelters are losing some or all of their funding, largely because HUD is moving forward with a shift in its priorities, emphasizing funding for permanent housing facilities instead of transitional shelters. The shelter providers estimate the cuts are equal to the loss of 500 shelter beds.
U.S. Urges Colleges to Rethink Questions About Criminal Records
Education Secretary John B. King Jr. released a “Dear Colleague” letter to universities and colleges on Monday along with a guide, “Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice Involved Individuals.” Among the guide’s recommendations is a suggestion that colleges consider delaying questions about criminal records until after admissions decisions to avoid a “chilling effect” on potential applicants.
U.S. jury orders D.C. Corrections to pay $70,000 to deaf inmate in ADA claim
A deaf former inmate whose rights were violated by the D.C. Department of Corrections was awarded $70,000 in damages by a federal jury Wednesday under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson castigated D.C. jail officials in a blistering, 60-page opinion in September that found the department liable for failing to assess what accommodations were needed by William Pierce, 47, of the District and mismanaging his care during his incarceration in 2012.
Labels Like ‘Felon’ Are an Unfair Life Sentence
Lately, the administration has also recognized that the vocabulary of incarceration — the permanently stigmatizing way we speak about people who have served time — presents a significant barrier to reintegration. Federal officials have set out to change that lexicon, so that people who have committed crimes have a better chance of being seen not as faceless abstractions, but as human beings worthy of a being back in society.
The $33 Test in Prison That Could Save Countless Lives on the Outside
Now, new hepatitis C medications can cure 90% of patients in as few as 12 weeks; guidelines from the major medical societies recommend treating all patients with hepatitis C—and single out incarcerated people as a group for whom treatment could have the secondary benefit of preventing transmission to others. But still prison administrators in most states have been slow to offer testing or treatment in any substantial numbers.
Obama’s Post-Prison Jobs Plan Is Not Enough
Ultimately, the proposed federal policy would be much better than the status quo. And it would be good if the federal government followed the example set by a range of state and municipalities. But it’s important to recognize the magnitude of the barriers to reentry and how far there still is to go.
To Aid Successful Re-entry, New York Must Expand Prison Work Release Programs
To that end, New York State must step up and do something substantial to increase reentry success. Reinstituting the work release program – one that has already been tested, and requires no additional research to justify – would address both issues simultaneously. By allowing people to acquire work experience and accumulate some savings to use toward housing expenses, we can provide them with the basis for successful re-entry.
The End of Prison Visitation
Travis County ended all in-person visitations in May 2013, leaving video visitation as the exclusive method for people on the outside to communicate with the incarcerated. But Travis County is only on the leading edge of a new technological trend that threatens to abolish in-person visitation across the country. Over 600 prisons in 46 states have some sort of video visitation system, and every year, more of those facilities do away with in-person visitation.
The day my student was expelled
This story is about one of my former students, who I’ll call Marcus for the sake of his privacy. Marcus was a quiet, hard-working, 15-year-old black student in my Geometry class. One September morning, Marcus walked into my classroom reeking of marijuana. Doing what I was required to do, I notified the school behavior dean, essentially passing off the problem to someone of higher authority.
In retrospect, my referral changed the course of Marcus’ life for the next year —and perhaps the distant future — for the worse.
How to Keep the Mentally Ill From Getting Behind Bars
Wholly apart from mental health care, fewer people with mental illness would end up behind bars if we stopped criminalizing minor symptoms of mental illness, as well as homelessness, poverty and substance abuse. It would also help to have more tolerance for bizarre or discomfiting, but harmless, public behavior.
One Woman’s Crusade to Ban the Box on College Applications
Most recently, Nixon, along with the EIO Coalition, has been supporting the recent movement on the issue of banning the box—or the place on an application form that asks about an applicant’s criminal record—in higher education. The issue has been picking up speed in the state of New York, where Nixon does most of her work.
Students from New York University and the State University of New York have been protesting and advocating for the removal of the box in the college admissions process. There is a bill that has been introduced in the New York State Legislature, flirting with the topic.
Criminal Justice Reform Advocate, Glenn E. Martin Applauds Push For Universities to ‘Ban the Box’ on College Admission
“As someone who earned a two year college degree in prison, I know firsthand the value of providing educational access to those who are incarcerated and formerly incarcerated. We must encourage an easier pathway to a college and do away with harmful practices that have created cycles of incarceration lasting decades. I hope to see more of our educational institutions take heed to the Department of Education’s urging to “ban the box” on college admissions.”
What I’ve Learned as a Jail Doctor
Several days before I saw him, Jay had stumbled off the street into a local ER, driven to temporary madness by a cocktail of illegal uppers and downers. According to the discharge paperwork in his file, he detoxed for a few hours and then was bundled up and transferred here. And jail protocol — there’s a protocol for everything — mandates physician follow-up for any recently hospitalized inmate.
The Private Prison Primer: A tale of two prison towns, Part 1
In the swaths of country that live like it’s recession season year-round, the brew that brought prisons speaks to a sort of desperation. The Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) environment has an interesting cross-section in such situations – the “N” could easily stand for “Necessary.” Banking on prisons seemed a viable enough effort toward economic development: Florence, for one, has been able to build an economy around its prisons.
The Private Prison Primer: A tale of two prison towns, Part 2
With combined revenues of over $3 billion dollars, it’s easy enough to point to GEO Group and CCA as fueling the private incarceration industry. But between their prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers, youth residential centers, and community corrections facilities, there are now 151 communities complicit across the country, including places like Florence or Sayre, where local cooperation has been necessary to the expansion of private prisons.
Punishing Families: How the Prison Communication Industry Weakens Family Ties
Anyone who has had a loved one locked up knows it’s not easy. But I didn’t realize how much it would feel like being kicked while you’re already down. My brother has been incarcerated in a county jail in southern Indiana since December 2015, and has yet to be convicted. Trying to support him has been an uphill struggle.
Although the myth of the “one phone call” has long held a place in the American imagination, the reality of communicating with family during a long-term prison stay hardly makes for the stuff of movies. To prisoners and their relations, calls are a vital connection to home. For facility operators, they’ve long been considered security holes, a means for inmates to coordinate crimes with the outside. And for inmate phone companies, along with state and local governments, the system is a lucrative business opportunity.
Kids Reading Love Letters To Their Incarcerated Moms Will Break Your Heart
With over 2 million people in the U.S. federal and state prisons, a large amount include women who had children prior to their incarceration. Children’s advocacy group Hour Children teamed up with Google and other criminal justice reform groups to help present letters from teens and children to their mothers this Mother’s Day.
The Rehabilitation Paradox
If we’re really going to reduce our prison populations, we will have to acknowledge that human frailty under conditions of poverty puts people at risk of becoming, simultaneously, the perpetrators and victims of violence. This is challenging for a justice system designed to assess guilt or innocence and mete out punishment. In the past, we saw violence as an assault of the strong on the weak, and we punished it. Now we need to heal the frailty from which it springs.
Detaining the Poor
While the jail population in the U.S. has grown substantially since the 1980s, the number of convicted people in jails has been flat for the last 15 years. Detention of the legally innocent has been consistently driving jail growth, and the criminal justice reform discussion must include a discussion of local jails and the need for pretrial detention reform. This report will focus on one driver of pretrial detention: the inability to pay what is typically $10,000 in money bail.
Gideon v. Wainwright in the Age of a Public Defense Crisis
The persistence of crisis conditions in indigent defense suggests that the causes are deeply entrenched, and not a temporary reflection of shifting political views or economic vicissitudes. One long-term historical factor helping to explain America’s weak commitment to indigent defense is the legal profession’s own prestige hierarchy, which has long valorized advising corporations more than helping ordinary people. A second factor undermining indigent defense is simply the structure of American federalism.
When Time Behind Bars Cuts Addiction Treatment Short
In fact, research shows incarcerated drug users are as many as eight times more likely to die immediately after release than at other times in their lives. And, patients who terminate methadone treatment are eight to nine times more likely to die immediately thereafter than those who don’t.
America’s Trial Court Judges: Our Front Line for Justice
The outcry over the Senate’s failure to hold hearings on Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court is fully justified. But that isn’t the only judiciary scandal on Capitol Hill. Even as the spotlight shines on the high court, the Senate has refused to confirm dozens of uncontroversial nominees to fill vacancies in the federal trial courts.
Here’s A Good Reason For The Fourth Amendment To Apply To Immigration Courts
Undocumented immigrants, however, do not pass through so-called “probable cause” hearings. So when ICE wrongfully detains someone, it could take several days, or even weeks, for a court to address the error, according to Ocampo’s lawyer, Mark Fleming, who is an attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center.
6 Traits Of People Who Help Others Out Of Prison Into Work
After interviewing or interacting with dozens of re-entry professionals, I’ve made a list of six things conservatives should know about them. Appreciating the reality on the ground might help us find our way into the conversation. Of course, it should be said upfront that these are generalizations. Not every re-entry worker will fit the mold. Still, these personal impressions may help capture the general spirit of the field.
Inside decaying US prison, former inmates are guides
The guides’ 15-minute tours turn into something of a miniature social experiment – the majority of visitors to Eastern State are middle-class white tourists, many of whom have never had any interaction with the American criminal justice system.
On the so-called “pilot programme” tours, visitors have the opportunity to speak to a person who can connect the history of the old prison with the present, with the intent to build empathy for so-called “returning citizens” who often struggle to acclimate to life in the free world.
Health Care at New Jersey Immigrant Jail Is Substandard, Watchdog Groups Say
Mr. Fernandez’s case is one of 61 described as part of a pattern of substandard medical care at Hudson in a civil rights complaint filed on Tuesday with the Department of Homeland Security. The administrative complaint, brought by two citizens’ coalitions that monitor conditions in immigration detention sites across the country, urges federal authorities “to immediately intervene to ensure the health and safety of current and future immigrants detained at Hudson,” either by ending its contract with the jail, which is paid $110 a day for each detainee, or appointing an independent investigator to swiftly inspect and improve the jail’s health care policies and practices.
What happens when you perform “The Vagina Monologues” at a male prison
The men laughed, throwing their heads back when they heard actors unabashedly spitting out descriptions of vaginas: “New Jersey twat”, “split knish,” “poonani,” or when they saw them mime examining their private parts in a mirror. They shook their heads in disbelief when hearing about genital mutilation of young girls. Every once in a while a guard’s walkie-talkie would go off, reminding everyone of their place.
‘Sentencing Reform’ is Seriously Stuck
“Sentencing reform,” as it’s known on the Hill, is seriously stuck.
On the surface, it may not appear that way. Just offstage, there’s a fundamental impasse that looks as if it can only be broken if one sitde caves in, thereby imperiling the highly unusual bipartisan coalition that has been the issue’s signature feature.
Complicating matters further, there are solid presidential and congressional campaign rationales for a deal, but also political arguments in opposition being at least as forcefully expressed.
Juvenile solitary confinement bill, partly inspired by Gazette reporting, headed to governor’s desk
Partially inspired by The Gazette’s investigation into the treatment of juveniles in state-run facilities, a bill headed to the governor’s desk would strictly limit when and for how long juveniles can be put in solitary confinement.
“We got some pretty compelling evidence, even from the state department, that in the past the department of youth corrections had not been following state law in terms of protections of people in solitary confinement,” said Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs.
Inside a prison where inmates can actually vote for president
Ahead the 2006 election, partially propelled by the economic woes of his family, Favreau did something he describes as pivotal: He registered to vote, a rare privilege available to United States prison inmates in only Vermont and Maine.
Favreau says that participating in the electoral process brought a new feeling of agency in and connection to society at large. This, he said, helped to change his life.
Facing budget ax, Louisiana officials shelve plans to open new juvenile prison
Anticipating new cuts, state officials are closing dormitories at juvenile detention centers in Jefferson Parish and Monroe, even though those facilities are filled to capacity. They also are becoming more selective about which troubled teens will be taken into long-term custody.
As of Monday, “only youth who are considered to be the most serious-needs, violent offenders will be moved into secure care until further notice,” Mary Livers, the agency’s deputy secretary, wrote in an email to staffers.
Colorado Springs settlement will pay dozens of wrongly jailed homeless and impoverished people
Colorado Springs must pay dozens of homeless and impoverished people for their time spent wrongly jailed under the debtors’ prison system, according to a settlement announced Thursday with the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.
Sixty-six people are eligible to receive $125 for each day they were incarcerated for non-jailable offenses, the ACLU said.
Kansas Gov. Brownback Signs Law to Prevent Witness Misidentification, Top Contributor to Wrongful Conviction
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback held a bill-signing ceremony today in the capital and signed into law bipartisan legislation aimed at preventing witness misidentification, the number one contributor to wrongful conviction proven by DNA evidence.
The new law will require all Kansas law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies on witness identification procedures, and recommends that those policies include the following best practices, which have been scientifically proven to protect against witness misidentification:
Hepatitis C ‘epidemic’ largely untreated in Tennessee prisons
Only eight of the 3,487 inmates known to have hepatitis C in Tennessee prisons are receiving medicine that can cure the disease, caused by a virus that can lead to fatal liver damage. Nearly one in two inmates the state did test in 2015 showed signs of having hepatitis C.
Prison Labor Strike in Alabama: “We Will No Longer Contribute to Our Own Oppression”
Additionally, the entire populations of Alabama’s striking prisons–including the general prison population not usually in 23 hour a day segregation–have been placed in indefinite solitary confinement. A statement released by the Alabama Department of Corrections calls this a “lockdown with limited inmate movement” that will persist “while ADOC investigates the situation.” Holman was also placed on lockdown in March following an uprising in which a correctional officer and the warden were stabbed after intervening in a fight, and prisoners briefly set fire to hallways.
More Prisoners Across Alabama Join Prison Strike
Inmates at three Alabama prisons have issued unified demands after initiating a widespread work stoppage on May 1. They are protesting exploitative labor policies and horrific prison conditions caused, in part, by overcrowding; Alabama’s prisons are operating at close to 200 percent over capacity.
Jefferson County bail reforms aimed at keeping poor out of jail
Jefferson County has made a few changes to its bail bond system that should prevent poor defendants from having to stay weeks or even months in jail while waiting for the help of an attorney to get their bond reduced.
Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union applauded the changes on Tuesday, saying the new process will drastically change courts’ treatment of defendants who can’t afford bail or an attorney.
Burden of second prison a reality for too many Coloradans
I know what it means to live in this second prison. I robbed a bank when I was 21 and served almost eight years in prison. I took responsibility for my actions early in my incarceration and began to give back by teaching GED classes and facilitating in-prison groups. I left prison with a sense of hope. I pursued law school and graduated magna cum laude. I thought I could outwork and outhustle the second prison, but it took the Virginia Supreme Court to deny me a law license to understand that no one can outrun the second prison.
Ohio prison population could hit record high this summer
The number of inmates in Ohio prisons increased 15.1 percent from 2005 to 2016, according to a report released today by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, a legislative prison watchdog agency. At the same time, prison overcrowding hit 132.1 percent, up from 114.8.
This is happening at a time when the overall crime rate in Ohio has gone down roughly 15 percent.
Two Tulsa men declared innocent in 1994 fatal shooting after serving 20 years in prison
Two men traded their prison uniforms for suits and emerged from the Tulsa Jail as free men Monday evening, 20 years into their life sentences.
Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter were released hours after a Tulsa County judge declared them innocent of a 1994 fatal drive-by shooting for which they were convicted at age 18.
When supervisors nap: an examination of staff misconduct in Kentucky’s juvenile justice system
Supervisory failures came under scrutiny earlier this year when 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen was found dead in her room at Lincoln Village. Investigators determined six staffers failed to do required bed checks and falsified logs, though officials said the employees’ mistakes didn’t contribute to the girl’s death. The coroner ruled Gynnya died in her sleep from a rare heart condition known as sudden cardiac arrhythmia.
After 5 decades in prison, inmate is embraced by small town
Amos’ father was in prison when he first ran afoul of the law himself. At the age of 10, and growing up in Kansas City, Amos stole a bike and shoplifted a candy bar.
His mother told a judge she didn’t want him anymore. She surrendered her parental rights and Amos was sent to a juvenile facility.
Thus began a five decade cycle of escapes, new offenses, and ever-harsher state and federal sentences.
Judge Africk should take control of Orleans jail away from Sheriff Gusman
With his revelation Tuesday (May 3) that he plans to move another 600 New Orleans inmates to jails across Louisiana, Sheriff Marlin Gusman is admitting he is incapable of running a safe jail. He won’t say those words, of course. Sheriff Gusman always blames someone else for his jail’s problems.
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