The Fortune Society News of the Week — the week of March 6, 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

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


Weprin, Fortune Society push to keep visitation days in state prisons

Last Sunday, New York State Assemblyman David Weprin and criminal justice reform advocates, including Fortune staff members, protested the state’s proposal to reduce the number of allowed visitation days in minimum security jails. JoAnne Page, our president and CEO, delivered key remarks.



Andrew Cuomo, Van Jones: reform needed for justice system that’s failing most vulnerable

Despite overwhelming dangers, N.Y., N.C. continue to incarcerate older teens as adults. Our nation’s prison system faces a systemic, fundamental problem that must be addressed. Over the past 40 years, the prison population in the United States has increased 500%, with 2.2 million people currently incarcerated. Together, we have the responsibility and opportunity to reverse that trend and reform a criminal justice system that has grown too big and too unfair, especially to our nation’s youngest and most vulnerable: 16- and 17-year-olds who are ensnared in the adult criminal justice system.

USA Today


New York City plans to expand programs to keep students away from the criminal justice system

Two programs meant to limit student involvement with the criminal justice system will be expanded, city officials announced Monday. This spring, 71 total schools will be allowed to issue warning cards instead of a criminal summons to students 16 and older for disorderly conduct or possessing small amounts of marijuana — expanding on a 37-school pilot program in the Bronx that currently operates under that policy.



Philadelphia will stop billing parents when their children are incarcerated

The city of Philadelphia announced Friday that it will stop billing parents for the cost of their children’s incarceration, just hours after a front-page Marshall Project story in The Washington Post highlighted the practice in the city and across the nation. Heather Keafer, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, said the decision to stop charging parents will go into effect immediately. The agency already said late Thursday it plans to end its contract with Steve Kaplan, a private attorney who since 1998 has been collecting from parents on behalf of Philadelphia — earning up to $316,000 a year in salary and bonuses, more than any city employee.

The Marshall Project


How President Trump and Jeff Sessions Can Fix America’s Private Prisons

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo reversing the Obama administration’s decision to phase out its use of private prisons at the federal level. This memo followed the release of a U.S. Justice Department report in August concluding that privately-operated prisons experienced more safety and security incidents than facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons did. Since Sessions appears determined to move forward regardless, now is the right time to evaluate how to improve upon how the Justice Department contracts with private corporations to run some of its prisons.



Mental illness, untreated behind bars

President Trump has talked quite a bit about cracking down on a nonexistent crime wave. Rarely does he talk about the different kinds of support law enforcement needs or what actually keeps communities safe. So it might have come as a surprise to him when a member of the National Sheriffs’ Association at a White House meeting earlier this month brought up an urgent problem sheriffs’ offices all face — the mental health crisis that has filled jails to bursting with mentally ill people who would be more effectively dealt with through treatment.

The New York Times


My son’s five weeks in jail were a humbling lesson in parenting and compassion

When my boy was a baby, my top priority was keeping him safe, fed and warm. I did not know that two of the three — keeping him warm and fed — would become so important 20 years later. I couldn’t keep him safe in jail.

The Washington Post


Your kid goes to jail, you get the bill

For 40 years, many parents have had to pay for their children’s incarceration, but that may be changing. In dozens of one-on-one meetings every week, a lawyer retained by the city of Philadelphia summons parents whose children have just been jailed, pulls out his calculator and hands them more bad news: a bill for their kids’ incarceration. Even if a child is later proved innocent, the parents still must pay a nightly rate for the detention.

The Marshall Project



True story: a second chance at life after an Obama pardon

One of 1,715. For Eric Alvarez, this number is personal. It represents the 1,715 people who received a second chance at life when President Barack Obama commuted their prison sentences. “It’s overwhelming,” says Alvarez, 50, whose prison sentence was commuted in 2016. “It’s like sometimes it don’t even feel real.”

The Grio


Mass incarceration in the cornfields: shattered families and racial profiling in small-town America

Annette Taylor first lost her father to the prison system at age four. He was gone for four years, then came home for a few months, only to return to the Department of Corrections for another 16 years. “My dad was my everything,” Taylor told Truthout. Once her father was gone, Taylor remembers that her mother “just worked, worked, worked. She really wasn’t around.” Her mother worked two, sometimes three jobs — doing laundry in hotels and laboring in factories in Champaign County, Illinois, where their family lived.



Prisons experiment with cell blocks for military veterans

When Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple decided to create a cell block for military veterans in his upstate New York facility, he encountered resistance from his own staff. The jail superintendent was skeptical, and the correction officers weren’t keen on the idea of inmates getting special treatment and extra services. But more than two years later, the “veteran pod” is an unqualified success in the sheriff’s eyes. Of the 195 veterans who have been released into the public, only 10 have returned — while almost half the general population winds up behind bars again.

NBC News

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