A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Paying (and Paying and Paying) a Debt to Society
Of course, the prejudgments or outright discriminations by potential employers are only a small component of the challenges facing the formerly incarcerated. “I don’t know how they do it,” Cardoso says. “Some of these kids that come out, they were juvenile delinquents, they got a long rap sheet, they got no work experience … It’s the time spent—you’ve got gaps in your resumé.”
Two Years After Eric Garner’s Death, Ramsey Orta, Who Filmed Police, Is Only One Heading to Jail
Two years ago this week, Eric Garner died in Staten Island after officers wrestled him to the ground, pinned him down and applied a fatal chokehold. The man who filmed the police killing of Eric Garner, Ramsey Orta, is now heading to jail for four years on unrelated charges—making him the only person at the scene of Garner’s killing who will serve jail time. Last week Orta took a plea deal on weapons and drug charges. He says he has been repeatedly arrested and harassed by cops since he filmed the fatal police chokehold nearly two years ago.
Rikers Gets Extension on Ending Solitary Confinement for Incarcerated Young Adults
Rikers Island has been given more time to phase out solitary confinement for incarcerated young adults after officials said efforts to meet an earlier deadline led to a surge in violence in one section of the New York City jail complex.
The agency that oversees city jails said Tuesday the Department of Correction now has until October to eliminate what it calls punitive segregation for all young adults.
Four Deadline Extensions Later, Teenagers Are Still Locked Up in Solitary on Rikers Island
June 30 should have been the day that Rikers Island ended solitary confinement for 18- to 21-year-olds. This would have made the jail complex the first in the nation to eliminate solitary for that age group.
Rikers commission to focus on three key areas
The Rikers Island commission created at the request of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is focusing on three broad areas as it looks at the future of the jail, former state chief judge Jonathan Lippman told POLITICO New York on Wednesday.
The three areas — criminal justice reform, future incarceration practices, and land use possibilities for the island — are outlined in a letter, written by Lippman, that provides the commission’s path forward.
Rikers Island: The Evolution of City Hall’s Search for a Fix
A presentation given to Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris in March shows that City Hall first explored the idea of shutting down Rikers Island in June 2015 — and that its study on how to improve conditions at city jails has changed significantly over the past year.
NYPD cops must report use of force to public under bill passed by City Council
Amid controversy over a decision to block two controversial police reform bills, the City Council approved more limited legislation Thursday to require cops to report publicly on use of force.
Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito remained on the defensive over her decision not to allow a vote on the Right to Know Act, which would have required cops to inform citizens they have a right to refuse certain searches, get proof of their consent, and identify themselves in encounters with New Yorkers.
New York Council Won’t Vote on Police Reform Bills, but Agency Agrees to Changes
A package of police reform measures, known in New York’s criminal justice circles as the Right to Know Act, will not be considered for passage by the City Council, even though the bills have broad support.
During a closed-door meeting last week, the Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, informed her colleagues that the proposed changes would instead be handled internally by the New York Police Department.
Confusion Over Certificate Program Denies Eligible Parolees the Right to Vote in NY
Many formerly incarcerated individuals — and even some parole officers and election officials — think that right is lost until those individuals have completed their parole. Even the New York State Voter Registration Form indicates one must not be in prison or on parole for a felony conviction in order to register.
But an investigation reveals a confusing and little-known process that allows New York parolees, many of whom have their first contact with the criminal justice system in their teens, to get certificates that will restore their right to vote.
Incarcerated People Get Federal College Money to Attend Hostos Under New Aid Program
Hostos Community College hopes to educate more than 300 incarcerated people by taking part in a pilot program that provides Pell grants to incarcerated students.
The program, known as Second Chance Pell, was launched by theU.S. Department of Education last summer, and Hostos was one of 67 schools selected to participate in it out of more than 200 that applied, according to Rep. Jose Serrano’s office.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch Will Probe Private Prison Transport Industry
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told lawmakers Tuesday her office would investigate apparent lapses in federal oversight of private prison transportation companies, the subject of a recent Marshall Project investigation that revealed a pattern of deaths and abuses in the industry.
One year out
Behind each of those commuted sentences is a person whose life has been dramatically complicated by prison. The Washington Post wanted to know who those 46 people are and what life is like, in their words, a year after they learned they would go free. More than 40 Post reporters and editors worked to track down the individuals who received clemency last July and record their stories, which we present here in condensed form.
Why Blacks Lives Also Matter Outside the Criminal Justice System
When you spend a few years representing hundreds of people with criminal records as I have, it’s not difficult to see that structural problems in our society are major driving forces behind individual “criminal” acts. Sometimes, one record is enough to illustrate this point. A man, after losing his job in the Great Recession, became homeless and dared to collect cans from a public park to make ends meet. He explained to me, “I didn’t want to ask anyone for any handouts.” A conviction for theft of public property.
The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Prison
Imagine spending a year in the hole due to a mistake, trying all the while to get a court to order your release, and getting back a demand that you include two extra copies of a document and that you do this six days ago. This sort of thing happens regularly, throughout the system, although the problem appears to be particularly systematic in this regional district.
Sandra Bland, One Year Later
After Bland’s death, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspected the Waller County Jail and found that officers were not checking on incarcerated people often enough and not all of the jailers had completed a required yearly suicide prevention training. A local committee assembled by county Sheriff Glenn Smith made additional recommendations. Smith promised to make changes in how the jail dealt with mental illness, and began training employees in de-escalation.
Sandra Bland Died One Year Ago Today
Deaths inside American jails frequently go unnoticed, sometimes even unrecorded. Unlike prisons, jails hold people for only short periods—about 21 days on average—and many of their incarcerated individuals have not been convicted of a crime. Additionally, jails typically aren’t required to release public information about people who die within their walls. The federal government publishes only generalized data years after deaths occur, making it nearly impossible to identify the most dangerous facilities. So we attempted to fill the gap.
Ensuring justice for all
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, such wrongful convictions are not uncommon. It documented 1,839 cases since 1989 of people exonerated of crimes after they were been wrongfully convicted. In the majority of these cases, the defendants were minorities. Some later found to be innocent had served part of their time in prison on death row.
Court ends routine access to federal mugshots
Public access to mugshots of people arrested on federal criminal charges will be dramatically curtailed under a ruling issued Thursday by a federal appeals court, unless the Supreme Court steps in.
On a 9-7 vote, the full bench of the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a two-decade-old legal precedent that allowed news organizations and others to obtain booking photos of criminal defendants who’ve appeared in federal court.
The Thin Blue Line Between Us
So my solution to the tension between the police and the people — which I recognize as my own inner tension — is to seek unity, not find division. Right now, people feel that the time for transformation in our society has long since arrived, and they are undoubtedly correct.
I hear those saying the time just for talk is over — and I agree. Talk, and the greater freedoms of speech and expression that it encompasses, are national imperatives that should deliver a more righteous tomorrow. But the next step after talk is not violence, it is concrete action.
The Next Step for Organized Labor? People in Prison.
This spring, the IWW and allied community groups organized prison labor strikes of thousands of incarcerated workers in Alabama, Wisconsin, Texas, Mississippi, and Ohio—all demanding the right to form a union. The IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee has called for a nationwide prison strike on September 9th to mark the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising and claims it has the support of thousands of incarcerated people throughout the U.S.
After decades behind bars, juvenile lifers are released – but to what?
So, officials and nonprofit groups are piloting unprecedented measures as they wrestle with how to support reintegration – releasing incarcerated individuals from prison in their 50s, 60s or 70s, with no savings, varying amounts of family support, and no experience navigating the world as adults.
“We’re trying to figure out the best path that we can put someone who was a child when they came to us,” Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said. “We’re trying to figure out what reentry looks like if we want them to be successful.”
Prosecuting Migrants Is An Indefensible Failure
Criminalizing migration is a moral failure. Many of the immigrants with whom we spoke call the United States home. Take the case of a man we met known only as Eduardo Jose Garza. Garza had been in the U.S. for 14 years, when he was picked up by local police in 2014 for driving without a license. Even though his wife and three children were waiting for him in McAllen, Texas, Garza pled guilty to improper entry to avoid a lengthy criminal proceeding. He was sentenced to six months in prison, and then deported to Mexico.
30 Issues | A History of Criminal Justice and Policing
Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University who recently wrote the introduction to The Kerner Report (The James Madison Library in American Politics) (Princeton University Press, 2016), reviews the audio archive of American criminal justice and race relations, including the tumult of 1968.
Alton Sterling, Eric Garner and the double standard of the side hustle
Garner’s death renewed debate over “broken windows” policing, the philosophy that aggressive enforcement of minor crimes is essential to maintaining public order. But while that theory has been influencing police departments since only the 1980s, Garner and Sterling were fundamentally in a predicament that is much older.
They were trying to scrape together money in the underground economy, where black men, in particular, who’ve struggled to access formal jobs have long had to hunt for income.
Unity, sorrow, anger: Triple S Food Mart becomes unlikely shrine after death of Alton Sterling
Like the Ferguson street where Michael Brown died in 2014, the Triple S Food Mart where Alton Sterling was killed by a Baton Rouge police officer on Tuesday has already attained a magnetic power. The scene there has alternated between wake, political rally and raucous block party. But even as many on Sunday afternoon spoke of the joy they found in the sudden show of unity on display outside the store, their sorrow and anger over Sterling’s death were never far behind.
Prison Magazine Is Most Censored in the US
Frustrated that incarcerated people had no voice in the media coverage of the criminal justice system, Wright founded Prison Legal News in 1990 from his cell, laying out pages with a pencil and ruler, pasting graphics with a glue stick and typing the copy.
Looking back 25 years later, Wright wrote in Prison Legal News’s 301st issue that he didn’t expect the monthly magazine to withstand the hostilities of prison officials, and the challenges of finding someone trustworthy on the outside to distribute it — and it almost didn’t.
In Haven House ceremony, Walker signs sweeping reform of Alaska’s criminal justice system
On Monday morning, Walker signed into law SB 91, which institutes sweeping reforms to the way the state sentences criminals. Broadly, people incarcerated for nonviolent crimes and those arrested for simple possession of drugs will receive lighter sentences intended to improve the odds that they will return to society instead of reoffending and returning to prison.
Hunger strike supporters demand end to force-feeding
Supporters of a group of Wisconsin incarcerated people on a hunger strike protested the Department of Corrections’ decision to force-feed them Tuesday, holding banners in front of DOC offices and delivering a letter demanding negotiations.
A moment of crisis, opportunity for Louisiana’s criminal justice system
Would it be wise for Louisiana to stick a petty thief in prison for five years for swiping $31 of candy? Of course not. That would be counterproductive and a ridiculous waste of scarce state funds.
Therefore, it may not surprise you that Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office has proposed just such a sentence for a New Orleans candy bar bandit. As Cannizaro’s questionable judgment suggests, Louisiana’s criminal justice system is broken.
Rate of Prison Spending Growth Outpaces Schools
Texas spending on prisons and jails is the highest in the nation, a new federal study concludes, and has grown about five times faster than the state’s rate of spending growth on elementary and secondary education over the past three decades. But the state still spends significantly more on its schools than its prisons.
Walnut Grove: Prison loss ‘devastating’
Uncertainty hangs in the air of Walnut Grove, a community bracing itself for the loss of its largest employer this fall. The state’s decision to close the privately run Walnut Grove prison, which under federal oversight since 2012 for its conditions, will leave the tiny town facing a precipitous drop in revenue as many residents look for work.
Ex-Prosecutor Steeped In Orange County Jailhouse Snitch Scandal Wins New Job
Despite being labeled an unapologetic liar and a cheater, a onetime Orange County deputy district attorney steeped in the ongoing jailhouse snitch scandal has landed a new government job bringing his talents to serve the residents of Nebraska’s largest city.
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