The Fortune Society News Of The Week — the week of January 9, 2017

Monday, January 9, 2017

A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.

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New York City experiences historic drop in crime for 2016

New York City has experienced a consistent and significant reduction in overall crime during the last twelve months. Several index crime categories have posted historic reductions. Among the new benchmarks for 2016 are overall index crime, and shooting incidents.

NYPD News

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Cuomo vetoes bill that would have required state to fund legal services for the poor

Gov. Cuomo vetoed a bill late Saturday that would have required the state to fund legal services for the poor in each county. Cuomo’s office in a New Year’s Eve statement released just over an hour before the bill was required to be signed or vetoed said last-minute negotiations with the Legislature to address the governor’s concerns failed to yield a deal.

Daily News

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Cuomo commutes sentence of Judith Clark, driver in deadly Brink’s robbery

The judge who sentenced her saw her as beyond rehabilitation, giving her a minimum of 75 years in prison and all but ensuring she would die there. But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, citing what he called Ms. Clark’s long sentence and “exceptional strides in self-development” commuted her sentence on Friday.

The New York Times

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Cuomo defends commuting Judith Clark’s sentence

“She has done great work while she’d been in prison,” Cuomo said. “She’s helped many, many people. She’d done a lot of generous acts, so I believe she has the right to make her case. Again, I’m not releasing her, I’m giving her the opportunity to make her case to the board.”

Times Union

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She faced Cuomo and got clemency. He got ‘a sense of her soul.’

“When you meet her you get a sense of her soul,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Her honesty makes her almost transparent as a personality. She takes full responsibility. There are no excuses. There are no justifications.”

The New York Times

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A pardon is not enough

The governor deserves credit for his response. In addition to offering conditional pardons — which require the recipient to stay out of trouble — Mr. Cuomo has also taken the commendable step of ensuring that those 16- and 17-year-olds convicted of crimes and order incarcerated serve the time separately from the adult prison population. Still, these steps are not enough.

Times Union

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A year of policy fights, and some wins, for City Hall’s housing agenda

Buoyed by a booming real estate market, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration kept pace with its goal of expanding the city’s stock of rent-regulated housing last year and achieved two substantial changes to the city’s complex zoning code, while also encountering a fair amount of political opposition.

Politico

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Nation’s prison population dropped 2 percent in 2015

While the smaller numbers will be welcomed by opponents of mass incarceration, some advocates say the pace of reductions is much too slow. This month, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University contended that nearly 40 percent of incarcerated people are behind bars for no good public safety reason.

The Crime Report

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Charged a fee for getting arrested, whether guilty or not

Corey Statham had $46 in his pockets when he was arrested in Ramsey County, Minn., and charged with disorderly conduct. He was released two days later, and the charges were dismissed. But the county kept $25 of Mr. Statham’s money as a “booking fee.” It returned the remaining $21 on a debit card subject to an array of fees.

The New York Times

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The very bad reason Jeff Sessions is ‘very unhappy’

A sued businessperson does not have assets taken until he or she has lost in a trial, whereas civil forfeiture takes property without a trial and the property owner must wage a protracted, complex and expensive fight to get it returned. The Senate Judiciary Committee might want to discuss all this when considering the nominee to be the next attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.

The Washington Post

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Driver’s licenses, caught in the War on Drugs

States are wisely backing away from the severe drug sentencing policies that filled prisons to bursting beginning in the 1980s and ’90s and eventually drove corrections costs to bankrupting levels. But to repair the civic damage, lawmakers also need to question other counterproductive forms of punishment from what is now known as the war-on-drugs era.

The New York Times

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The long-term costs of fining juvenile offenders

In Arkansas, for instance, the J.L.C. documented the case of a thirteen-year-old boy who was charged with truancy, which carried a fine of up to five hundred dollars. The boy went to court without a lawyer or parent present, and, because neither he nor his mother had the money to pay, the boy spent three months in a juvenile jail. “My mind was set to where I was just like, forget it. I might as well just go ahead and do the time because I ain’t got no money and I know the [financial] situation my mom is in,” the thirteen-year-old told a J.L.C. interviewer.

The New Yorker

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Forcing a District Attorney’s hand

In Dothan courtrooms, I saw defendants pleading guilty because they were unable to afford diversion. I also saw young women charged with felonies after the hospital reported that they had tested positive for marijuana when giving birth. A young, mentally ill black man had escaped from a psych ward and, still wearing a hospital gown, grabbed someone’s phone to call for a ride. Instead of being marched back to the hospital, he was arrested and jailed.

The New York Times

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After the pain, a chance to meet and forgive

Suffering from pain, confusion and bouts of overpowering anger, the survivor and the victim’s family eventually agreed to meet through a Kansas restorative justice program, which brings together victims and those who have upended their lives. Similar programs are expanding throughout the country. Here’s a look at Cameron, Zachary and Cameron’s parents as they become involved in the program.

The New York Times

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John Grisham on the state of criminal justice

John Grisham is… well, you know who John Grisham is. His 29th legal thriller, “The Whistler”, a tale of corruption in the judiciary, sits in Grisham’s customary seat atop the current New York Times best-seller list. It prompted Janet Maslin, one of the paper’s book critics, to write that the author has “fought harder for truth, justice and the American way than anyone this side of Superman.” And not just in his novels. He answered questions from The Marshall Project by email.

The Marshall Project

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Brazil’s deadly prison system

For Brazil to reform its prisons, it needs to reduce both the stock and flow of incarcerated people. The first priority is to diminish the bloated caseload of pretrial detainees. Federal and state-level judges, prosecutors and public defenders should set up task forces to immediately resolve outstanding cases. Next, Brazil’s juvenile justice system is as rotten as the one for adults and needs to be fixed. Mayors must assume a much greater responsibility in rehabilitating first-time offenders.

The New York Times

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Italian incarcerated people sip, smell and taste their way to rehabilitation

Mr. Albanese, 43, is an instructor in an innovative effort at Lecce Penitentiary to teach incarcerated people to be sommeliers, or wine stewards. The courses are part of a program to teach incarcerated people new professional skills, as well as to help them develop a bond with the region, which is renowned for its negroamaro grapes.

The New York Times

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D.C.’s criminal justice system is a threat to public safety

There are two options: Congress should turn over the D.C. courts, along with the federal offender incarceration and supervision systems, to the District of Columbia and provide sufficient resources to do the job — my preference. Or Congress should undertake the reforms: After all, Congress created this unwieldy and unaccountable system.

The Washington Post

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New Jersey courts to shift away from relying on bail

In 2014, New Jersey voters agreed there was a problem with their state’s criminal justice system. Because it relied so heavily on bail, poor defendants who posed little risk of danger or flight were often held in jail, simply because they couldn’t afford even a modest amount of bail. One study found 12 percent of the people in jail in New Jersey were being held for less than $2,000 bail.

WNYC

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California blames incarcerated workers for unsafe conditions and amputations

Injury logs generated by the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) — the agency in charge of overseeing the prison work programs in the country’s second largest prison system — provide a rare window into the varied dangers that face imprisoned laborers. Since 2012, incarcerated people in California have reported more than 600 injuries while working for as little as a 35 cents an hour.

The Intercept

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A quarter of Florida’s black citizens can’t vote. A new referendum could change that. 

Florida’s legions of disenfranchised voters are disproportionately Democrat-leaning minorities — including nearly a quarter of Florida’s black population — numbers that advocates say amount to a long-standing and often ignored civil rights catastrophe. This racial skew means that the state’s mass disenfranchisement could have changed the outcome of some particularly important elections — such as Bush v. Gore — and thus the direction of modern American history itself.

The Intercept

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After half a century, incarcerated people resurrect the Norfolk Prison Debating Society

Half a century ago, a team of incarcerated people in a Massachusetts prison held an outstanding record on the academic debate circuit. By 1966 the Norfolk Prison Debating Society boasted 144 wins and only eight losses. They won and lost against Harvard, MIT, Princeton and the like. But when a more punitive approach to prisons swept across the U.S., the debate team dissolved. Until now.

NPR

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During federal investigation, another use-of-force incident in Harnett jail

Since May, the Harnett County jail staff has been under the watch of federal authorities, scrutiny brought by a 2011 surveillance video showing detention officers shocking an incarcerated person three times with a Taser, then leaving him to die on the floor of a padded cell.

The News & Observer

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Life without

David Robinson has served 16 years of a life sentence for the murder of Sheila Box. But did he do it? Two witnesses have recanted, and another man confessed to the murder. As Robinson’s appeal has now reached the Missouri Supreme Court, Robinson continues his “Life Without” freedom, his family and … parole. Watch our exclusive investigative video series and examine the details of this perplexing case.

Southeast Missourian

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