A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
NYCHA pilot sees success allowing residents to return after prison
William Gonzalez, 63, got a second chance. After being convicted of attempted murder in 1987, he spent nearly 30 years in various state prisons before he was released on parole in March of this year. Unlike many formerly incarcerated people, he knew he could turn to his family for a place to stay. The NYCHA Family Reentry Pilot Program, implemented by the city in 2014, allowed Gonzalez to return to his mother’s apartment.
“A living nightmare”
An investigation by The Intercept and WNYC has found, women like Quattlebaum have reported enduring invasive searches not while incarcerated, but while simply attempting to visit someone detained at a New York City correctional facility. Records obtained under the state’s Freedom of Information law reveal that since 2010, New York’s 311 call center has received at least 83 complaints about correction officers subjecting visitors to strip searches or cavity searches.
Reports indicate city’s progress is slow on mental health planning for incarcerated people
Some incarcerated people enter New York City’s correctional facilities with prior mental illness made more severe by incarceration. Others have more subtle mental-health issues exacerbated by release, jarred by the change in environment and lack of institutional support. This was the experience of Jonathan Stenger, a formerly incarcerated person and Director of Communications at the Osborne Association.
Mayor de Blasio announces new program connecting those who have experience with substance use recovery programs with training for careers as peer advocates for others in recovery
Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced a first-of-its-kind Certified Recovery Peer Advocate (CRPA) training program connecting those with experience in substance use recovery programs with training for careers helping others in recovery. The program, a product of the Department of Small Business Services’ New York Alliance for Careers in Healthcare (NYACH), will fill a growing demand for peer support services in substance use treatment.
Ex-addicts trained as peer advocates to help New Yorkers struggling with addiction
The city is training former drug and alcohol abusers to help New Yorkers struggling with the same demons. The new “peer advocate” program prepares New Yorkers who have kicked substance abuse disorders, or whose family members have struggled with addiction, to land jobs in hospitals and treatment centers.
Five big-league NYC landlords slapped with discrimination charges
On Tuesday, the New York City Commission on Human Rights announced a list of landlords and brokerage firms — which in total operate 20,000 housing units — with a “pattern or practice” of “discrimination for repeatedly refusing to accept prospective tenants’ government assistance housing vouchers, including Section 8 and Living in Communities (LINC) vouchers.”
New York secures the most affordable housing units in 27 years
“I want people struggling out there to know that this is still your city,” Mr. de Blasio said Wednesday. “We are fighting to keep New York a place that seniors, the middle class and families trying to make it to the middle class can actually afford.”
Homeless deaths in New York City increased in FY 2016
The deaths include homeless people living in shelters and people living unsheltered on the streets or in other public spaces. The increase coincides with record high numbers of people living in shelters through much of 2016, according to DHS data.
NYC to turn six city-owned vacant lots into affordable housing, totaling 440 units
Six city-owned vacant lots in three boroughs will be transformed into affordable housing serving some of the city’s neediest populations — including the homeless and seniors — under a new plan by Mayor de Blasio.
Mayor de Blasio scrambles to curb homelessness after years of not keeping pace
The decision to halt shelter openings for much of 2015 was the mayor’s, made after neighborhood complaints about homeless shelters, as Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, was beginning to wrestle with what has become one of the most visible and vexing issues of his mayoralty. He calls it the “No. 1 frustration” of his first three years in office.
Many incarcerated people move from prison to shelters, despite efforts to get them homes
“It’s like living in a maze,” Henderson, 58, says. “The shelter system is worse than prison. At least in prison you know how long you’re gonna be in there and then you get released. In the shelter system, you’re allegedly free, but you’re not. It’s like doing another sentence.”
In late 2015, a father in the Bronx lost all chance at custody of his child as the result of another similar evaluation. He had met with a psychologist for an hour shortly after the birth of his child, according to the man’s attorney. The psychologist did not ask a single question about the man’s potential to be a parent, and never saw him in the presence of his newborn. He was instead given what the psychologist called an “abbreviated IQ test,” the attorney said. The subsequent report to Family Court concluded the father’s “cognitive limitations” left him unfit to care for his child.
NYC leaders welcome Cuomo’s pledge to overhaul criminal justice system
Cuomo is proposing legislation to make a series of changes, including allowing judges to consider whether a defendant poses a risk to the community when they set bail. He wants to add more teeth to the constitutionally guaranteed right to a “speedy trial,” which is often thwarted by delays in the overwhelmed court system.
Gov. Cuomo: Martin Luther King’s crusade for justice not over as New York needs criminal justice reform
In the coming months in Albany, as part of our “New York Promise” agenda, I will propose that the Legislature enact important reforms that will result in a criminal justice system more just than it is today. In the words of King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” There are concrete actions we can take here in New York.
Some Democrats critical of N.Y. governor following veto of public defense bill
Long sought by liberal activists, the bill would have mandated the state fund attorneys for low-income defendants and sought to improve the quality of public defense. This legislation also had the support of Republicans who run the state Senate because it would ease the burden on counties that now largely cover costs associated with indigent legal defense. Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said the bill would unduly burden taxpayers and vetoed it late on Dec. 31.
Patchwork of education programs for NY incarcerated people who want to get out and stay out
For six years, Matos was what he called “education limbo.” During his time in prison, Matos made sure he was still active by facilitating and participating in latino organizations, behavioral and conflict resolution programs. Then he heard of a program called Hudson Link for Higher Education Program, which brings college education to state prisons in order to assist with re-entry once they’re released.
Chicago police routinely trampled on civil rights, Justice Dept. says
A blistering report by the Justice Department described far-reaching failures throughout the Chicago Police Department, saying excessive force was rampant, rarely challenged and chiefly aimed at African-Americans and Latinos. The report, unveiled on Friday after a 13-month investigation, forced a public reckoning for a police department with a legacy of corruption and abuse.
Gift of freedom: how Obama’s clemency drive tackled aftermath of ‘war on drugs’
Brant is one of 1,324 women and men who will honor Obama with their freedom long after he vacates the White House in less than three weeks’ time. Most of them, like her, were serving long prison sentences – 395 of them for life – for relatively minor drug crimes imposed during the so-called “war on drugs”.
Obama’s historic clemency push left women behind
While it’s true women only make up 6.7 percent of the federal prison population, she said, many of them are first-time offenders who are serving unduly long sentences for drug crimes ― the exact type of candidate the Justice Department encouraged to apply for clemency.
National Institute of Justice releases review of financial barriers to reentry
The Office of Justice Programs’ National Institute of Justice (NIJ) today released “Shackled to Debt: Criminal Justice Financial Obligations and the Barriers to Re-Entry They Create,” a paper published in partnership with Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management. The paper describes trends in the use of financial obligations for formerly incarcerated individuals. The paper also discusses issues such as restitution and alternative models for successful use of fines, fees, and restitution.
Deputy Attorney General says criminal justice reform likely to continue in Trump Administration
“Support for criminal justice reform isn’t limited to Democrats or liberals or any single interest group,” she said. “Rather, there is a strong, bipartisan consensus, from both ends of the spectrum and every point in between, that we need to adjust our approach. And that’s because fiscal realities, public safety, and basic fairness demand it.”
New report highlights horrific impact of solitary confinement on incarcerated people with disabilities
“The current and formerly incarcerated people with disabilities who we spoke with described their experiences of enduring extreme isolation for days, months, and even years,” the report says. “They shared the pain and humiliation of being left to fend for themselves in solitary confinement without wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, or other necessary accommodations to carry out life’s basic daily tasks. Without these vital accommodations, many of them were left without the means to walk, shower, clothe themselves, or even use the toilet.”
Benny King and the criminalization of addiction in America
You see, just like hundreds of thousands of poor, disproportionately black and brown Americans sidelined from American life — stuffed out of sight in state and federal penal institutions across the U.S. — King is serving time for one, and only one, unconscionable reason: he suffers from a substance abuse problem. He drinks.
Let’s end criminalization without representation
One of the core drivers of over-criminalization is that 98 percent of the more than 300,000 crimes on America’s books were never voted on by Congress. We at the Manhattan Institute have dubbed this phenomenon “criminalization without representation.” In our view, it represents one of the most egregious usurpations of power by the state from the people in American history.
My best friends in prison are frogs, turtles, and raccoons
I began my bid at Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois, where I lived from 2000 to 2002. The entire yard abuts a rocky bluff, and deer would occasionally emerge from the surrounding woods to peer down at us. In the summer, I could always find myself a pet; garter snakes, frogs, and turtles would often break onto the grounds. At night, I could look out my window and see more than a dozen raccoons hanging out on the roof of the storage building, planning their assault on the chow hall dumpsters.
How your old books are bringing new hope to women in prison
“Books are treasured by people in jail. They provide so much entertainment, enlightenment, self- improvement and self-empowerment,” said White, but “funding libraries in prisons is not a popular legislative item.”
How far should state leaders go in reforming justice?
A Jamaica Plain state senator who represents a diverse swath of Boston ripped into Beacon Hill leaders Monday for dragging their feet on reforming the state’s criminal justice system and called on them to “give people a fair shot at justice.” For more than four years, state leaders have promised to reform mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses but have not delivered on those pledges, Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz said.
N.J. high court ruling creates barrier to life sentences for juveniles
New Jersey’s highest court ruled Wednesday that judges must take age into account when sentencing juvenile offenders, creating a barrier to imposing life sentences on those who commit crimes in their youth. In ordering new sentences for two men convicted separately of serious crimes committed when they were 17 years old, Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said the sentencing judges hadn’t taken the effect of youth into consideration.
Colorado jail deaths steadily increased, more than doubled from 2011 to June of 2015
The number of people who died in Colorado’s jails more than doubled in four years, following a national trend of a rising death toll among incarcerated people in city and county jails across the country. Jail deaths in Colorado grew from 11 incarcerated people in 2011 to 24 in 2015, according to data compiled by The Denver Post. During the same period, Colorado’s jail population declined.
Baltimore will steer some people with drug related crimes to treatment—not jail
Long burdened by one of the worst heroin problems in the U.S., Baltimore is joining a
small but growing number of cities where police can divert low-level drug offenders to treatment, rather than send them to jail. The move toward a diversion program—before an offender is booked on charges—is the latest sign of a shift away from a punishment-centered response to illegal drug use
In New Orleans, making defendants choose bail or jail is really expensive
The report could add fuel to a growing outcry against local legal systems around the country that are funded in large part by costs imposed on residents — particularly those who are black and poor and including people who aren’t ultimately convicted of a crime.
N.J. sued over ‘shocking’ lack of special education for incarcerated people
Teenagers sent to state prison in New Jersey are routinely stripped of their federal rights to special education services and sometimes left in solitary confinement with little regard for their disabilities, a new class action lawsuit contends.
Minn. GOP lawmakers look to reopen, lease private prison
Republican legislators say they will resurrect an effort to reopen and run a privately owned 1,600-bed prison in Swift County as a way to ease chronic overcrowding in Minnesota’s 10 state prisons. A proposal to lease the facility from its owner, Nashville, Tenn.-based CoreCivic, previously known as Corrections Corporation of America, flopped last year following an onslaught of criticism.
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