A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Rikers documentary provides incarcerated people’s view of harrowing existence in system
In brief remarks before the viewing, Mr. Moyers said producers had started with 100 incarcerated people and winnowed the number down to about 10. He is the only journalist shown in the movie, to provide a short introduction. No questions are aired. It’s just the incarcerated people telling their stories to the camera, describing the pervasive violence, their relationships with correction officers and the difficulty of returning to the outside world.
More library branches to offer video conferencing for families of incarcerated people on Rikers Island
Families with locked up loved ones will be able to have virtual visits at library branches in the five boroughs, officials announced Wednesday. The video visitation is coming to 22 library branches after $600,000 was added to the city budget to expand a program that previously existed only in Brooklyn.
NYC Council: open Rikers Island schools for public review
City Council members admitted on Wednesday that they don’t know the most basic information about the students and schools at the Rikers Island jail complex. At a public hearing, they peppered officials from the Department of Correction and Department of Education with questions like what time classes start, what the teacher turnover rate was, and at what grade level young incarcerated people were reading.
Use of pepper spray in Rikers Island classrooms sparks concerns
New York City Council members expressed alarm Wednesday at the rising use of pepper spray to stop fights in classrooms for young incarcerated people at Rikers Island, where teachers have been offered respirator masks for protection. Security officers used pepper spray 16 times this fall at the East River Academy, a group of schools for incarcerated people aged 16 to 21, city Department of Correction officials said.
Held indefinitely: will anything ever change at Rikers Island?
The past 12 months have revealed a lot of New Yorkers who want to treat Rikers Island a little more like a neighborhood. Some mean it literally, hoping to clear the island of its notorious jails to build housing. Others, more broadly, hope to fix Rikers as it is and make it a place that New Yorkers can be proud of, rather than a dysfunctional, violent and isolated remnant of an older New York. But outside of the subway map, nobody yet has gotten their wish.
New York City bail relief for low-level detainees in limbo after introduced in 2015
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s ballyhooed bail fund to free low-level detainees hasn’t given out a single penny more than a year after it was announced as the first major step in reducing the jail population. The speaker touted the plan at her first State of the City address in February 2015. She set aside money in the city budget for the plan six months later.
Governor Cuomo orders investigation of racial bias in N.Y. state prisons
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced on Monday that he was ordering an investigation into racial bias in the state prison system after an investigation by The New York Times found that black incarcerated people were punished at significantly higher rates than whites, sent to solitary confinement more often and held there longer.
The stain of racism in New York’s prisons
It has long been known that black incarcerated people assigned to prisons in the overwhelmingly white northern parts of New York were subject to racial threats and abuse from virtually the moment they stepped through the door. In many cases, this comes in the form of punishment for minor rule-breaking. Clearly, not enough attention has been paid to racial bias.
Conservative Party, liberal groups want New York State to fund legal aid for poor
It isn’t often that the state Conservative Party is in agreement with liberal groups, but that is the case when it comes to urging Gov. Cuomo to sign a bill that would gradually shift the funding of legal services for the poor from the localities on to the state.
For blacks facing parole in New York State, signs of a broken system
It is a disparity that is particularly striking not for the most people who committed violent crimes, like rapists and murderers, but for small-time justice involved people who commit property crimes like stealing a television from a house or shoplifting from Duane Reade — precisely the people many states are now working to keep out of prison in the first place.
Mentally ill, on their own
Pushing them out the door is not the end of New York’s responsibility. They need adequate support services. There is a vast difference between standing up for the rights of mentally ill people by enabling them to live independently in their communities, and merely pushing them out the door. It’s a difference that New York state still does not seem to fully appreciate.
A crucial piece of de Blasio’s housing plan blossoms in the Bronx
The City Council voted yesterday to approve possibly the largest individual piece of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to construct 80,000 new affordable apartments by 2024—a new 1,665-unit complex to rise in the place of a Bronx development half that size, which will bring with it more than $100 million in ancillary investments to the neighborhood.
De Blasio’s current homeless strategy won’t reduce shelter population, former deputy says
More than 60,000 New Yorkers are currently homeless. After three years as Mayor, Bill de Blasio hasn’t found a way to bring that number down, a problem that promises to haunt him through his re-election bid. To better understand the challenges the city faces in addressing homelessness, WNYC’s Mirela Iverac sat down with Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, former Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, who resigned last year.
White House announces new commitments to the Fair Chance business pledge and actions to improve the criminal justice system
The White House is announcing a round of new signatories to the Fair Chance Business Pledge and a series of Administration actions to enhance the fairness and effectiveness of the criminal justice system. These announcements build on the Administration’s longstanding commitment to reforming the criminal justice system, improving reentry outcomes, and removing unnecessary obstacles facing formerly incarcerated individuals.
Justice Department announces reforms at Bureau of Prisons to reduce recidivism and promote rehabilitation
Today, the Department of Justice announced a series of reforms at the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) designed to reduce recidivism and increase the likelihood of incarcerated people’s safe and successful return to the community. These efforts include building a semi-autonomous school district within the federal prison system, reforming federal halfway houses, covering the cost of obtaining state-issued photo IDs for federal incarcerated people prior to their release from custody and providing additional services for incarcerated women.
AG Lynch: School system to run in federal prison system
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Wednesday that a school system would be formed within the vast federal prison network as part of a series of efforts to drive down recidivism and create a clearer path for thousands of incarcerated people to re-enter their home communities.
Young casualties of our war on crime: How Trump & Sessions’ approach to incarceration will hurt the children of incarcerated people
No matter what the crime, it is traumatic when a parent is arrested. When it happened to me, I curled up in shock and horror and prayed that people in my school would not associate me with the man in the newspaper. Then comes the pain and indignity of your parent living far away, mostly out of contact, confined to a cell. No wonder children with incarcerated parents suffer a higher incidence of traumatic life events, emotional difficulties and problems in school.
Who’s in solitary confinement?
The data on how many incarcerated people are subjected to solitary confinement has long been elusive: many state corrections departments didn’t log such information, and it was hard to track given the various euphemisms for the practice. A new report from Yale Law School and the Association of State Correctional Administrators released Wednesday tries to fill the gaps in what we know about the use of solitary confinement in the United States.
What Trump can do to help cities
Failing to help the formerly incarcerated navigate life after prison contributes to many of the problems Trump has denounced, burdening taxpayers and families alike. President-elect Trump is wise to focus on addressing the well-being of cities. He would also be wise to heed the words of his Republican predecessor and help ensure that those who have paid their debt to society have the opportunity for a better life – not just for their own well-being, but for the well-being of the cities and families to which they return.
Report shows parole boards failing to release these incarcerated people, despite years of rehabilitation and evidence that they post no risk to society
Using interviews with 124 incarcerated people and in-depth analysis of parole processes across the country, the report shows that parole boards place so much emphasis on the crime that other factors, like youth at the time of the crime and subsequent change and rehabilitation, are routinely disregarded. As a result, even model incarcerated people who can safely return to their families and communities spend unnecessary decades behind bars.
The link between race and solitary confinement
Stark disparities in the treatment of incarcerated people are embedded into criminal-justice systems at the city, county, state, and federal levels, and have disproportionate, negative effects on men of color. A new analysis from the Association of State Correctional Administrators and Yale Law School provides a fresh trove of information with which to explore the racial dynamics in state and federal prisons—specifically through their findings on solitary confinement.
Out of prison, uncovered
Before he went to prison, Ernest killed his 2-year-old daughter in the grip of a psychotic delusion. When the Indiana Department of Correction released him in 2015, he was terrified something awful might happen again. He had to see a doctor. He had only a month’s worth of pills to control his delusions and mania. He was desperate for insurance coverage.
How America’s most famous federal prison faced a dirty secret
The mentally ill in federal prisons are on the verge of a big victory. For many years the most famous federal prison in America, the “Supermax” facility in Florence, Colorado, held a dirty secret: even though it was not permitted by law to house mentally ill incarcerated people, many of the men locked down in “administrative segregation” there were, in fact, severely mentally ill. Most of those incarcerated people were misdiagnosed when they arrived and then were mistreated or simply not treated at all for their medical conditions
He got life without parole for pot. And he was just denied clemency.
“We are devastated for Ferrell and his family and believe this is why President Obama must consider a plan that will reduce the life sentences of every nonviolent lifer to no more than 20 years, but in Ferrell’s case, a nonviolent pot case, we hope Obama will ask the pardon attorney for a reconsideration since it’s perfectly within his authority to do so,” Povah, the advocacy group leader, writes to The Watch.
A parole decision in minutes
The New York State Board of Parole often operates like an assembly line, with incarcerated people given mere minutes to make a case for their freedom. It is an impersonal process: Commissioners see dozens of cases a day, and most hearings are conducted via video conference. Decisions are frequently boilerplate and can sometimes seem arbitrary.
Incarceration nation: What it’s really like when a prison lifer gets a new shot at life
Forty-six is not a milestone for most, but this is the first time in 25 years Sapienza is celebrating his birthday as a free man. For a quarter century he was inmate #H28469. Convicted of second-degree murder and attempted murder at the age of twenty in 1991, he was paroled on April 8, 2016. Tonight he also celebrates his last weekend in a six-month court-ordered transitional housing program.
‘Please find my grandson’
I asked the incarcerated people to ease the body out from there, and they pulled at him by his feet; he was limp and heavy, but they managed to spread him out on the floor. This must be Marion: a very tall, emaciated boy who was covered with sores and unconscious. Although he was African-American, his skin was a shade of yellow I had never seen before, and he was barely breathing.
Rehab, not punishment must drive prison system, key leaders tell panel
Mass incarceration, especially of teenagers tried as adults, too often ensures that justice involved people will remain mired in lives of crime after their eventual release, governors Dannel Malloy, of Connecticut, and John Bel Edwards, of Louisiana, agreed at the first Google Justice Summit, in Washington. It’s also expensive for taxpayers, they said.
If you can’t afford a lawyer
If you can’t afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to you – that’s how it’s supposed to work. But in New Orleans, Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton, the lawyer in charge of representing poor people accused of crimes, is saying no. His office doesn’t have enough money or time to do a good job, he says, so he’s refusing some serious cases, which is jamming up the courts and leaving hundreds of people stuck in jail with no lawyer. Bunton’s goal? To break the system in order to fix it.
Locked up for the holidays
The “most wonderful time of the year” may be the hardest for tens of thousands of young people locked up for the holidays. But many states try — within the confines of security rules, budgets and protocols — to make the season a little brighter for youthful justice involved people, who often are housed far from home.
How art helped an LGBTQ woman survive incarceration
Mayo, now 38, was born in Corpus Christie, Texas, where she’s lived pretty much ever since. Her mother was a painter and ceramicist, so Mayo was in the vicinity of creative expression from a young age. Though she herself doodled and painted a bit, she didn’t start creating art in earnest until she was incarcerated.
Kodak Black’s mystery meat Instagram reveals the lasting effects of bad prison food
The fact that prison food is awful is nothing new. Incarcerated people are often lucky to get any semblance of a vegetable during their time in jail. Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, member of the hip-hop duo Mobb Deep, said the only vegetable he got in jail was green beans, Mic previously reported. Johnson, who authored a cookbook on how to cook in prison, said it was incredibly difficult to stay healthy.
The formerly incarcerated scholars of Berkeley
He wanted to be a drug counsellor, particularly to the formerly incarcerated, because who knew more about addiction and prison than he did? Meanwhile, as he mulled his next step, he had started mentoring young guys coming out of Santa Rita, trying to get them to go to college. He told them that education was not only a way to get a job; it was also a way to understand your life.
This deaf immigrant was ignored in jail. Now he will get $250,000.
Abreham Zemedagegehu spent six weeks in Arlington’s custody in 2014, during which he said he missed meals, lacked necessary medication and could not make phone calls. Unable to read or write in English, he told reporters through an interpreter last year, he had no way of speaking to his jailers and felt isolated.
Department of Justice files statement of interest in South Carolina statewide school-to-prison pipeline case
The Justice Department filed a statement of interest late yesterday in the case of Kenny et al. v. Wilson et al. articulating the United States’ position that laws invoked to charge juveniles must include clear standards to ensure that they are enforced consistently and free from discrimination. In the filing, the department explains that vague statues enforced arbitrarily contribute to the “school-to-prison pipeline,” the cycle of harsh school discipline that brings young people into the justice system.
California lawmakers want to reform a bail system they say ‘punishes the poor for being poor’
Assemblyman Rob Bonta and Sen. Bob Hertzberg said they plan to fire the first salvo Monday, when lawmakers descend upon the Capitol for the start of the 2017 legislative session. They will introduce bills stating the Legislature intends to enact laws that will reduce the number of people detained before trial and address the racial and economic disparities in the bail process.
Christie vetoes new limits on solitary confinement
Gov. Chris Christie on Monday vetoed a bill that would have banned solitary confinement for incarcerated people under 21, calling it a “partisan and juvenile” attempt by Democratic lawmakers to drum up headlines. The bill would have curbed solitary confinement in New Jersey’s state prisons and county jails at a time when states around the country and President Obama have acted to restrict the practice of isolating incarcerated people.
How Connecticut became a model for prison reform
But behind Osborn’s walls stands a laboratory for one of the most aggressive experiments in criminal justice reform currently underway in the United States. Under the stewardship of Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, Connecticut has seen its prison population fall to a 20-year low while rates of reported violent crime have plummeted.
Blood on the floor: Suicides rise as mental health care in Alabama prisons goes on trial
St. Clair Correctional Facility incarcerated person Joshua Dunn slashed his arm with a razor in August 2013 after his call for mental health went unanswered. Dunn, who said he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, said he was in crisis. It was the first time he cut himself, but not the last.
Extreme isolation scars state incarcerated people
Anthony Nasseff lay awake for hours silent, staring at the metal slot on his prison cell door, waiting for his breakfast tray to appear. That signaled morning: the beginning of another day of tedium, despair and loneliness. Nasseff was a 20-year-old incarcerated individual at Minnesota’s Oak Park Heights prison when a disorderly conduct citation earned him an initially short stay in solitary confinement. It lasted three years.
Incarcerated people died, but jail logs showed them safe in their cells
If Broward Sheriff’s Office records are to be believed, a mentally ill incarcerated person was alive in his cell 18 hours after he died and another received dinner six hours after he hanged himself. Documents obtained by the Sun Sentinel raise questions about the accuracy of Sheriff’s Office records and how closely some mentally ill incarcerated people were monitored before they died.
Florida to pay prison whistleblowers $800,000 to end lawsuit
Years after three prison investigators came forward with evidence of abuse of incarcerated people and cover-ups at the Florida Department of Corrections, the state has agreed to settle a retaliation lawsuit — and pay them $800,000. The prison agency also agreed to end lawsuits by three other department whistleblowers, closing a chapter in what has been one of the most tumultuous eras in state prison history.
Advocates want juvenile justice overhaul, clash over direction
When it comes to overhauling its juvenile justice system, Virginia has garnered a reputation as a model of teamwork and progress. Yet even in a state poised to set a national standard, it’s still bedeviled by some of the same problems seen in other states, thanks in part to an outdated national attitude that juvenile justice involved people only deserve punishment.
Incarcerated person held on 1974 parole violation even though officials want him freed
After completing four decades in an Arizona prison for two rapes he insists he did not commit, Adell Henderson was set to be paroled. But instead of being released last year, Illinois authorities took him into custody for what they said was a parole violation even older than the crime that sent him to prison: a 1957 robbery that he committed as a teenager.
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