A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Beyond the Bars: A formerly incarcerated individual returns to his roots
As the Vice President of the Fortune Society, an organization devoted to re-entry efforts, Stanley Richards knows the struggle many formerly incarcerated people face to stay out of prison. That’s because Richards himself spent time behind bars, and saw the impacts of recidivism firsthand.
City Report Suggests Progress in Effort to Curb Violence at Rikers Island
The signs of potential progress come more than a year after a federal monitoring team was appointed to oversee the city’s jails under a settlement meant to end widespread violence and dysfunction at Rikers. In May, the monitors noted significant reforms at the jail complex, but also problems of deep concern, including officers’ continued use of physical force against incarcerated people.
Mayor de Blasio Announces 45 Percent Reduction in Serious Violence Indicators at Department of Correction
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Correction Commissioner Joe Ponte today announced the department’s anti-violence reforms are showing strong results in the first half of 2016, with the most serious uses of force and most serious assaults by incarcerated people on staff dropping by nearly half compared to the same period in 2015. For the first time since 2011, overall uses of force and overall assaults on staff are now trending downward. Since his appointment, Commissioner Ponte has reduced the use of punitive segregation by 75 percent while achieving these violence reductions.
William Bratton, New York’s Influential Police Commissioner, Is Stepping Down
William J. Bratton, the commissioner of the New York Police Department and the most widely recognized face in American policing, will step down next month to take a job with a private advisory firm, ending a 45-year career in public life that spanned the country, from Boston to Los Angeles, and that reshaped the image of what a police commander could be.
A visit to Rikers Island, New York City’s troubled jail
Last month the administration announced a multi-year plan to move adolescents off Rikers, a lauded effort. And last week, a correction officer was slashed by an incarcerated person elsewhere on the island, which union officials say is an example of continued violence.
Members of amNew York’s editorial board toured GRVC recently to view the reform attempts as part of an ongoing series on Rikers Island.
Rikers officers applaud alleged crooked cop’s arrest
“We arrested her during roll call one morning [last] week, and as we took her out of roll call in front of other officers in handcuffs, a bunch of the other officers stood and applauded,” Peters said.
“So I think people are getting the message that this culture of smuggling and violence has to end.”
Rikers Island cleaning house on culture of violence following arrests of correction officers
The culture of violence at Rikers Island is changing, Department of Investigation head Mark Peters said Sunday, with proof positive coming recently when a group of correction officers applauded as one of their own was arrested.
Incarcerated person with weapon streamed on Facebook Live while inside Rikers Island
PIX11 showed the Facebook video to Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who chairs the committee on criminal justice and is frustrated with what she watched. Crowley said more enhanced metal detectors are available, but have been sitting idle.
NYC’s Expanded Jobs Program Focuses on Clean Streets
When NYC’s new Citywide Ferry Service launches in 2017, it might do more than cut commutes and offer up scenic views for passengers. The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) announced today that the ferry service will also participate in an expansion of the existing Quality of Life program, which partners with nonprofits to train and employ formerly homeless, formerly incarcerated and low-income people to work on city initiatives.
NYU Narrows Criminal-Past Question for Applicants
New York University plans to disregard a question on applicants’ criminal backgrounds in favor of a narrower one asking about violent crimes.
The change, going into effect Monday and affecting applicants for the class entering in the fall of 2017, according to school officials, marks NYU’s latest effort to tackle an admissions issue that has drawn national debate and sparked campus protests.
As Boot-Camp Prisons Fade, New York Incarcerated People March On
The camp has its own peculiar vocabulary. Incarcerated people sleep in squad bays. Some officers are drill instructors. Incarcerated people are divided into platoons, which collectively form a company.
Punishments include piling rocks in a pyramid and shifting sand between boxes. A wall chart, with “The Biggest Loser” in colorful bubble letters, documents incarcerated people’s weight loss.
Born In Custody, A Girl Finds Answers With Someone Who Knows Best: Mom
When 8-year-old Savannah Phelan came across a video recently, she found herself brimming with questions she didn’t know the answer to. That’s because the online video depicted her mom, Kellie, talking about being pregnant while serving time in New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex.
Obama issues record-breaking 214 commutations
President Obama commuted the sentences of 214 more federal incarcerated people on Wednesday, the largest single-day grant of commutations in the nation’s history.
With 562 total commutations during his presidency — most of which have come in the past year —Obama has now used his constitutional clemency power to shorten the sentences of more federal incarcerated people than any president since Calvin Coolidge.
Cory Booker, After Touring a Prison, Renews Call for Criminal Justice Overhaul
“This visit today continued to fuel my sense of urgency,” Mr. Booker said in an interview after a 90-minute stop at the medium-security Federal Correctional Institution in Fairton, N.J. He said that he was particularly impressed with job training and drug treatment programs, and that even prison officials and workers were adamant that some incarcerated people were being incarcerated far beyond the time necessary.
The Overlooked Promise in Hillary Clinton’s Speech
Both candidates should offer clear answers on how they will tackle criminal justice reform — a priority issue in both parties’ platforms. They can start with calling for laws to safely reduce the federal prison population. That means prioritizing the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, a bipartisan bill that would cut mandatory minimums in some cases. Republicans championed the bill, with Democratic support, but it still managed to stall in the Senate. The next president should resurrect it and get it across the finish line.
Wrongfully Convicted of Rape, a New Jersey Man Finds More Punishment After Prison
Nearly 30 years ago, at 22, Mr. Harrell was arrested on suspicion of raping a teenage girl and later served four years in a New Jersey prison. But when he was released on parole, what amounted to his second sentence started: For the next two decades, he had to live with the restrictions of the state’s sex-offender statute, known as Megan’s Law.
Punishment That Doesn’t Fit the Crime
When Matthew Grottalio was 10 years old, he and his older brother initiated a touching “game” with their 8-year-old sister. “None of us knew what we were doing,” he said, and he soon forgot about the episode. But later that year, 1998, his sister’s teacher found out and notified the authorities. Just weeks after Matthew’s 11th birthday, police officers handcuffed him outside his fifth-grade classroom.
Mentally Ill Sex Offender Should Serve Time in Medical Facility, Judge Says
Washington’s history of abuse, his sexual orientation and his conviction as a sex offender make him a “prime candidate for victimization” in prison, Weinstein said, and subjecting him to a 15-year sentence in the general population of a medium or high security prison would violate his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
Damien Coestly committed suicide at the private prison where I worked as guard. His family says he didn’t have to die.
Once, the prison psychologist reported in Coestly’s medical records that Damien was on suicide watch and “upset because he felt that he was not getting the appropriate care from mental health.” He wrote that Coestly complained that claiming to be suicidal was the only way to get a meeting with the psychiatrist. “Incarcerated person has a long history of playing games and trying to manipulate the system,” the psychologist wrote.
How A Harmless Pot Grower Gets 15 Years As A ‘Career Offender’
The first time Paul Fields was sentenced for a marijuana offense, he got probation. The second time, he got 100 days in jail. The third time, he got more than 15 years in prison.
Paul Fields and his daughter, Corrina (Image: Families Against Mandatory Minimums)
That astonishing escalation was caused by a federal sentencing provision aimed at “career offenders,” defined as people with two prior convictions for felonies involving drugs or violence who are convicted of a third such felony.
The Absurd Things I Heard Through the Vents in My Prison Cell
By far the neighbor I hated the most was a dude named Lorenzo. We were living in an Honor Pod in our facility, which among other things meant we were allowed to keep acoustic guitars in our cells. Apparently Lorenzo was still learning how to play his: In two years, he had only learned one cord. One single chord. And he would play that one chord for hours. And hours. Hours and hours on end. One chord. One. Chord. Sometimes he would strum it. Sometimes he would pick out the individual notes one note at a time. Hours.
Getting out of prison it’s hard to find a job. Why not help formerly incarcerated people start their own businesses?
So, instead of depending on employers to give him a chance, Duncan joined with Kelly Orians, a New Orleans public defender, to start an organization called Rising Foundations. They’re renovating an old mansion that will host a transitional housing program for people coming home from prison, where they can get on their feet without worrying about rent or bills. And they’ve launched a small business incubator for formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs.
Black, Old and Locked Up: The Stresses of Release and Reentry
Now policymakers are saddled with a graying prison population that can cost two to four times more than the average incarcerated person. A young incarcerated individual costs an estimated $26,000 to $29,000 per year versus an older incarcerated person who costs about $69,000, bioethicist Ezekiel Emmanuel, MD, shared during a conference on aging last November.
$16.5M settlement reached for 3 exonerated men
Larry Ruffin, Phillip Bivens and Bobby Ray Dixon were targeted for Patterson’s death at her Eatonville home and were beaten repeatedly and threatened with death before confessing to crimes they did not commit. And when their testimony didn’t add up, they were beaten again.
‘Our voices are being heard’: Formerly incarcerated individuals have a say in how Peter Buffett and wife’s foundation transforms former NYC women’s prison
“When you’re in the room with them and they’re absorbing the fact that they have a voice in this and are being listened to and it matters, it’s overwhelming,” Peter Buffett said. “We always try to change the dynamic from, ‘We’re the ones with the money and we know best’ to ‘You’re the people with the experience. You tell us.’ ”
Criminal Law Professors: Think Globally, But Try to Write (State and) Locally
While I understand that there are interesting issues at the federal level—and while I appreciate and respect many of the scholars doing work in this field—the fact is that time spent on the federal system is time not spent on the much larger—and more significant—state and local systems. This post is a plea for scholars—and those who publish them—to consider doing/publishing more work on state and local systems.
First juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania are granted parole
With these decisions, Bridge said, “The parole board recognized that after multiple decades, children that went into prison grew up, matured, and are ready to become contributing members of society. This is exactly the paradigm shift the United States Supreme Court envisioned.”
At Virginia’s Supermax Prisons, Isolation and Abuse Persist Despite Reforms
There can be no doubt that some of the men held at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge have managed to escape long-term solitary confinement by following the path set out by the Step-Down program. Yet a deeper look at the program, and at conditions at the two prisons, suggests that the extent of the reforms has been overstated.
JPMorgan Pays Incarcerated People for Fees on Get-Out-of-Jail Debit Card
The bank agreed to pay a total of $446,822 to thousands of formerly incarcerated people to settle a class-action suit claiming JPMorgan ripped them off with $10 fees to withdraw money from a teller window and $2 charges for using non-network ATMs, according to a filing on Monday in federal court in Philadelphia.
Detroit’s head prosecutor doesn’t believe these black kids can change
Children’s inability to appropriately process information and make good decisions is only magnified in unsupportive environments. It is unsurprising, then, that statistics show that those sentenced to juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) were disproportionately likely to have experienced childhood trauma, violence, and instability.
Missouri’s Public Defender Orders The Governor To Legally Represent A Criminal Defendant
Facing a significant shortage of attorneys, a slashed budget, and a public criminal defense system that ranks 49th in the nation, the head of the Missouri State Public Defender’s office took a dramatic step this week.
On Tuesday, he used a rarely invoked state statute and sent a letter to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon that appointed Nixon — as a practicing attorney in the state — to serve as the lawyer for a criminal defendant who cannot afford an attorney.
Wrongfully Convicted Louisiana Man Asks Justice Department to Investigate New Orleans Prosecutors
Thompson served 18 years, most of them in the notoriously violent Angola Penitentiary after being found guilty of a murder he did not commit. He spent 14 of those years on death row until — weeks before one of his seven proposed execution dates — a team of pro bono lawyers discovered that prosecutors led by Williams had failed to disclose blood samples from the scene of the crime at Thompson’s original trial. Those samples showed that the perpetrator had type B blood. Thompson has type O blood. Eventually Thompson was granted a retrial and, in 2003, a jury took 30 minutes to find him not guilty.
Arizona Prison Is Not Reporting Disease Cases To Health Agency
In an apparent violation of Arizona regulations, Corrections Corporation of America, the largest for-profit prison company in the country, is failing to report the cases of valley fever among incarcerated people in Hawaii at the Saguaro Correctional Center.
Under a provision in the Arizona Administrative Code, administrators of correctional facilities are required to report “all cases or suspected cases” of communicable diseases — including valley fever — to the local health authority.
The Prison Builder’s Dilemma: Economics And Ethics Clash In Eastern Kentucky
Unless the Bureau of Prisons has a sudden change of heart or runs into issues buying the necessary land, it seems likely that this prison will be built. Either way, the people of central Appalachia will continue to debate what role prisons should play in the region’s future.
Disability rights group alleges abuse and neglect of special-needs incarcerated people at state prison in Sullivan County
In other cases, mental health staffers appeared to not take seriously erratic behavior by incarcerated people on the unit — such as smearing their cells with feces and expressing suicidal ideations — because they believed incarcerated people were faking symptoms to escape further punishment, the report found.
Prison System Ponders $250 Million in Budget Cuts
The agency won’t say what potential savings — including closing prisons or figuring out how to release more nonviolent incarcerated individuals — might be in the mix, but its request will launch the biennial dance with lawmakers over funding for the nation’s largest prison system.
Robert Spangenberg, 83; founded Boston Legal Assistance Project
“Many poor people are unaware of their legal rights. Even when poor people are aware of their legal rights, they are often reluctant to enforce them because they fear retaliation,” he told the Globe that December, adding that among the most vulnerable there is “a distrust of the legal system and a pervasive feeling that all efforts will be futile.”
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