A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Gillibrand: homeless domestic violence survivors shouldn’t be invisible, deserve more federal resources and support
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced a new push calling on President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration to direct officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to permanently include homeless victims of domestic violence in its annual count of the homeless population. Currently, HUD does not require the count of these victims as part of the homeless population, resulting in underfunded programs and resources to help this vulnerable population get back on their feet.
Stripped of their dignity
The visitors who come to Rikers Island are a life-line for incarcerated people in New York City’s notorious, violent jail system. But visiting, it turns out, comes with its own set of risks. Scores of women have been complaining for years that they’re being invasively searched while trying to visit loved ones in jail. That’s according to an investigation by WNYC and The Intercept, an investigative web site.
After teenage mistakes, pardons give second chances to justice involved people
“The initial interview would go great, but towards the end when it was time to run that background check, that’s when reality hit,” he explains. “I’ve heard the word ‘no’ so many times. It’s hard, man. It’s hard to keep telling yourself you’re not going to give up.”
Should juveniles be incarcerated with adults?
The fundamental difference is that in the family court, that child who is charged with a crime is viewed as somebody who is a child, for whom elements of rehabilitation and support must be put in place because they’re still a kid. But the difference of a few months puts that same kid for the same crime in the adult system.
A notorious former Bronx prison site to become affordable housing
The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) recently unveiled plans to redevelop a former Bronx juvenile prison into a mixed-use development centered on affordable housing.
Western NY prison placed on lockdown in response to fights
New York’s correctional officer’s union says Attica Correctional Facility was placed on lockdown after five fights involving illegal weapons broke out in the span of two days. The western New York maximum security prison has been on lockdown since Sunday while officials search the facility for weapons and other contraband.
Governor Cuomo presents the 12th proposal of the 2017 State of the State agenda: launching the “New York Promise” agenda to advance social justice and affirm New York’s progressive values
New York is currently only one of four states in the nation where judges cannot, by statute, consider whether an individual poses a threat to the public if released from jail prior to trial. This antiquated system, in effect, equates freedom with financial status, instead of considering whether a defendant poses an actual risk to society if released before trial.
The correction of Judith Clark
The dispute over whether Judith Clark deserves freedom is part of a debate American society is going to have to grapple with if it is ever to deal with the millions locked away in our prisons. To succeed, I think we must believe in the possibility of change — and to give that change the recognition it deserves.
New York’s unequal justice for the poor
With his veto, Mr. Cuomo missed a chance to show leadership by demonstrating New York’s broader commitment to well-funded legal services, which is critical not only when a person faces jail time, but also in noncriminal contexts like family court, where judges can remove children from their parents and order juveniles into state custody. Providing legal counsel to the poor in those cases will have to wait for another bill.
Crime and gratitude in New York
The crime rate keeps falling in New York City, and falling. The trend has held for many years, and not even 2016 — so terrible in so many other ways — broke the pattern. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill hit the high points at a news conference on Wednesday: The year ended with fewer than 1,000 shootings, a record low.
NYPD to oversee homeless shelter security force in New York City
The NYPD will oversee the security force responsible for safety in the city’s troubled shelter system, authorities said Friday. The more than 700 peace officers assigned to the Department of Homeless Services have been trained by the NYPD to do a better job keeping weapons out of shelters, defusing tense encounters, dealing with the mentally ill and preventing domestic violence.
New York City to pay homeless people whose possessions were crushed
While the claims are among thousands settled by the city comptroller’s office each year, they underscore a continuing debate over the treatment of those on the street and when homelessness constitutes criminal behavior.
City amps up fight against landlords who refuse housing vouchers
The city has filed complaints against five large landlords for discriminating against New Yorkers who use housing vouchers to help pay the rent. The city said Parkchester South Condominium and four other firms repeatedly refused to rent apartments to people like Edwin Perez. He and his 6-year-old daughter are doubled-up with his mom. He’s been looking for a place of their own since July, using Section 8.
NYCHA residents suffered increase in major crime last year as city enjoyed 4% dip
While the rest of the city enjoyed a drop in serious crime last year, the 400,000 tenants of public housing continued to live in a parallel universe where it remains a stubborn problem. Major crimes in NYCHA developments rose about 2.4% from 5,088 in 2015 to 5,211 last year. That compares with a citywide drop of about 4%.
Queens assemblyman’s plan to address homeless crisis gains bipartisan support
Andrew Hevesi has been pushing a plan, first reported by the Daily News in September, that he calls the Home Stability Support program. It’s intended to reduce reliance on homeless shelters by creating a new rent subsidy to keep people in their homes.
The rent will come due: a more humane homeless option?
Applaud the assemblyman for stepping up with a well conceived solution, in stark contrast to Queens politicians who raced to join screaming mobs protesting homeless hotels. On a smaller-dollar scale, plan Hevesi could have promise. An increase in the welfare housing allowance is long overdue, but New York must take care not to overdo it.
Justice Department backs lawsuit challenging solitary confinement of children
The Justice Department today submitted a “statement of interest” in support of a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York to stop the Justice Center jail in Syracuse from subjecting 16- and 17-year-old children to solitary confinement. This statement of interest, which is a filing with the court in which the department makes its view of the law known, advances the Justice Department’s position that juveniles should never be placed in solitary confinement.
Senators plan to revive sentencing reform push
Criminal justice reform — the great bipartisan hope of 2016 that ended in disappointment — may not be dead just yet. Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) plans to take up a bill to revamp U.S. sentencing laws and reform prisons soon after his panel clears the high-profile nominations from Donald Trump.
What does a Trump presidency mean for criminal justice reform?
Trump’s refusal to admit innocent people are prosecuted and his representation that crime goes down when we violate people’s fundamental civil liberties is at odds with reform efforts of today. However, specifics on Trump’s criminal justice reform policies are unknown.
Obama returns to the Harvard Law Review to chronicle his criminal justice legacy
US President Barack Obama returned to the pages of the Harvard Law Review, where he served as the first black editor in history during his time at law school, to outline his criminal justice legacy and to leave some parting words on the topic for his successor.
The president’s role in advancing criminal justice reform
Presidencies can exert substantial influence over the direction of the U.S. criminal justice system. Those privileged to serve as President and in senior roles in the executive branch have an obligation to use that influence to enhance the fairness and effectiveness of the justice system at all phases.
An open letter to President Obama
We wish to thank you for the great commitment you have shown to revisit the punitive approach to drug policy, particularly with regards to the pardon of people with drug related crimes. These individuals have committed no violent act, yet they have been judged as criminals under strict drug sentencing laws and handed lengthy prison terms. What purpose does this serve except to create huge obstacles for them to ever lead productive lives?
The George W. Bush advice Obama should have taken
There are indications that George W. Bush wanted to use the pardon power more consistently and generously—but the Justice Department still dragged its heels, and Bush ended up with a modest pardon record. In his memoir of his presidency, Bush reports that when he sat in the limo with Barack Obama going to the inauguration, he told the president-elect that if he had one piece of advice, it was to settle on a pardon policy early and stick to it.
A roadmap for public safety and criminal justice success for our new attorney general
Prison is meant, at least in part, to deter people from engaging in criminal behaviors. One might think that “worse” prisons are more effective deterrents, but the opposite has turned out to be true. When prisons are overcrowded and violent, when incarcerated people lack access to educational or rehabilitative programs, and when sentences are unduly long, the justice system becomes a revolving door.
Keep private industry out of criminal justice reform
As fewer people have been sent to prisons and jails in recent years, the industry has diversified beyond the business of incarceration. Since 2005, the companies have collectively spent more than $680 million acquiring companies that provide services referred to as “community corrections,” such as residential reentry.
How Albert Woodfox survived solitary
Woodfox allowed himself to cry only when everyone else on the tier was asleep. His youngest brother, Michael, who visited the prison every month, said that Woodfox no longer permitted himself the pleasure of reminiscing about their childhood. Handcuffed and shackled, he spoke through a heavy wire-mesh screen.
Starved of money for too long, public defender offices are suing—and starting to win
“We’ve basically gone about the process of establishing systemic and ongoing violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct,” Hanlon says. “I’ve been practicing law 50 years now, and this is probably the legacy of my generation to the next generation of lawyers, unless we can turn it around now. And it’s a horrible legacy. We’ve all known about this.”
My prison cell: learning to hear on a cardboard piano
On my bottom bunk bed, I sat in deep thought. I had an unusual problem. The prison choir that I sang in needed a piano player, and they needed one quickly. I thought to myself, How could I teach myself to play?
Why more incarcerated people are studying criminology
“The idea is that a justice-involved person who is more familiar with the system, because he’s done time at the juvenile, state, or federal level, understands the machinery of the criminal justice system better than people who’ve never done time.”
What’s next for American prisons and criminal justice reform?
Today, a growing movement is challenging structural racism that has millions of Americans in a cycle of incarceration. We gathered leaders from different parts of this fight—singer John Legend, who founded the “Free America” campaign; activist DeRay Mckesson; former prosecutor Adam Foss; Obama Administration data expert Clarence Wardell III; and Malika Saada Saar, Google’s senior counsel on civil and human rights—for a conversation with Fast Company’s J.J. McCorvey at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in November.
Titus Kaphar is painting images of the criminal justice system we need to see
In the exhibition, the 40-year-old artist, who’s now based in New York and Connecticut, takes the images that “memorialize criminality” and transforms them into art that tells the story of the tragedy of our criminal justice system.
All criminal justice reform is local
District attorney elections have only recently emerged as a focus of the criminal justice reform movement, spurred in part by outrage over the failure of prosecutors to bring charges against police for killing unarmed black men. But district attorneys (sometimes known by other titles, like county prosecutor or state’s attorney) have control over far more than prosecuting cops. The phrase “criminal justice reform” encompasses many ideas, but at its heart is the goal of ending mass incarceration.
Rights battles emerge in cities where homelessness can be a crime
Growing numbers of homeless encampments have led to civic soul-searching in cities around the country, from Philadelphia to Chicago to Seattle. Should cities open up public spaces to their poorest residents, or sweep away camps that city leaders, neighbors and business groups see as islands of drugs and crime?
Advocates: Mass. unlawfully isolates mentally ill incarcerated people
One incarcerated man, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, became so distraught after months in the prison’s isolation unit that he began talking to himself and counting compulsively. Another, who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, declined so much in isolation that he smeared himself with feces. A third, with a lengthy history of bipolar disorder, wrote a desperate letter.
Why are there so many people in jail in Scranton, PA?
While the jail incarceration rate in large counties (with more than one million residents) has grown almost three-fold during this period, the jail incarceration rate in small counties (with fewer than 250,000 residents) increased almost seven-fold. The jail incarceration rate of Lackawanna County, a small county with a population of 213,000, increased by more than 15 times between 1970 and 2014, with racial disparities in incarceration that are both egregious and indicative of uneven incarceration rates.
Family Sentence: children of incarcerated parents are forgotten victims
The multi-part series, Family Sentence, exposes the ways the criminal justice system is failing families: How law enforcement and the courts don’t always recognize that the people they arrest, prosecute and sentence are more than just suspects: often they are mothers and fathers. And their imprisonment will affect children, households and entire communities.
A perfect storm of failure in criminal justice
By every conceivable measure, Delaware’s criminal justice system is a failure. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “Delaware has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country.” The article found that our state ranked third highest among all states in robberies, and that the rate of crime in Wilmington is “one of the highest of any large city in the country.”
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