A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
The scourge of racial bias in New York State’s prisons
The racism can be felt from the moment black inmates enter New York’s upstate prisons. They describe being called porch monkeys, spear chuckers and worse. There are cases of guards ripping out dreadlocks. One inmate, John Richard, reported that he was jumped at Clinton Correctional Facility by a guard who threatened to “serve up some black mashed potatoes with tomato sauce.”
Governor Cuomo announces more than $10 million to fund employment and reentry services throughout New York
“These investments play a critical role in ensuring those seeking to turn their lives around have access to the tools and resources needed to succeed,” Governor Cuomo said. “Expanding these services will be able to help more at-risk New Yorkers break the cycle of recidivism and incarceration, helping them to lead more productive lives and increasing the safety of our communities.”
Spending soars for incarcerated people in NYC, Comptroller says
New Yorkers are spending about as much on every incarcerated person as an aerospace engineer makes in a year, yet violence keeps climbing, a new city comptroller’s analysis shows. The cost per incarcerated person stood at just over $132,000 in fiscal 2016, 17% more than the year before and nearly double what it was a decade ago, according to the office of Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Violence rate in city jails spike despite record spending and drop in detainees, analysis shows
“By many measures, New York City’s criminal justice system is moving backwards, not forward,” Stringer said. “Instead of working to reverse the cycle of crime and poverty in our communities, we are warehousing New Yorkers in jails like Rikers Island, which are getting more violent by the day.”
Legislation could make it easier for the poor to post bail
Amidst growing concerns that poor, non-violent defendants are kept behind bars largely because they’re unable to post bail, the City Council is considering new legislation to make bail more affordable. Rory Lancman, who chairs the committee on courts and legal affairs, introduced the bill during Tuesday’s council meeting. The Queens lawmakers said most of the time, a defendant’s financial circumstances aren’t discussed during an arraignment — even though they could be.
City Council approves four new housing projects with varying levels of affordability
The City Council approved four residential developments on Tuesday that will expand the stock of low- and middle-income housing in East Harlem and the Bronx. The votes were celebrated by city officials as a win for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year affordable housing plan, after three other projects he was pushing were rejected by the Council earlier this year.
Nascent fund for public housing begins building NYCHA war chest
Five months after the announcement of NextGeneration NYCHA, the comprehensive overhaul plan for New York City’s troubled public housing system, the Fund for Public Housing accepted its first donation. Shola Olatoye, NYCHA Chair and CEO, and Rasmia Kirmani Frye, the founding president of the Fund, welcomed the support for the new public-private partnership that aims to “improve social service delivery and access to economic opportunity for residents.”
An incubator for (former) drug dealers
Amid calls for more job training, less automatic background searching, and other changes that would make it easier for justice involved people to become employees, an alternative idea has slowly taken hold: Encourage them to start their own businesses. The largest nonprofit pushing entrepreneurism of this kind is Defy Ventures, based in New York, which over the past six years has trained more than 500 formerly incarcerated people and incubated more than 150 successful startups.
New York Catholic bishops call for state to pay for underfunded local legal aid services
A group of New York Catholic bishops headed by Timothy Cardinal Dolan is calling on Gov. Cuomo to sign a bill that would require the state to take over funding of the legal services that local governments provide to the poor.
Ken Thompson’s successor: a ‘pure District Attorney’ working under the radar
“With all the violence I saw growing up — the fights, the gangs, the robberies — being a productive member of society to me meant making a difference in keeping the community safe,” he said. “There was a lot of police activity, a lot of people getting arrested and a lot of lawyers. I realized that you could either go to work defending people or work with the police.” He chose the latter, entering the district attorney’s office in 1995.
Robert Morgenthau on his years as District Attorney: ‘I don’t look back’
Mr. Morgenthau, now 97 and still working five days a week, was the district attorney for Manhattan from 1975 until he retired at age 90 in 2009, during which time crime in New York was completely transformed, and the city with it. There were 648 murders in Manhattan the year he took office. When he left, there were 58.
Criminal justice reform efforts face a new uncertainty under Donald Trump
The Brennan Center for Justice last year highlighted swelling bipartisan support for a criminal-justice overhaul by compiling essays on the topic from nearly every presidential candidate. There was one omission: Donald Trump, now the president-elect. With Mr. Trump set to take office in January, justice-reform groups across the political spectrum are scrambling to find a path forward.
Mothers in prison
The women’s wing of the jail here exhales sadness. The incarcerated women, wearing identical orange uniforms, ache as they undergo withdrawal from drugs, as they eye one another suspiciously, and as they while away the days stripped of freedom, dignity, privacy and, most painful of all, their children.
Policy changes needed to unlock employment and entrepreneurial opportunity for 100 million Americans with criminal records, Kauffman Research shows
For the 30 percent of U.S. adults with criminal records, attaining economic success after leaving prison relies on the ability to find good jobs, says a new paper released today by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Even those with minor offenses and those who have been arrested but not charged can encounter numerous barriers in their search for employment. Significant among the obstacles are occupational licensing requirements that bar those with criminal records from professions that otherwise might provide economic independence and positively impact the American economy.
What happened when a prison brought in a brain injury specialist
Moore remembers coming up with the maxim after another incarcerated man bashed his head with a metal rod in 2001, sending him to the infirmary of State Correctional Institution Graterford, Pennsylvania’s largest prison. After the incident, Moore couldn’t focus and was prone to long pauses as he fumbled for words. “I have a tendency to get stuck in traffic when it comes to expressing myself,” Moore, who’s spent most of his 56 years in prison or juvenile detention and was paroled last year, tells me.
America’s invisible inferno
Hell Is a Very Small Place provides a harrowing guided tour of some of the country’s solitary units. The essays in the collection were written by incarcerated people, some of whom have been confined for months to decades in solitary, as well as by one lawyer, two professors and legal activists, and two psychiatrists, including Stuart Grassian, a former Harvard Medical School professor who writes about the psychiatric effects of solitary confinement. Together these essays are both a condemnation of our prison system and an indictment of America. It is difficult to read this book without feeling shame.
37 civil rights groups seek investigation into ‘torture’ at Lewisburg Prison
The investigation by NPR and The Marshall Project found violence between incarcerated people is six times more likely at Lewisburg, compared with all federal prisons. That violence is more likely because of the practice of putting dangerous men together in one solitary confinement cell — a practice called double celling — for 23 to 24 hours a day, plus a lack of mental health care and the frequent use of restraints for incarcerated people who refuse to live with a specific cellmate.
L.A. sheriff’s deputies sentenced to prison for beating a mentally ill incarcerated person and covering up the attack
Jason Branum and Bryan Brunsting worked alongside each other as Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in the downtown Twin Towers Correctional Facility. But on Monday, a federal judge sentenced them to prison for beating a mentally ill incarcerated person and lying to cover up the attack, saying the pair were swept up in an “us versus them” culture in the jails that pitted deputies against incarcerated people.
Alabama’s mental health care for incarcerated people goes on trial
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson will hold a non-jury trial next month on claims that the Alabama prison system provides substandard care for mentally ill incarcerated people. Lawyers representing the incarcerated people say as many as 40 or 50 incarcerated people could testify. The trial starts Dec. 5 and is expected to last about eight weeks.
Decades of neglect underpins $1.65 billion prisons request
Overseeing chronically overcrowded, rapidly deteriorating facilities, Oklahoma’s prison director is seeking to triple his department’s budget in hopes of reversing decades of deferred maintenance and neglect that has jeopardized a linchpin of public safety.
Making crime pay and pay and pay
In Texas, paying for cops, courts and prosecutors with fees from defendants has gotten more and more popular over the years. But what happens when the drive to do justice on the cheap collides with a rogue prosecutor? Only in the last year has Britton’s office started to get critical attention from the county’s legal community.
No place in Mass. for people living in poverty
A report issued by a state Senate committee found about 100 individuals last year, in three Massachusetts counties, who were sent to jail because they didn’t have money to pay accumulated debts such as counsel fees, court costs, probation fines, or other obligations. Putting them in jail makes it even harder for them to find work, leaving them more likely to relapse into criminal behavior — and then start the cycle all over again.
Missouri seeks way to cut cost of burying incarcerated people
An ever-growing and ever-aging prison population means more incarcerated people in Missouri are likely to die behind bars in the coming years. Against that backdrop, the Missouri Department of Corrections is seeking bids from funeral homes across the state in a search for the best deal on burial and cremation services for incarcerated people.
Unappetizing ‘food loaves’ no longer on Pennsylvania prison menu
The state Department of Corrections reportedly has stopped giving unappetizing — but nutritional — loaves of food to misbehaving incarcerated people in restricted housing. Instead, they will receive a bagged meal that will contain a protein such as hard-cooked eggs, peanut butter and jelly or cheese along with fruit or fruit juice, a vegetable, bread, and milk, PennLive reports.
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