A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
True Crime Stories
Perception is everything at election time. Any casual surfing of the television channels tonight will show murder after murder. Sadly, some of the most dramatic “crime stories” never make prime time — the stories of men and women being released from prison, facing barriers that limit housing and jobs, fighting personal demons while navigating societal restrictions, struggling just to get through the day.
Report: Special unit not serving disabled NY incarcerated people
New York incarcerated people with intellectual and developmental disabilities housed in a newly created special unit designed to be more therapeutic have been abused, neglected and deprived of adequate mental health services, according to an advocacy group.
Rikers Island gets unofficial New York Public Library branch
“It’s amazing the city services that are available in the community; many of those we want here on the island,” said Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte. “This is a good step to introduce incarcerated people to the value of education, the value of reading.”
Rikers Island correction officer caught smuggling cigarettes, pills to incarcerated people
Officer Mey Lim, 34, was giving contraband to an incarcerated person in exchange for Western Union money payments at the George R. Vierno Center on Rikers Island, the Queens District Attorney’s office said.
In one case, Lim gave the incarcerated individual a pack of cigarettes for $100, prosecutors said.
Jail Reform Advocates Call for Improved Protections After Women Claim They Were Molested
Jeannette Reynoso and Tierra White were among the dozen women who came forward to the I-Team in February with claims they were molested by female correction officers during visits to city jails — and they joined others Tuesday to seek better protections for visitors and incarcerated people in the system.
New York City Policing Reform, Derailed
But there has been no vote. The Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, essentially derailed it this month. She told members that she had quietly struck a compromise with the Police Department to adopt some, but not all, of the act’s reforms administratively. Under the deal, officers who want to search people but have no legal basis to stop them must ask permission and wait to hear “yes” or “no.” They have to explain that a person can refuse to be searched, and give a business card to people who are searched or stopped at a checkpoint or to anyone who asks.
Police Commissioner Bratton Won’t Stay on the Job Past 2017
William J. Bratton will not remain the commissioner of the New York Police Department past next year, he said in an interview with The New York Times, providing his most definitive comments to date on his future at the helm of the nation’s largest police force.
Bratton, Who Shaped an Era in Policing, Tries to Navigate a Racial Divide
The trouble for Mr. Bratton, whose name has long been synonymous with a hard-charging, crime-busting mentality, is that many seeking criminal justice reform see him as part of the problem, if not a key player in its origins. The most strident of them consider Mr. Bratton a relic, too moored to the past to usher in quick change.
Fact-checking the Democrats
The view of America from the stage of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia could not have been more different from the lawless dystopia described at Donald Trump’s show in Cleveland a week earlier. The Democrats portrayed a nation more resilient, hopeful — challenged, to be sure, but brought together by its challenges — and still a beacon to the world. The difference was acute on issues of crime and justice.
Formerly Incarcerated People Lose Voting Rights as Virginia Supreme Court Rules Against Governor
A divided Virginia Supreme Court on Friday overturned a series of executive orders issued by Gov. Terry McAuliffe that had restored the voting rights of more than 200,000 justice involved people.
The court, in a 4-to-3 decision, disputed the governor’s assertion that his clemency power was absolute under the state’s Constitution. “We respectfully disagree,” the majority justices wrote. “The clemency power may be broad, but it is not absolute.”
Texas Rape Victim Was Jailed for Fear She Would Not Testify, Lawsuit Says
The woman, identified as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, was held in the general population at the county jail — the same place where the rape suspect, Keith Hendricks, was housed. There, the suit says, she was misclassified as the perpetrator of a sexual assault — not as a victim — attacked by an incarcerated person, denied medication and punched in the face by a guard.
Jailer Chokes Incarcerated Individual to Death on Video But Still Hasn’t Been Charged
A state medical examiner ruled that Darius Robinson was killed by “manual compression of the neck” and ruled his death inside the Caddo County jail to be a homicide. The county’s district attorney, Jason Hicks, has yet to bring charges against officer Michael Allen Smith for the April 4 incident, according to attorney Spencer Bryan, who represents Robinson’s family.
The Strange Death of José de Jesús
The strange way in which José died, after spending just three days in detention, drew the attention of immigrant rights advocates. Of the at least seven suicides of ICE detainees since 2005, five happened at Eloy, prompting questions from advocates about the detention center’s readiness to provide mental health services to the immigrants detained there. And according to a recently released report from ICE, the detention center failed to meet several agency standards in the events leading up to José’s death.
Immigrants Desperate To Get Out Of US Detention Can Get Trapped By Debt
Hernandez-Vargas illustrates the pitfalls detainees can face in agreeing to financially onerous bail bond terms in a desperate bid to reunite with their families.
A top facilitator of the bonds insists that it provides a service to a high-risk clientele that would otherwise be totally shunned. However, critics say many of those clients end up strapped with debt.
Bogus ‘sex offender’ labels are ruining lives
What happens when we turn teens and even tweens into sex offenders?
The punishment and stigma can follow them for years, even decades. A study by Human Rights Watch gave the example of Jacob, a boy found guilty of inappropriately touching his sister when he was 11.
Give formerly incarcerated and incarcerated people the right to vote
Not only is McAuliffe doing the right thing, but also he should push further. Incarcerated people, too, should be allowed to vote, no matter their crimes. While only Vermont and Maine grant incarcerated people the vote, disenfranchisement fundamentally undermines the democratic rationale of our criminal laws. We cannot hold citizens to account for violating our laws while denying them a say over those laws.
In Solitary Confinement For A Crime He Didn’t Commit, Herman Wallace Built His Dream House
In 2001, a Stanford art student named Jackie Sumell sent a letter to Herman Wallace, an incarcerated person at Louisiana State Penitentiary, more commonly known as Angola. The letter read: “What kind of house does a man who lives in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell for 30 years dream of?” The answer would take over 10 years to complete.
Bail, Fines, and Fees
Such “user fees” are often set without consideration of the defendants’ financial means and failure to pay can keep someone behind bars or land them back in jail. This perpetuates an overreliance on local incarceration that exacts significant unnecessary costs on individuals, communities, and taxpayers alike. This explainer video from the Past Due project sheds light on fines, fees, and financial bail in New Orleans.
In The Shadow Of Exile
Project Exile sought to prevent gun violence by locking up people who in theory posed the biggest risk of committing it: justice involved people with guns. That included people who used guns to commit crimes, as well as formerly incarcerated people, whom the law bars from having guns at all. Under the program, cases that would normally have been prosecuted in state court went to federal court, where defendants were less likely to receive pretrial bail and were more likely to face mandatory minimum sentences. The result was longer prison terms for gun crime — and, in theory, a powerful disincentive to commit it.
A Strategy to Build Police-Citizen Trust
Stockton is one of six American cities taking part in a new experiment funded by the Department of Justice. (The others are Birmingham, Ala.; Pittsburgh; Gary, Ind.; Fort Worth; and Minneapolis.) The cities are beginning programs to promote racial reconciliation; to address the racial biases all of us carry; and to gain the community’s trust using an idea known as procedural justice.
How Being a Sports Bookie Helped Me Live Comfortably in Prison
When I got to the federal facility in Yazoo City, Miss., I saw the action was ten times what it had been at the state level. So I became a bookie myself. Basketball was the most profitable because it happened every day, but individual football games could bring in a lot of money. I took in $7,000 worth of bets on one NFL Sunday. Generally, my goal was to make a profit of 25 percent.
She’s Still Fighting For Her Brother, Sentenced To Life At 16-Years-Old
We visited his sister, Anita Colon, in her home outside Philadelphia. In 1990 on Robert’s 16th birthday, some drug dealers offered Robert $500 dollars to be the lookout on what was supposed to be a drug deal.
But the wife of a rival drug dealer was killed, and even though Robert didn’t witness it, under Pennsylvania law, he got life.
Law & Order: A Look At America’s Prison System
Law and order is arbitrary when it comes to the citizens it’s meant to protect. For Black people, it’s the school-to-prison pipeline, guilty until proven more guilty, and harsher sentences. But it doesn’t have to be. More than half the states in the U.S. have repealed mandatory sentences for non-violent crimes with some making its repeal retroactive. The solution is also on the grassroots level with improving community-police relations, so that police interactions do not always lead to arrests.
What About Those Who Speak For The Voiceless? By Ignoring Public Defenders, the Democratic Party Platform Can’t Ensure Equal Justice
And it is worth noting that this absence of support for public defenders is not only a shortcoming of the Democratic platform. It also undermines the effectiveness of otherwise progressive reform packages supported by both parties in a growing number of states, and leaves incomplete a host of conversations about how to address the criminal justice crisis occurring in forums across the nation.
‘How’s Amanda?’ A story of truth, lies and an American addiction
She had already made it through one last night alone under the freeway bridge, through the vomiting and shakes of withdrawal, through cravings so intense she’d scraped a bathroom floor searching for leftover traces of heroin. It had now been 12 days since the last time Amanda Wendler used a drug of any kind, her longest stretch in years. “Clear-eyed and sober,” read a report from one drug counselor, and so Amanda, 31, had moved back in with her mother to begin the stage of recovery she feared most.
A Shocking Reminder of How Reliant Prosecutors Are on Plea Deals
It is a widely known but still underappreciated fact about the American legal system that criminal trials are extremely rare. When most of us imagine the gears of the justice system turning, we picture juries and judges listening to testimony and attorneys making dramatic courtroom statements in defense of their clients. But as Wark’s serene reaction to Wednesday’s ruling underscores, the reality is that almost all criminal cases are resolved through backroom deals between prosecutors and defense lawyers—a process that is poorly understood precisely because it happens outside of the public eye.
Beyond #BlackLivesMatter: police reform must be bolstered by legal action
Courts have shaped American policing by defanging the fourth amendment’s prohibition on “unreasonable searches and seizures”. Because the term “unreasonable” is unclear, courts have had to decide which police intrusions, beyond the blatantly arbitrary, go too far. And the US supreme court’s consistent answer has been that scarcely anything goes too far.
Progressive Voice: Formerly Incarcerated Need Driver’s Licenses
Did you know, for example, that when individuals return home from incarceration they are unable to get back their driver’s license until they pay all court fines, costs and restitution in full, or establish a payment plan with the court? That means that many individuals in Arlington are trying to put their lives back on track, including finding a job, without having a driver’s license.
Ava DuVernay Doc on Mass Incarceration to Open New York Film Festival, Debut on Netflix
The film focuses on the history and policies leading to the country’s current mass incarceration epidemic. It takes its name from the 13th Amendment, which says that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Va. Supreme Court strikes down McAuliffe’s order on voting rights of incarcerated people
“Once again, the Virginia Supreme Court has placed Virginia as an outlier in the struggle for civil and human rights,” McAuliffe said in a written statement. “It is a disgrace that the Republican leadership of Virginia would file a lawsuit to deny more than 200,000 of their own citizens the right to vote. And I cannot accept that this overtly political action could succeed in suppressing the voices of many thousands of men and women who had rejoiced with their families earlier this year when their rights were restored.”
Incarcerated people with hepatitis C sue Tennessee prison officials for treatment
The lawsuit, filed by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocates in U.S. District Court in Nashville, says the Tennessee Department of Correction officials knowingly denying incarcerated people care for their hepatitis C, also known as HCV, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. It alleges the department is denying care because the best available medication is too expensive.
Nevada’s new prisons chief on a mission of change
Since arriving, Dzurenda made a U-turn on the agency’s mission, shifting the emphasis to rehabilitating incarcerated people instead of keeping them contained. Now he has to convince state lawmakers and the public that changes will benefit public safety and save money in the long run.
More Than 6900 People Died In Custody in Texas in 2005-2015
Each time a person in Texas dies in police, jail or prison custody, or as the result of a police officer’s use of force, the death must be reported to the Texas Attorney General. Since 2005, the Attorney General’s office has been collecting the information contained in those reports into a single database. That database was obtained using the Texas Public Information Act and provides the basis for this website’s content. Explore the data to learn more about who is dying in Texas state custody.
Ex-officer says Michigan’s only prison for women is crowded, dangerous
Lauralie Herkimer, who said she sometimes struggled through six consecutive double shifts before she resigned on June 30, described an overcrowded prison where drugs are widely available, the roof leaks so badly it has shorted out the lights, and fatigue and stress that is detracting from the ability of corrections officers to function effectively.
Do Black Kids Matter in Memphis?
Almost 50 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that kids have the same due process rights as adults, the system in Memphis seemed frozen in time. Children received little meaningful defense representation in delinquency hearings and were subjected to hurried, ill-informed and arbitrary decisions, including transfers to adult court. Worse, “we found that African-American children were treated differently and more harshly,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tom Perez said.
What happens when defendants are ruled incompetent for trial
So these individuals are left in the community to wander a gray area, where they often lack the reason and judgment to steer clear of breaking the law when left on their own. The courts, once charges are dismissed, have no authority to steer defendants toward supervision or services they might need to stay out of trouble.
San Diego County program for nonviolent incarcerated people may be helping to keep people from returning to jail
People serving sentences for nonviolent felonies in San Diego County custody recommit crimes less frequently than those who serve in state prison for similar crimes, according to new data from the San Diego County Probation Department.
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