A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Nonprofits, Advocates assess Bratton’s legacy and O’Neill’s hire
Nonprofits and criminal justice reform advocates shared a mixed reaction to Tuesday’s announcement that New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton will retire next month. While his tenure was marked by a sharp reduction in stop-and-frisks, some groups remained critical of his embrace of “broken windows” policing – a practice based on the theory that enforcing smaller, “quality-of-life” violations will reduce more serious crimes.
HHS Office of Minority Health awards the Fortune Society $375,000 in federal funding to support re-entry programs
The Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced The Fortune Society is among the seven organizations to receive federal grant funding under a new grant program, the Re-Entry Community Linkages Program. Fortune will receive $375,000 to support efforts to improve the health outcomes for minority and/or disadvantaged re-entrants, ages 18-26, in transition from jail to their communities.
Leading With Conviction: Empowering The Formerly Incarcerated To Strengthen Democracy Inside-Out
As an education-sociologist, I study how individuals and groups can harness their agency — their specific capacity to navigate obstacles — to create positive change in their lives. Humans should be understood as lifelong learners so they can constantly expanding their minds, analyze and reevaluate their world, and then assess their potential within it. As philosopher Paulo Freire highlighted, students must critically understand their social positions to become active political agents within causes that affect them.
Rikers guard slashed by incarcerated person
A city correction officer was beaten up and slashed by an incarcerated person at Rikers Island Sunday — and now the guard’s union is calling on Mayor de Blasio to fire the Correction Department chief before one of its members is killed.
Councilwoman asks for comptroller audit of city data on Rikers violence
“Tens of millions of dollars have been included in the budget over the past two fiscal years to make Rikers Island a safer place for incarcerated people, detainees, and correction officers,” Crowley wrote in a letter to Stringer on Monday. “Having accurate data is essential to ensure that these dollars are spent appropriately.”
Company in Deadly Prisoner Transportation Investigation Puts New Safety Measures in Place
Since 2012, at least four people have died while being transported by PTS, and since 2000, at least 60 incarcerated people have escaped from private extradition vans. At least two dozen incarcerated people and guards have been killed or seriously injured in crashes.
In Baltimore Report, Justice Dept. Revives Doubts About Zero-Tolerance Policing
The Justice Department has criticized a string of police departments nationwide for unfairly targeting blacks, but in its report on the Baltimore police, issued Wednesday, it used its most scathing language to date to denounce the zero-tolerance policing approach that has spread from New York to many departments big and small.
Mercy Is Far Too Slow at the Justice Department
The country needs a variety of mechanisms for reducing unreasonably long sentences. And the Justice Department, which has considerable latitude in these matters, needs to do more within the course of its regular operations to deal with the legacy of sentencing policies that have been recognized as destructively unfair.
Trial by Jury, a Hallowed American Right, Is Vanishing
The criminal trial ended more than two and a half years ago, but Judge Jesse M. Furman can still vividly recall the case. It stands out, not because of the defendant or the subject matter, but because of its rarity: In his four-plus years on the bench in Federal District Court in Manhattan, it was his only criminal jury trial.
Criminal Defendants Sometimes ‘Left Behind’ at Supreme Court, Study Shows
Why are there so few expert lawyers arguing on behalf of criminal defendants? Justice Sonia Sotomayor has said that the main factor is vanity: Many criminal defense lawyers are too reluctant to cede the glamour of Supreme Court arguments to specialists.
Damning Report Finds For-Profit Prisons Are More Dangerous
Privately run facilities “incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP institutions,” according to the report, released Thursday by the Justice Department’s Inspector General. The DOJ’s internal watchdog said the Bureau of Prisons “needs to improve how it monitors contract prisons in several areas.”
I’m the incarcerated person.Why is my granddaughter being punished, too?
“Visits are heartbreaking,” a fellow incarcerated person told me after seeing her toddler. She said her son calls the corrections officer a “mean man” who won’t let him touch Mommy. Thank goodness her sentence for breaking and entering is short. She’ll be home before her son turns 3.
Even violent crime victims say our prisons are making crime worse
“Perhaps to the surprise of some, the National Survey on Victims’ Views found that the overwhelming majority of crime victims believe that the criminal justice system relies too heavily on incarceration, and strongly prefer investments in treatment and prevention to more spending on prisons and jails,” according to the report.
Kentucky Judge Amber Wolf On Her Newfound Internet Stardom
In the past two weeks, Louisville Judge Amber Wolf has experienced a level of internet fame that few judges have: Two videos, filmed in her courtroom, have gone viral. In the first, recorded on July 29, Wolf reacts with outrage towards jail administrators as a female defendant, who had been in custody for days, appeared to not be wearing pants in court and claimed that she was denied feminine hygiene products. (A spokesman for the jail later said that the defendant was wearing shorts under her long shirt). Soon after, on August 5, a second video surfaced in which Wolf temporarily suspends a no-contact order to allow a defendant to hold his newborn child for the first time before being sent back to jail.
I’m a Judge and I Think Criminal Court Is Horrifying
I was shocked at the casual racism emanating from the bench. The judge explained a “stay away” order to a Hispanic defendant by saying that if the complainant calls and invites you over for “rice and beans,” you cannot go. She lectured some defendants that most young men “with names like yours” have lengthy criminal records by the time they reach a certain age.
Although the myth of the “one phone call” has long held a place in the American imagination, the reality of communicating with family during a long-term prison stay hardly makes for the stuff of movies. To incarcerated people and their relations, calls are a vital connection to home. For facility operators, they’ve long been considered security holes, a means for incarcerated individuals to coordinate crimes with the outside. And for phone companies, along with state and local governments, the system is a lucrative business opportunity.
After 13 years in solitary confinement, incarcerated person says: ‘I’ve lost my mind’
Swain, who suffers from bipolar depression, has spent more than 4,800 straight days in solitary confinement – a punishment that research shows often makes mental illness worse. He’s rarely allowed to talk face-to-face with other incarcerated people, usually gets only an hour a day out of his cell and hasn’t been allowed to visit with relatives or friends in more than a decade.
Mercy in the Age of Mandatory Minimums
vFor a dozen years, Weldon had been the poster boy of criminal justice reform for liberals and conservatives alike. His liberation is cause for celebration for those who believed the punishment did not fit the crime. Nonetheless, the Angelos case remains a cautionary tale about both the inherent ruthlessness of “mandatory minimum” terms of imprisonment and the ineffectiveness of the Obama administration’s clemency initiative.
Merger Put on Hold for Prisoner Transportation Company Facing Federal Scrutiny
Citing a recent Marshall Project investigation into a pattern of deaths, escapes, crashes and abuse in the for-profit extradition industry, the filing argued that the merger would not be in the public interest because the companies have a history of poor treatment of incarcerated people. The objection also argued the merger would narrow the industry’s competitive field.
‘The Worst Way to Address Mental Illness’
Four decades later, there are few mental health experts who would argue that the deinstitutionalization movement was wrong in principle. But most now acknowledge that the shortsighted reforms of the 1960s and 1970s – and the corresponding lack of community support and investment – was a recipe for disaster that funneled tens of thousands of Americans who lived in deplorable conditions in state psychiatric facilities to even more deplorable conditions in the nation’s jails and prisons.
Is the Fight to End Mass Incarceration Wasting Away in Washington?
Ultimately, the momentum for criminal justice reform, let alone the type transformative change needed to reverse mass incarceration, remains far from achieving the intensity of the conservative “lock ’em up and throw away the key” mania that grew the system in the 1980s and ’90s. As we draw nearer to election day, concerns about excessive imprisonment and bloated corrections budgets are likely to fade further into the shadows behind political candidates’ efforts to malign their opponents’ character and cast themselves as the true patriots. That unfinished revolution of which Michelle Alexander speaks still waits to be won.
Paying for Punishment
In states and municipalities throughout the country, the criminal justice system defrays costs by forcing incarcerated people and their families to pay for punishment. It also allows private service providers to charge outrageous fees for everyday needs such as telephone calls. As a result people facing even minor criminal charges can easily find themselves trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of debt, criminalization, and incarceration.
With No Insanity Defense, Seriously Ill People End Up In Prison
Because Idaho has no insanity defense, defendants with mental illness typically plead guilty to lesser charges and rely on judges to take mental health into account at sentencing. Some lawyers and psychiatrists say this doesn’t provide enough protection against the death penalty or long incarceration. As professor Aliza Cover of the University of Idaho Law School explains, “In Idaho, you have the unusual circumstance that someone who couldn’t even be convicted in another state could be executed.”
Budget cuts may swell county jails with mentally ill
Oktibbeha County Sheriff Steve Gladney says Reynolds Walker is an example of the challenges facing criminal justice officials grappling with mental illness issues in local courts and jails.
“We have to hold them until there’s a bed available” at the state hospital … “but jail is not where these people should be,” Gladney said. “I feel bad that I can’t do more to help them.”
Thousands of Arkansas voters flagged for removal
On July 5, Bo Ingram’s mailbox was overflowing after the holiday weekend, and he almost overlooked a letter from the Lonoke County clerk’s office telling him he’d been stripped of his right to vote. Ingram, 50, had his voting rights suspended after a felony conviction in 2000, but he was released from parole in 2005 and reinstated to the voter rolls a couple of years later. People convicted of felonies in Arkansas lose their right to vote, but may regain the right once they have been released from incarceration, completed all probation or parole and made good on any outstanding fines, court costs and restitution. It came as a rude surprise, then, for Ingram to be told almost a decade later that his rights were being rescinded again.
Why is Arkansas Flailing in Juvenile Justice?
The problem, experts and advocates told me, stems largely from the outsized influence of Arkansas’ unique network of service providers. These agencies are not the scandal-plagued for-profit prison corporations often (and rightfully) pilloried in the press. Rather, they are nonprofit, community-based and widely respected, with a long history of caring for troubled children.
Young and Locked Up in Silicon Valley
In Christian’s case, facts of a life marked by physical and psychological abuse were not considered by a neutral judge before the teen was charged as an adult. This is because Santa Clara prosecutors, using the wide discretion afforded to them in direct filing, were able to circumvent the usual “fitness hearing,” which allows a defendant’s lawyer to present evidence in court about a kid’s home situation, school troubles, or emotional state. Had a judge been permitted to hear such details about Christian’s life, he or she would have gotten an earful.
Florida locking up fewer justice involved juveniles
Florida leads the nation in the number of people age 17 or under who are serving time in adult prisons, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. But that number is dwindling. That’s due, in part, to a change in philosophy in how the state deals with justice involved juveniles and to a drop in juvenile crime. Also on the decline is the number of underage justice involved people sent to locked-down juvenile facilities in Florida.
Racism Allegations Against Judge Enter Death Row Case
A lawyer for Death Row incarcerated person Terrance Phillips wants the Florida Supreme Court to order an investigation into allegations of racism involving the circuit judge who sentenced the Jacksonville man to death — including accusations that the judge once said blacks should “go back to Africa.”
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