A wide-ranging collection of news and opinion from the previous week focusing on criminal justice policy, advocacy, and reform.
Cuomo clemency decision revives rehabilitation debate
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to grant clemency to a former Weather Underground activist convicted of felony murder in the killings of two police officers and an armored car guard is invigorating debate over whether justice involved people who’ve transformed their lives should be allowed to return to society.
Correction commissioner defends practice of chaining some young incarcerated people to desks at Rikers
These incarcerated people spend 17 hours in their cells. The rest, they are most likely chained by the ankle. The department says they still get an hour of recreation time and are not chained in the shower. After NY1’s story, the mayor backed the desks’ use.
Rikers Island sees massive spike in contraband seizures for 2016
The amount of contraband seized at Rikers Island has surged with a 538% jump in the number of weapons found at visits to the jail, officials testified Tuesday. The number of weapons seized from visits jumped to 721 in 2016 from 113 in 2015, according to Department of Correction statistics.
Staten Island mom demands answers about addict son’s death in Rikers Island
While at a rehab facility, Eugene (Sonny) Castelle, 27, had a relapse and was arrested in Boynton Beach for heroin possession with intent to sell. The bust was a violation of the terms of a drug-related plea agreement in New York, prompting an NYPD detective to fly down and pick him up. Castelle landed at Rikers Island on Nov. 2. Six days later, he was dead.
Necessary pills to swallow to aid the sick leaving Rikers
In a promising effort to get meds and other urgent aid to people so desperately sick they’ve proven a risk to public safety, the city’s health department is keeping close tabs on 230 mentally ill New Yorkers, dispatching teams to sidewalks and subways and wherever else their often-homeless clients eke out living space.
DA wants justice-involved people to meditate as part of ‘anti-burnout program’
The healing will begin as early as April for incarcerated “at risk” juvenile and adult incarcerated people in addition to non-justice involved people, including domestic-violence survivors and sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a notice in the city record.
A needed reprieve for young N.Y. men: Police enforcement actions are way, way down
As New Yorkers celebrate the city’s historic low crime rates, they should also take pride in two other trends in the criminal justice system. After years of steep increases, NYPD enforcement actions — arrests, summonses and stops — dropped again, to record lows in 2016. And, continuing a two-decade decline, the number of people admitted to the city’s jails fell again.
City makes slow progress in effort to prevent wrongful convictions
In 2016, 159 people were exonerated in the United States after being wrongfully convicted for a crime they did not commit, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Fourteen of those wrongful convictions took place in New York, the third-highest number of wrongful convictions by state in 2016, including several in New York City: five in Brooklyn, two in Manhattan, and one in the Bronx.
It’s time for New York to do right by Kalief Browder’s family and pass reasonable criminal justice reforms
We failed Kalief Browder and our failure cost this young man his life. We should all be ashamed and I sincerely think the only way we can even begin to atone for what our state did to Kalief is to make sure that we put the right policies and laws in place to absolutely guarantee it never happens again.
Watchdog finds shortfalls in NYPD’s ability to police the mentally ill
The New York Police Department doesn’t have an efficient system to dispatch adequately trained officers to crises involving mentally ill people, a watchdog agency tasked with monitoring the New York Police Department said on Thursday.
New York City to pay up to $75 million over dismissed summonses
New York City has agreed to pay up to $75 million to settle a federal class-action lawsuit that accused its Police Department of issuing hundreds of thousands of criminal summonses that were later found to be without legal justification, according to a signed copy of the proposed deal filed on Monday.
Notorious New York prison is reclaimed by the women it once caged
The prison, shuttered in 2013 after damage from Hurricane Sandy, is now on the precipice of a major transformation. No women will ever be punished inside its walls again. Instead, the building will reopen as a home for the women’s and girls’ rights movement.
Six blocks, 96 buildings, zero shootings: new recipe at the Queensbridge Houses
On Thursday, Queensbridge — the largest housing project in the United States, and a social caldron a generation ago — marked its 365th day without a shooting. No one can say with certainty what, precisely, has worked. There are soft approaches, like better cultural and arts opportunities at the local elementary school, and a robust menu of after-school offerings at the Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement.
Most New Yorkers believe homelessness has become worse under de Blasio
Most New Yorkers say homelessness has worsened under Mayor Bill de Blasio, a new poll has found, underscoring the political risks of an issue that has dogged the mayor. The Quinnipiac University poll found that 53% of those surveyed said they see more homeless people in parks, subways and streets than they did a few years ago. And 72% said homelessness was a “very serious issue,” according to the poll.
A bold plan to prevent homelessness
The current crisis requires bigger, bolder solutions, and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi is proposing one. It’s a plan to create a statewide rental subsidy to help families on public assistance stay in their homes. The program, called Home Stability Support, would help bridge the gap between the shelter allowance for public assistance recipients and market rents.
Gov. Cuomo proposes reduction in visitation days for incarcerated people at state’s maximum security prisons
People at the state’s maximum security prisons are facing fewer visits from people on the outside under a proposal by Gov. Cuomo. Cuomo in his budget plan unveiled last week tucked in a plan to reduce the number of days in which visits are allowed at maximum-security state prisons to three days a week, down from seven.
Cuomo embraces voting reform agenda, but implementation poses challenges
During his State of the State tour early this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of major reforms hailed as important steps toward modernizing New York’s antiquated electoral system and increasing the state’s paltry voter turnout. While they are long-called for proposals that many are pleased to see Cuomo promote, implementing these goals could be more complicated than it may seem.
Fines rise against aides at N.Y. youth detention centers
Many things were going through Charles Kisembo’s mind Dec. 11 when he confronted a 15-year-old resident of the Brookwood Secure Center youth facility in Columbia County. He thought about trying to restrain or tackle the 200-pound teen who was approaching him with a “Wet Floor” sign he had grabbed. But that might have led to disciplinary charges, and a potentially hefty fine under regulations that govern how such youngsters should be disciplined.
Community voices resounding ‘no expansion’ at jail study meeting
As a study of the Tompkins County Jail pushes ahead, many community members have made it clear they are not in favor of an expansion. Instead, many advocated for more services in the community to address issues such as substance abuse and mental health.
Obama grants final 330 commutations to people with drug related crimes
Obama did not seriously focus on pardons and commutations until 2014, two years into his second term. But on Thursday, his last full day in office, Obama announced 330 more commutations, for people with drug related crimes, bringing his total number of clemencies to 1,715. He has granted commutations to more people than the past 12 presidents combined.
A thank you letter to president Barack Obama from a justice involved person
I never voted for you. I wasn’t allowed to; I was incarcerated during the 2008 and 2012 elections. Since I couldn’t support you on your way in, I’ll do it on your way out I am grateful to you for all you have done for people like me, people who are involved with the criminal justice system
Dear President Trump: here’s how to get right on crime, part 1
While prisons are necessary to isolate justice involved people who threaten the safety of the community, there is a growing tendency to overuse prisons even when the public is not endangered. There are proven ways to hold non-dangerous justice involved people accountable without sending them to prison. We should use costly prison beds for the truly dangerous. Prisons are for people we are afraid of, but too often they are used for people we are merely mad at.
Dear President Trump: here’s how to get right on crime, part 2
Criminal justice reform advocates are pessimistic about the prospects for federal sentencing reform under the new presidential administration. Federal sentencing, however, is only one component of America’s vast criminal justice system. There are several other areas where the administration and reformers could find common cause. Here are just three reforms widely supported by advocates which are also consistent with a “Trumpian” worldview. They should be at the forefront of a serious federal reform agenda over the next four years.
Dear President Trump: here’s how to get right on crime, part 3
The Trump administration presents a major opportunity to break the criminal justice reform logjam in Congress. Perhaps the biggest reason the Sentencing and Corrections Reform Act got bottlenecked is the fight over whether a default mens rea provision should be included, which many Republicans view as essential but the Obama administration obstructed on grounds that it would make it harder to prosecute white-collar crimes. In truth, the requirement of a culpable mental state is important no matter the color of the defendant’s collar.
‘Justice nightmare’: 32 years in Texas prisons after conviction voided
The legal record shows that Jerry Hartfield’s first murder conviction was thrown out on appeal, and for the next 32 years, he was not officially guilty of anything, not sentenced to anything. Yet he spent that time in Texas prisons, in what an appellate court now calls “a criminal justice nightmare.”
Successful basketball coach with 15-year-old drug conviction challenges NCAA’s ‘No felons’ rule
The collegiate association enacted a ban on anyone with a felony conviction participating in an NCAA-certified tournament, such as those where Hardie’s Triple D Hoops AAU team would play in front of Division 1 coaches. Now Hardie is alleging the ban has a disparate impact on African Americans, and challenging it as a violation of the Civil Rights Act.
What we can learn from the amazing drop in juvenile incarceration
The Bureau of Justice Statistics announced in a year-end report a 2 percent reduction in the number of incarcerated people nationally, continuing a modest decline of recent years. Overlooked by most observers, though, was the fact that the number of juveniles held in adult prisons declined to fewer than 1,000, an 82 percent drop from the peak year in 1997.
Our money bail system costs U.S. taxpayers $38 million a day
A report published this month finds that jailing these people costs U.S. taxpayers approximately $38 million every day, or $14 billion annually. The study, compiled by the nonprofit advocacy group Pretrial Justice Institute, says the majority of this money pays for locking up lower-risk defendants, who it argues could otherwise be released on non-financial conditions.
Granted clemency, this formerly incarcerated person is starting over
Brown is among 1,927 people granted clemency by President Obama during his two terms, a vast majority of whom were originally convicted for nonviolent drug crimes. Now Brown faces a new challenge – adjusting to life outside prison.
Should social media be banned in prison?
People in state prisons plan a work strike on Saturday in conjunction with a march in Washington to protest corporate food giant Aramark, which provides meals at more than 500 correctional facilities in the country. Their means of organizing: social media.
Bresha Meadows case calls attention to incarcerated domestic violence survivors
Bresha Meadows has been in jail for 175 days, accused of killing her father. Police say she took a gun and shot her father in the head while he was sleeping. Bresha is awaiting trial on charges of aggravated murder, but her mother says she’s not a criminal — she’s a hero. That’s why organizers have put together a National Day of Action in her name, with hopes to #FreeBresha.
‘Not just another lost cause’
Growing up, everyone knew everyone and no one locked their doors. My parents worked hard at their jobs in local grocery stores. We went on weekend fishing trips to the lake. But what I didn’t realize was that somewhere within all of that — as has become increasingly true in communities like mine across America — were the seeds of addiction.
Children are ‘forgotten victims’ of incarceration, prof says
The forgotten victims of the incarceration state, Hagan said, are children whose parents are incarcerated people. As people born during the War on Drugs begin to come of age, the consequences of having imprisoned parents are now coming to light.
‘They call us monsters’
There is a delicate line between childhood and adulthood. For some, the former is filled with sweet memories and coming-of-age tales, but for others, like the young men in the documentary entitled ‘They Call Us Monsters,’ childhood may escape them as quickly as it began.
‘Solitary’ trailer explores the damaging effects of prison confinement
The new HBO documentary “Solitary: Inside Red Onion State Prison” provides unparalleled access to the world of super-maximum-security prisons, where the worst justice involved people are held 23 hours a day in confined 8-by-10 cells that look like small bathrooms.
An Oklahoma horror story
The final six days in the life of 37-year-old Army veteran Elliott Earl Williams read like a table of contents in some ghoulish law enforcement manual about how not to treat a mentally ill person in jail. Or maybe a horror movie would be a better metaphor, since his final hours inside the David L. Moss Detention Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were recorded on surveillance tape, portions of which will be shown next month to jurors in a federal courtroom there.
Prison food contractor hit with $2M in penalties
Michigan’s prison food contractor, Trinity Services Group, has been hit with penalties totaling just over $2 million for inadequate staffing levels and other problems since the company started providing meals in September 2015, an official said Friday.
Florida: “Judicial Accountability” bills filed, would force judges off of criminal cases if racial disparity in sentencing found
Two bills were filed in the Florida legislature yesterday that would measure the sentences judges hand down in criminal cases and possibly force judges off of such cases if the racial and other disparities are too great. The bills appear to be in response to reporting done by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune which collected sentencing data on all judges in the state and claimed racial disparities in sentencing practices.
This prison is by far the deadliest in Florida
Three years after Dade Correctional Institution was thrust into the national spotlight for the death of an incarcerated person locked in a boiling shower in its mental health unit, deaths at the prison have soared to unprecedented heights.
Race still impacts Shelby County juvenile hearings
Michael Leiber, a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida that has monitored the situation, has continued to find that being black increases the chances of detention and decreases the chances of receiving a non-judicial outcome compared to similar whites in the Shelby County Juvenile Court.
Prisons chief testifies why they aren’t called ‘offenders’
The outgoing leader of the state Department of Corrections went before lawmakers Thursday to explain his decision to stop referring to the men and women in prison as “offenders” in the agency’s written policies and daily practices. Acting Corrections Secretary Dick Morgan, whose tenure ends Friday, told a Senate panel he initiated the change in vocabulary because the word “offender” conveys a stigma on individuals long after they are freed.
‘New normal’: With crime rates down, Pa. set to close 2 prisons
At a time when crime rates have fallen, and public attention has turned to the economic and social costs of such widespread incarceration, many states are trimming their counts of incarcerated people.“This is the new normal for state corrections,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said last week.
Let indigent defendants choose their own lawyers
One of the basic rules governing American politics is that elected officials love to do popular things and hate to be seen doing anything unpopular. In the criminal justice area, everyone knows that money must be spent on police, prosecutors and judges. Less appreciated is the fact that money must also be set aside for attorneys to represent poor persons who are accused of crimes. Indiana policymakers have so neglected indigent defense that the festering problem could bring a constitutional crisis in 2017.
Sandoval wants to streamline parole process to fight prison overcrowding
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is pursuing creative solutions to a potential prison overcrowding challenge that could see capacity exceeded by 700 incarcerated people by the end of the next budget without prompt action.
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