A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Life After Prison: Opting In or Opting Out
One of the biggest hurdles, he’s discovering, is changing his own perceptions about himself.
“Just because you’re out of prison doesn’t mean you escaped prison,” he said. “You can still be in your own prison.”
In addition to confronting the stigma of having been incarcerated, Lorenzo said he is also dealing with his own insecurities about navigating the now-unfamiliar world around him. He’s unsure of his social skills and has trouble understanding technology and social media.
Acting Out Their Demands, Advocates Take the Stage to Influence NYC Policy
Theatre of the Oppressed NYC is working to build political dialogue with local politicians through theater. Throughout the month of May, the organization has been bringing attention to the increasing problem of homelessness in the city using activist theater.
“It sort of turns some of the power dynamics upside down in terms of who’s on the stage and who gets to talk and who gets to propose legislation,” says Katy Rubin, executive director of Theatre of the Oppressed NYC. “That’s also important to us in terms of our ethics of how change should be sparked in the city.”
Why I Left My ‘Ex’
For those of us who have experienced firsthand the horrors of mass incarceration, changing the language is a crucial step in our long march towards dignity, respect, and reintegration. The old adage about “sticks and stones” is wrong. Words can and do hurt. They are powerful reminders of stigma and exclusion. The father of our movement, Eddie Ellis (1941-2014), who spent 23 years in prison and went on to play a leading role in our struggle for human rights, understood this very well.
Rikers Island Guards Accused in Inmate’s Beating Will Not Testify
The nine correction officers who are on trial in the July 2012 beating of an inmate at Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex, will not be telling their side of the story in court.
Lawyers for all nine defendants unexpectedly rested their case on Monday without calling a single witness or presenting any evidence in State Supreme Court in the Bronx. One after another, the defense lawyers informed Justice Steven Barrett and the jurors of their decision shortly after prosecutors concluded their case after weeks of testimony from more than a dozen witnesses, including the former inmate who was beaten, Jahmal Lightfoot.
With new officers at Rikers, city seeks to change a harmful culture
DOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte has committed considerable new resources to recruiting, enlisting, training and graduating a crop of new officers who the city hopes will be better equipped to handle the pressures of the jail, in order to make “DOC a national leader in the correction field,” according to Ponte.
Inside ‘The Box’ With Some of Rikers Island’s Most Violent Inmates: Part 1
Dramatic Changes Aim to Help Rikers Island’s Youngest Inmates: Part 2
At Rikers Island, a Legacy of Medication-Assisted Opioid Treatment
Rikers Island Correctional Facility has run a model opioid treatment program since 1987, and it has assisted tens of thousands of inmates in maintaining treatment after they return to their communities. Medical researchers have repeatedly found that the jail’s methadone treatment program has resulted in overall health care cost savings, reduced crime and recidivism, reduced HIV and hepatitis C transmission, and better than average rates of recovery from drug use.
Arrests are just a start to fixing Rikers
An extensive conspiracy to smuggle scalpels and drugs onto Rikers Island in exchange for bribes, which led to 17 indictments, can be seen in two ways. The arrests of officers, staff, inmates, and civilians show the scrutiny now on Rikers may be getting results. . But the arrests last week also highlights the long way to go before any meaningful reform makes any difference.
City Council to Pass Reforms Aimed at Broken Windows Policing
The package of legislation that the Council will pass and Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign takes direct aim at reforming the enforcement of Broken Windows policing, a controversial trademark of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton whereby low-level offenses are aggressively policed in an effort to protect quality of life and prevent more serious crimes.
Amid National Push for Criminal Justice Reform, Brooklyn Treatment Court Celebrates Two Decades of Service
Kicking a drug or alcohol addiction is definitely not easy. The people who graduated from this treatment program say they were taught to believe in themselves.
“Being locked up for what, ten dollars, that was low,” said Keith Swinton. “Then Brooklyn Treatment Court came along.”
New York Teenagers Dumped in Adult Jails
The Supreme Court has said emphatically that it is morally and constitutionally wrong to equate offenses committed by adolescents with those carried out by adults. And research shows that prosecuting adolescents as adults needlessly destroys their lives and turns many of them into career criminals. Yet these lessons have not penetrated some states. New York is tied with North Carolina at the top of the list of states with retrograde laws that automatically funnel 16-year-olds into the adult system.
N.Y. attorney general reaches deal with 3 real estate firms charged with illegally denying apartments to people on housing assistance
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached deals with three major real estate firms to stop what he claimed was the illegal denial of apartments to people on public housing assistance, the Daily News has learned.
In settlements to be announced Monday, the three firms agreed to pay fines ranging from $13,000 to $40,000 and implement new management and training procedures to safeguard against future discrimination, officials said.
Campaign launched pushing Gov. Cuomo to dole out promised $2 billion for affordable housing
A coalition of groups is launching a campaign this week to push Gov. Cuomo to follow through on a promise to fund thousands of new supportive housing units before the legislative session ends next month.
The Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing is calling on Cuomo to cut a deal with the Legislature to release the $2 billion for affordable housing agreed to in the state budget adopted on April 1.
New York City’s hidden literacy crisis
New York City is in the midst of a growing crisis, but it is one hidden from the front pages, since those most affected are often without a voice: it is the crisis of New Yorkers who can’t read, write or speak in English. It is shocking that in a city of 6.4 million working age adults, 2.2 million – over a third – lack English proficiency or a high school diploma. To put the scale of this crisis in context, if you took these New Yorkers and created a new city, they would tie Houston, Texas, for fourth-largest in the nation. Though they wash our dishes, drive our taxis, cook our food and care for our children, these New Yorkers are all but invisible in the city’s budget priorities.
Corey Pegues tells how he went from drug dealer to high-ranking NYPD officer in new book, ‘Once a Cop’
Pegues’ ascension through the ranks came in spite of the racism he says he endured within the force — and his fight isn’t over. After speaking out publicly against police brutality, and revealing his gang history, Pegues was stripped of his NYPD-issue firearms and his pension was placed under review. His $200 million lawsuit is pending.
Thousands Held in Federal Prisons for Too Long, Report Finds
More than 4,300 federal inmates were kept in prison beyond their scheduled release dates from 2009 to 2014 — some of them for an extra year or more, according to a report released on Tuesday that highlighted wide confusion in the prison system.
The findings by the Justice Department’s inspector general are a potential embarrassment for the United States Bureau of Prisons at a time when the Obama administration has assailed what it says are unfair and unduly harsh sentences for many inmates, particularly minorities and nonviolent offenders.
U.S. Judge’s Striking Move in Felony Drug Case: Probation, Not Prison
A federal judge in Brooklyn, in an extraordinary opinion issued on Wednesday that calls for courts to pay closer attention to how felony convictions affect people’s lives, sentenced a woman in a drug case to probation rather than prison, saying the collateral consequences she would face as a felon were punishment enough.
GOP sues to block McAuliffe order to let 200,000 Virginia felons vote
Leaders of Virginia’s House and Senate went to the state’s highest court Monday in a bid to reverse Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s sweeping order to restore voting rights to 206,000 felons.
Skipping lower courts, they filed a complaint with the Supreme Court of Virginia, contending that McAuliffe (D) exceeded his authority in April when he restored voting rights to felons en masse instead of individually.
Why the Virginia GOP Can’t Thwart McAuliffe on Voting Rights
Even though the Virginia Supreme Court leans conservative, that isn’t likely to happen, says A.E. Dick Howard, a distinguished professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. Howard, a constitutional expert who helped draft the current version of state’s constitution, was asked by McAuliffe to assess the constitutionality of the new rule before the governor announced it. The professor told McAuliffe, and subsequently told us, that the broad new order is consistent with Article V, Section 12 of that constitution which authorizes a governor “to remove political disabilities consequent upon conviction….”
The Virginia GOP Is Trying to Keep These Two Women—and 206,000 Like Them—From Voting in November
Garrett said it had been a long road from drug addiction and charges to her life today. She helps coordinate the Friends of Guest House Speakers Bureau, which talks to the community about issues related to prison reform and reentry. She said she’d be “devastated” if the right to vote were pulled away from her again. She was 18 when she first got mixed up with the law, and she tried to vote for Bill Clinton but was turned away because of her criminal record. Many state legislators have no idea what felons have been through, she said, and discount the hard work and effort it takes for someone with a troubled past to get her life in order.
Have You Ever Been Arrested? Check Here
According to the National Employment Law Project (pdf, page 9), half the arrest records in the F.B.I.’s database carry no information about the case’s disposition. Your record might list an arrest for a serious crime — but omit the information that the case was dropped.
How do you keep a criminal record from poisoning your future? One way is to keep the information private. This week and next week, I’ll look at expungement and sealing, processes which erase or block from view eligible parts of a criminal record.
Behind Bars on Polluted Land
For the majority of people, valley fever, a disease brought on by breathing in fungus spores native to the desert dust of the southwestern United States, is harmless. But in 40 percent of the population, the disease can cause sore throats and muscle aches, and if the infection spreads, skin ulcers, bone legions, even inflammation of the heart or brain. Its severity varies by race: Black patients are 14 times more likely than white patients to suffer complications; Filipinos are 175 times more likely.
Having a Parent Behind Bars Costs Children, States
Jamaill never knew his mother. When he was 1, his father was incarcerated, and Jamaill got to know him largely through letters and phone calls. Twice a year, he would trek from Brooklyn to an upstate New York prison to visit — a trip that involved a plane ride, a long drive and an overnight stay in a motel.
Now, the 10th-grader’s father has been transferred to another prison even farther away. So they’ll stay in touch with “televisits,” video-conferenced meetings. Jamaill doesn’t think it should be so hard for kids to see their imprisoned parents. And that’s what he told New York state legislators in March.
Race taints everything about our capital punishment system just as it taints our elections. It simply simmers under the surface, and there it will stay. Despite the fact that it infects every single part of jury selection in some places, as Rob Smith recently noted in Slate, racism in our system of capital punishment won’t be addressed soon, it seems. Study after study reflects the fact that black jurors are struck far more frequently than white ones. Foster gave us a way to talk about it but not a way to fix it.
Correcting Prosecutorial Misconduct and Judicial Error in Louisiana
There is abundant evidence that prosecutors in Louisiana have for years consistently violated the rights of defendants by failing to disclose to defendants favorable evidence that could alter the verdict, and that Louisiana courts in reviewing criminal convictions, especially capital murder conviction, consistently failed to correct these prosecutorial violations, and in fact concluded that no violations occurred.
Yet something odd happened when Borden and Prater were booked into jail: A computer program spat out a score predicting the likelihood of each committing a future crime. Borden — who is black — was rated a high risk. Prater — who is white — was rated a low risk.
Two years later, we know the computer algorithm got it exactly backward. Borden has not been charged with any new crimes. Prater is serving an eight-year prison term for subsequently breaking into a warehouse and stealing thousands of dollars’ worth of electronics.
When Your Job Is to Help Free a Wrongfully Convicted Murderer
I’m an investigator with The New England Innocence Project, and we believe that our client, JIMMY1, is innocent, even though he was convicted 23 years ago.
I’ve spent hours driving back and forth across this city, trying dozens of addresses. Each time, I run back to my hotel room, get on the computer, and use my locations program to find more options. I try old neighbors, old roommates, old friends — anyone I can find.
The Passive-Aggressive U.S. Supreme Court
I sometimes imagine conference at the U.S. Supreme Court as a bit like some holiday dinners I have attended, events dominated by comments like, “Some people think it’s okay to take the last of the gravy,” or “That pie looks so delicious it makes me wish I could eat gluten.” The justices are masters of many rhetorical modes, but some of them do passive aggression especially well.
he United States is currently the only country in the world where juvenile offenders may legally be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Miller and Montgomery cut back on the practice, bringing America more in line with a near-global consensus in international law. Even John Roberts sees the writing on the wall. And yet still, in 2016, two of our Supreme Court justices strive to keep as many juvenile offenders in prison as possible, intentionally blurring the law to bend it toward their penological preferences. That’s an outrage. The law on juvenile life without parole is perfectly clear. And Alito and Thomas are on the wrong side of it.
Solitary Confinement Is Used to Break People — I Know Because I Endured It
Women have been taken to solitary for having a couple of pieces of candy in their pockets while standing in line waiting for medications or while in “mass movement” (moving in a group to or from the chow hall or job or school assignments). Women have been taken to solitary for waving hello to someone on the other side of the chow hall or in a line or mass movement.
Pretty in Pink Handcuffs
To Leslie Acoca, who heads an advocacy group that promotes access to healthcare for incarcerated girls, the pink handcuffs are a symbol of a system that is oblivious to the special needs of young women, a system that often shackles women during childbirth. Acoca first spotted the pastel restraints in a juvenile detention facility, and was so struck by them that she has titled her book-in-progress “Pink Shackles.”
“They’re disturbing and weird and slightly prurient,” she said. “That’s sort of the way the whole juvenile justice system is for girls.”
This 67-Year-Old Drug Dealer Turned Columbia Grad Proves It’s Never Too Late
Norman said he enjoyed reading books while in prison, and started learning Hebrew. Before he left Mohawk in 2000, he helped run a re-entry program that prepares inmates to return to society. He’s now a research assistant in Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, according to the Daily News.
A Judge Explains How to Change America’s Twisted Bail System
But what about changing the system more fundamentally? Some American locales like Washington, DC, have abandoned money bail entirely, though that idea hasn’t gained a ton of traction nationwide. When it comes to the question of money bail in New York, a task force was convened in the summer of 2014 to explore alternatives. Alongside court experts, public defenders, and fellow magistrates, Judge Grasso was one of the task-force chairs, and in his chambers on the ninth floor of the Bronx Hall of Justice, he broke down how bail is changing in America’s largest city.
What conservative criminal justice reform isn’t
Passing conservative criminal justice reform, like the types of reforms that have proven successful in Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, and a number of other red states, could be a major legislative victory for conservatives on the Hill. But if you’ve heard the recent chatter in Washington you might have been confused how this has become a story about immigration. Immigration is an important issue, but let’s avoid any sleight-of-hand and instead look to the states that have already made great strides in applying conservative principles to their criminal justice systems.
How Far Will The Conservative “Prison Break” Go?
A remarkable shift by conservatives on crime policy has fueled criminal justice reforms in several deep red states.
Now the question is whether an unexpected rise in crime—and politicians like Donald Trump and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)—will slow the trend markedly.
Foster v. Chatman and the necessity of peremptories
Today, the United States Supreme Court, by a vote of 7-1, reversed Foster’s conviction, holding that the prosecutors’ tactics violated Batson. For a terrific breakdown of the lone dissenting vote and the increasingly passive-aggressive nature of SCOTUS, read this by Garrett Epps.
The decision is a condemnation of racial bias in jury selection – a practice that continues today – and perhaps a hint that some conservative members of the Court have dropped the pretense that racial bias in the criminal justice system is non-existent.
Our Awful Prisons: How They Can Be Changed
Some time ago, I was at a book festival in Finland. When there was a free day, the publisher who had invited me asked if there were any sights I would care to see. I said I’d like to visit some prisons. Finland locks people up at well under 10 percent the rate we do in the United States, a gap far more dramatic than all the differences between the two countries’ populations could explain. I was curious to see what prisons in this society looked like.
It’s time to vote on revised sentencing reform and corrections act
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA) was introduced in the Senate with considerable fanfare last October. But seven months later, it still hasn’t come to the Senate floor for a vote.
Instead, for the past few months, key stakeholders and members of Congress have been discussing and negotiating revisions to this legislation—and for good reason. As much as advocates would like to see the much-needed criminal justice reforms incorporated in the SRCA passed sooner rather than later, it’s just as important to continue to build upon the unprecedented bipartisan support for this reform and ensure passage.
Independent View: Ex-offenders deserve a chance to work
As a career prosecutor in both the state and federal systems, it has become clear to me that our crime-fighting efforts need to go beyond arrest, prosecution and incarceration. Certainly, there are violent, recidivist individuals who deserve our most focused, aggressive law enforcement efforts. Some of these individuals deserve long prison sentences because of the threat they pose to public safety. But our crime-fighting mission can’t end there. We also need to do everything we can to prevent crime, including reaching young people as early as possible to ensure they have the best educational and training opportunities we can offer.
Massachusetts Prisoners Sent to Solitary After Meeting with State Legislators About Prison Reform
Three men incarcerated in Massachusetts who were working with a prison reform caucus of state legislators have been thrown in solitary confinement, in an apparent retaliation against their activism and an attempt to disrupt further communications.
In the middle of the night on March 23, 52-year-old Timothy Muise, 44-year-old Shawn Fisher, and 39-year-old Steven James were taken from their cells at the medium-security prison MCI Shirley, handcuffed, and transported by van to three separate prisons spread across the state (Norfolk, Bridgewater, and Gardner), where they were placed in solitary confinement.
“I Know How It Is to Be So Lonely, That Death Doesn’t Seem So Bad”—Ohio Solitary Confinement Is Horrific
In solitary, the lights are always kept at a dim glow—too dark to read, too bright to sleep. Because of an ACLU lawsuit, the cells at OSP have a television in them. Most of the mental health and drug “treatment” offered to individuals is simply recorded programs shown on television, which look pretty bleak.
Tennessee’s New Prison Stops Taking Inmates
Tennessee’s newest prison has stopped taking inmates after just four months of full operation. Records obtained by The Associated Press suggest why.
State corrections officials and the private prisons operator Corrections Corporation of America confirmed to the AP that the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center halted new admissions two weeks ago, leaving the 2500-inmate prison about two-thirds full.
A company spokesman on Tuesday blamed “growing pains.” Both said the decision was made jointly.
Jailing Princola: A hopeless ending for a mentally ill teenager
Only three weeks remained on her prison sentence, but officers moved her into temporary confinement after, inmates said, an argument in the chow hall. Before entering her new cell, however, she was placed in a stall no bigger than a hallway closet. She was left there alone for three hours, inmates said.
They said her cries — described as frantic and childlike, laced with threats of suicide — were ignored. By the third hour, the cries stopped.
Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections to discard terms ‘offender,’ ‘felon’ in describing ex-prisoners
Refraining from referring to those who have committed a crime as offenders, I do not excuse their behavior or minimize the impact they’ve had on those they’ve offended, nor do I disrespect victims, by respecting those who have victimized. Rather, I acknowledge the humanity of incarcerated individuals despite their damaging behavior, and, as importantly, acknowledge their capacity to change. After all, we, all of us, are invested in the future success of those who have committed crimes. We call our system the “corrections system,” and surely respect for humanity is an essential element of that.
Sen. Tom Cotton Thinks We Don’t Incarcerate Enough People — These Stats Prove Him Wrong
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton can’t possibly know very many people who have been jailed or imprisoned.
If he did, he wouldn’t make terribly uninformed remarks like those in an anti-criminal justice reform speech he delivered Thursday in Washington, D.C. Speaking at the Hudson Institute, Cotton praised every problematic law enforcement policy that created this country’s prison industrial complex and saw people of color locked up en masse over the last two decades.
No, Tom Cotton, Mandatory Minimums Aren’t Preventing A Crime Wave
Last week, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas gave a speech on criminal justice reform in which he mixed the banal—“Criminals are not victims. Criminals are criminals”—with the fatuous—the United States suffers from an “under-incarceration problem.” He blithely accused colleagues who support reducing one-size-fits-all sentencing mandates, including conservatives like Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul, of being “criminal-leniency advocates.” The speech cemented the impression one gets that Cotton thinks the only thing standing between the American people today and a crime-ridden, blood-drenched hell on earth is, well, Tom Cotton.
Tallying the extent of the Clinton-era crime bills
While many current and recent presidential candidates have called for ending mass incarceration and have been critical of the “Clinton crime bill,” their proposals have been short on specifics. Even more troubling however, is their narrow view — and that of many journalists — of Bill Clinton’s criminal justice legacy. The problem isn’t one bill, or two or even three but at least seven bills.
A Failure of Oversight
A flawed, confused system prevents judges, social services officials and guardians from discovering critical information about the condition of the residential treatment facilities regulated by the Department of Corrections. Mesabi Academy, scheduled to close next month, is a case study. Since opening in 1998, the juvenile correctional facility had been seen as a reliable jobs provider, receiving subsidies from government and tens of millions of dollars in loans from its parent. But attempts to sustain the business may have compromised resident and worker safety.
New Alabama law says juveniles convicted of capital murder must serve 30 years before parole eligibility
Under current state parole guidelines prisoners with life sentences can be eligible for parole in as little as 10 years under state law. The state’s parole board however, has had an administrative rule that says the first chance on parole in such cases is 15 years.
The new law clarifies how juveniles convicted of capital murder will be sentenced in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that say juveniles can’t be automatically sentenced to life without parole for capital murder convictions since they are no longer eligible for death sentences.
Florida Supreme Court opens the door for new hearings for juvenile offenders
The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that juvenile offenders serving sentences so lengthy they amount to life in prison must have their cases reconsidered by a judge, even if they are eligible for parole.
The 4-3 ruling will dramatically expand the number of juvenile offenders who qualify for resentencing, granting a second chance for release to potentially hundreds of people convicted of murder and other serious crimes in their youth.
Smart justice reforms should include parole
We still technically have parole in Florida, but the courts have not granted it for some time. In fact, the Legislature abolished parole for most crimes in 1983 and phased it out for the rest by 1995.
To illustrate: Of the 101,000 adult inmates in our state prisons, fewer than 5,000 are still eligible for parole. Having been sentenced before 1995, they’ve spent a considerable portion of their lives behind bars.
Cranston loses suit on prison gerrymandering
A federal judge on Tuesday ordered an end to counting prisoners at the Adult Correctional Institutions as Cranston residents when drawing city council and school committee lines. The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island praised it as a precedent-setting decision against “prison gerrymandering.”
Making up for lost time, exoneree marries childhood sweetheart
De’Marchoe Carpenter didn’t waste any time after being exonerated and released from prison.
On Sunday, less than two weeks after being released, De’Marchoe married his longtime girlfriend, Brandy Guest. Andre Harris, the brother of Eric Harris, officiated the ceremony.
De’Marchoe and Brandy (who now goes by Carpenter) have known each other since they were children.
‘They just have no clue’: Expert testifies of Sheriff Gusman’s ability to run jail
Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s failure to comply with a consent decree that’s designed to make the jail safe isn’t for lack of trying, the lead court-appointed monitor of the jail testified Wednesday (May 25).
“They just have no clue,” said Susan McCampbell, an expert in the field of corrections management.
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