A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
This probably will end badly
Earlier this year, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito formed an independent commission to determine whether the dilapidated and violent city jail on Rikers Island should (and could) be shut down. Now, Politico New York reports, the vultures are circling: real estate developers like Related Companies, which developed the Hudson Yards megaproject, and Forest City Ratner, which co-developed Pacific Park, the area around the Barclays Center formerly known as Atlantic Yards, have expressed an interest in the site.
Guards were ‘negligent’ in fatal encounter with incarcerated person in New York, judge rules
Officers at the Clinton Correctional Facility used excessive force when they dragged a handcuffed incarcerated man face down through prison corridors and then, when he was near death, provided faulty medical care, a judge in a New York State Court of Claims has ruled.
Rikers guards to get lessons on how to talk nicely to incarcerated people
“This training will give our officers and staff the skills to better understand why young people commit violent acts as well as talk to them more effectively and convincingly about joining rehabilitation and educational programs,” DOC spokesman Peter Thorne said Thursday.
Real estate industry weighs in on the future of Rikers
“The political center of this will be about how we make the system more humane and just,” Lippman told Politico, “and at the same time recognize that you do have a very strategically placed and valuable piece of real estate there that could have a multitude of public policy purposes to develop it.”
Public voicing opinions on fate of Rikers Island
Earlier this year, the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform was formed to study the future of jails and what should happen to Rikers Island. It is also examining whether the prison population can be reduced, as the majority of those in jail are awaiting trial. The commission consists of two dozen experts and advocates from a variety of backgrounds, from law enforcement to academia to formerly incarcerated people.
New York City defied national trends, cut incarceration rate in half, study finds
The report’s researchers attribute the dramatic decline to three things: changes in the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws; more effective rehabilitation programs and a shift in attitudes among police officers and judges. Between 1996 and 2014, the city’s rate of property crimes and violent offenses also declined 58 percent.
Experience RIKERS, Face to Face
I reached out to some longtime colleagues — the independent and oft-awarded filmmakers Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin at Brick City TV, joined now by producer Rolake Bamgbose — who were soon at work, identifying scores of former detainees and interviewing many of them on camera for hours. The result is a vivid arc of life on Rikers as told by the people who experienced it — from the trauma of entry, the conflicts with other incarcerated people and corrections officers, the stabbings and beatings, and the torture of solitary confinement to the psychological challenges of returning to the outside world.
Top city jail boss punched, 8 other officers and a captain injured during Manhattan Detention Complex brawl
A top city jail boss was punched in the head by an incarcerated person while eight other officers and a captain were injured during a fight inside the city’s Manhattan Detention Complex on Sunday, jail insiders said. Assistant Deputy Warden Arthur Ruggiero was hit in the forehead by incarcerated man Joseph Cannon, 26, housed inside the facility’s seventh floor, at 8 a.m., according to an internal Department of Correction report.
Long-awaited, City’s new approach to veterans services moves ahead
Sutton laid out her priorities and the “non-negotiable core services” that the department is focused on: housing and support services, an integrative healthcare program, and the E3 initiative (education, employment and entrepreneurship). “For the first time, we’ll finally have the capacity to not only establish a citywide presence but be able to engage in these three lines of action,” she said.
City expands program helping absent dads become better parents
The agency will spend $2.8 million through the anti-poverty Fatherhood Initiative — first established in 2003 — to fund eight community-based organizations to operate programs to strengthen dads’ relationships with their children.
Forums across the city ask New Yorkers to sound off on stop-and-frisk policing
A series of seven community forums designed to take the public temperature about the stop-and-frisk tactic will take place across the city beginning Thursday, officials said Tuesday. During the forums, New Yorkers will have the chance to weigh in on the tactic as part of the landmark settlement in the Floyd vs. City of New York civil rights case filed in federal court in Manhattan.
Paying bail online: a fine move from Mayor de Blasio
De Blasio is right: “No one with the ability to pay bail should sit in jail just because the bail process is an inconvenience.” The city’s byzantine process for posting cash bail now leaves an estimated 12,000 people a year needlessly spending extra days in jail — and each occupied jail bed costs taxpayers more than $210,000 a year.
Why is New York still prosecuting 16-year-olds as adults?
Barraza says the brutality of incarceration in an adult prison broke her son. She believes that if he’d been treated as a juvenile, he would likely be alive today. With a parental advocate at his interrogation, he might not have signed a confession, and might have gotten a better plea. And in a juvenile facility, he likely would have had access to a host of programs tailored towards people his age. Barraza thinks that would have helped him stabilize.
New York’s broken approach to drug arrests and prosecutions
But neither Tomlin nor Weems (whose name has been changed) actually possessed any drugs, a fact that was only verified by the New York Police Department (NYPD) laboratory after each had spent days incarcerated at Rikers Island. Both cases were eventually dismissed, but considerable harm had already been done. Just one day in jail can mean the loss of job, housing, or even parental custody; plus exposure to the horrors and dangers of NYC jails, which have been well documented.
Enhancing fairness, improving outcomes: the real story of problem-solving justice in New York
Defense attorneys need to play an active role in the development and operation of problem-solving courts. And the structure of these courts should not exacerbate the coercive nature of the criminal justice system. But make no mistake: if we want to continue to reduce the use of incarceration while preserving public safety, we don’t need to halt problem-solving courts – we need to spread the lessons from these programs as far and as wide as we possibly can.
Facing death, Brooklyn District Attorney spoke of doing what ‘is right’
His mother taught him about fairness, he said. He wanted to bring reform to Brooklyn, because “aspects of the criminal justice system are fundamentally unfair.” Being elected district attorney was only the beginning. He said he was trying to make changes in Kings County by recruiting lawyers from all walks of life.
President Obama grants 72 more commutations to federally incarcerated people
“We are thrilled to see more frequent grants of clemency,” said Cynthia W. Roseberry, project manager for Clemency Project 2014. “These grants represent 72 reunited families. They also represent hope to others who have applied. We are grateful that President Obama is keeping his word to grant more clemency.”
These prosecutors campaigned for less jail time — and won
“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,” Deborrah Brodsky, director of the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University, told The Marshall Project.
What it feels like when a life sentence is overturned
When I got out, we went straight to my grandmother. She’s on her deathbed, and all she ever wanted was for me to come home. I didn’t tell her or anybody I was coming. I remember going up the steps — it’s the house that I was raised in — and she was lying in the bed in the den. She could move her neck and her head, but no other parts of her body move. She’s very sharp. She says, “Is that my baby?” I said, “Mama, it’s me.” And that was the first time that I shed a tear. I cried like a little baby in her arms.
Eric Holder wants to end bail as we know it
In an October white paper to Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, Holder argues the state’s pretrial detention system is unconstitutional because it largely jails people based on their inability to post bond. To address this situation, Holder argues that judges must only set bail that individuals can actually afford, while denying bail to those deemed likely to be a flight risk or a danger to public safety.
Has President Obama been good or bad for criminal justice reform?
“I think Obama has been kind of revolutionary [on criminal justice reform] in that he has said things that no other sitting President has ever said before,” says Radley Balko, columnist with the Washington Post. “That said, most of the revolutionary aspects of the administration have been about saying things and not necessarily doing things.”
Childhood’s end: jailed at 14, still fighting for freedom
The date was Feb. 4, 1999. What was about to happen would drastically accelerate the trajectory of Christopher Thomas’ life, which had been spiraling downhill since birth, and end up with him getting sentenced to 40 years in prison as an unarmed tag-along in a nonlethal shooting. Seventeen years later, he is in prison—still trying to understand how he got such a harsh sentence in a life that was never really his own.
What it’s like to start over after spending your teen years in jail
With being branded a felon, you’re denied employment, housing, and education in a lot of ways. And for a lot of people, the reason why they turn back to crime is because, if I’m being denied all this, people now feel like they have limited options. At that point, it’s now easy for a person to say, you know what, I’m going to stick with what I’m already comfortable with anyway.
What it’s like to vote after prison
What is it like to vote after being disenfranchised? Does it change what you care about, or whether you’d vote for Clinton or Trump? In this series, we profile five people, like Cordero, who have been disenfranchised because of a felony conviction and who’ve had their voting rights restored. All from high poverty, high crime neighborhoods in southeast San Diego, these five citizens head into the voting booth with a life experience shared by few Americans, but with many of the same concerns.
How to get fair treatment for LGBT defendants
Francis Nichols is a pretrial-service officer in Washington D.C. For The Atlantic’s ongoing series of interviews with American workers, I spoke with Nichols about his job, the vulnerability of the LGBT community in the criminal-justice system, and how being openly gay in the law-enforcement community affects his perception of his job. The interview that follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
For victims’ families, the torment of exoneration
Andrea Harrison, now 32, lives in Maryland with her 9-year-old daughter, Lavender. She can no longer remember the shape of her mother’s face or the sound of her voice. For the past three Christmases, she has asked her aunts for photographs of her mother. They sit on the mantel in her living room.
America’s aging—and at-risk—incarcerated population
As they add to a comparatively small but growing body of research, correctional health doctors and epidemiologists in Connecticut have started selecting 250 incarcerated people to participate in a study on depression and suicidal thoughts among aging incarcerated people—the nation’s fastest-growing prison population.
Torn apart by Reagan, one family gets a second chance from Obama
Darryl will be released from prison this year after serving 26 of those years. He is one of 774 people, the vast majority of whom were serving time for nonviolent drug crimes, granted clemency by President Obama. The end of Darryl’s long sentence is finally in sight. Set to be released next month, he’ll return to a world vastly different than the one he left, however, and the prospect of readjustment is daunting—especially for the son who has only ever known him behind bars.
After high-profile shootings, blacks seek prosecutor seats
African-American lawyers, racial justice groups and the liberal hedge fund billionaire George Soros are combining forces to try to elect more black prosecutors in response to what they see as an insufficient response by incumbent district attorneys to the killings of black people by the police.
Court blocks FCC attempt to cap prison phone rates
Once again, a Federal Communications Commission attempt to lower the price incarcerated people pay for phone calls has been blocked in court. A ruling on Wednesday from the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted a petition for a stay filed by Securus Technologies. This puts a halt to rate caps on calling services that were implemented in August.
Dads behind bars hold their kids for the 1st time—the look on their faces wrecked me
He spent most of his life locked up, so Scottie knows the deep-rooted pain associated with growing up without a father. That’s why she decided to create this prison ministry program called “One Day With God” where children get to spend the day with their dads in prison. Many may question, “Why do these convicted murderers and felons deserve to see their kids?”
Thinking of all those facing the holidays without clemency reminds me of my own worst Thanksgiving
I can’t help but drift back to my own memories of what the holidays are like in prison. Each Thanksgiving, I would wait in line for a phone so I could call home and ironically wish my folks “Happy Thanksgiving,” for the many blessings bestowed upon us. Initially, our voices were chipper—until we couldn’t fake it anymore and my mother would end the call with, “Maybe next year you’ll be home.”
Seven state criminal justice reform measures for Congress to consider
Broad bipartisan coalitions have formed and are now pressing for various legislative reforms to the criminal justice system at all levels of government.While federal legislators are currently debating the merits of several relevant bills, state lawmakers are miles ahead, having already adopted a number of criminal justice reform bills that hold great promise.
This fashion collection is produced entirely by incarcerated women
Edith Sanchez Huaitara, a 37-year-old woman from Huancavelica, Peru, longs to open her own business. She makes hand-knitted clothing and hopes to one day be successful enough that her parents never have to worry about money again. Sanchez Huaitara is serving time in prison, but thanks to one innovative clothing company, she can start saving toward her dream now.
Shuttered state prisons spring back to life
“While the state has saved hundreds of millions of dollars closing prisons, I think we recognize the impact that a prison closure has on a local community, especially in more rural communities,” Offen said. “And that’s why we have worked so closely with folks on the ground […] to produce reuse plans.”
Volunteers provide a listening ear to incarcerated people
Never underestimate the power of listening. Sharon Heck, of Fort Wright, has seen firsthand the impact this special skill has for those in need. She is one of 26 volunteers who visit incarcerated people throughout Northern Kentucky to provide solace and emotional comfort by listening, caring and respecting them as individuals.
Hawaii prison officials say it will cost $23,000 for public records
This year, we’ve been examining our prison system — including the mainland facility — in our investigative series, “Hawaii Behind Bars.” But we’re still waiting for much of the information we requested months ago. Now, the Department of Public Safety wants $23,000 to give us records that should be readily available.
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