A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
‘Invisible punishment’ hits formerly incarcerated people for life; DOJ, HUD fight blanket rental bias
Although he completed his incarceration while earning an associate’s and bachelor’s degree, Collazo is serving a life sentence. Like millions of others, he is bound by a multitude of laws and regulations prohibiting formerly incarcerated people from a broad range of activities, notably many employment and housing opportunities.
Lorenzo’s journey: ‘I want to succeed’
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
The growing American “criminal class” is drawn so predominately from the most disadvantaged groups in American society, understanding this group’s circumstances and needs is necessary to understand and address U.S. social inequalities in general. Joe Davidson, a columnist for the Washington Post, interprets these restrictions placed on formerly incarcerated people as being a “life sentence” even after completing incarceration.
New York City will allow online bail payments starting spring 2017
New Yorkers will be able to pay bail online starting next spring, Mayor de Blasio announced Tuesday. The new system now being designed will allow payments online, by phone, or at a kiosk, in a move designed to cut down on time defendants are forced to spend in jail because they can’t make bail.
NYC jails fail to identify incarcerated people with cognitive problems
The New York City Department of Correction and the city’s Correctional Health Services have almost no way of determining if an incarcerated person on Rikers Island has an intellectual or developmental disability – something like a very low IQ or a disorder on the autism spectrum. Right now, there is no specific screening for these cognitive impairments during intake for people arriving at Rikers, no targeted services or care for these disabilities on the island, and no specialized units for them.
Man dies in Rikers Island cell, family says he was denied anti-seizure medication
36-year-old Rolando Perez died in his jail cell in Rikers Island, screaming his family says, for his anti-seizure medication that could have saved his life. Tuesday night, they told Eyewitness News that they’re suing Rikers and New York City and demanding justice.
Jail monitor: NYC guards too often striking incarcerated people’s heads
The court-appointed monitor overseeing New York City’s jails is concerned that guards are striking too many incarcerated people in the head. Steve Martin’s second report since being appointed a year ago was filed in Manhattan federal court Monday.
Affordable housing coming to jail site in the Bronx’s Hunts Point
“In many ways, it was not just a symbol of how juvenile justice from a policy point of view was performed throughout the decades, but also the historic, negative stigma and perception of the area that was embodied in that building,” said Maria Torres-Springer,president and chief executive of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which oversaw the selection process.
NYPD shows openness to compromise on nuisance abatement reform at City Council hearing
During a City Council hearing Wednesday on 13 bills that would reform the way the NYPD carries out its nuisance abatement actions, Assistant Commissioner Robert Messner, said the tool is critical for providing “direct and immediate relief” to neighborhoods affected by crime. Still, he said, the NYPD “is supportive of the concepts behind many of these proposals, and more broadly the goal of reforming” the law.
NYPD bends truth on nuisance law closures: Official says no cases based only on confidential informants, but docs say otherwise
An NYPD commissioner, in response to a question at a City Council hearing Wednesday, said cops do not use the nuisance abatement law to seek closures of businesses or homes based solely on the work of confidential informants. The Daily News begs to differ.
A fair chance for two million New York City jobseekers
After Brooklyn native Jason Grant left prison, he checked the box on lots of job applications. He didn’t receive callbacks. “It was definitely frustrating,” he says. For over a year, he got only construction gigs—one of a few industries historically more open to hiring workers with records. The work was intermittent and took a toll on his body. Long periods between jobs made it nearly impossible to provide for his son.
The screwball poetry of Lil Wayne’s prison diary
When Lil Wayne entered Rikers Island on a gun-possession charge, in March of 2010, his career had already begun its descent. His prolific genius had seemingly been wrung dry, replaced by perplexing impulses to make rock music and shroud his voice in heavy Auto-Tune. When he was released from jail, eight months later, sober and on probation, he continued this dodgy streak, offering occasional flashes of vitality but never quite regaining the force of the breakneck mixtape era
Better by half
Given the popularity of incarceration as a crime-control strategy in the United States during this time, a casual mid-90s observer could be forgiven for hypothesizing that, if such a miraculous decline in crime were to occur, it would surely be the result of a massive increase in imprisonment in the city. But quite the opposite turned out to be true.
CityViews: defeating AIDS requires ending homelessness
If we are going to end this epidemic, we must also eradicate homelessness. With safe, stable, and affordable housing, people with HIV are more likely able to access comprehensive health care and supportive services, get on HIV treatment, take their HV medication consistently, and see their health care provider regularly. Individuals with HIV who are homeless or lack stable housing are more likely to delay HIV care, have poorer access to regular care, and are less likely to adhere to their HIV treatment.
Obama grants 98 more commutations, setting single-year clemency record
President Obama granted 98 more commutations to federal incarcerated people Thursday, bringing the total for this year to 688 — the most commutations ever granted by a president in a single year. In all, he’s now shortened the sentences of 872 incarcerated people during his presidency, more than any president since Woodrow Wilson.
Who’s a kid?
There is also a “larger group of young people who are milling around, being young, getting in trouble, annoying everyone. But young people have always done that. You don’t want them to get a criminal record that prevents them from getting a job.”
When a formerly incarcerated person casts her ballot
No, she is not a felon. No, she is not that person, long since eradicated, the one who faced hardships and made good on restitutions and changed. She is a mother now, a better person, a volunteer and a role model for battered women, part of society like any other citizen. Voting is her right. No, she is not a felon. Or so she thought.
Life Beyond Bars: One man’s journey from prison to college
Today, at 41, he is desperate to remake himself. Now a sleep-deprived college student, he lugs a textbook-filled backpack around the Midtown Manhattan campus of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York, pulling all-nighters, struggling with five-page papers and keeping close tabs on his 3.47 grade-point average.
28 days in chains
Richardson, 51, didn’t know his new cellmate’s name, only that he also went by a nickname: “The Prophet.” He had a habit of screaming songs or shouting the spelling of words for hours, as though competing in his own private spelling bee. There were also rumors that he had assaulted more than 20 previous “cellies.”
UN report compares solitary confinement practices in the U.S. and around the world
The report ends on a largely optimistic note, observing a general trend, though not without exception, toward reform. Specifically within the United States, it notes a number of policy changes or legal settlements that have chipped away at the use of solitary confinement. These include efforts by the federal government, including President Obama’s announcement that juveniles in the federal prison system will no longer be held in solitary confinement.
Thirty anniversaries are enough
President Ronald Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act on my seventh birthday. The bill created the federal mandatory minimum drug sentences Congress got so close to reforming this year. There is plenty of bipartisan blame to go around for creating mandatory minimums – the bill received overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Thirty years later, these laws have proven to be an expensive failure, with everyone from Speaker Paul Ryan to President Barack Obama agreeing that they were a mistake.
Courts are jailing vctims of sexual assault
Cleopatra Harrison had large bruises on her neck and scratches on her chest when she met the police at an apartment in Columbus, Georgia, in June. The night before, she told them, her boyfriend had flown into a rage after finding dirty dishes in the kitchen—hurling her to the ground and choking her unconscious. Harrison, 22, agreed to show up in court to testify, but she didn’t want to press charges herself. In response, the Columbus Recorder’s Court fined her $150 and threatened her with jail time if she didn’t pay within a week.
Profits vs. Incarcerated people: How the largest U.S. prison health care provider puts lives in danger
At the Lane County Jail, Green cursed and talked to inanimate objects. A booking deputy wrote in her notes: “May be bipolar/schizophrenic. No meds … talks to himself … not making sense.” Although the prison health care giant Corizon Health Inc. had a contract to provide health screening and medical care at the jail, no one from the on-site Corizon staff made any effort to see Green or talk to him.
To reform our prisons, follow the states’ lead
Fortunately, when confronted by rising prison costs, individual state governments have shown that we can reduce both imprisonment and crime and save a lot of money in the process. They have done it by reserving costly prison beds for violent or career criminals. “Tough-on-crime” Texas, for example, scrapped plans to build more prisons and put much of the savings into drug courts, treatment and mental health services.
Beyond revenge: most crime victims prefer rehabilitation to harsh punishment
The Boston-based nonprofit was founded by Monalisa Smith, who lost her 18-year-old nephew, Eric Smith, to gun violence in 2010. Determined to end violence in their communities, the mothers who came together to form Mothers for Justice and Equality recognized early on that many of them had family members who were both perpetrators and victims. They recognized that they needed to take action into their own hands if they were to reduce community violence.
After nearly 20 years in prison, a parking lot was heaven
I have lived on that road for nearly 20 years, yet I’ve only set foot on it once. But if I am finally released — onto the strip of asphalt that connects Texas’ Connally Unit, where I am currently incarcerated, to civilization — I’m sure it will seem like the most beautiful highway in the history of mankind.
Incarcerated person’s death in Texas casts spotlight on privatized health care
The case illuminates an ongoing debate about the quality of privatized healthcare in American jails and prisons, which critics say sacrifices the well-being of incarcerated people to satisfy bottom lines. Prison and prison health care companies counter that they save governments money and their services meet national standards.
Why Gov. Jerry Brown is staking so much on overhauling prison parole
Few California voters likely know much, if anything, about the state Board of Parole Hearings — from the qualifications of the 12 commissioners to their success in opening the prison gates for only those who can safely return to the streets. And yet Gov. Jerry Brown’s sweeping overhaul of prison parole, Proposition 57, is squarely a question of whether those parole officials should be given additional latitude to offer early release to potentially thousands of prisoners over the next few years.
Maryland parolees finally won the right to vote—now will they?
Baltimore resident Nicole Hanson couldn’t vote in elections during the three years she spent on probation, after finishing a term in prison. It was a heartbreaking experience, she said, because voting is part of her family’s culture. She remembers her grandmother and mother taking the whole family to the polls when she was a child. “The fact that I wasn’t able to engage in the process for my children,” Hanson says, “words cannot describe the feeling.”
Disenfranchised in Florida
Roderick Kemp is a 60-year-old Florida resident who recently had his voting rights revoked—despite having worked as a field organizer and voted for years. Kemp was arrested in the 1980s for cocaine possession and served a few months, but when the State of Florida re-discovered this they sent him a notice that he was not permitted to vote. Kemp is one of the 6.1 million Americans who can’t vote due to a felony charge. “I don’t have a voice. I’m like an anonymous person,” he says in this short film, Unforgiven. It was produced by Surya Productions for the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
Juvenile justice involved people in legal limbo despite Supreme Court rulings
Armstead, pregnant at the time of the murder in 1997, became the youngest person in Wisconsin to be charged as an adult with first-degree intentional homicide. While her age and harrowing upbringing might have weighed in her favor in juvenile court, they seemed to work against her in adult court.
ICE plans to reopen the very same private prison the feds just closed
The Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico, is owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America. For 16 years, until weeks ago, it operated under contract with the Bureau of Prisons. But in early August, the BOP informed CCA that it would prematurely end that contact, four years before the agreement was set to expire.
A city near Ferguson is still caging humans in a ‘grotesque’ jail over traffic tickets, lawsuit charges
For the past several years, 47-year-old Meredith Walker has dreaded driving. Walker hasn’t had a moving violation in more than 15 years. But the St. Louis County resident still fears she could be pulled over and jailed at any time because she can’t afford to pay off her outstanding debts. She’s been jailed at least 10 times in just five years.
Florida’s prisons waste money and lives
Florida’s refusal to attack its criminal justice problems has enshrined us in the backwater of prison reform despite numerous indications that Gov. Rick Scott would address these concerns. Florida spends too much money, rehabilitates too few prisoners and leaves its citizens no safer than other states like Texas and Georgia that have instituted common-sense reforms.
Deprivations of the Special Housing Unit
The Special Housing Unit (known as the “SHU” or the “hole”) is a mythical place in prison. Only a small percentage of the prison population has ever visited there, but stories of the deprivation abound. It is the disciplinary unit used by the prison to punish incarcerated people and to strike fear (and therefore compliance) into the general population. It is the ultimate punitive remedy for incarcerated people who assault other incarcerated people or staff, or who find a way to subvert the system to get drugs to feed their habits.
Jailed without trial
Walker was first arrested and charged with possession of a stolen firearm in August 2014. He bonded out but was arrested again on the same charge eight months later. TheWhile serving time in Raymond Detention Center, he wrote pleading letters to Senior Circuit Court Judge Tomie Green and then Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn. With each letter, Walker pointed out that he had never been indicted.
For mentally ill incarceated people, this courtroom offers a lifeline instead of jail
The program, which is administered in cooperation with UAB’s Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities (TASC), connects patients to drug and mental health treatment. It is one of 10 mental health court programs in operation around the state.
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