A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Five New York prison guards charged in ’13 beating of incarcerated person
Officer Santiago, along with another officer, Carson Morris, and a sergeant, Kathy Scott, were arrested by agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and charged with depriving Mr. Moore of his civil rights, falsifying records and conspiracy. Officer Morris initiated the beating, striking Mr. Moore with his baton, according to the indictment. Sergeant Scott, who was supposed to be supervising the others, held Mr. Moore down as he begged, “Make it stop.”
Innocent at Rikers
Giles said he held out hope that he would be released, but as time went on, he became terrified he would be railroaded by the system for a crime he didn’t commit. “Knowing the system, you get scared,” he said, “because there’s plenty of people I know that’s incarcerated that’s innocent, and they got, like, 25 to life. So it’s scary.”
Bringing prison guards to justice
New York State prison guards sometimes get away with barbaric acts of brutality because their union shields even the worst of them from prosecution — and because district attorneys in communities dominated by prisons are hesitant to bring difficult, politically unpopular cases.
Lawmakers, wrongly convicted New Yorkers blast NYPD for snubbing Council hearing
Nine wrongly convicted New Yorkers and several City Council members on Friday blasted the New York Police Department over its refusal to attend a hearing on its interrogation tactics and ending wrongful convictions, saying that the agency’s snub reflects its continued unwillingness for reforms and transparency.
New NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill opens up about cop-related killings and improving relations with community after ‘stop and frisk debacle’
The city’s top cop, a police officer since 1983, said he’s tried to take a step back and remain objective about the racially divisive slayings.
“I’m a human being first, besides being a cop, (and) some of them are real disturbing,” said O’Neill. “Some of them, especially over the last couple of months, were really hard to look at.”
NYC paid $228 million for police misconduct in the last fiscal year
The city spent $228.5 million settling and paying out for judgments in police misconduct lawsuits in fiscal year 2016, according to the just-released Mayor’s Management Report. For perspective, that’s over a third of all the money the city paid out for lawsuits.
Get tough, Bill on anti-housing NIMBY councilmembers
For the second time in as many months, an individual council member has vetoed a project aimed at increasing the supply of apartments with reasonable rents amid an uproar by anti-development constituents.
Neighborhood streets and plazas could be redesigned in plan to reduce crime
The presentation showed how expanding the width of sidewalks and creating more appealing public spaces at intersections along Webster Avenue in Morrisania would prevent crime. Making areas inviting and pedestrian friendly leads to increased people traffic — and more eyes watching the area, according to the presentation.
State prison culture toxic
The brutal incident that led to indictments last week of three former New York state correction officers is only the latest case to suggest that abuse in state prisons has reached a crisis level. The federal grand jury indictment alleges that, in 2013, correction officers at a state prison in Dutchess County viciously beat an incarcerated person from Coxsackie Correctional Facility.
Release cop camera footage: Learning tough lessons from the unrest after Keith Lamont Scott’s killing in Charlotte
About a third of the nation’s 18,000 police departments currently use dashcam and body cameras, with more joining all the time. But it won’t do much good unless we put pressure on local, state and federal authorities to guarantee that these vital public records remain accessible to the public that pays for them.
Police violence: American epidemic, American consent
It is not that the police harbor more racism than the rest of America, but rather that racism across society, including within our police departments and system of justice, has been erected in ways that disproportionately impact poor, minority communities. That is acutely clear in these killings.
Ryan pushes sentencing reform in face of skeptical GOP
The Wisconsin Republican for weeks has repeated his personal desire to move a bipartisan package that would include allowing well-behaved nonviolent incarcerated people to be eligible for early release and easing some drug-related sentencing requirements.
The criminal justice reform that could actually reach Obama’s desk
On Thursday, the House of Representatives quietly — and overwhelmingly — passed what might be the most significant justice reform measure to reach Obama in his tenure. The bill is an update of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which has been expired since 2007. It would withhold federal funding from states that hold minors in adult jails.
Some congressional failures are successes in disguise
If the best government is that which governs least, some congressional inaction is cause for rejoicing.This election year, Congress did not pass Kate’s Law, new mandatory minimum sentences for opioids, or the Back the Blue Act. These failures deserve celebration because they are – stick with me here – real signs of progress on criminal justice reform.
A primer on the nationwide strike by incarcerated people
On Sept. 9, incarcerated people around the country staged a coordinated strike to mark the 45th anniversary of the bloody uprising at Attica prison in New York. According to strike organizers, more than 24,000 incarcerated people in at least 12 states did not show up for work that day, and protests are ongoing in a handful of places. In Alabama, where the national strike originated, corrections officers joined the strike by not showing up to work this weekend, officials confirmed. But most information about the strike is nearly impossible to confirm.
Do prison strikes work?
This strike is the latest in a long history of incarcerated people trying to use what little leverage they have — whether work stoppages or hunger strikes — to demand change from administrators. Some have been more successful than others. Here’s a look at five other prison strikes and what came of them.
Pop. 17,049: Welcome to America’s largest jail
Here’s one thing you may not think about when landing at Los Angeles International Airport: Just 11 miles away sits the biggest jail system in America. With an population of incarcerated people that is the size of a private college and a budget just north of $700 million, the L.A. County Jail is as sprawling and as complex as Los Angeles itself.
The only way to tackle mass incarceration is to address the issue of those convicted of violent offenses
I have defended countless young men and women born into poverty and despair, who have turned to drugs as an escape from an unfathomable reality. They have gone on to commit “violent crimes” not because they are morally broken or selfish or uncaring but because they are desperate and addicted and without realistic options for a better life. Intensive drug treatment, coupled with job training, mentoring, and educational assistance, would be a game changer.
Defining violence: It’s not as simple as you think
Determining what crimes contain a reasonable expectation of violence isn’t black and white, as dozens of them exist in gray areas, and their classification as violent or nonviolent varies from state to state.
Criminal justice reform: No time to waste
The apparent demise of the criminal justice reform bill is not surprising, and many have taken the news as a matter of course, given the current political climate. But don’t kid yourself that this stalling of legislative action doesn’t have painful consequences for real people serving sentences grossly out of proportion to their offenses.
In some states, raising the age for adult court is the easy part
It’s one thing to raise the age, and quite another to prepare the juvenile system to respond. South Carolina, where the treatment of young people has been under a particularly harsh spotlight, is thus poised to become an intensive laboratory of change over the next couple of years.
Finding common cause: Victims and the movement to reduce incarceration
The efforts to roll back mass incarceration are laudable, but they will not achieve lasting change if they do not figure out how to incorporate the perspectives of the justice system’s most vulnerable constituents: Victims of crime.
Criminal justice is becoming a ‘Latino issue’
Immigration has been the signature issue of political campaigns that want to appeal to Latinos, a group that has grown to encompass 17 percent of the population. But the last few years have poked big holes in the idea that Latinos only care about immigration, showing that Latino voters also care about terrorism, social security, and the environment. A growing number of Latinos are also becoming concerned about criminal justice reform, as more join the call for systemic changes at the federal and state levels.
These women are demanding a voice in the criminal justice conversation
“The whole point of the Council is a sisterhood,” James explained. This sisterhood exists in state and federal prisons across the country, but there have been few avenues for women to recreate it once outside, which has hobbled their efforts. “The only way we’re going to have that kind of power and create policies that impact our lives and our communities is to create this network [of women],” she stated.
No touching. No human contact. The hidden toll on jail incarcerated people who spend months or years alone in a 7×9 foot cell
In Los Angeles County, the average stay in restrictive housing is more than a year — shorter than the decades that some state incarcerated people spent in solitary but still plenty of time to experience debilitating psychological effects, according to mental health experts. The symptoms, which include paranoia and hallucinations, can continue even after an incarcerated person goes home.
Human traffic: An update on transportation policies nationwide
This summer, MuckRock submitted requests to all 50 state Departments of Correction for their materials related to the transportation of incarcerated people. Following up on a stunning story by The Marshall Project on privately-operated transport for incarcerated people, the requests, worded broadly, sought the policies and contracts that are being employed across the country. Two months in, here’s what we’ve found so far.
Free at last
Across the country, women are locked up for decades because their children were abused — not by the women themselves but by their boyfriends or husbands. A 2014 BuzzFeed News investigation has now helped one of those women win her freedom. This is her story.
Building justice: How segregation enables over-policing of communities of color
Over-policing and housing segregation are two sides of the same coin—the two systems are embedded in each other, making it impossible to dismantle one without fundamentally changing the other.
The trailer for Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary promises a damning look at mass incarceration
Drawing on interviews from figures across the political spectrum—from Trump surrogate Newt Gingrich to the New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb—and spanning over 150 years, the film aims to be both a penetrating polemic and a nuanced, interpretive take on history. Accordingly, anticipation is awfully high. The 13th will premiere Sept. 30 at the New York Film Festival, becoming the first documentary to ever open the event, before an Oct. 7 launch on Netflix.
Suit accuses Alabama of bias in law that bars some justice-involved people from voting
Mr. Lanier is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed on Monday in federal court in Alabama, claiming that the state law stripping the vote from any person “convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude” — a law that has left more than 250,000 adults in the state ineligible to vote — is racially discriminatory, indefensibly vague and flagrantly unconstitutional.
From class president to incarcerated man
At Glenfield Middle School in Montclair, New Jersey, Tourrie Moses was once a highly promising student: good grades, well-liked, even elected president of the student council in eighth grade. Flash forward to today, Moses is currently serving a 15 year sentence for murder in the New Jersey state prison.
The worst place to die
Recent incidents at jails across the country demonstrate that opioid withdrawal, and the related symptoms, can be deadly. With proper medical care and access to evidence-based treatment, however, it needn’t be.
Writer in solitary confinement is barred from reading his own book
Save for occasional pro forma reviews of his status, Blake is on permanent escape watch for the duration of his sentence, meaning he’ll likely spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement. He was incarcerated at age 23 after attempting to escape from court, where he was appearing on a drug charge. In his failed attempt to flee, he grabbed a gun, killing one officer and injuring another. Blake is now serving his 29th year in solitary, and spends at least 23 hours a day in a small concrete cell with a solid steel door.
Louisiana Supreme Court casts doubt on 99-year sentence for juvenile armed robber from New Orleans
The U.S. Supreme Court has created a safety net in recent years for juveniles when it comes to the stiffest possible criminal punishment. Execution is off the table. So is life in prison for juveniles who didn’t kill someone. And only in rare cases marked by “irretrievable depravity” can a young murderer be denied a shot at eventual parole, the high court has said.
How a Philly cop broke the school-to-prison pipeline
She benefited from the Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program, an initiative that has, on a shoestring using services the city already had in place, more or less shut down the school-to-prison pipeline in Philadelphia – and created a model for how to do so nationwide.
How one incarcerated person discovered his private prison was ripping him off—and took his warden to court
Michael Leatherwood, an incarcerated person in a private prison in Oklahoma, is an exception. He’s gotten notably further with his lawsuit, which alleges that incarcerated people at his prison, the Lawton Correctional Facility, are being charged far higher rates for food and other items at the prison commissary than incarcerated people at public prisons.
Texas prisons banned my book about incarcerated people in Texas
Some regulations on literary material are logically related to prison security, such as instructions on how to make contraband or incite a riot. But TDCJ has let its book-banning policy go far beyond what is necessary, permitting uneducated mailroom officers and Huntsville administrators to censor speech on political grounds or simply block books from going to incarcerated person that prison workers do not like. If what matters is balancing security with free speech and the rehabilitation of incarcerated people, no policy could be more errant.
CCA announces Nashville layoffs amid scrutiny of for-profit prisons
Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America plans to cut between 50 and 55 jobs at its local headquarters — representing approximately 12 percent of its corporate workforce — as part of a restructuring and cost-reduction plan, the company announced today.
The officer could have taken him to jail, but took him to his sister’s funeral instead
When red and blue lights flashed in the window, Ross knew it was going to be more than an inconvenience. There was a petty warrant out for his arrest, and Ross wrote in a Facebook post that he “knew I was going to jail.”
Ross’ car was towed. But instead of going to jail, Ross got sympathy from the Ohio patrolman.
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