A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Some Rikers Island captains will carry Tasers. Is that how to reform a jail?
Even the Correction Department’s policy for using the devices acknowledges the dangers, citing the potential for Tasers to be mistaken as guns and the increased risk of killing an incarcerated person in an elevated position. They say that Tasers “should not generally be deployed” against those in a state of “excited delirium” or with a history of stimulant abuse. If they need such strict restrictions, are the combustible weapons worth the potential for increased force in already-violent jails?
Brooklyn prosecutor eyed in possible coverup leading to man’s conviction for 1993 murder
A Brooklyn man convicted of murder may have ended up behind bars due to a prosecutor’s coverup, new court documents show. In July 1998, Shawn Newton testified that Tasker Spruill was responsible for the October 1993 murder of Tracy Thomas in East New York. Newton was a suspect, but pinned the crime on Spruill.
Long Bronx Court Delays Challenged
A person charged with a misdemeanor in the Bronx waited an average of one year and 10 months for a bench trial last year. For a jury trial, the average defendant waited nearly 21⁄2 years. Those waiting times are at the center of a civil-rights suit that alleges court processing times for misdemeanor cases in Bronx Criminal Court are so long that they are unconstitutional. In U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Wednesday, attorneys for both sides argued over whether the case should be allowed to proceed.
New Correction Officer Union Chief Charts His Own Course
Elias Husamudeen was in a meeting with the commissioner of the city’s Department of Correction in late July when his phone rang with news that an incarcerated person at Rikers Island had slashed an officer’s face. Shortly after, Mr. Husamudeen issued a statement demanding changes at the jail complex. It was a stark reminder of how much Mr. Husamudeen’s life has changed since he was tapped to take over as head of the union after his former boss was arrested on fraud charges.
Record of Officer in Eric Garner Case Should Be Public, Officials Argue
A group of elected officials and activists in New York stood on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to renew their call for officials to release basic findings of misconduct against the police officer who held Eric Garner in a chokehold.
NY’s Prison Population has Also Taken on a (Slightly) More Rural Look
The overall number of admissions to state prisons has been falling steadily, from 15,300 in 2006 to 13,700 in 2013. Over that period, admissions from the city, suburban and upstate urban counties fell each year. But the number of new incarcerated people from the rural counties increased.
Bratton Says Race Relations Are at a Pivotal Moment
In an exclusive interview with WNYC’s Jami Floyd, Bratton says police are only following the political decisions that society has imposed on them. He says race relations are in a pivotal moment that has been exacerbated by the caustic presidential campaign, and won’t be solved until the election is over.
Locked up for want of $160: We’re all guilty of perpetuating a bail system that punishes the poor
The stresses of a “justice” machine that drags people in and chews them up are spread among many thousands of us: Those not convicted but locked up. Their families. Those barely able to pay who find themselves that much further behind the eight-ball. Those walking around with the cloud of getting caught up in this mess looming over them.
A couple of minutes after the beating began, one of the guards loudly rapped his baton on the floor. At the signal, more guards rushed upstairs and into the dayroom. Witnesses differed on the number. Some said that as many as 12 officers had plunged into the scrum. Others recalled seeing two or three. All agreed that when they were finished, Williams could not walk.
Why incarcerated people nationwide are striking
It’s no coincidence that they picked Sept. 9 as the strike date: It’s the 45th anniversary of the Attica riot, when incarcerated people at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York rioted for better conditions.
A False Conviction Is Overturned, but the System That Allowed It Remains
The Brady test relies on individual prosecutors to make a decision — out of sight of anyone else — about whether a piece of information is “material” to the trial. This is like asking baseball pitchers to call balls and strikes, or tennis players to decide if their own serves were in. Mr. Doyle said that prosecutors may have honorable intentions that are eroded by subtle pressures to win trials, excessive fear of losing them or zeal to cinch cases against defendants they are convinced are bad.
This small Indiana county sends more people to prison than San Francisco and Durham, N.C., combined. Why?
Just a decade ago, people in rural, suburban and urban areas were all about equally likely to go to prison. But now people in small counties are about 50 percent more likely to go to prison than people in populous counties. The stark disparities in how counties punish crime show the limits of recent state and federal changes to reduce the number of incarcerated people.
The Wrong Man
He’d spent more than half his life wondering why she’d picked him from photo lineups and pointed him out to a 1983 jury as the man who’d raped her. After more than 13 years in prison, and an even longer descent into addiction and homelessness, he’d learned to accept that he may never know the answer.
When Police Unions Impede Justice
Across the country, municipal governments have signed contracts with police unions including provisions that shield officers from punishment for brutal behavior as well as from legitimate complaints by the citizens they are supposed to serve.
False Hope and a Needless Death Behind Bars
It was the 10th time in 16 years that he had been denied parole. Later that day, he sent a handwritten letter to his daughter Denise, saying that “they’re hell bent on keeping me in prison” and “I don’t believe I’ll last much longer.” On Aug. 4, another incarcerated person found Mr. MacKenzie hanging by the neck from a bedsheet tied to the window bars of his cell. He was 70.
Want to end mass incarceration? This poll should worry you.
A new poll by Morning Consult and Vox gives some insight: Americans agree there are too many people in prison — but they’re only willing to cut sentences for people with nonviolent drug offenses, not people with violent offenses. The survey of more than 2,000 registered voters posed several questions regarding mass incarceration.
Poor Parents Fail to Pay Child Support, Go to Jail
“Billing poor fathers doesn’t help poor mothers and kids become less poor,” observed
Jacquelyn Boggess with the Center for Family Policy and Practice. Instead, it
results in “a highly indebted individual.” It can also result in parents being jailed
for nonpayment of their child support obligations.
When Real Estate and Tax Lawyers Are Forced to Do a Public Defender’s Job
But because the Caddo Parish public defender’s office was suffering from a historic, statewide lack of funding, it could no longer provide counsel to hundreds of its poor clients. To fill the void, judges were randomly assigning the neglected cases to all the lawyers in Shreveport, including those specializing in real estate, personal injury, taxes, and adoption. Anyone with a law license, a professional address in the parish, and a pulse was placed alphabetically on a list. They could be called on at any moment to take a criminal case, unpaid.
Changes to Federal Solitary Confinement Rules Modestly Improve Cruel Conditions
The Bureau of Prisons recently modified its policies governing Special Management Units in federal prisons, but unless federal officials address the negative consequences of isolation and the abusive environment in which incarcerated people are held, the new rules are unlikely to meaningfully improve human rights conditions.
The Night I Took a Life
I’m still afraid to go back to sleep, but I don’t want to look at the walls of this cell, either, so I pull the covers over my head and try to nod off. I choose a nightmare over this place. Four hours ago, the steel gate slammed shut behind me, as it has done every day for the past 18 years. But I’m still not used to that sound — it reminds me of how I got here in the first place.
The Particular Challenges of Guarding Female Incarcerated People
I spoke with Bisera Habibija, a lieutenant at Timpanogos Women’s Correctional Facility just outside of Salt Lake City, about what she’s experienced during her 10-year career in the Utah corrections system, the differences in working in men’s and women’s prisons, and how she maintains strict boundaries with incarcerated people who have been in her prisons for as long as she has been working.
‘I Think I Deserve That Second Chance’: Former Juvenile Lifers, Now Free, Try To Reenter Society
Diatchenko is used to a different atmosphere. He was in prison for 34 years and thought he was never going to leave. But after court rulings struck down mandatory life in prison without parole sentences for juvenile offenders, Diatchenko is now among 11 men granted parole in Massachusetts over the past two years.
Conservatives Against Incarceration
Without an understanding of how deeply vested the state is in the drug war, criminal justice reformers of all stripes will preoccupy themselves with transactional instead of transformational change. Conservatives will encourage the proliferation of faith-based groups to help justice involved people adjust to civilian life (another “interest” that receives only glancing recognition from Dagan and Teles); liberals will call for more investment in underserved communities. Both represent worthwhile ambitions. But who will rethink the drug war itself?
House Freedom Caucus should support justice reform this fall
The House Freedom Caucus, an important and influential part of the House Republican Conference, has a tremendous opportunity to play an important role in the passage of criminal justice reform at the federal level. These bills are in the spirit of what has been accomplished in Republican states, not only with an important emphasis on preserving public safety in mind, but also fulfilling the view of our country being a land of second chances, bringing families together, and reducing prison costs.
When There’s Only One Public Defender in Town
As the only public defender for the 20th Judicial District of Louisiana, she could be investigating cases, calling witnesses, scouring through evidence, taking photos at crime scenes (with her own camera), meeting with her clients’ families, writing motions, typing up pleadings, making appointments, answering the phones, answering the door, getting the mail at the post office, filling in timesheets, filing monthly reports, doing the accounting, paying the rent and utilities, cleaning the bathroom, dusting the furniture, sweeping and mopping the floors.
When the Money Runs out for Public Defense, What Happens Next?
Unlike any other state, Louisiana pays for its indigent defense system primarily through speeding tickets and other locally generated revenue, rather than guaranteeing funds through the budgeting process. As a result, the finances of each defender’s office are subject to an extraordinarily high level of uncertainty, especially in districts without major highways — and during floods and other emergencies, when the police and courts are doling out fewer tickets.
How California Is Giving People with Criminal Records a Second Chance
But rather than turning their backs on criminal-justice reform, state lawmakers have passed an amendment to extend the window of time in which formerly incarcerated people can apply to have their sentences reduced. Governor Jerry Brown’s office declined to comment on whether he will sign the bill, but its easy passage suggests a state with a legacy of being harsh on justice involved people of all stripes is determined to change course.
Hawaii Prison Contractor Was Convicted Of Fraud And Bribery
In recent years, the company has been mired in legal troubles, stemming from a series of corrupt practices that resulted in criminal convictions of five top executives, including its former CEO, and more than $90 million in fines.
Virginia Republicans’ essentially racist project
In just four states are justice involved people permanently barred from voting absent action by the governor. And in one of them, Virginia, lawmakers are considering an even more restrictive regime that would forever foreclose the possibility of redemption for tens of thousands of citizens.
Leaving Philly jail with mental illness, five days’ medication – and now, a fighting chance
It’s been four weeks since Shatara Gillette was released from a Philadelphia jail with five days’ medication for her bipolar disorder. Her medical assistance still hasn’t been activated, so it’s been more than 20 days since she last took her medication. That has Gillette, 27, worried.
Texas’ Largest Jail Hasn’t Learned Much From Sandra Bland’s Death
Harris County Jail, which serves the Houston area, is one of the largest jails in the country. Like many other jails in America, it’s full of people who are locked up on minor charges and can’t afford to pay bail, it struggles with understaffing, and it’s plagued by lawsuits. But here’s what makes Harris County Jail different: Incarcerated people die there at a higher rate per capita than most other jails in the nation.
MDOC postpones strict visitation rules rollout
The Mississippi Department of Corrections is holding off on implementing a new policy that would have only allowed immediate family to visit state incarcerated people. The new policy – which would have excluded friends, pastors, girlfriends and fiancees – was set to be enacted next weekend. When word spread to social media Thursday and the public objected, MDOC decided to wait.
Texas appeals judge questions fairness of life without parole
Even so, life without parole can be given in some capital murder cases without jurors answering two questions that must be considered before issuing a death sentence — is the defendant a future danger to society, and are there any mitigating factors such as mental disability or childhood abuse that weigh against capital punishment?
How Texas Reduced Both Crime & Incarceration
Texas’ diversion efforts target nonviolent, low-risk offenders who are typically given short prison sentences. The reason is that recidivism in this group can often be lowered by interventions such as drug court in lieu of prison. Indeed, many of these offenders become more threatening to the public when incarcerated because they become disconnected from employment and family and exposed to a tough prison crowd. In this way, incarceration can be “criminogenic” for certain offenders — prison itself can create more justice involved people.
Outgoing police chief decries District’s ‘broken’ criminal justice system
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier leaves her post in two weeks with high popularity and crime down over her tenure but frustrated by a system that she said allows repeat violent offenders back on the street time after time. In a far-ranging interview, the chief of nearly 10 years unleashed a blunt rebuke of the myriad local and federal agencies responsible for keeping justice involved people in check, saying there are too many failures and too little accountability.
Judge Steve Alm Is Taking His Message Of ‘HOPE’ To DC
HOPE is a nationally profiled, award-winning program that employs a tough love approach to people with felonies. If probationers cut their drug use, keep appointments with probation officers and work to finish drug treatment programs, Alm will not be forced to send them back behind bars — something he will not hesitate to do — if probationers fail sanctioning.
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