A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Unable to vote, formerly incarcerated people reach out, try to have impact on US election
In Ohio, a key swing state in the upcoming presidential election, formerly incarcerated people can vote as soon as they are released from prison. They don’t have to wait until they are off parole, a post-release period during which formerly incarcerated people are monitored for good behavior. Emblazoned on the vehicle’s side, in blue — beneath a logo of a dove escaping bars — was a slogan: “Building people, not prisons.”
A formerly incarcerated individual on voting for the first time in his life￼￼
My polling location is right here in my building, so it won’t be hard for me to cast a vote the way it is for a lot of working people. There will probably be a line of us, and I’ll be standing there feeling really good about myself. It’ll be a feeling to pay attention to, to savor. A feeling of pride.
Fortune Society honors
The Fortune Society, a nonprofit offering services to formerly incarcerated men and women, celebrated its 50th anniversary at its 2016 Annual Fall Benefit, which raised $530,000.
As silence follows Bronx mother’s killing, Commissioner focuses on trust
In his first major policy address as New York City’s police commissioner, James P. O’Neill on Tuesday invoked the unsolved killing of a young mother on a South Bronx playground as symptomatic of past failures in policing and as a guide to building trust among black and Latino city residents.
Health care in city’s jails is improving
From mental health housing initiatives that have reduced both injuries and the use of force, to the creation of support groups for patients with mental health needs that have led to expedited release of some individuals, to streamlined access to specialty care, to connection to care in the community after release, our focus has been to improve care on many fronts.
De Blasio resumes Bloomberg’s plan for yet another jail on Rikers Island
Planning for the new Rikers facility began under the Bloomberg Administration, which budgeted $529 million for it in 2014, 2015 and 2016, according to a June 2, 2014 City Council report reviewed by the Voice. According to the report, the prison was supposed to open in 2018, and “serve as a central admissions center for all male incarcerated people on Rikers Island and certain borough facilities as well.”
Solitary’s over, but ‘enhanced supervision’ for young adults on Rikers is just beginning
As the department worked toward eliminating segregation for 19- to 21-year-olds, it built a new 64-bed Secure Unit and gained tentative approval to place young adults into its 250-bed Enhanced Supervision Housing unit. That variance was set to expire yesterday. At a Board of Correction meeting yesterday, Commissioner Ponte requested an extension on the variance and indicated that he would soon be seeking approval to build an Enhanced Supervised Housing unit specifically for 18- to 21-year-olds.
Union fights to keep solitary confinement in New York City jails
The local union for jail officers took legal action Friday to reverse New York City’s decision to end solitary confinement for 19- to 21-year-olds at Rikers Island. The action, a petition filed with the Office of Collective Bargaining, starts down the road to a lawsuit and
argues that eliminating solitary confinement for these incarcerated people without negotiating with the union violates city collective-bargaining law.
Kalief’s mother on her torment
“She died of a broken heart,” reported the New York Daily News, a bit of poetic license that felt just about right. Venida Browder, 63, the mother of a young man whose Dickensian ordeal drew shocked attention to New York’s justice system, died last Friday from complications of a heart attack. Her son Kalief, age 16, was accused of stealing a backpack, arrested and, unable to make $3,000 bail, spent three years confined on Rikers Island, enduring beatings and more than 700 days in solitary. He hanged himself in June, 2015, two years after charges were dropped.
De Blasio calls for change in law that blocks release of police disciplinary actions
In the face of mounting criticism of his record on transparency, Mayor Bill de Blasio called for changing a state law that the city has said blocks the release of details about disciplinary actions taken against New York City police officers. The mayor, in a written statement issued on Friday afternoon, said the statute, a section of the state’s civil rights law, was flawed and that the “public interest was disserved” by it.
After Mayor pledges ‘due process,’ NYPD renews aggressive nuisance abatement enforcement
In an analysis of 150 nuisance abatement cases filed over the past six months, The Daily News and ProPublica found that police have sought scores of temporary closing orders as the first step in its actions — civil legal proceedings that target places police say are scenes of illegal activity. The orders can often render entire families homeless, and cause businesses to lose significant revenue, all before they’ve been able to appear before a judge.
Police Commissioner O’Neill calls on New Yorkers to help the NYPD fight crime
“The goal of the campaign is to get every New Yorker to believe we can make our city safe in every single neighborhood of the city,” O’Neill said. “It’s within reach, it’s doable. But it depends on everyone doing what they need to do. Cops and community must work in tandem with our partners at the city, state and federal levels.”
Brooklyn community fears DA Ken Thompson’s replacement won’t continue his mission to overturn wrongful convictions
“I am praying that the next Brooklyn DA will be a true champion for justice, someone who will reach a bit higher for justice because of the heights that DA Ken Thompson reached in his career,” said Smith, 55.
Honor Ken Thompson’s legacy: Gov. Cuomo must let the late Brooklyn DA’s deputy run the office — or pick a competent caretaker without designs on the job
As he considers the leadership of the Brooklyn DA’s office, Cuomo must fully take into account that Thompson proved to be a groundbreaking criminal justice leader whose legacy must be carried on by Gonzalez or a prosecutor of equal stature.
On homelessness, a better way: Lay out a multi-year shelter plan, and gear programs to help families in deep need
Despite what we see on the evening news, 70% of all homeless in New York City are families with children — the people we don’t see regularly, who are likely not panhandling on subway cars or sleeping on the sidewalk. These are women and children going about their daily lives, to work, to school, and, at the end of their day, going to bed in a shelter.
Obama plans overhaul of child support payment rules for incarcerated people
The Obama administration, in its final weeks, plans to ease the legal obligations on incarcerated people to pay for child support while they are locked up, targeting practices that critics say can saddle formerly incarcerated people with crippling debts. The regulatory changes, if put in place, would give President Barack Obama something more to show for his efforts to reform the U.S. criminal justice system.
Justice Department files brief to address the use of criminal background checks by housing providers
The Justice Department filed a statement of interest arguing that the Fair Housing Act (FHA) requires that landlords who consider criminal records in evaluating prospective tenants do not use overly broad generalizations that disproportionately disqualify people based on a legally protected characteristic, such as race or national origin.
Private prison industry fights Justice Department directive to end the use of contract facilities
The private prison industry is lobbying against a Justice Department directive to end the use of their facilities, encouraging legislators to question the policy change and legally protesting one significant contract reduction. The moves by the GEO Group and others demonstrate the practical and political hurdles that stand in the way of the Bureau of Prisons actually ending its use of for-profit facilities to manage federally incarcerated people.
At least 24,000 incarcerated people have staged coordinated protests in the past month. Why have you not heard of their actions?
Public awareness can lag months, years, and sometimes decades behind events and conditions inside prisons. Public information officers can stonewall journalists, and prison officials sometimes deny actions, despite strong evidence that they have occurred, within their facilities. That’s why The New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, and CNN, among others, have all failed to cover the actions.
How to fix solitary confinement in American prisons
Transparency is important. Taxpayers fund solitary confinement, and live alongside its survivors, but we know too little about what goes on inside prisons. States must collect data, and make it available for independent analysis: Who is isolated in solitary confinement, for how long, why and with what result?
Solitary confinement—or ‘room confinement’?
When Leno re-introduced the bill in March 2016, there was no adversarial title, just a bill number: SB 1124. Gone, too, was any reference to solitary confinement. Instead, SB 1124 used the term “room confinement.”
Kids in prison: Germany has a different approach, better results
I have been talking to male incarcerated people like Terence about what it’s like to be a minor in an adult prison. (Advocates and lawyers for the incarcerated people agreed to arrange the interviews on the condition of anonymity.) I visited the maximum security prison where Terence is incarcerated and then went to prisons in Germany, after the Vera Institute of Justice pointed to the country as a system that has better outcomes for its incarcerated people, even though it’s less punitive toward minors who commit crimes.
Kids in prison: Getting tried as an adult means a longer sentence
At the core of the German correction system is the belief that people who commit crimes can change their behavior. Jesse says the point of prison is not to punish offenders with long prison sentences. “The aim is, he learns something for his future, that he gets the opportunity to change their life.”
War on Drugs policy changes sought by ACLU, Human Rights Watch
Current drug policies have shattered families, destroyed communities and mired people — disproportionately people of color — in an endless cycle of poverty, the report says. The report cited Portugal’s decriminalization of personal use and possession of drugs, which it said resulted in lower costs, fewer overdose deaths and lower rates of drug use. It called on U.S. legislatures to make possession of any illegal drug a ticket-able offense or, at most, a misdemeanor.
Bent on bail
Bivins’s intersection with the law reflects a commonplace pattern for poor people, mostly black men and women, in Chicago and across the country. Before any evidence is presented in court, before any mitigating circumstances are developed and before they are ever proven guilty of any of the charges against them, bail is set at a level so high they languish in jail for days, weeks, or months.
Incarcerated people with Hep C get cured in some states but not others
As these new and expensive drugs become the norm for treatment, it’s relatively certain that state prison systems will be on the hook to provide them to at least some incarcerated people. But how many, and how much it will cost, appears to vary dramatically, according to data from a study released last week. And even at discounted prices, most states will spend millions of dollars a year just treating the worst cases of hepatitis C among incarcerated people.
How my time as a private prison guard changed the way I see incarcerated people
I felt that, like my father, I had been viewing the world through the wrong lens. And the incarcerated people I met who were locked away, as well as the ones trying to reemerge on the outside — they were the ones helping me see things as they truly are.
New strategy for justice reform: vote out the DA
“People are scrutinizing their local criminal justice systems, and people are realizing how much power state attorneys have, and they are seeing elections as a way to change those results,” says Deborrah Brodsky, director of the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University. In other words, criminal justice reform is targeting the system’s entry point.
John F. Edland, Attica’s heroic medical examiner
Edland only further infuriated state and local officials when he attempted to ensure that the bodies of the incarcerated people be treated with dignity and humanity. He fingerprinted them in hopes that they’d be identified and someone would notify their families. (No one did — most incarcerated people’s families heard about their loved ones’ deaths on the news.)
He went from drug dealer to nationally renowned chef. Here’s what he’s up to today.
Jeff Henderson’s culinary career is a storied one: He was the first African-American named “Chef de Cuisine” at Caesars Palace, he was the first African-American executive chef at the Bellagio, he became a celebrity chef on his own television shows and he penned a best-selling autobiography. But the 52-year-old’s path to becoming a nationally renowned culinary sensation was anything but smooth sailing.
When Mom is in prison
For many children of incarcerated adults, life doesn’t get much better than a visit with mom. Whatever crimes their parents committed, the kids pay their own price: a parent absent for years, the shame and stigma of a loved one behind bars, moving in with grandma. They are the invisible victims, the collateral damage, the unintended orphans.
Md. attorney general’s office raises constitutionality questions about state’s cash bail system
A group of Maryland lawmakers is vowing to abolish cash bail for poor defendants, and an opinion issued Tuesday by the state attorney general’s office on the constitutionality of the policy may be the backing they need to do so. In an 11-page opinion, Sandra Benson Brantley, counsel to the General Assembly, wrote that the current system, which sets bails at amounts many defendants can’t afford, could violate due process.
Gov. Jerry Brown contemplates second chances in backing prison-reform measure
Proposition 57 would restore some flexibility to sentencing by making more incarcerated people eligible for early release through parole. It also would deny district attorneys the choice of when to prosecute teenagers as adults, instead handing that responsibility to judges.
When it comes to implementing reforms designed to guard against convicting innocent people, Pennsylvania lags far behind the vast majority of states. It has no law requiring the police to record interviews with suspects to prevent coerced confessions. Nor does it have a law setting guidelines for police to follow when conducting eyewitness identifications.
Incarcerated person, 15, dies in apparent suicide inside Orleans Parish jail, OPSO says
A 15-year-old died inside the Orleans Parish jail Monday night (Oct. 17), a death that is being investigated as a suicide, according to the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office. Jaquin Thomas was pronounced dead at University Medical Center at 10:11 p.m., OPSO spokesman Philip Stelly said, after using a mattress cover to asphyxiate himself in his cell.
Baton Rouge prison nurses who asked for city-parish’s help now at risk of losing jobs
The nurses are now on the brink of losing their jobs, as city-parish leaders want to hire a private company to run prison medical care in hope of remedying the problems the nurses revealed. City-parish leaders say they were never equipped to run a medical clinic, and that a private company would lead to better health outcomes for incarcerated people.
A new start in New Haven
During my stop in Connecticut, I met a young man named Liam who is nearing the end of a 20-month sentence. Liam passed me a note during the discussion to tell me what the program has meant to him. I’ll never forget his passion and sincerity. His story shows us what’s possible when leaders come together around shared priorities and make investments in our future.
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