A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Behind bars and owing thousands in child support
In addition to the myriad other fees and fines inmates can incur, owing child support debt is one of the many ways that being incarcerated can be a financial nightmare. Many inmates are not aware that child support payments can accrue while they are behind bars. In fact, those who enter the system with child support debt could come out owing several times the amount they owed going in, either because the unpaid child support adds up or because of court mandated interest.
Rikers Island inmate who felt humiliated after being forced to urinate in bottle tried to kill himself twice
Humiliated after a leg injury and forced to relieve himself in a bottle because jail staff did not move him to a Rikers Island’s medical unit, a mentally ill inmate has tried to kill himself twice this month, according to the man and medical records.
Jose Gonzalez, 29, hurt his leg after he slipped on water from a leaky light fixture in a jailhouse bathroom May 19, records show. “They sent me to urgent care on a stretcher and then asked me to go on crutches,” he told the Daily News during a jailhouse interview.
NYC correction officer attacked by inmate who was supposed to be in solitary confinement for assaulting the same staffer
A city inmate who was supposed to be in solitary confinement after attacking a correction officer ambushed that same jail staffer again just four days later, breaking his nose.
The bungled bureaucracy that allowed inmate Sentwali Laviscount, 32, to remain in the general population in the Manhattan Detention Complex has infuriated jail staff.
Correction officers tasked with teaching unarmed Homeless Service Department officers
The unarmed peace officers who patrol city shelters are going to get beefed-up training — from the correction officers who patrol city jails.
As many as 250 Homeless Services Department officers and an additional 100 supervisors are lined up to attend a four-week training class at the NYPD academy, sources told the Daily News on Wednesday.
Allegedly Corrupt Prison Union Boss Replaced By Trusted Crony
After being arrested earlier this week on corruption charges, Norman Seabrook has been ousted from his position as president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association and replaced by his second in command, who’s been described as a faithful sidekick of Seabrook’s who the former chief consulted before making his allegedly corrupt investments.
Correction Union’s Chief to Members: ‘Your Money is Safe’
The new leader of the New York City correction officers’ union sought to reassure members about the group’s finances, several days after a hedge-fund firm said it would close a fund in which the union invested.
“I want to assure you that your money is safe,” Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen wrote in bold and capital letters in a three-page letter mailed to union members this week and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The union’s finances and annuity fund are healthy, he wrote.
NY lawmakers want parole appeal decisions posted online
Sponsors say the state’s Board of Parole exercises “extraordinary discretion” and should post its administrative appeal decisions so the public and concerned citizens have access to the body of decisions that inform its practice.
Schools Move Away From Suspensions for Student Misbehavior
New York City, seeking a shift from such stringent penalties, plans to spend $47 million in the next academic year to improve the school climate. That includes about $7 million for restorative practices, such as training department staffers to spread the techniques, and adding “school culture coordinators” at 20 sites with high suspension rates.
The other side of justice
Plenty of hard-line, law and order bills make it through the GOP-controlled Senate each year. Though whether making crimes even more criminal – such as increasing fines and prison terms already on the books – actually deters criminals is debatable, it does play well with many voters. Unfortunately, other significant legislation that would truly improve our criminal justice system has yet to make it to the Senate floor for a vote.
The New York Jail Break That Exposed a Broken System
The New York State corrections system was ridiculed last June when two employees at a maximum-security prison were arrested for smuggling in tools — including hacksaw blades — that helped two convicted murderers escape. The two employees went to jail. But a troubling report from the state inspector general, Catherine Leahy Scott, shows that malfeasance and security lapses were the order of the day at the Clinton Correctional Facility when the two men escaped.
Suffolk Sheriff Launches ‘Re-Entry Initiative’ For Incarcerated Veterans
The Incarcerated Veterans Re-Entry Initiative will create a special housing unit for veterans within Suffolk County’s correctional facilities.
“What we’re doing now is we’re taking veterans and housing them in the same housing area. They’re still going to be held accountable for their crimes, but while they’re here, we’re going to provide services for them. So when they do get released, they get a second chance.”
White House Asks Colleges to Reconsider Weighing Criminal History in Applications
The Obama administration on Friday will announce a program encouraging U.S. colleges and universities to reconsider weighing applicants’ criminal pasts in the admissions process.
The move comes after widespread calls for schools to end the practice, because of concern that candidates for higher education are turned away for minor offenses, often committed as juveniles, despite whether they may have since been rehabilitated.
Ban the Other Box
More than 3 million students are either suspended or expelled from schools each year and when they are, a discipline record is generated. While the barriers created by criminal records have begun to receive much-needed attention, the barriers created by school discipline records have been largely overlooked. The Department of Education report that accompanies King’s letter mentions school records only in passing, without taking a firm position. Like criminal records, school discipline records can, and do, jeopardize young people’s chances to succeed. Like criminal records, school records are a scarlet letter.
Federal Officials Ignored Years of Internal Warnings About Deaths at Private Prisons
The records and interviews with former BOP officials reveal a pattern: Despite dire reports from dozens of field monitors, top bureau officials repeatedly failed to enforce the correction of dangerous deficiencies and routinely extended contracts for prisons that failed to provide adequate medical care.
Congressional criminal justice push falters, despite budget gains
In a year of tight budgets and bitter partisanship, Congress appears ready to turn down a chance to save hundreds of millions of dollars through criminal justice reform legislation that has broad bipartisan support.
The reform effort, which aims to shorten mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and ease the path of former felons back into the workforce, was expected to be one of the few major pieces of legislation to become law this year. But GOP aides in the House and Senate have been growing increasingly bearish over the past month.
The Least Congress Can Do on Criminal Justice Reform
Unanimity is lacking today because of a number of factors. A couple of vocal but mistaken members of Congress insist that any drug sentencing reform will endanger the public, an election-year fearmongering tactic that has no basis in fact. There is also strong disagreement about whether to include minimum criminal intent requirements (“mens rea”) in any final reform bill. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) support broad mens rea protection; the White House and most Democrats strongly oppose it.
President Obama’s Clemency Project is a Bureaucratic Nightmare
With an undertaking this large, and a bureaucratic structure this vast, the system has struggled to process applications in a timely manner. A Politico investigation published in January 2015 found that the clemency initiative “languished during its first year due to a flood of applications, inadequate resources, reliance on a group of outside lawyers to prepare prisoners’ paperwork, and a series of bureaucratic hurdles that weren’t anticipated.”
We Need Sentencing Reform And This Bill Is A Good Start
The Federal Sentencing Act is not perfect. No legislation is. But it represents a good-faith, bipartisan effort to improve our prisons and courts, making the former more efficient and the latter more fair. It is broadly in line with state-level reforms that have already yielded considerable success. The proposed measures are also modest, making it exceedingly unlikely this law will precipitate a crime wave. It is a well-conceived and responsible piece of legislation.
Federal Prisoner Who Blogged For HuffPost Has No First Amendment Rights, Court Rules
A blogger who wrote for The Huffington Post while serving a federal prison sentence didn’t have a First Amendment right to publish an article critical of prison conditions, an appeals court has ruled.
Daniel McGowan, an environmental activist whose prosecution for “eco terrorism” was the subject of an award-winning film, was finishing his seven-year term at a Brooklyn halfway house when he wrote a HuffPost blog post that contained details about a secretive prison where he had spent years in isolation.
But Hamilton was growing increasingly despondent about his indefinite confinement in I.P.C. On November 2nd, he wrote a letter to the prison’s superintendent. “The only way out of the torture you have subjected me to is suicide,” he said. “Death will be a welcomed companion compared to what you’ve subjected me to the last seven and a half months.”
Is It a Crime to Be Poor?
Tears welled in her eyes as she told how she was trying to turn her life around, no longer stealing, and steering clear of drugs for the last two years — but her fines and fees keep increasing and now total $11,258. With depression and bipolar disorder, she has little hope of getting a regular job, so she is periodically arrested for failing to pay.
The US Robbed Itself of $87 Billion in 2014 By Not Hiring Formerly Incarcerated People
Policies allowing employers to unfairly weed out applicants who answer “yes” to the incarceration question amounted to a loss of about 1.9 million potentially qualified workers, according to the CEPR report. It reduced the overall employment rate by an entire percentage point.
Welcome to Jail Inc: how private companies make money off US prisons
“We have these suicide blankets,” he said, pointing them out on his display stand. “[They are] for people that can’t be trusted with their own clothes in case they might make a noose and hang themselves.”
The most expensive items are full-restraint beds costing $3,000, and the most popular items are “spit bud” masks that prevent inmates from spitting at guards. “If you take someone’s ability to strike out, you have that for spitting them, all they have is to talk dirty about your mother,” Schultz said.
Poor on a Native American Reservation? Good Luck Getting a Lawyer.
In rural parts of this country, accessing legal services of any kind is increasingly difficult. If you are poor, it is nearly impossible. Our national discourse on criminal justice reform focuses primarily on major urban centers, where vivid socio-economic disparities like those found between Park Avenue in Manhattan and Park Avenue in the Bronx make the conversation about change obvious and pressing. But justice in less populous spaces, and Indian Country in particular, too often is treated as an afterthought.
SCOTUS decision exposes unequal justice for Native Americans
On June 13, 2016, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held in United States v. Bryant that the use of prior convictions from tribal courts as predicate offenses in federal courts does not violate the Constitution even when those prior tribal court convictions were obtained against an uncounselled indigent defendant and resulted in jail time. In plain English, this means that an indigent defendant can be denied a lawyer in a tribal court and sentenced to up to one year incarceration, and that uncounselled conviction can then be used to make the defendant eligible for more punitive sentencing in the federal courts.
Fathers In Prison
The worst moment of my life occurred about an hour after I told my young daughters that I was going to have to go to prison. As soon as they realized I wasn’t joking and that I would be leaving in a matter of weeks, the tears began and the three of us clung to one another in a teepee of complete misery. It was excruciating. I remember looking up at one point and thinking, “Is taking me away from these kids for 20 months the only way society can get its pound of flesh?”
Court Fines And Fees Almost Delay Homecoming For Wrongly Convicted Michigan Man
Davontae Sanford was only 14 years old when he was arrested for a string of murders in Michigan. But after almost nine years in prison, his conviction was overturned when a state investigation found that the real killer had later confessed to Wayne County police and prosecutors.
Now 23, Sanford was reunited with his family last week in Detroit. But that tearful homecoming almost didn’t happen, because of more than $2,000 in unpaid court fines and fees he amassed while in prison — including a bill for a public defender.
“Cruel and unjust”: The war on drugs snares immigrant for pot, breaking a Virginia family in two
In September 2011, Melissa Lawrence was seven-and-a-half months pregnant and working as a waitress when she got the call. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had detained her partner, Garfield Kenault Lawrence. That he had arrived at age 11 and was a lawful permanent resident didn’t matter because Kenault had been convicted of small-time marijuana offenses. In January 2013, he was deported to Jamaica after more than a year in detention.
So You Think a New Prison Will Save Your Town?
The rural prison building boom that began in the 1980s roughly coincided with the farm crisis. Rural communities that once might have opposed putting a prison in their backyards became more receptive, hoping it would bring a new employment base and possibly new prosperity.
Despite claims from the bureau and other prison boosters, research suggests that prisons rarely bring significant economic improvements to rural communities where they are pitched as a salvation. Here’s what the studies show.
The Private Prison Primer: Inmate 2*3*9*’s shoes and the Kingman riots, Part 1
Public and private prisons across America receive thousands and thousands of grievances, formal and informal, each year. And it’s only once all administrative grievance procedures have finally been exhausted that an inmate can take a case to court, a measure implemented in the mid-nineties via the Prison Litigation Reform Act, effectively meant to keep their complaints getting too much play.
Twenty Years Ago the Supreme Court Effectively Legalized Racial Profiling
Twenty years ago today, the Supreme Court effectively legalized racial profiling of drivers by police in Whren v. United States. Like so much of the Court’s criminal justice jurisprudence, the Court didn’t mean to do it. Indeed, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the opinion that the Court would have sided with the plaintiff had he brought an Equal Protection challenge (under the Fourteenth Amendment) and proved the officers pulled them over because they were black. But the plaintiffs were arguing the search that came from a pretextual stop of the vehicle violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure. And Whren lost…unanimously.
For 50 Years, You’ve Had “The Right to Remain Silent”
If you’ve ever watched any of the tens of thousands of hours of television devoted to crime dramas, you know the first warning given to suspects who are arrested and questioned. And the second: “Anything you say can and will be used against you.” The Miranda warnings—named for Miranda v. Arizona, the 1966 Supreme Court decision that required them—celebrate their 50th anniversary on June 13. In that period, they have become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget their origin and purpose.
“It’s Absolutely Stupid.” Fifth Trial Planned In Bite-Mark Murder Case
Just weeks after a unanimous California Supreme Court threw out Bill Richards’s murder conviction, prosecutors in San Bernardino County have indicated that they will seek a fifth trial for the 66-year-old. “It’s absolutely stupid,” said Richards’s longtime defender Jan Stiglitz, a founder of the California Innocence Project, which has represented Richards since 2001.
Opinion analysis: No constitutional violation from use of tribal-court convictions as predicate offenses
But the Sixth Amendment does not apply to tribal-court proceedings. Instead, a 1968 law that governs tribal-court proceedings only requires a lawyer to be appointed for criminal defendants who are sentenced to more than a year in prison. And, the Court explained today, if Bryant’s tribal-court convictions were valid when they were entered, they are equally valid when used as the basis for federal charges, even if he was not represented by an attorney in those tribal-court proceedings.
N.C. prisons to end solitary confinement for youthful offenders
The N.C. prison system is ending the use of solitary confinement for offenders under 18 years old, it announced today.
Instead, the N.C. Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice is starting a Youthful Offender Program on Sept. 1.
Mother and child disunion
“Incarcerated mothers are a heterogeneous group,” Wakefield said, representing both “large groups of women who are good parents but who are struggling with mental illness, substance abuse or poverty, and then also a group of women who arguably are not safe with their children.” It follows, she said, that while having a mother incarcerated is likely to be inherently more destabilizing for a child, whether it’s better or worse for the child to then be placed outside the home depends on the situation.
A tale of two states: Wisconsin trails Colorado as both cut solitary confinement
“The problem with this cell, there’s nothing to count,” Raemisch says, noting the smooth walls. “There’s no chips. There’s no scrapes. There’s no dents. You got nothing to count in here.”
The reason this cell at Centennial South remains relatively unmarked is that, except for about two years from 2010 to 2012, it has not been used. Colorado’s rapid shift away from solitary confinement — from 1,500 prisoners in 2011 down to 185 as of May — has left the state with a $200 million empty all-solitary prison in Cañon City.
In a Virginia jail, a young man wasted away and died — and no one bothered to notice
A mentally ill black man, just 24 years old, is arrested in April 2015 for shoplifting a Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake — total cost: $5 — from a convenience store in Virginia. He languishes in jail for 14 weeks, refusing medicine, his weight plummeting, his cell smeared with feces. After 101 days, having lost more than 40 pounds — literally wasting away, as a starving man does — he dies.
And no one noticed a thing, until it was too late.
Cases expected to clog Louisiana courts, and cost millions, after state fails to address unconstitutional life sentences
About 300 Louisiana inmates spending their lives in prison for murders committed as teens are turning to the courts after the Legislature failed to address their sentences, which were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in January.
A bill that would’ve given the inmates a shot at parole after serving at least 30 years died at the end of the regular Legislative session Monday amid eleventh-hour negotiations and an unrelated spat between the state House and Senate.
U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether to review Angola prison inmate’s death sentence
The high court is expected to decide this week whether to hear the case of David Brown, the “Angola 5” member who was accused of plotting to kill a prison guard in 1999. His death sentence was endorsed in February by the Louisiana Supreme Court after a district judge had overturned it.
Brown’s attorneys, in their petition for a U.S. Supreme Court hearing, say the facts of the case are alarmingly similar to Brady v. Maryland, the landmark 1963 ruling that required prosecutors to turn over to the defense all evidence favorable to a defendant.
Racial disparity in N.J. prison rates highest in U.S., report finds
New Jersey has the biggest gap between black and white incarceration rates of any state in the U.S., according to a new report from the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project.
The Garden State puts black residents behind bars at 12 times the rate of white residents, the report found, though it noted that gap is expected to shrink thanks to recent changes to New Jersey’s sentencing laws.
Messenger: Death at county jail has mom, minister, asking tough questions
It’s been more than a month now since Buck’s son died in the County Jail. He was laid to rest May 12. Still, his mother doesn’t know anything about how or why his life ended.
Attorney Jerryl Christmas said that’s not unusual.
“People in poverty are always treated differently,” Christmas said.
Orange County DA’s Office Finally Acknowledges Jailhouse Informant Program Exists
Of course, the existence of the informant program should come as no surprise. Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders has been arguing since 2013 that a tainted snitch network in county jails has existed in secret for decades. In a series of blockbuster motions, the defense attorney unearthed damning evidence that clearly pointed to the program’s existence, alleging that county prosecutors and police have violated multiple defendants’ rights by illegally obtaining and sometimes withholding evidence gleaned from jail informants.
For ‘stunning’ amount spent to avoid cooling death row, Louisiana could have installed air conditioning
The state of Louisiana’s refusal to install air conditioning on death row has already cost taxpayers more than $1 million in legal bills, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.
The state could spend roughly the same money — and possibly much less — on an air conditioning system that would satisfy a federal judge’s order to protect death-row inmates from dangerous heat and humidity inside Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
He warned Indiana prison officials he would kill a cellmate. And then he did.
He told Indiana prison officials over and over that if he were placed in a cell with another person, he would be violent. He had a history of assaulting other inmates, crafting makeshift weapons and threatening prison staff. In 2004, he threatened to kill a Steuben County judge by slicing his throat “with a dull knife.” He later mailed two federal judges packets of white powder and razor blades.
MDOC closing private Walnut Grove prison
The closing of the prison is just one in a series of programs that have been terminated under Fisher’s administration within the last year and a half. Fifteen regional jails have had their populations minimized to “contractual obligations. Four community work centers have closed, and the paid Joint State County Work Program has ended.
Walnut Grove mayor: Prison closure could cripple MS town
Gomillion said he would like to talk with state leaders about MDOC using Walnut Grove as a state-run facility, or even potentially contracting to house inmates from other states. He said he believes legislation allows the authority that runs the prison to contract only for state or federal inmates, “but surely that could be changed with legislation to keep 200 jobs and a facility from being mothballed.”
The Prison-to-Food Truck Pipeline: How Two Organizations Are Dishing Up Jobs for At-Risk Youth
At first glance, Lexton’s classroom could be in any other school in America. With their books and folders, students sat at rows of about 20 desks facing a scuffed-up whiteboard. But this classroom existed in the shadows of the New York City skyline, encapsulated by razor wire and security guards. Lexton was tasked with teaching teenagers who were in lock-up on the infamous Rikers Island, one of America’s most iconic jails.
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