A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Namedropping at the Fortune Society
This past May 15th at the Castle Gardens, 625 W. 140th Street, NYC, NY, FORTUNE SOCIETY founder David Rothenberg, reminisced about his long career as theatrical publicist and producer. The Fortune Society began in 1967 when David Rothenberg produced the play “Fortune in Men’s Eyes”, which captured the harsh realities of living in prison in such a way that it mesmerized the audience and generated interactive dialogue and public discussion.
Queens man unaware of $2 bail, spends nearly 5 months at Rikers Island
Judges sometimes set a dollar bail on a defendant’s subsequent charges if they believe the person’s existing bail is sufficient or if the defendant is ineligible for release for another reason, like an immigration hold.
Salem was left with just the dollar bail holding him in — but the fluke was not revealed to the Algerian native until several months later, his lawyers say.
Rikers Island inmates continue to face lousy medical treatment months after city took control of health services for jails
One inmate with a history of seizures was suddenly cut off from his medication and suffered a grand mal seizure. Another had his orthopedic shoes taken away, fell down a flight of stairs and broke his toe. And one begged for weeks for medication to treat the cancerous lesions on his kidneys.
The examples of medical malfeasance come five months after the de Blasio administration switched health care services for the city’s approximately 10,000 inmates from the private contractor Corizon to the public Health and Hospitals.
Gang Violence at Rikers Seizes Spotlight During Guards’ Trial in ’12 Beating
The defendants are nine New York City correction officers who have been charged in connection with the brutal beating of an inmate at the Rikers Island jail complex.
But like a bit player who steals the show, the notorious Bloods street gang has drawn much of the focus in the officers’ trial, in State Supreme Court in the Bronx. The inmate, Jahmal Lightfoot, who was beaten in July 2012, was associated with the Bloods and jailed alongside other members in an area that was known as a Bloods stronghold.
Rikers Island correction officers were justified in beating inmate, say lawyers
A Rikers Island inmate pummeled by city correction officers in a search pen deserved the brutal beating, lawyers for the officers said Wednesday.
“He went into that pen with a weapon they didn’t find. It fell out, and they went after him,” said attorney Louis Albert in closing statements, in the trial of seven officers and two high-level supervisors in the assault of Jahmal Lightfoot.
Federal Monitors for Rikers Island Cite Progress and Violence
New York City’s Correction Department has made significant progress toward establishing “enduring reform” at Rikers Island, though violence against inmates remains a significant concern, the federal monitoring team overseeing a remaking of city jails wrote in a report filed on Tuesday.
Kalief Browder Learned How to Commit Suicide on Rikers
In the deposition, the city’s lawyer asked, “What happened after you tied the sheet around your neck?”
Browder replied, “The correction officers was telling me, ‘Go ahead and jump, you got it ready, right, go ahead and jump.’ And by then I was scared to jump. I never committed suicide before, and I was scared to jump. They said, ‘If you don’t jump, we’re going to go in there anyway, so you might as well go ahead and jump, go ahead and jump. You want to commit suicide, so go ahead.’ I didn’t jump, and they ended up coming in my cell anyway.”
Happy Sunday, Welcome to Rikers
Eighty-five percent of Rikers’s nearly 10,000 detainees have not yet been tried. Although many are released within a week, some remain in the jail for years as their cases drag through New York’s chronically slow court system. As of March 2016, 75 percent of Rikers detainees had been awaiting trial for less than a year, but there were 109 whose cases had been pending for more than three years and another 209 who had been waiting for more than two years, according to a spokesperson with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Jairo believes he is the longest-serving detainee currently on the island.
New York Council Approves Bills to Divert Minor Offenders From Court System
The passage of the bills, known collectively as the Criminal Justice Reform Act and spearheaded by the Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, was the most significant step yet toward reducing the burden of a two-decade-old policing policy that treats public disorder as harbingers of more dangerous offenses, and has resulted in hundreds of thousands of outstanding criminal court warrants for minor infractions.
Overseer of Jails: Guard Training Facility Severely Lacking
The training academy for thousands of jail guards — a cramped space occupying two floors of an office building — is “severely lacking,” especially compared with other big city correctional training facilities, a court-appointed monitor wrote Tuesday.
Steve J. Martin, who was appointed last year to oversee the city’s troubled jail system, said in his first report detailing its efforts to improve its lockups that the meager Queens training facility has only 12 windowless rooms that fit just 20 students each and a mat space in the basement gym that’s so small it can’t safely accommodate all the trainees.
Younger inmates in city jails more likely to get beaten up by correction officers, report shows
Younger inmates in city jails are much more likely to get beaten up by correction officers trying to enforce rules, figures released by a federal monitor Tuesday show.
The so-called “use of force” rate was at least six times higher for detainees aged 16 to 19 compared to their adult counterparts, according to the 130-page report filed in Manhattan Federal Court.
Permanent-Ban Policy in Public Housing Under Review
When Michael Garcia wants to see his mom, he calls and asks her to make five-minute rice. Then Anna Garcia and her son sit on a bench near a plastic yellow slide at the Harlem public-housing complex where she has lived for decades.
They eat outdoors because Mr. Garcia, 50 years old, is allowed on the complex’s property but not inside his mother’s apartment.
Police and NYCHA worker union leaders demand more cops in public housing to reduce crime
Citing an alarming spike in public housing crime, two top union leaders Wednesday demanded more cops in the projects before summertime mayhem makes things even worse.
In a letter to Mayor de Blasio, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch and Teamsters Local 237 President Gregory Floyd red-flagged an 8.9% jump in major crimes in NYCHA developments this year through May 15 compared to the same period last year.
Correction Officer’s lawsuit against Norman Seabrook tossed by judge
Correction Officer’s union chief Norman Seabrook will run unopposed for reelection after a Manhattan judge Tuesday tossed out a suit filed by a potential opponent — who said he was unfairly barred from the ballot.
“This decision denies Correction Officers an opportunity to oust a corrupt union president from office,” griped attorney Phillip Seelig, who was representing union prez hopeful William Valentin.
New York Police Illegally Profiling Homeless People, Complaint Says
In June 2015, police officers began issuing “move along” orders in the area around 125th Street in East Harlem, which had become a sprawling community of mostly homeless men, according the complaint.
The efforts grew more aggressive as up to 100 homeless people gathered in the area, turning a spotlight on the city’s homelessness crisis. Police Commissioner William J. Bratton assigned a 38-officer unit to focus on the area, and the city later started Home-Stat, a program involving several different agencies working to move people off the streets and into shelters.
An Incident on the Subway Proved How Hard It Was for Me to Adjust to Life After Prison
In prison, you essentially live on the head of a needle, with the constant sense that your life could end at any moment. So you cultivate instinctual survival tools that become instrumental in mastering and transcending the negativity—the imminent danger—of the surrounding environment.
But now, I realized that these same tools that could surface both at will and without warning would become a serious burden to me in the free wold. I needed to learn how to put them in check before they became my downfall.
Ministry to Families of Incarcerated Comes to Crown Heights Church, DA Says
A neighborhood church is partnering with Brooklyn prosecutors to make life a little easier for formerly incarcerated people and their families, the district attorney announced this week.
In its new “Rephidim Ministry” program, the First Baptist Church of Crown Heights will offer a series of workshops, panel discussion and housing resources to those who have been imprisoned, said Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson and the church’s leader, Rev. Daryl Bloodsaw.
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.
The judge, Frederic Block of Federal District Court, said such consequences served “no useful function other than to further punish criminal defendants after they have completed their court-imposed sentences.”
Iowa Court Rejects Life Without Parole for Juveniles
The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in a split decision Friday that sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole is unconstitutional because it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
In a 4-to-3 decision, Justice Brent Appel wrote that juvenile character is “a work in progress” and that courts should not preclude the chance for juvenile offenders to be released for good behavior by parole boards after they have fully matured. “We should not ask our district court judges to predict future prospects for maturation and rehabilitation when highly trained professionals say such predictions are impossible,” he wrote.
States Lead the Way on Justice Reform
While Congress continues to dither over a package of sentencing and corrections reforms for the federal prison system, the pace of bipartisan, state-level innovation is an encouraging reminder that there are ways to reduce the devastating impact of mass incarceration on families, communities and public safety. Nationwide, more than nine in 10 inmates are housed in state facilities, so state reforms reach the vast majority of people in the justice system.
The federal prison system has a big problem with a little number
The federal prison system has a big problem with a small number.
Between the years of 2009 and 2014, the Bureau of Prisons released 461,966 individuals back into society. But 1% of these individuals were released later than their sentences called for, found a BOP Inspector’s General review released this week.
Life After Wrongful Conviction
It’s hard to imagine worse luck than getting locked up for a crime you did not commit. And yet for people who have been convicted and later cleared — almost 1,800 in the United States since the late 1980s — the unlucky streak may continue. It turns out that where you spent your prison years determines how much help you get starting over, if you get any at all.
Want to Clear Your Record? It’ll Cost You $450
“I couldn’t afford it. I’d have to give up something, maybe eating, and I really like doing that,” Bill said.
Many states charge $150 or less to apply for expungement, the legal term for clearing a criminal record, and some states offer a waiver if the applicant is too poor to pay. But the Tennessee legislature wanted money for the state’s general fund, so it set the fee much higher.
Why It’s Nearly Impossible For Prisoners to Sue Prisons
In 2009, Blake filed a lawsuit in federal court against the two guards, plus two supervisors and the state government, seeking damages for his injuries. The assault worsened a preëxisting head injury, his lawyers said, and left Blake suffering from migraines and permanent nerve damage in his face. Madigan, the guard who threw the punches, was found liable and was ordered to pay Blake fifty thousand dollars, but a judge eventually dismissed the case against the supervisors and the government.
Rich Defendants’ Request to Judges: Lock Me Up in a Gilded Cage
Many thousands of people arrested in New York languish in the city’s jails because they are unable to make even modest bail. So advocates for prisoners and lawyers for indigent defendants say the idea that some defendants are able to stay out of jail because they have the means to finance a novel confinement plan is blatantly unfair.
“It just reinforces for me the point that our entire system of pretrial detention is predominantly based on wealth,” said Inimai M. Chettiar, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice who runs an initiative to end mass incarceration.
Democratic Leadership Is Missing in Action on Mass Incarceration
It is time for Democrats to officially commit themselves to the fight to revamp criminal justice. When they meet in Philadelphia one week after the Republicans, their platform should express unequivocal support for ending the era of mass incarceration. The Democrats should openly back trimming mandatory minimum sentences, reducing prison for nonviolent crimes, and improving community-police relations. And after all the space that previous Democratic platforms have devoted to using federal funds to build prison cells, the 2016 document should call for federal funding to decrease prison space—a “reverse Crime Bill”of sorts.
The Unreasonable Opposition to Justice Reform in the Senate
Recently, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) gave a speech at the Hudson Institute in Washington, in which he offered his case against the justice reform effort in Congress led by conservatives like Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho). Apparently unaware of the efforts of more than 30 states, including several traditionally Republican states, Cotton ridiculously labeled the federal push as “criminal leniency.”
FreedomWorks has already responded to some of Cotton’s hyperbolic statements on justice reform. Unfortunately, even after proposed legislation was improved to address the concerns of a handful of senators, Cotton doubled down on his opposition in his speech.
On the Defensive
In the wake of its Gideon decision, the Supreme Court offered no guidance on how states should design or fund a system of indigent defense. The result was a predictably federalist patchwork: 51 flowers bloomed. David Carroll, executive director of the nonprofit Sixth Amendment Center, says that a public-defense program’s quality depends more on two broad elements than on any specific structuring. First, public defenders must have independence from the judges in whose courtrooms they serve: In Alabama, for instance, judges assigned cases to specific public defenders until 2011. “Public defense doesn’t work if the attorneys are trying to please the judge to get their next contract,” Carroll said. Second, and more obviously, public defense must be adequately funded.
To End Mass Incarceration, Think Local
I recently introduced follow-up legislation, now awaiting the Illinois governor’s signature, that would expand the rocket docket to nonviolent defendants charged with traffic offenses and petty drug possession. This model can be easily replicated nationwide in large counties with busy court systems, where these types of low-level cases are more likely to fall through the cracks and drag on endlessly.
Maryland has started on prison reform. But what about the thousands in jails?
These reforms are, indeed, historic. But Maryland has a long way to go before we undo the severe damage wrought in poor and black and brown communities by biased policing strategies and the incarceration that follows. Thus far, the JRA has focused on our state prison population, not our local jails.
How Maryland came to repeal mandatory minimums for drug offenders
About 1,600 prisoners serving long sentences in Maryland will become eligible for early release in October 2017, just as the state does away with mandatory minimum prison time for newly convicted, nonviolent drug offenders.
Taken together, advocates said, the changes put Maryland at the forefront of states that are adopting major criminal-justice reform.
How to Help Former Inmates Thrive
Criminal justice reform is not just about being fair to the individuals who will be most directly affected, but it’s also about doing what’s right for our nation’s well-being. A 2009 study estimated that the official poverty rate would have declined by 10 percent for the years 1980 until 2004 had it not been for our incarceration policies. And while there hasn’t been a large-scale study of the economic effects of criminal-justice reform, most experts in the field agree that preparing people for life after prison is a critically important public investment that would alleviate poverty and increase worker productivity.
To Save Our Justice System, End Racial Bias in Jury Selection
Not only is this practice unconstitutional, but all-white juries risk undermining the perception of justice in minority communities, even if a mixed-race jury would have reached the same verdict or imposed the same sentence.
The Advisory Committee on Rules of Criminal Procedure, which is part of the Judicial Conference, the federal court system’s principal policy-making body, should propose sharply reducing the number of jury strikes allowed in federal trials.
How big of a difference does an all-white jury make? A leading expert explains.
With the Supreme Court’s Monday decision to make way for a new trial in a case involving a black man on death row for killing an elderly white woman, heard by an all-white Georgia jury which prosecutors intentionally formed, The Fix thought a deeper look at the phenomenon of all-white juries might be in order. How does this happen even in diverse areas of modern America? What does this do to justice and trial decisions? Bayer helped us sort this out. It’s really worth a read. Be sure you take a look at Bayer’s final answer, which puts the “dismal” in dismal science.
What follows is a Q&A conducted via email, edited only for clarity and length.
Mass Incarceration In Rural Communities: Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Thomas Coughlin, the New York Corrections Commissioner from 1979 to 1994, told Newsweek in 1990, “Prisons are viewed as the anchor for development in rural areas. We give our list to the Legislature, and the next day I get back the list of where our prisons are going to be. They pick ’em.” Prisons, of course, brought a multitude of prisoners to these rural communities, who, due to Census policy, count towards the total population of the community. The net economic effects of prisons on rural communities, however, appear to have been overstated because of faulty studies, the fact that rural towns follow the economic path of their respective state, and the difficulty and length of the correctional officer training process.
Correctional Control: Incarceration and supervision by state
Prisons are just one piece of the correctional pie. When states are judged solely on their incarceration rates, we are ignoring the leading type of correctional control: probation. In fact, some of the states that appear to be least punitive are the most likely to put their residents under some other form of correctional control. Other states are making changes to their criminal justice systems that shift large numbers of people from one part of the correctional pie to another.
Life under curfew for American teens: ‘it’s insane, no other country does this’
In San Diego, it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to be out past 10pm. And, that night, Officer Owens was part of a “curfew sweep”, where teams of officers fan out and enforce the law en masse. The city runs these details roughly once a month in each of its nine districts, sometimes arresting dozens of kids a night. David and his friends said they were just walking home. But that isn’t one of the exceptions – like a school sports game or a job – so Owens read him his Miranda rights.
Why These ‘Model Minorities’ Are Ending Up In Prison
Upon his release, Zheng set about trying to do right. He worked with groups of young Asian-Americans to reduce their chances of making the mistakes he had and focused on service to the community, including on a police advisory board. Such efforts were the basis of a gubernatorial pardon last year, as he faced deportation to China. Today, the 47-year-old Zheng is an Open Society Soros Justice Fellow, as well as the subject of a new documentary, Breathin’: The Eddy Zheng Story. We spoke with him about the model minority myth, immigrants’ disadvantages in the legal system and how to ease the process of re-entering society after prison. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Study: Judges Treat Juveniles Of The Same Race As Themselves More Harshly
Let’s hear a surprising insight into the racial disparities of our justice system. We hear a lot about those disparities. For example, African-American men are imprisoned at a far higher rate than white men. We could give more examples. But there was something unexpected in a study that is brought to us now by NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam.
Guest Column: Don’t train kids to be felons in adult jails
We all can agree that breaking the law is wrong and that these teens deserve to face consequences for their actions. But tossing them into adult jails with hardened criminals just makes those bad situations worse. The research and data are clear: Adult jails are no place for teenagers, who with the help and guidance of parents are likely able to turn their lives around.
The Real Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Had a Father in Prison
Smith’s character was based on producer and manager, Benny Medina, who was not “West Philadelphia born and raised” as the opening rap goes, but instead drifted between foster homes and his aunt’s house in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, where he sold drugs. “My upbringing didn’t have much comedy in it,” he once told the Los Angeles Times. In a 1991 profile of the “Real-Life Fresh Prince,” Medina told Ebony Magazine that when he was nine years old, his mother died of cancer and his father abandoned him.
But there is another, unreported facet to the story: Benny Medina’s real father, also named Benny Medina, was in and out of prison in Texas and California for dealing and using drugs for much of his son’s early life.
‘From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime,’ by Elizabeth Hinton
“From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime” requires slow and careful reading for anyone seeking to grasp the full implications of this exceedingly well-researched work. While the introduction and the first chapter take a while to gain momentum, the remainder of the book is vivid with detail and sharp analysis. Stretching beyond the typical scope of an academic text, Hinton’s book is more than an argument; it is a revelation.
Johnson: Even those with felony criminal records deserve dignity
Using terms like “felon” so ferociously, connecting it with terms like rapists and murderers, has engendered the idea that all people with felony records are violent and unredeemable. Let’s be honest for a moment, even the most faithfully law abiding citizen has likely committed many felonies in their lifetime, whether on purpose, or without the intent to do so.
Try, try, try again to squash racism in jury selection
Jury selection is one way that racial bias plays an inappropriate role. But that’s just the beginning. Since 1976, for instance, 75% of the victims in death-penalty cases have been white, and only 15% have been black. Race plays an outsize role in determining whose life is worth avenging with state-sponsored death.
And race, of course, affects jury selection and outcomes in far more cases than just death-penalty cases.
Negligent SC prison system agrees to reforms for the mentally ill
An estimated 3,500 mentally ill inmates in the S.C. Department of Corrections could see sharply upgraded treatment as the result of a tentative agreement reached after 11 years of contentious litigation and negotiations.
The agreement in the long-running class action lawsuit is between the South Carolina-based Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities Inc. and the Department of Corrections, according to a joint news release Wednesday from both parties.
Malloy Drops Bill to Raise Age for Juvenile Cases
Mr. Malloy said in a news release Tuesday that he and Democratic leaders in the Legislature agreed to forgo the proposal to raise the age of juvenile criminal defenders and instead will pursue only the bail proposal.
“This is a compromise that we can and should get done in the days and weeks ahead,” Mr. Malloy said.
“This Is a Public Safety Approach”: Solitary Confinement Reform Begins in Idaho
Since Director Kempf came into office, he has overseen several reforms, including a “Justice Reinvestment” project to reduce the number of people incarcerated by the state, and a Justice Program Assessment to reevaluate and revamp the DOC’s substance abuse and sex offender programs.
Restrictive housing reform is also underway. Last September, under Kempf’s leadership, the Idaho Department of Corrections took a big step in barring the use of “dry cells” — a type of cell without beds, sinks or toilets.
Embattled Tennessee prison chief Derrick Schofield to resign
Embattled Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield is leaving at the end of the month to take a job with a massive private prison corporation.
The move comes after The Tennessean and other media reported for months on numerous problems outlined by officers, inmates and their families. The concerns led to legislative hearings, changes to how the department pays its officers and defines assaults and ongoing scrutiny for the nearly $1 billion department.
Nebraska prison workers want better pay, chance to be heard, culture study finds
State prison workers are dissatisfied with their pay, don’t think top bosses listen to them and believe that the Corrections Department has been neglected, according to a much-anticipated survey of employees released on Wednesday.
Nebraska Corrections Director Scott Frakes said he’ll use the “culture” survey, which he requested 11 months ago, to guide changes within his department, which has been plagued with overcrowded prisons and high job vacancies and turnover in recent years.
Double-amputee who had to crawl to toilet settles suit
The state has agreed to pay $200,000 to a double-amputee who claims she was placed in isolation while in prison and left to fend for herself for two weeks after she developed a staph infection in the stump of one of her legs.
The settlement came just before final arguments in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Martinique Stoudemire who says she was forced to crawl from her bed to a toilet while quarantined in a segregation cell normally used for discipline at the Huron Valley Women’s Facility, near Ann Arbor.
Listen to Die Jim Crow, ‘The First Anti-Prison Album Recorded in Prison’
For years, Young has been at work on Die Jim Crow– an effort that, so far, has taken him to a State Prison in Ohio and to neighborhoods in New York City and Philadelphia with particularly high incarceration rates. Along the way, he has recorded and collaborated with musicians who, at one time or another, have spent time behind bars or are currently locked up. “It’s the first anti-prison album recorded in prison,” he explained.
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