A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Formerly incarcerated people advocating for expanded voting rights in New York
“I think this election is very, very important for generations to come and I would have loved to be part of the process,” said Elvin Garcia. “And if the true ideology of New York is rehabilitation how are you going to immediately stigmatize somebody coming out of prison and making them feel they are not a part of the fabric of society.”
New laws would empower tenants caught in three-quarter housing ‘black market’
On the whole, housing attorneys and advocates say, three-quarter houses are subdivided firetraps that are rife with housing-code violations, and often packed wall to wall with bunk beds. To live in a three-quarter house, residents say, is to be under constant threat of abrupt, illegal eviction. But to eliminate the model altogether would only exacerbate the homelessness crisis.
Underground movement targets formerly incarcerated because officials say most don’t know their voting rights
The clock is ticking for those who have not yet registered to vote, and there’s a underground movement that targets the formerly incarcerated population because officials say most don’t know their voting rights. NY1’s Cheryl Wills filed the following report.
New York City will stop putting teenagers in solitary confinement
In an op-ed in the Gotham Gazette, New York City correction commissioner Joseph Ponte described the move as “an unprecedented milestone in New York State correctional history” and “across the nation,” claiming that “no other city or state has accomplished comparable punitive-segregation reforms.”
Leading the way on ending punitive segregation
As Commissioner of the NYC Department of Correction, I understand this has not been easy, and something that has required us to methodically implement, test, and refine options that ensure the safety of our staff and incarcerated people. However, I am extremely proud of what our uniform and non-uniform staff have accomplished by reforming our punitive-segregation practices and policies.
Artist convicted on drug charges accuses Rikers guards of ignoring back pain that led to his paralysis in suit
Kenzo Capulong, 29, of Washington Heights, pleaded guilty to criminal sale of drugs and received a conditional discharge that carried no jail time — but says he has been sentenced to a lifetime in a wheelchair as a result of the alleged negligence. Capulong’s suit contends that while he was being held at at Rikers Island last year, his symptoms of severe back pain and weakness were not taken seriously.
New numbers show decline in police stops and crime in New York City
There were 3,580 police stops in the second quarter — April, May and June — of 2016, according to new numbers released by the New York Civil Liberties Union, down from 4,056 stops over the first three months of the year. Crime continued to decline over those two quarters, with 9 percent fewer homicides in the first six months of 2016, compared to the same time period in 2015.
NYC crime, stop-and-frisk searches drop in first half of 2016, NYCLU says
In the first six months of the year, cops made 7,636 stops, the lowest number since reporting began in 2004, the civil rights group said. Meanwhile, bellwether crime indicators, including murders, shootings and the overall crime rate, continued to decline in the same period.
Stop-and-frisk & the damage done: Giuliani and others are flat wrong about the practice
It’s hard to believe we’re still debating the NYPD’s use of this tactic three years after the federal district court in New York found it unconstitutional and racially discriminatory. As a lead attorney for the plaintiffs on that case, Floyd vs. City of New York, I was there almost every day of the nine-week trial that resulted in the court’s August 2013 liability decision. I heard the testimony of witnesses who experienced a police practice that had, in New York, come to mean daily dehumanization for thousands of black and brown people.
Ken Thompson, Brooklyn District Attorney, dies after disclosing cancer
Kenneth P. Thompson, the first black district attorney of Brooklyn and a voice for racial justice at a moment of tension between law enforcement and minority communities, died on Sunday from cancer, his family said. He was 50. Mr. Thompson was elected district attorney in 2013 after campaigning on a platform of reform and racial justice
Despite Ken Thompson’s short stint as Brooklyn prosecutor, agenda may endure
“It’s likely that had he been in office longer, he could have made these changes even bigger,” said John Pfaff, a professor at Fordham Law School who has studied the role of district attorneys in the criminal justice system. “He had the right attitude and right position, as the D.A. of the second- or third-largest county in America, but he didn’t have the time. In some sense, he ends up being more of a reflection of the change than a cause.”
Obama reducing the sentences of 102 incarcerated people
Another 102 incarcerated people learned Thursday their sentences are being reduced by a stroke of President Barack Obama’s pen, the latest batch in a record-setting effort by the White House to reverse harsh sentences for mostly people with nonviolent drug felonies. Obama has now granted clemency to 774 individuals, the vast majority of whom were serving time for nonviolent drug crimes.
Supreme Court weighs bias and secrecy in jury deliberations
In an argument marked by testy exchanges, the Supreme Court on Tuesday struggled to decide whether it should make an exception to the usual rule that jury deliberations are secret when evidence emerges that those discussions were marred by racial or ethnic bias.
Supreme Court poised to side with person on death row in case with racist testimony
The U.S. Supreme Court appeared likely on Wednesday to side with Duane Buck, a black person on death row challenging his sentence after an expert testified at his trial that he was more of a danger because of his race. A finding of “future dangerousness” is required under Texas law in order for the death penalty to be imposed, and Buck’s lawyers argue that a federal appeals court did not properly allow for review of his challenge to his death sentence.
The surprising ways the Justice Department found to help diversify police forces
The federal government on Wednesday issued guidance to national security agencies and local police departments on how they can diversify their ranks as part of a significant new effort to ease racial tensions across the country. The Justice Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released a report outlining how police can recruit and retain officers from different backgrounds.
6 million citizens, including 1 in 13 African Americans, are blocked from voting because of felonies
“African American disenfranchisement rates in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia now exceed 20 percent of the adult voting age population,” the report said. “It is clear that disparities in the criminal justice system are linked to disparities in political representation.”
What it takes to secure clemency
Hernandez created a portfolio with essays, letters of support (including one from his arresting officer), personal histories, and examples of the rehabilitative and educational programs he’d undergone while in prison. He proudly recalls the hard-back binder with blue covers he took such care in arranging. Already involved in mentorship programs at the prison, he also assisted in monitoring and speaking to incarcerated people placed on suicide watch. He even founded a grassroots organization, Crack Open the Door, while incarcerated, which assists incarcerated people in applying for clemency.
From voting rights to voting wrongs
In August, when a divided Supreme Court let stand an appeals court decision striking down North Carolina’s photo ID requirement for voters, the matter might have seemed settled. The provision, which requires voters to present government-issued photo identification, strikes directly at people who don’t have driver’s licenses — the state’s poor and disabled, young adults and the elderly, and particularly minorities.
Why 10% of Florida adults can’t vote: how felony convictions affect access to the ballot
“The message that comes across to them is: Yes, you have all the responsibilities of a citizen now, but you’re basically still a second-class citizen because we are not permitting you to be engaged in the political process,” said Christopher Uggen, lead author of the report and a professor at the University of Minnesota.
‘I can’t breathe’: disturbing video shows father of four begging guards for help before he died in jail
“I can’t breathe,” Sabbie said again after he was forced into the shower. “I can’t breathe,” Sabbie repeated, echoing the final words of another black father, 43-year-old Eric Garner, who died in New York in July 2014 as the result of an officer’s illegal chokehold. A guard threatened to pepper-spray Sabbie again.
National support builds for teen accused of killing abusive father
Bresha Meadows, the 15-year-old girl who killed her father in what she and her family says was self-defense, is still being held in an Ohio juvenile detention center. But as her days in jail drag on, national support for her continues to grow. Vigils, sit-ins, rallies and performances are being held across the country in Meadows’ name, calling for her to be released
Crime-prediction tool PredPol amplifies racially biased policing, study shows
PredPol directed police to black neighborhoods like West Oakland and International Boulevard instead of zeroing in on where drug crime actually occurred. Predominantly white neighborhoods like Rockridge and Piedmont got a pass, even though white people use illicit drugs at higher rates than minorities.
Kids in prison: getting tried as an adult depends on skin color
Kids who commit certain crimes in New Jersey, like robbery, drug trafficking or homicides, can be tried as adults. Their mugshots and criminal records are made public and they face the same, long prison sentences as adults. But getting “waived up” into the adult system won’t happen unless a prosecutor requests it. And according to an analysis by the WNYC Data News Team, most of their requests are for black kids.
Dying of thirst in America
Thomas was reportedly suffering from a mental breakdown when he was moved to the jail’s segregation unit and his tap water was shut off; six days later, incarcerated people said that Thomas was still crying out for water. Other incarcerated people complained to guards, but nothing was done. Last month, the Milwaukee County Medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.
Every 25 seconds
Every 25 seconds in the United States, someone is arrested for the simple act of possessing drugs for their personal use, just as Neal and Nicole were. Around the country, police make more arrests for drug possession than for any other crime. More than one of every nine arrests by state law enforcement is for drug possession, amounting to more than 1.25 million arrests each year.
This path from prison to bankruptcy is all too common. As policymakers across the country increasingly move toward rethinking mass incarceration, the excessive costs imposed on justice involved people remain roadblocks to people seeking to transition back to their communities.
If the United States had 100 people in prison
More than 2 million citizens currently are incarcerated throughout America’s “1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories. The statistics are staggering—so large in fact that they may be hard to comprehend on such a huge level. But what if the United States only had 100 people in prison?
Where are prison populations increasing?
The perception that mass incarceration is on the decline across America is inaccurate. The country’s prison population has declined since 2009 for the first time since incarceration rates began to rise in the last 1970s, but that is not a result of bipartisan reform. Rather, it is the consequence of a mandated policy forced on the state of California.
The rich bail out and the poor get prison
Whether or not the defendant is truly guilty, the fact is that many people who committed nonviolent crimes are pleading guilty because they can not afford to post bail and do not want to remain incarcerated. If a defendant remains incarcerated, pretrial detention can negatively impact income, housing and health, as well as jeopardize parental rights. Moreover, persons held in pretrial detention are more likely to receive jail sentences and longer terms of incarceration, if convicted.
Making the case against banishing people who committed sex offenses
Mary Sue Molnar estimates that she gets at least five calls a week from Texans on the sex offender registry who can’t find a place to live. Numerous towns around the state have passed ordinances prohibiting those on the list from residing within a certain distance — anywhere from 500 to 3,500 feet — of a school, park, daycare facility or playground. In some towns, that’s almost everywhere. “We’ve got people living in extended-stay motels,” says Molnar, who runs the sex-offender-rights group Texas Voices for Reason and Justice. “We’re in a crisis mode.”
One more run for Runt Moon
“My release date said: ‘When deceased,’” Moon said in a recent interview. “Can you imagine living 12 years of your life like that?” This month, however, he was released from a federal prison in South Carolina to a halfway house in Atlanta, still very much alive. In August, he was granted mercy by the one remaining person in the country who could do it.
Black, male, and disabled children bear the brunt of corporal punishment in U.S. public schools
Children as young as preschool students get struck, spanked, and otherwise physically punished for all manner of conduct violations in schools, sometimes for trivial transgressions like using a cell phone or failing to complete a homework assignment. Students with disabilities, who are over 50 percent more likely to experience corporal punishment than nondisabled students in two-thirds of Alabama school districts, are often physically disciplined for behaviors that are directly related to their disabilities.
13th made me ashamed because it made me realize I’d stopped gasping. In its sweeping treatment of the history of American racism, the film brought me closer than I’ve ever been to understanding how it could be that so many people could have ever grown used to the moral catastrophes that were slavery and Jim Crow. How did they not wake up every morning, nauseated and panicked about what was happening?
Ava DuVernay reminds us: the past must be present in criminal justice reform
What abolition took away, the modern criminal-justice system restored: a racialized system built in the South to economically exploit, socially contain, and politically control the black population in the name of law and order. The film traces what it calls a “slavery loophole” and its unparalleled, century-and-a-half of success in making America the greatest and wealthiest jailer in the world.
Jay Z talks Kalief Browder doc, inhumanity of solitary confinement
When Jay Z tries to describe the impact he hopes the upcoming documentary that he has produced, Time: The Kalief Browder Story, will have, the typically eloquent hip-hop artist and entrepreneur stumbles. “It’s inhumane,” he told a room of reporters at a Manhattan press conference on Thursday, his voice heavy with emotion. “It’s difficult for me to find the words, it’s so inhumane.”
Prop 57 is a much-needed check on prosecutorial power. Vote yes
Proposition 57 is Gov. Jerry Brown’s effort to recalibrate California’s criminal justice system by returning to judges, parole boards and prison officials some of the power that craven lawmakers and frightened voters have, over the years, unwisely transferred to prosecutors. It’s a welcome and needed measure, although less simple than the brevity of its language or various assertions on both sides would suggest. The Times urges voters to read it, understand it, and vote “yes.”
California Today: San Francisco fields a mental-health SWAT team
Officials said the idea was to let highly trained clinicians try to pacify troubled individuals, and hopefully avoid the sorts of deadly police confrontations that have recently set off protests around the country. During any encounter, law enforcement officers would take the lead in determining when it is safe for their mental health colleagues, who will be unarmed, to approach a subject.
Feds indict 80 people — including 18 corrections officers — in ‘massive’ Maryland prison corruption case
The largest federal indictment in Maryland history is the latest to allege that officers and incarcerated people used sex, drugs and violence to run a criminal enterprise out of a state prison facility. It mirrors the 2013 case in which the Black Guerrilla Family gang used similar methods of bribery and intimidation to seize control of the Baltimore City Detention Center.
Alabama’s failure of moral turpitude
In 1985, the Supreme Court unanimously invalidated the “moral turpitude” provision as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. But 11 years later, the state quietly reinserted the same words into its felony disenfranchisement law. Today, the statute has helped to disenfranchise 250,000 Alabamans, most of them black. Indeed, a stunning 15 percent of otherwise qualified black voters in Alabama can’t cast a ballot because of the state’s felony disenfranchisement law.
DOJ investigating violence and rape inside Alabama men’s prisons
The investigation will focus on whether incarcerated people are adequately protected from physical harm and sexual abuse at the hands of other incarcerated people; whether they are adequately protected from use of excessive force and staff sexual abuse by correctional officers; and whether the prisons provide sanitary, secure and safe living conditions, according to the DOJ announcement.
Riverside County jails are so crowded, car thieves and drug dealers are being sent home
“This has been completely erosive to the integrity of the sentencing system,” said Becky Dugan, assistant presiding judge of the Riverside County Superior Court, who has spent 29 years on the bench and supervises all criminal cases. “If you tell a defendant, ‘If you plead guilty or are found guilty then you get X amount of time,’ and that’s not true, then it makes the system – all of us – a liar.”
The weather inside
To Kaestel, who in 1981 was convicted of aggravated robbery after stealing $264 from an Arkansas taco shop, nature has become a sacred part of his life behind bars. In Arkansas, where he served the first 19 years of his life-without-parole sentence, Kaestel says he found the energy to remain behind bars by lying in the clover grass, listening to the insects.
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