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April 15 roundup of criminal justice news and updates
Top reads: Sherrilyn Ifill on the Republican strategy to beat democracy by stripping power from elected prosecutors and others; Freedom Funders, about key funders of the civil rights movement; Prisoners who rely on commissaries to supplement their rations are going hungry due to inflationary pricing.
I recently learned that Cerise Castle, the brave and fantastic journalist who crafted the 15-article series for Knock LA on Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy gangs, also produced a podcast on the subject called A Tradition of Violence.
Zealo.us launched a multi-media website in honor of the anniversary of the Gideon case, which established a right to free defense counsel for people who are too poor to pay.
Many groups came together on the steps of the capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama at the beginning of March to hold a “vigil for the victims” of Alabama prisons after over 300 people died in those prisons in the past year, often under suspicious circumstances. Here are photos from the event.
Konda Mason, founder of Jubilee Justice and a leader in efforts to preserve and expand Black regenerative agriculture, hosts a podcast called the Brown Rice Hour. Here is a recent episode with Elizabeth Keller about land, race, and money, and another with restorative justice leader Fania Davis.
Dr. Phil (who hosts one of the most popular shows in America) recently featured an episode asking the question, “is forced prison labor really slavery?” Bianca Tylek, Jorge Renaud, and Tiheba Bain made a strong case for “yes.” See also this recent Nation article on the topic.
Cristine Soto DeBerry of the California Prosecutors Alliance also recently went on Dr. Phil to remind viewers that current practices are failing very badly, and more prison is not the answer to crime.
Latino Justice published a new report on the bloated and sloppy gang database maintained by Nassau county, which includes names without explanation or with vague accusations. Being included on the database can trigger serious consequences.
The Prison Policy Initiative recently reported on 12 states that are working on policies to address the devastating family separation caused by incarceration. The issue has gained more awareness following the conviction of Elizabeth Holmes.
Bolts magazine covers the steaks in the upcoming district attorney race in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh, PA). A public defender is challenging a longtime incumbent, and the people most impacted by crime are behind him. But the suburbs prefer the status quo of heavy incarceration.
The Philadelphia Mayor’s race is just a few weeks away. Helen Gym is the progressive candidate in a crowded field (with no run off, so the plurality winner will take victory), and has been staunchly leading with alternative crime solutions rather than running away from the issue. If she wins, she will be a critical ally to Brandon Johnson in Chicago. One of her local allies is Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, who delivered powerful and brilliant remarks at a recent briefing. Keep your eyes on both of these leaders!
The NYTimes dug into Governor DeSantis’s dangerous and anti-democratic efforts against Tampa elected DA Andrew Warren, whom he removed from office after Warren said he wouldn’t enforce abortion laws. This story is entirely about politics, and zero about safety.
Work to close the Rikers Island jail complex is going slowly. NY Governor Hochul’s persistent and aggressive efforts to reverse course on the highly successful bail reform law will make it even harder to meet the timeline.
Reactionary AG Jeff Landry is running for governor in Louisiana this year. If he wins, people on death row whose cases have turned up new evidence of innocence are unlikely to get relief. He’s famous for being a death penalty hard liner, favoring hangings and firing squads and little review.
The Connecticut governor just removed 33-year police veteran Carleton Giles from his post as the chair of the pardons board, for supporting a lot of commutations (71 in 2022, compared to at most three in past years). He wants the legislature to ‘weigh in’, but this is an executive power. For some context, Ronald Reagan granted 575 pardons as California Governor between 1967-75, an average of 71 per year.
A former public defender is challenging the incumbent DA in the Bronx in a longshot bid. The Gotham Gazette gives us a thorough and interesting rundown of the dynamics there.
The Garrison Project collaborated with Rolling Stone to publish a 5,000 word investigation into the Raleigh Police Department's pattern and practice of wrong house raids, planting drugs on the city's Black residents, and fraudulent buy-and-busts arranged by a corrupt narcotics officer and his law-breaking informant.
Vice Magazine spoke to Atlanta “cop city” protestors charged with domestic terrorism for what appear to be extremely minor acts.
The latest issue of Protect and Serve is out, covering some quite shocking revelations about various police departments.
Police departments haven’t been defunded, but they are losing a lot of officers anyways. I’ve heard the figure stated that there is a 30% vacancy in police officer positions around the country right now, similar to the amount of corrections officer vacancies.
Solutions and Wins
Bianca Tylek reported: “I just heard that California prison visit rooms are full because folks inside have been able to rekindle relationships thanks to our legislation that made calls free. My heart is singing and I’m grateful for all our partners in this work.”
Data from the outstanding Louisiana Parole Project finds that of the 109 people who were released from prison in Louisiana after the Supreme Court ruled against life sentences for children, zero have since returned to prison.
One million people in Michigan may see their convictions automatically expunged with the implementation of a new law, meaning those lines will be deleted from their criminal records and will no longer be publicly available (though police and courts can access them), though the records can can be reinstated if the person fails to pay restitution (this could be a major caveat, depending on implementation). Achieving these results will also depend on a very smooth rollout of the software that’s supposed to identify which people are eligible.
Minnesota restored voting rights to about 50,000 people with convictions.
Louisiana lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow for sentence reductions for people whose crimes stemmed from being victims of domestic abuse (killing their abuser, for example).
Newly Elected DA Mary Moriarty of Hennepin (Minneapolis) has pledged to seek every alternative possible before charging young people with crimes. The memo says “we are focused on accountability, treatment and healing; not punishment.”
The L.A. Times Editorial Board came out very strongly in favor of shutting down extremely troubled youth detention centers.
The Guardian spoke with two formerly incarcerated leaders about CA Governor Newsom’s plan to transform San Quentin prison into a ‘rehabilitative center,’ per the Norway model. It’s a step in the right direction, though unclear how this alternative approach can be implemented given the physical infrastructure of the prison. At a minimum, officers treating prisoners with respect is a really important and good thing.
Thanks to a reinvestigation by the Brooklyn DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit, Shelden Thomas is free after 18 years of wrongful incarceration. This case is shocking: police, prosecutors and even the trial judge knew at the time that the photo identified by the witness was not the defendant, but proceeded with the case against him anyway.
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