A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Lorenzo’s journey: “I want to succeeed”
Lorenzo tries to keep busy. When he isn’t working or training for a new job, he participates in drug relapse prevention and life-skills classes at The Fortune Society, spends time with family and friends, and attends various discussions on criminal justice throughout the city.
After incarceration, a “life sentence” persists
Solutions are being sought and tried. Last week, working with The Fortune Society in New York, the Justice Department joined the Department of Housing and Urban Development in filing 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.”
Teen’s suicide blamed on abuse at Rikers
The wrongful death suit seeks $20 million in damages and names the New York City Department of Correction, the Bronx district attorney’s office, the NYPD and various city health agencies as defendants. It accuses the city of malicious prosecution for not properly investigating the crime for which Browder was charged and denying him the right to a fair and speedy trial. It also claims defendants “inhumanely and cruelly” punished Browder with solitary confinement “having only been accused of a crime.”
Rikers guard says ‘The inmates are in control’ after being slashed
Photos obtained by the I-Team show long gashes on both officers’ arms. In one, Correction Department officials said that a correction officer was cut by handcuffs placed on an incarcerated man who slashed the other two incarcerated people. The other officer was slashed while breaking up an attack on an incarcerated person by six other incarcerated people.
Kalief Browder’s brother rips Mayor de Blasio’s Justice Reboot program for failing to speed up cases of people incarcerated at Rikers awaiting trial
The number of people stuck on Rikers Island for more than a year has barely budged in the year and a half since Mayor de Blasio launched reforms — drawing criticism from the family of a Bronx man who killed himself after three nightmarish years there. There are between 1,300 and 1,400 people who have been locked up for more than a year awaiting trial — compared to 1,427 in April 2015 when de Blasio announced the Justice Reboot program to speed up cases.
New mental health hotline opens in New York City
The new program, called NYC Well, will offer short-term help to New Yorkers struggling with suicidal thoughts, mental-health problems and substance abuse. The hotline, which started Monday, is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
City Council wants to reform law that allows for evictions without proof of crime
“The nuisance abatement law is a powerful tool that can swiftly put an end to ongoing illegal activities in our communities,” said Public Safety Chair Vanessa Gibson. “However, it has become clear that the wide and disproportionate usage of this law has negatively impacted law abiding New Yorkers, and New Yorkers of color in particular.”
City Council to examine NYPD oversight board
The Civilian Complaint Review Board, a key provider of oversight of police conduct in New York City will be subject to oversight itself at a Friday hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety. It will be the first of its kind during the current administration wherein the CCRB is evaluated by the Council outside of the annual budget process.
Bring down this shield that blocks access to police info
Mayor de Blasio struck a much-needed blow for transparency with his proposal to overhaul a state law that’s being used as an excuse to hide disciplinary from the public actions taken against police officers. Section 50-a of the state civil rights act bars the release of information that could be used to “evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion” of cops and other uniformed public workers.
Jeremy Travis to step down as president of John Jay College in 2017
A researcher and academic who has written extensively on issues like the size of the United States prison population, Mr. Travis was credited with bolstering John Jay College’s fund-raising efforts, expanding opportunities for military veterans — about 600 currently attend it — and integrating the college with other City University of New York programs, including the Macaulay Honors College.
Mobb Deep’s Prodigy on the cookbook he wrote for the incarcerated
Commissary Kitchen: My Infamous Prison Cookbook grew out of Johnson’s experience in state prison, where he served a three-year sentence from 2008-2011 on weapons charges. He spent much of this sentence in the Mid-State Correctional Facility in Marcy, NY, about a four-hour drive from the city, and it was there that he became a cook and an author. While locked up he wrote an autobiography; Slate called the audiobook version “among the most riveting recordings any rapper will release this year, or any year.”
Did SUNY ban the box? Or just move it?
SUNY press releases and media reports announced a new policy: Students will have to tick a box for a felony record “only” if they seek on-campus housing or participate in internship, clinical, field, or study abroad programs. But what might this mean? After reading SUNY documents and watching hours of trustee-meeting videos, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the box has simply been moved further down the line.
Prison protests: why listening to the voices of the incarcerated matters
Incarcerated people across the country have come together to tell us that they are being fed maggot-infested food, locked up for hours, days, and months at a time in small cages, and contained for months in severely crowded dormitories. They say that their muscles are withering and their minds are deteriorating. They report such poor medical care that they die from treatable conditions.
The prison farm
Constructed in 1904, the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman covers 20,000 acres, forty-six square miles, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Originally designed like a private plantation without walls or guard towers, the prison farm has been slowly transformed over the decades into a modern penitentiary. In 1994, Kim Rushing began photographing the incarcerated people. For almost four years, these men allowed Rushing’s camera into their living conditions and shared their written thoughts about their lives.
The government’s out-of-control detention practices could bail out the private prison industry
This risks the lives and well-being of people in detention and is fiscally irresponsible, out-of-control spending. It also threatens to erode or reverse other achievements by the Obama administration, including the Justice Department’s August 2016 announcement that the federal prison system would cease using private prisons.
Does the First Amendment end at the prison gate?
Though he is incarcerated, Arthur Longworth asserts his right to free speech under the First Amendment. Serving life without parole for a murder he committed in 1985, Longworth has continued to publish an array of stories and essays. But the reaction of corrections officials to his latest work reminds us that, in practice, some First Amendment rights are forfeited at the jailhouse door.
Time to fix our failing criminal justice system
The structural problems and inequities in our criminal-justice system run deep. Therefore, solutions to address these problems must be bold and policymakers must approach reform comprehensively, looking at policing, sentencing, and rehabilitation. Importantly, policymakers must work to rebuild the system to reflect fair, smart, and humane policies and practices that keep communities safe, provide justice, and build trust.
E-Carceration: The problematic world of being on an electronic monitor
Maurice spent over 15 years in Illinois state prisons. Before he was released in the spring of 2015, authorities told him he would have to be on an electronic monitor (EM). “I thought “maybe I’d actually need it,” he told AlterNet. He knew that life was fast on the outside and he figured a monitor might help “to slow everything down.” But after few days on a GPS-enabled ankle bracelet, Maurice realized he had made a grave miscalculation.
Jailed 96 days on bogus charge: It is no one’s fault?
Pulled over for traffic violations, Jessica Jauch was held for 96 days in a Mississippi jail without seeing a judge, getting a lawyer or having a chance to make bail. She was charged with a felony based on a secretly recorded video that prosecutors finally acknowledged showed her committing no crime.
Albert Woodfox: ‘I choose to use my anger as a means for changing things’
At the hands of the American penal and judicial system he has endured wrongful imprisonment and deprivation of basic needs to a degree that seems outlandish in an advanced democracy. Yet his experience is not unique. It is an extreme version of something inflicted on thousands of others, and it is on behalf of these others that, he says, he continues to fight.
Georgia’s story of redemption
Beyond fiscal considerations, criminal justice reform is essential to providing the successful rehabilitation to prevent formerly incarcerated from recidivating. Perhaps most important of all, these reforms have the long-term potential to positively change the dynamics of families, as crime is often generational. In far too many homes, children have grown up with parents who have serious addictions or children have seen family members going in and out prison.
Federal judge blasts Philly DA’s ‘juvenile lifers’ policy
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has conceded that a judge resentencing “juvenile lifers” may impose a minimum sentence lower than the 35 years that the office has been offering in such cases. The possibility was raised Monday as the office agreed to move ahead with resentencing for Kempis Songster, 44, who is serving life without parole for a murder he committed in 1987 at age 15.
Which sinners get to vote in Alabama?
Between the extremes lies Alabama, a state with a long history of racially-motivated criminal justice laws and policies. Some people with violent convictions—murderers and rapists, for example—are permanently precluded from voting unless they are pardoned. And some formerly incarcerated people may eventually be permitted to cast a ballot. It depends on whether a local election registrar determines that their crimes constituted “moral turpitude” under the state’s constitution.
SJC expands limits on placing incarcerated people in solitary confinement
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled the state Department of Correction must follow existing court-mandated segregation regulations whenever an incarcerated person is held in a cell alone for 23 hours a day, with no contact with outsiders, even if the segregation is considered short-term and even if the department does not call it “segregation.”
Among state lawmakers, compassionate release of incarcerated people is divisive issue
“People are unwilling to release someone who has committed a serious crime, even if they are bedridden,” said Brownsberger, co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary, who backs both DiMasi’s early release and the proposed state program. “I think that’s what we should be doing, but it’s a change of policy and it’s one that takes a lot of conversation.”
NJ lawmakers approve limits to solitary confinement
New Jersey lawmakers agreed to severely restrict the use of solitary confinement in state prisons and county jails, banning the practice altogether for incarcerated people under 21. The Assembly passed legislation to do that in a 45-26 vote Thursday, nearly four months after the Senate gave its approval. Governor Christie now must decide whether to sign or veto the plan.
Freedom remains tenuous for formerly incarcerated person
It has been two years since a judge freed Victor Rosario from prison, and he says it has been a new life. After serving 32 years behind bars for a deadly arson fire he says he did not set, the 59-year-old ordained minister has performed weddings and baptisms, and founded a church group to help formerly incarcerated people adjust back to society. He has also become a long-distance runner, and is set to run the New York City Marathon Nov. 6.
Violence continues to grip Alabama’s Holman prison, with hanging, stabbing since Oct. 9
Violence continues to rage at Alabama’s notorious William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. In just the past two weeks, an incarcerated man at Holman was stabbed during a four-way fight and another died of an apparent suicide, Department of Corrections (DOC) spokesman Bob Horton said Wednesday afternoon.
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