A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
View From Harlem: Marijuana Legalization Is a Hollow Victory If We Still Criminalize Other Drugs
“We’re moving toward legalization of marijuana, and some if it is economic because the tax incentives are enormous,” Page told me in a phone conversation, “but the larger question is what do you do about mass incarceration.” She worries that a marijuana movement coupled with a tough-on-crime mentality that shifts attention to other drugs might end up resulting in “no net decrease” in incarcerated people. “We could possibly see a net increase,” she warns.
Concerns Over Rule Banning Sex Offenders From Playing Pokémon Go
Erin Beth Harrist, a senior staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that the gaming restrictions “appear to have no meaningful public safety benefit and are so vague as to possibly sweep in wholly innocuous behavior.”
Could Prison Mentors Reduce Australia’s Sky High Recidivism Rates?
As Australia’s prison population explodes, reducing recidivism is vital. A substantial study conducted over 10 years in Western Australia found a number of factors that can reduce reoffending risk, including whether the incarcerated person upskills during their incarceration or even if they just complete classes while on the inside.
Rikers trains guards in prohibited eye gouges, elbow strikes
City corrections officers are being trained to subdue incarcerated people with eye gouges, elbow strikes to the head and other facial blows — moves that go against an agreement with the feds, The Post has learned.
An epic fail in Rikers reform
Why on earth did the city hire a pack of SEAL Team 6 wannabes to train correction officers? Monday’s Post broke the news of the $1.2 million wasted on “lessons” for the Correction Department’s Emergency Services Unit in practices for controlling incarcerated people that are banned by the city’s deal with the feds to clean up the jails. “Tactics” like eye gouges, elbow strikes to the head and other facial blows.
City Councilman wants Justice Department probe of NYC bail system over bias against the poor
A Queens City Councilman is asking the Justice Department to investigate New York’s bail system, after the feds claimed it’s unconstitutional to keep poor defendants in jail because they can’t pay afford to pay bail.
NYPD suddenly stops sharing records on cop discipline in move watchdogs slam as anti-transparency
Citing a clause in a 40-year-old law, the NYPD has suddenly decided to keep records regarding the discipline of officers under lock and key — and will no longer release the information to the public, the Daily News has learned.
Criminal Justice Reforms Stall in a Liberal Capital: New York
Their reluctance is, in some ways, tethered to an enduring unease about public safety in New York, particularly in New York City. Statistics show street crime at historic lows, but many people say in polls that crime is worsening. Any effort to place new limits on law enforcement or to reduce punishments could prove perilous for politicians should a spike in crime occur.
New Bronx District Attorney Begins to Deliver on Promises
Clark said her top priorities for the office were addressing the backlog of criminal cases in the Bronx, which is the largest of the five boroughs, and changing the way the office deals with cases arising from Rikers Island, the second largest jail in the United States. She is working to hire the lawyers she needs to fully implement a “vertical prosecution” model, wherein prosecutors are assigned cases and continue working with them from arraignment to adjudication, which Clark says will help to reduce the case backlog.
Obama Justice Department Joins The Fight Against America’s Bail Industry
The Obama administration has joined the fight against the American bail industry, telling a federal appeals court that bail practices that keep poor defendants locked up because they cannot afford to purchase their freedom are unconstitutional.
First Step in Shutting Private Prisons
While privately run detention facilities were once seen as a fiscally responsible alternative, there’s now growing acknowledgment that they are a national shame. They are notoriously violent and dysfunctional, operating even more opaquely than state-run facilities, while paying miserable wages. The Justice Department inspector general reported this month that private prisons had higher rates of assaults and contraband than regular ones.
Why the U.S. is Right to Move Away From Private Prisons
People who have spent time in prison say that it is difficult to adequately convey what it means to have someone else in full control of your movements—when you eat, when you sleep, where you go, and how you get there. But when control is combined with a profit-making business model, it takes on a different character.
Virginia’s McAuliffe to announce restoration of voting rights to 13,000 justice involved people
Gov. Terry McAuliffe will announce Monday that he has restored voting rights to 13,000 justice involved people on a case-by-case basis after Republicans and state Supreme Court justices last month stopped his more sweeping clemency effort.
Don’t end federal private prisons
Even if all the bad things people say about private prisons were true, why not pursue a “Mend it, don’t end it” strategy? there’s a new trend in corrections to develop good performance measures and make payments contingent on those performance measures. If the private sector hasn’t performed spectacularly on quality dimensions to date, it’s because good correctional quality hasn’t been strongly incentivized so far. But the advent of performance-based contracting has the potential to open up new vistas of quality improvements — and the federal system, if it abandons contracting, may miss out on these quality improvements.
On private federal prisons, a victory for independent journalism
As is all too often the case, those in power already knew the truth. The government’s own watchdogs had sounded the alarm about private prisons for years. But year after year the contracts were renewed. And top Bureau of Prisons officials have become executives and board members of the two leading private prison companies, cashing in even as incarcerated people were dying because of inadequate health care. When the articles were published, the officials may have been embarrassed but not shocked.
Private Prison Companies Are Embracing Alternatives to Incarceration
Experts who track the business tell The Nation that as mass-incarceration reform has become a bipartisan issue, private prison companies large and small have seen the writing on the wall, and are aggressively moving into alternatives to imprisonment. In fact, they say, the very same companies that have traditionally lobbied hard for tough-on-crime policies that would assure their facilities a steady flow of warm bodies are now embracing the language of criminal-justice reform as they reach out into what they see as more lucrative markets.
Bail Reformers Aren’t Waiting for Bail Reform
Most proponents of bail funds see their work as a form of political resistance, using charity to chip away at a system they believe should not depend on money. “Our overall goal is to end money bail,” said Sharlyn Grace, co-founder of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, which has paid roughly $160,000 for the release of over 30 people, including $35,000 for a woman charged with killing her allegedly abusive husband. “One thing we’re clear about is that we don’t want to exist,” she said.
Can big data stop bad cops?
The Justice Department’s investigation of Baltimore police this month rebuked the agency for an entrenched culture of discriminatory policing. Deep within their findings, Justice investigators singled out a core failure: Baltimore’s system for identifying troubled officers was broken and existed in name only.
Learning From the Slaughter in Attica
What happened at Attica in September, 1971? A series of accidents in a creakingly worn-out prison turned a modest petition for decency into a full-fledged takeover—one as surprising to the incarcerated people as to anyone else—that, after four days, ended in a reprisal riot by guards and state police that left thirty-nine people dead. Attica was a hellhole. The largest industry in a forsaken and impoverished upstate town, it was a place where urban blacks were locked up in bathroom-size cells to be guarded by rural whites.
The true story of the Attica prison riot
When a helicopter flew over the yard at Attica Correctional Facility on Sept. 13, 1971, five days into a takeover of the prison by its 1,300 incarcerated people, some of the incarcerated people thought it held New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, come to help negotiate an end to the standoff. They realized their error when the gas dropped.
How #BlackLivesMatter Came to Define a Movement
The label appears to have lasting power, simmering like a low-grade fever on social media and roaring to life with every police killing of a black citizen and every racial protest that makes the news, informing the long-running national debate.
When Jail Becomes a Death Sentence
In life, San Diego County residents Heron Moriarty and Jason Nishimoto never crossed paths. In death, they became brothers of a sort. Both took their own lives after suffering acute episodes of mental illness. Both died before ever making a court appearance. Relatives say both men shared one more common bond: that jail officials didn’t respond to repeated warnings that the men were desperately ill and in danger of suicide.
America’s prison problem: The conversation we need to be having about our broken criminal justice system
While the issues of criminal justice and prison reform garner bipartisan steam, the Obama administration’s decision last week to draw down federal use of private prisons amounts to little more than a fig leaf that further ensconces the power of corrections unions without alleviating the root causes of our hyper-incarcerated society. The episode illuminates many of the unintended consequences of progressive attempts to reduce incarceration, but these attempts ignore the strongest trigger of poverty and incarceration: the breakdown of the nuclear family.
A Drawdown in the War On Drugs
There is an additional gesture that the President could make: he could formally declare an end to the war. In 1996, when Bill Clinton announced that “the era of big government is over,” his words were both aspirational and a reflection of policies favored by Republicans and a growing number of centrist Democrats. There’s an emerging and similarly bipartisan consensus for changing the policies that have led to mass incarceration. For a sitting President to declare a conclusion to the most disastrous domestic policy of our time might, even if premature, perhaps mark at least the beginning of its end.
“Smart on Crime” Doesn’t Lower Crime Rates or Recidivism
Those who advocate against “tough on crime” policies often invoke Texas as the prime example of a place where sentencing regimes are more lenient for so-called “non-violent” offenders, mostly in the drug trade. Chuck Devore and Randy Petersen of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, for instance, maintain that the results of criminal justice reforms have been: “reduced recidivism, lower costs, and a state-wide crime rate reduced to levels not seen since 1968.” But Texas crime statistics don’t paint such a rosy picture of the state’s experiment in reduced sentencing.
No Way to Call Home: Incarcerated Deaf People Are Locked in a Prison Inside a Prison
The members of Silent Voices and a dozen or so classmates are all part of the Louisiana Department of Corrections’ ASL interpreting program, which Griffin touts as one of a kind, at least in the US. Qualified incarcerated people can earn a certificate in ASL interpreting, which could potentially lead to job opportunities if they are released. Louisiana also uses these “offender interpreters” to interpret for the deaf population in its vast prison system.
Here’s What It’s Like To Be a Defense Investigator in a Rigged Criminal Justice System
I’m just a tiny cog in America’s vast Criminal Injustice System. One of the lawyers I work for sometimes calls himself “just a potted plant.” My defendants may be guilty—but seldom of what they are charged with. They are rarely convicted of what they actually did and are never sentenced fairly.
Prosecutors look to free the innocent – but won’t release findings
As local prosecutors launch specialized units to review wrongful conviction claims, some defense advocates say they are noticing a transparency deficit. Many units decline to release their policies, to share their findings with the convicted, or even to publicize their contact information, making it difficult to tell which are genuinely reviewing innocence claims – and which might be a public relations move for the officials who created them.
Ramen is displacing tobacco as most popular US prison currency, study finds
A new report by Michael Gibson-Light, a doctoral candidate in the University of Arizona’s school of sociology, found the decline in quality and quantity of food available in prisons due to cost-cutting has made ramen noodles a valuable commodity.
With His “My Potential” Campaign, John Legend Hopes To Change The Way We View Incarcerated People
John Legend launched a new project as part of his #FreeAmerica initiative to end mass incarceration. On Monday (Aug. 22), Legend announced a digital storytelling campaign called “My Potential,” which is aimed at changing the way we as a country think about those currently and formerly incarcerated.
The end to abusive solitary confinement of juveniles in California is finally in sight
Evidence has been piling up that isolation takes an enormous toll and undermines its own purpose. Being locked away from contact with others can have a devastating effect on anyone, but when imposed on a young person dealing with trauma, mental illness or other disability it tends to exacerbate rather than curb behavioral problems.
How Wisconsin Became the Home of Black Incarceration
Beverly Walker is a Milwaukee resident whose husband has been incarcerated for nearly two decades after he was found guilty as an accessory to an armed robbery in which no one was injured. Walker has fought for his parole for nearly a decade. She says the riots must be understood in the context of African-American residents’ long-simmering frustration over the city’s excessive incarceration of black men.
A woman was wrongfully arrested and jailed as a fraud suspect. The reason? Her name.
Her arrest warrant was issued after the California Department of Insurance confused her with an insurance fraud suspect, who had used a false date of birth as well as a first and a last name that matched Hernandez’s. Last month, the district attorney’s office asked a judge to dismiss the fraud case, and an insurance department spokeswoman said officials have tried to reach out to Hernandez to apologize.
Charged with murder, but they didn’t kill anyone—police did
But Louis’s prosecution was no fluke. Rather, a Reader investigation finds that his case was one of at least ten in Cook County in the past five years in which killings by Chicago Police Department and Cook County sheriff’s officers have resulted in felony murder charges for civilians. In particular, the Reader found three cases in which police fatally shot passengers in fleeing vehicles—an act that’s come under intense scrutiny since the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Paul O’Neal in late July—before holding a surviving passenger responsible.
A Different Beat
As Dallas’s top cop, Brown has been a passionate advocate of a law enforcement technique known as community policing. Compared with traditional police practices, in which officers in high-crime neighborhoods race up and down streets in their squad cars, responding to 911 calls, community policing requires officers to get out of their cars and develop relationships with residents in hopes of finding ways to stop crime before it starts. It is costly, requiring additional manpower. And it doesn’t immediately lead to quantifiable results. Yet Brown has long been convinced that community policing is the best way to defuse the smoldering racial tensions between minority residents and cops that have exploded in cities.
Longmont stores refer shoplifters to new restorative justice program
This July, to tackle the community’s misdemeanor theft epidemic in a new way, the LCJP piloted a program called “Restore,” which brings first-time shoplifters together in a circle with other shoplifters as well as police, store representatives, community leaders and even family members.
At Graterford, lifers get degrees even if they’ll never use them
Slaughter and Ramirez are among seven Graterford incarcerated people who graduated June 16 from a Villanova University program that grants bachelor’s degrees in liberal arts to incarcerated people. For a third, Angel Ortiz, 44, who was sentenced to life for a 1990 murder in Fairhill, it was an achievement 22 years in the making. Their reasons vary for working toward degrees which they have no hope of using on the outside, but their motivation generally boils down to self-respect.
Greenville family files lawsuit in incarcerated person’s death
A federal lawsuit against the South Carolina Department of Corrections alleges an incarcerated person died of an untreated kidney infection that made him too weak to walk for at least seven days before he died. Victor Rogers, 27, died in March 2015 as an incarcerated person at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville. The lawsuit alleges at least 12 individuals connected with the prison knew Rogers was experiencing “extreme physical pain but took no action to provide or request medical care” for him.
Keeda Haynes Brings Something Different to the Public Defender’s Office — Five Years Spent in Prison
Almost 163 months — or 14 years — later, Haynes is sitting in her office on the 20th floor of the austere downtown tower that houses the Metro Public Defender’s Office. She occasionally glances over at her computer screen with a click of the mouse or two, as she talks through a story that clearly still lives just beneath her skin. On her desk are five or six stacks of paper, each one likely representing a life or lives that are now intersecting with a criminal justice system that consumes more bodies than any such system in any other nation on earth.
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