A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Sex Offenders Sue City, State
The upshot for both New York and the city is that housing sex offenders has become even more complicated. In the past few years, the already limited options for sex offenders have shrunk as more city shelters have been deemed off-limits. About 100 sex offenders who have completed their sentences are being kept in prison, according to a class action lawsuit against the corrections department and the agency that manages city shelters.
Report assails NYC jail’s sex abuse response
New York City’s Rikers Island jail has entrenched problems dealing with sexual abuse, including emergency hotlines that don’t work, confidential complaints read by fellow incarcerated people and investigations that don’t interview alleged attackers, according to an internal review obtained by The Associated Press.
Brooklyn Residents Seek Answers After a Mentally Ill Formerly Incarcerated Person Is Fatally Shot
Mr. Lane, 26, who had a lengthy history of mental health problems, had survived a brutal beating at the hands of correction officers at Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex, in 2012. But he was shot and killed on Wednesday night as he struggled to remake a life that had been difficult from the start.
People in the Brownsville neighborhood where Mr. Lane lived and died could not make sense of his death.
First Lady Chirlane McCray hosts shower for incarcerated individual with kids to stress importance of reading, talking for babies’ brains
The city’s First Lady Chirlane McCray held a baby shower Tuesday morning for incarcerated individuals who are pregnant or have young children.
The soiree, held at the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers Island, is part of McCray’s broader effort to educate expectant mothers about the importance of talking and reading to their young children.
Widespread Brutality and Solitary Confinement Followed New York Prison Escape, Report Finds
According to the report, conditions at the already notorious prison got significantly worse after the escape, which embarrassed Clinton staff and the entire prison system. Corrections officers have abused their power by abusing the men in their charge, issuing false disciplinary tickets, and sending men into solitary confinement for minor offenses. Solitary confinement has frequently been used as a coercive tool by these officers to instill fear and wrongly punish people.
A Big Victory for Public Defense in New York
All this is set to change after state lawmakers approved a bill last week to transfer all costs back to the state in phases over the next seven years. The measure builds on a 2014 legal settlement to a class-action lawsuit brought against the state by indigent defendants in five upstate counties, where defense services were so bad that defendants regularly spent months behind bars before even speaking to a lawyer.
What J. Dennis Hastert, Ex-House Speaker, Will Face in Prison
By policy, the Bureau of Prisons will not address the circumstances of an individual like Mr. Hastert, who is not in custody. But according to a handbook for incarcerated individuals, he will be issued standard clothing, laundry bags and bed linens. He can purchase items like toothpaste, reading glasses and candy from a commissary. The facility includes dormitory-style housing as well as individual cells.
Bill covering public defender costs goes to Gov. Cuomo
In Albany County, that’s about $4.6 million for public defenders, alternate public defenders and contracting costs, with the state covering about $1.4 million.
A bill that unanimously passed the state Senate on Thursday and was approved by the Assembly could help relieve that burden. The bill now moves to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk.
Advocates, Providers Keep Pressure on Cuomo Over Housing Funds
While the 2016 legislative session may be finished, the battle over how the state will allocate $1.9 billion in funds earmarked for supportive and affordable housing is not. Neither is the feud between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, which includes a front over the housing funds.
Legal, health services for the poor get a boost
In a Public Defense reform bill, sponsored by GOP Sen John DeFrancisco and Democratic Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, the cost of providing indigent legal services will, over a seven year period be shifted from counties to the state. This should increase resources when it comes to providing legal help to the indigent and help ease the overly-heavy workload that lawyers for the indigent often labor under — to the detriment of their clients.
Supreme Court Says Police May Use Evidence Found After Illegal Stops
The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that evidence found by police officers after illegal stops may be used in court if the officers conducted their searches after learning that the defendants had outstanding arrest warrants.
Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority in the 5-to-3 decision, said such searches do not violate the Fourth Amendment when the warrant is valid and unconnected to the conduct that prompted the stop.
Read Sonia Sotomayor’s Atomic Bomb of a Dissent Slamming Racial Profiling and Mass Imprisonment
“This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong,” Sotomayor writes, in a dissent joined in part by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.”
Another Hit to the Fourth Amendment
Responding to Justice Thomas’s unsupported claim that the violation of Mr. Strieff’s rights was an isolated case, Justice Sotomayor pointed out that the police in Salt Lake City and nationwide routinely run warrant checks on people they have illegally stopped. Combine that practice with the “staggering” number of outstanding warrants — nearly eight million around the country, almost all for minor offenses — and cops have an even greater incentive to stop anyone for any reason, knowing the odds are good that they will find a warrant and be able to make an arrest and conduct a search.
Justice Department Reaches Deal With Mississippi County on Prison Reform
The Justice Department announced on Thursday that it had reached an agreement with a Mississippi county that, for the first time, requires a local government to provide an array of options intended to reduce mass incarceration. It includes programs offering alternatives to jail, re-entry services for incarcerated person leaving incarceration and the prohibition of some jail sentences for failure to pay court-ordered fines and fees.
Federal Judge Urges U.S. to ‘Jettison the Madness of Mass Incarceration’
The speech by Judge Raymond J. Dearie of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, at an event sponsored by the New York Criminal Bar Association, may not have struck new ground in its critique of the justice system. But it did put him in the company of other federal judges in Brooklyn who in recent months have come forward with scathing appraisals of things such as mandatory sentencing guidelines and the disregard paid to the socioeconomic roots of crime.
Piper Kerman: How private prisons hurt everyone
Reducing recidivism benefits all of us—incarcerated people, taxpayers, and the communities most impacted by our dysfunctional criminal justice system. But reducing the number of people we lock up doesn’t benefit prison profiteers. As long as there are private businesses financially benefiting from mass incarceration, the roadblocks to critically needed criminal justice reform are formidable. By ending state and federal governments’ use of private prisons, we can start to remove the profit motive from the center of our decisions on safety and justice; it has no place there.
A Home After Prison
We must take a hard look at how we treat people who have repaid their debt to society. Many of them return to communities that have been devastated by generations of tough-on-crime policies. We should use public housing policy to help people with convictions succeed, not continue their punishment.
The Torment of Solitary Confinement
Incarcerated people in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) spend 22.5 hours of the day in a windowless cell—it is one of the most notorious supermax prisons in the United States. In this short documentary, Our Voices Are Rarely Heard, the filmmakers Cali Bondad and Gabrielle Canon recorded their’ experiences in the facility. The film aims to provide “a cinematic glimpse of the personal anguish and monotony described by incarcerated people living in long-term isolation,” Bondad wrote in an email.
My four months as a private prison guard
I started applying for jobs in private prisons because I wanted to see the inner workings of an industry that holds 131,000 of the nation’s 1.6 million incarcerated people. As a journalist, it’s nearly impossible to get an unconstrained look inside our penal system. When prisons do let reporters in, it’s usually for carefully managed tours and monitored interviews with incarcerated people. Private prisons are especially secretive.
At This Library, Story Time Doesn’t End Because Dad’s Locked Up
But children and incarcerated parents in New York City can still connect and read a book together thanks to TeleStory, a two-year-old program run at a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. The initiative increases childhood literacy by using free live video conferencing to connect children to incarcerated parents at Rikers Island and borough-based Department of Corrections Jails.
How I Helped Raise My Kids From Prison
For years my three kids, Anthony (19), Jesse (17), and Meranda (13) were just faces on the other side of the glass or voices over the phone. I was able to hug them only a few times during my incarceration. I could only hope that my absence did not put my children at risk of falling down the same path I did.
When Prison Is Not the Answer
I recently spent a week at the Orange County Community Court, which houses multiple specialty courts. The concentration of talent, good will, and grit embodied by the people who work here is impressive. But it’s not clear that this resource-heavy, intensely hands-on approach would be easily replicable elsewhere.
Aging, Sick and Incarcerated: The Need for Compassionate Release
Now 67 years old, Ziman has three cancerous spots on her left lung, requires the use of three inhalers and has only 51 percent lung capacity. She is also blind in one eye and has a cataract in the other. In March 2016, after repeatedly complaining to medical staff at the federal prison in Victorville, California, she was hospitalized for a kidney infection stemming from an untreated urinary tract infection. She spent 10 days in the hospital where tests found that she suffered from anemia, arthritis, a hernia and problematic potassium levels affecting her heart. Additionally, Ziman now requires hip and knee surgery.
Low-Level Arrests Don’t Make Us Safer: Report
The NYPD’s Inspector General says there is no evidence that increasing arrests and criminal summonses for quality of life offenses helps cut down on felonies — challenging a core tenet of the ‘Broken Window’-style of policing Commissioner William Bratton pioneered and continues to support.
“This is not a technique that seems to have any real impact on crime reduction,” said Mark Peters, commissioner of the Department of Investigations, who oversees the Inspector General. His agency released a report Wednesday on quality-of-life enforcement and felony crime.
Why Incarcerated Individuals Deserve the Right to Vote
Governor McAuliffe’s act is a reminder that public support for giving ex-felons the right to vote after prison is significant, and growing—but this type of order doesn’t go far enough. Ex-felons should be able to vote, yes. But so should incarcerated people themselves.
To some, the idea may seem risky, unnecessary or even unconscionable. But in fact, there are good reasons to embrace it. For one, our constitutional ideals support the right of incarcerated people to vote, and denying it violates the concept of self-government that the founders cherished.
Incarcerated people with disabilities lack ‘scaffolding for success’
It really happens when young people who have dyslexia or executive function disorder don’t get the diagnosis, don’t get the accommodations that they need and they deserve in school.
They wind up getting in trouble, getting suspended, dropping out of school. They’re not graduating high school and they’re getting in trouble very early. So you can really see the problem only — already almost predict the outcome when somebody is in the third grade, if these issues are not addressed.
How a Lawyer Gave Up Corporate Work to Help Exonerees Re-enter Society
Eldan’s work can be crucial to his constituents. Incarcerated people paroled or released after completing their sentences may be connected with private or state services — from housing to education — specifically to ease re-entry. But for those exonerated of their crimes, being released often means trying to survive without a support system. This is especially true for the large majority of exonerees whose convictions were overturned without the assistance of an innocence organization and whose cases may not be tracked in any other way.
Providing Free Pads And Tampons To Incarcerated Women Is About More Than Hygiene
While jails often supply menstrual products, such as pads and tampons, they are typically poor quality and doled out in limited numbers. If a woman needs more than what’s been allocated for her, she might be able to buy products from the commissary — if she can afford it.
Otherwise, it’s likely up to guards to decide if they want to provide additional supplies, further reinforcing the unequal power structure and raising the risk of abuses.
Building a Different U.S. Prison System
“Obstacles get in people’s way, for some of them it’s obstacles they create, in others they are created for them,” Kenney said, speaking at the Eastern State Penitentiary, which is now a historic landmark open for museum tours. “But it doesn’t mean you don’t get an opportunity to come back to us as full human beings with full potential. None of us are perfect. We need to give people the ability to redeem themselves, and our communities will be better for it.”
The graduation you haven’t attended this year
The road to graduating from college was not an easy one for Stone, who was 28 years old when she was sentenced to two-to-four years at Bedford Hills, New York’s only all-women’s maximum security prison. Stone had skipped a court appearance and was out on bail when the police raided her apartment for drugs. Her boyfriend at the time died shortly after the raid. And Stone, who was arrested in the incident, found out she was pregnant with his son that morning. The charges against her for that day were dropped, but she was convicted on previous charges for grand larceny, forgery, and bail-jumping.
Man Fined $450 For Stealing $5 Worth Of Food Accuses Court Of Profiting Off Debtors Prison
Scott’s crime might have belied the fact that he is not flush with cash. But when he told Judge Robert J. Black he couldn’t afford to pay the fine and the court fees, the judge allegedly ignored him. Instead, Black told him he could either pay the court a $50 “extension fee” to buy himself more time to somehow get $450 or go to jail. Since Scott didn’t have that sum of money either, he was arrested and booked into the city jail for four hours until a cousin was able to bring $50 to the courthouse and set him free.
Reducing Wasteful Incarcerations
Unfortunately, it is difficult to identify which incarcerated individuals are wrongly incarcerated, and it would take an enormous investment of professional expertise and money to produce that information. However, we could make valuable progress on this issue by offering appropriate incentives for attorneys to identify some of these wasteful incarcerations, thus saving public money and serving the ends of liberty.
The number of men behind bars in the US is mind-boggling
Moreover, the number of men incarcerated has increased dramatically over the last 25 years. Data from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that the rate has grown from 564 per 100,000 in 1990 to 890 per 100,000 in 2014. Notably, this spike is correlated with the War on Drugs.
I Made a Rap Video in Prison
I met the guys in the video in my dorm at Kershaw Correctional Institution. We all had similar charges — robberies, manslaughter — so we were all in medium custody, the place where they put the bad kids, the ones who get in trouble a lot. In the dorm, some people play cards or dominoes, or cook. We’d have rap sessions. Someone would bang on the door to create a beat, and we’d take turns freestyling.
The Death Penalty Case Where Prosecutors Wrote the Judge’s ‘Opinion’
When judges make a decision—especially in a death penalty case—we’d like to think they weigh all sides, consider the law and come to a measured, independent conclusion. Not so in Alabama, where a judge’s shortcut in the case of Doyle Lee Hamm has shown how often the state makes a mockery of the appeals process.
Confessions of an Ex-Prosecutor
My criminal defense colleagues who were never prosecutors themselves often assume that prosecutorial misconduct is rife because prosecution attracts authoritarian personality types. Although it is surely true that some are natural bad actors, my experience showed me that prosecutors are strongly influenced to disregard and minimize rights by the culture that surrounds them. Disciplining or firing miscreants may be necessary, but it’s not enough: It doesn’t address the root causes of fearful culture and bad incentives.
Solitary Confinement on Television: ‘Orange Is the New Black’ and Pop Culture’s Lockup Landscape
Whatever its flaws, Orange Is the New Black’s presentation of solitary confinement to its enormous and critical audience is a step forward. Although viewers should not assume that the show imparts an accurate education on the prison system, presence may lead to pertinence, which allowed Kerman to deliver her testimony. Making the issue present in popular culture and in news media serves to reach people who would not normally be interested.
Building stronger American families
If you want someone to succeed when they return as fathers to their families after leaving prison, then they are absolutely going to need a job. Sadly, only a fraction of people in Texas prison get to attend vocational training, and most everyone leaves prison only to find a wall of rejection from employers.
The Joy of Public Defense
Often portrayed and even disturbingly romanticized as serfs in the hierarchical caste-like valuation system that exists within the legal profession (and outside of it), in actuality, public defenders are, minus plush and puffy royal-red robes, golden crowns, and other baubles of majesty, the kings and queens of the law.
How people of color are being targeted for traffic violations—and huge fines—in California
Too often, these traffic courts are being used to prop up troubled state and local budgets on the backs of poor minorities who get caught up in the system, the groups contend. Over half of the court and traffic fees collected between 2013 and 2014 went to state coffers, the majority of which went towards operating the courts themselves, and constructing even more courts, says the ACLU in the lawsuit.
Mentally ill incarcerated individuals are swamping the state’s prisons and jails. Here’s one man’s story.
The state mental hospital on California’s Central Coast wasn’t where Murray wanted to spend the day after his 27th birthday. But it was better than where he had been a month earlier — in a solitary unit in the state prison in Lancaster.
Over the last two years, Los Angeles County officials have announced a new focus on diverting people who are mentally ill from jail and prison. In July 2014, Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey told county supervisors that the jailing of mentally ill defendants was “a moral question.”
Man sues for $30 million after serving 13-plus years for murder he didn’t commit
Montoya was charged as an adult, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He spent 13 years, seven months and 13 days behind bars until a judge vacated the conviction in 2014 after new DNA testing exonerated him.
Fisher said it’s hard to understand why an innocent person would confess, but points out 44 percent of juveniles exonerated by DNA were coerced into false confessions.
Judge: Sheriff Gusman ‘relinquishing operational control’ of troubled Orleans jail
Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman is “relinquishing operational control” of the troubled parish jail under an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department that will give broad powers over the facility to a new compliance director, a federal judge announced Tuesday (June 21).
Two Colorado prison guards face criminal charges after “most heinous case of excessive force” at Centennial Correctional Facility
A Colorado Department of Corrections officer and a former colleague face criminal charges and are the targets of a federal civil rights lawsuit in connection with an excessive-force case in which an incarcerated person was lifted by leg shackles and slammed head first onto a floor.
Both men stand accused of falsifying reports about the case and face felony criminal charges. Even so, one of them continues to work at the corrections department, causing a former internal investigator to question why the officer at least isn’t on leave pending the criminal charges.
After losing twin to suicide at OPP, woman ‘more hopeful than ever’ for jail reforms
Michelle Perdomo slid into a seat on a courthouse bench next to a woman she’d never met. Still, Perdomo said, she knew they shared the same pain.
Both Perdomo and Ranee Tumblin, the woman Perdomo sat beside at a recent federal court hearing, lost their brothers to suicide while the men were in custody of the Orleans Parish jail. Both sisters were present in U.S. District Judge Lance Africk’s courtroom in recent weeks to listen to testimony about conditions at the jail.
Gov. Matt Bevin creates council to reform criminal justice system
The council is expected to study the state’s criminal code — enacted in 1974 — and suggest improvements for the 2017 General Assembly to consider this winter. Council members said they plan to focus on every aspect of how the state punishes people and how it treats them once they are released from incarceration.
$10 and a bus ticket: Stop setting up formerly incarcerated individuals to fail
While researching a graduate school thesis on the issue of re-entry, I had the opportunity to interview former incarcerated people in the Illinois prison system on the daunting challenges they faced upon their return to society. It started with the cruelly simple release process: They were given $10 in cash and a one-way bus ticket to Chicago. Once off the bus, what followed for most was a frustrating search for work, places to live and any sense of normalcy in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods.
4 years after incarcerated person’s brutal death, no punishment
Since Rainey’s death, it was discovered that he and other mentally ill incarcerated people at the prison had been tortured, beaten, starved and left to sleep in their own excrement. They were doused with buckets of chemicals, over-medicated, kept in extended isolation and placed in painfully cold or blistering showers as punishment for behavior caused mostly by their own illnesses.
Prison program helps formerly incarcerated people become better fathers from behind bars
As Cole Williams worked with youths at the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center, he asked 24 boys how many of them had a father who was locked up and absent at some point in their lives.
Seventeen of them raised their hands.
Trading Weapons for Salamanders
At the start of her more than 30-year career with the National Park Service, Robin White, transported, among others, teen members of the Latin Kings, Black Gangster Disciples and other gang members from violent, isolated and insular Chicago neighborhoods to the Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore.
There, on Lake Michigan— an hour’s drive from the Windy City— park ranger White, using nature as a tool, aimed to help those young people rein in their destructive impulses and make sense of the family and community dysfunctions that often fuel those impulses.
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