A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
City jails must now give incarcerated people coats if they’re released during winter
Mayor de Blasio signed a bill into law Thursday that will require city jails to let incarcerated people wear their own clothes to court appearances, and give them weather-appropriate civilian clothing to wear when they’re released. As the Daily News reported, the city has been releasing people onto the streets in freezing temperatures without winter coats, wearing just their thin jail-issued uniforms.
Gov. Cuomo reveals new insurance regulation that will help formerly incarcerated people obtain jobs
A regulation announced Wednesday by Gov. Cuomo should make it easier for businesses in New York to hire people with criminal records. The regulation goes into effect July 1 and will prohibit insurance companies from denying commercial crime insurance to businesses that have employees with criminal convictions.
It’s time to take bail reform seriously
Hopefully, these reforms will catch on in other parts of the country. But they won’t come in time to help Svetlana Zakharova who, without my commenting on her guilt or innocence, seems to have gotten a raw deal from the judge, all at the expense of New York City taxpayers.
Lawsuit that claims Bronx courts deny right to speedy trials needs new plaintiffs to continue
A federal lawsuit alleging Bronx courts are so slow that they violate the Constitution can roll on — but must have new plaintiffs, a judge ruled Thursday. The case against the state — over the backlog in the Bronx Criminal Court — can go on in Manhattan Federal Court, Judge George Daniels decided.
Cuomo, ex-HUD head, urges Carson to adopt his ‘zero tolerance’ policy on fair housing
Gov. Andrew Cuomo today called on President-elect Donald Trump and his Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary-designate Ben Carson—who both have a history of hostility towards federal fair housing policies—to adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy he pioneered toward any locality seeks to escape racial and economic integration.
Christmas in prison
Logan, which is home to more than 1,600 women, sits in Lincoln, Ill., about a three-hour drive from Chicago. On Dec. 17, several Chicago community organizations put together a “Reunification Ride,” busing more than 100 children and family members from the city through frigid temperatures and icy roads to see their mothers in prison for a holiday celebration.
The Obama legacy: chipping away at mass incarceration
As President Obama prepares to leave office, the United States still holds the dubious honor of having the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 2.2 million people behind bars. In order to assess his impact on the criminal justice system, it’s necessary to examine the policy shifts that got us here in the first place.
Crowded prisons at the crossroads
As the country gears up for a Trump presidency, his pick for attorney general is giving pause to justice reform advocates. Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions vocally opposed sentencing reform in the Senate this year, saying — contrary to reality — that actions designed to imprison fewer people with nonviolent crimes would release “violent felons” into the street.
Why all Americans should go to prison
We believe every American should be required to visit a prison. After all, some two million of their fellow citizens are incarcerated — that’s almost 1 percent of the population. For the most part, those on the outside ignore this significant minority: Incarcerated people don’t much figure into discussions about policy, which is one reason it took decades for politicians to start dismantling mass-incarceration policies that had long ago been deemed expensive and ineffective.
Nearly 30 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit
For nearly 30 years, Anthony Ray Hinton sat in a 5-foot-by-7-foot cell, waiting for his execution day. Hinton was sentenced to death after he was convicted for murdering two restaurant managers. After a 16 year fight by the Equal Justice Initiative led by Bryan Stephenson, Hinton was released in April 2015, when the state overturned his conviction and dropped all charges against him.
Repurposing: new beginnings for closed prisons
In Manhattan, the Osborne Association, a nonprofit organization, is working to convert a closed women’s prison into a space that provides services to women leaving incarceration. An entrepreneur in California purchased a closed correctional facility and plans to repurpose it as a medical marijuana cultivation center. At least four states – Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia – have converted closed prisons into tourist destinations open to visitors and host Halloween events.
20 clemency recipients with Change.org petitions
Yesterday, President Obama granted clemency to 231 people — the most in a single day in history — and he has now granted more commutations than the last 11 presidents combined. At least 20 of those clemency recipients have had petitions on Change.org, often started by family members who are using our platform to tell their stories and find hundreds or even thousands of supporters.
Some of our best work in 2016
Like much of 2016, the year in justice was a tumultuous one. Federal sentencing reform faltered in Congress, while President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of more people than his modern predecessors did, combined. Some cities ushered tough-on-crime prosecutors out of office, while some states held onto the death penalty with a tight grip. And of course, the year brought a new White House whose plans remain very much in question.
‘I’ll be waiting’
Since my incarceration, none of my brothers or my other sister have “made the time” to write, visit, send money for commissary, or be concerned with my well-being — only Angela. So I was thrilled when, during that phone conversation on that Aug. 15, Angela said, “You know I’ll be up there tomorrow for your birthday!”
Promoting LGBTI tolerance in prison: the hardest challenge
In early 2016, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) prisoners found a powerful ally in Stafford Creek’s new superintendent, Margaret Gilbert. With her blessing, the first LGBTI awareness event took place. Among the speakers were the Associate Superintendent, Jeneva Cotton, who stressed the need for both prisoners and staff to be more “open” and “accepting” of other people’s differences
Watch Pusha T, Ludacris, and more read true stories for prison reform
Pusha T recently sat down with director Ava DuVernay to discuss her documentary titled 13th which focuses on the issue of mass incarceration in the United States. Now he returns to partake in a new video series called #MySentence. Pusha, along with other musicians and actors like Ludacris, Monica, and more take turns reading the self-written true stories of formerly incarcerated citizens.
Prison conditions in the US: pregnant women sue over solitary confinement in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania jail
Five pregnant women incarcerated in Western Pennsylvania have sued after being placed in solitary confinement. The federal lawsuit, filed Monday, alleged that the women in Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh were punished for minor, nonviolent infractions and held for up to 22 days each.
Man gets $75 after being wrongly imprisoned for 31 years
A Tennessee man who served 31 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit is petitioning the state to compensate him $1 million for the years of his life that were taken away. All he’s gotten so far is $75.
Two years after Prop 47, addicts walk free with nowhere to go
Two years after it was approved by California voters, Prop 47 has scaled back mass incarceration of drug addicts, but successful reform is woefully incomplete. Proponents celebrate how the law freed at least 13,500 incarcerated people like Lopez from harsh sentences in crowded prisons and jails, but Prop 47 has done little to help these people restart their lives. Instead, the unprecedented release of incarcerated people has exposed the limits of California’s neglected social service programs.
What Chris Christie got wrong about solitary confinement
In the news flurry of the Trump transition, an important piece of state-level news went relatively unnoticed in the national media. On December 5, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed S51, the “Isolated Confinement Restriction Act,” a bill that would have limited several prison practices described in the bill as forms of “isolated confinement.”
Missouri dooms countless children to the school-to-prison pipeline
A state statute that goes into effect on Jan. 1 will no longer treat fights in schools or buses as a minor offense, regardless of a young person’s age or grade. Instead, School Resource Officers (SROs) and local law enforcement will now intervene by arresting and charging them with assault in the third degree — a Class E felony.
Hep C: the deadliest killer in Colorado’s prisons is a curable virus
Shortly after he started serving his latest sentence, Deaguero complained of symptoms of a hep C flare-up: chronic fatigue, aching muscles and joints, a constant throbbing pain in his lower back. He went to the prison infirmary for tests and was told that there were new wonder drugs coming on the market that could actually cure hep C, in more than 95 percent of the cases treated. But before he could qualify for the medication, the Colorado Department of Corrections required that he take alcohol- and drug-education programs that can last from six months to a year.
Prisoner who testified in mental health trial found dead of suicide
An Alabama state prisoner who testified in the ongoing trial over mental health care in state prisons was found dead in his cell of an apparent suicide, the Department of Corrections said.
Philly DA drops charges, man released from prison after a decade
A smiling Donte Rollins walked out of custody shortly after 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and into the arms of his mother, Ava, who had fought for the last decade for his release from prison. Both knew he was an innocent man.
Inside Dallas County Jail’s women’s unit, finding ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever‘
Every Christmas show has its hiccups: An angel’s wings fall off. Tiny Tim forgets his lines. The Sugar Plum Fairy spins off stage. But not many have to cope with a star missing the performance due to an urgent date with a criminal court judge. That was just one of the challenges of putting on a Christmas play in a women’s unit at the Dallas County Jail.
Blood and sugar
Hidden amid this prosperity is a reminder of a forgotten past. Off U.S. 90, behind a bustling shopping center, is a small cemetery surrounded by two concentric rings of chain-link fence. Inside are several dozen crumbling headstones, inscribed with the names and prison numbers of the convicts who died working the sugar plantations that gave the city its name. Most of the convicts died young.
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