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July 10 Criminal Justice News and Updates Roundup
Hi everyone! I’m excited to share another round of updates. I read a lot of Twitter and other news so you don’t have to! Please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments for reports/commentary/stories that I missed and should include next time.
Top reads: Adam Serwer skewers Justice Thomas’ opinion in the affirmative action case; The U.S. murder rate is dropping steeply; Will Bunch digs into ‘cop city’, and activists are raising money to pass an Atlanta ballot measure to stop the city from building it.
Rikers Jail has moved one step closer to federal receivership as the Judge no longer trusts Mayor Adams and his corrections chief. Related: Laura Flanders sat down for an interview with Jumaane Williams and Nick Pinto about the state of play in the plan to close Rikers.
Here’s a detailed update on efforts to reschedule marijuana at the federal level, which would have dramatic impacts on the industry.
Ana Marie Cox begs legislators to stop passing cruel and stupid laws allowing homicide charges for people who share or sell drugs leading to overdose deaths.
The Recall, a documentary about the unintended negative consequences of the campaign to recall the judge that sentenced Brock Turner to 6 months in jail, is now available in full online.
Here’s a recent briefing about the state of play in Atlanta around the ‘cop city’ protests.
Susan Burton, a nationally prominent formerly incarcerated leader out of L.A., recently appeared on the Today Show to talk about her work to support women coming home from prison.
I recently went to a great event with Street Poets in Los Angeles. They do writing workshops, leadership coaching and mentoring, public performances and much more with young people, providing an offramp from paths to jail or self-harm. They are a part of the Arts for Healing and Justice Network, a group of organizations providing arts programming for young people as an alternative to criminalization. If you’re looking for something at the intersection of arts, healing, and young people, check out these orgs.
The production team at Question Culture, a culture change organization with formerly incarcerated leadership, released a music video for “Atlantic.”
60 women from 17 countries who are fighting the shocking rise in women’s incarceration around the world gathered in Bogotá Colombia several weeks ago, convened by the National Council. You can watch a recording of the event here.
The Compton Pledge, a large guaranteed income project in Los Angeles, overseen by the fantastic Fund for Guaranteed Income, has issued its first major implementation report.
Researchers in Atlanta found that 1 in 8 jail bookings are of people experiencing homelessness, more than 30x their proportion of the population. Why do we Americans so easily accept this sadistic repeated punishment of people who can’t afford housing?
According to the Colorado Criminal Justice Coalition’s report this spring, Colorado is holding far more people in prison than it can handle with its current staffing levels, as the correctional staff turnover has nearly doubled in five years (aka, no one wants these depressing and traumatizing jobs). As a result, many people are being denied parole because the programs they are required to take are simply not available. Check out p. 7 for some haunting accounts.
A new research brief from Partners for Justice gives scores of citations backing the claim that regressive criminal justice policies and practices are eroding trust in government.
Atlanta’s ‘cop city’ movement
Activists are collecting signatures to put a measure on the November ballot to undo the city ordinance allowing cop city to proceed. Here’s the rundown.
Read about the labor unions and workers supporting the ‘cop city’ protests.
Hannah Riles recounts the many repressive measures used by the city in its failed attempt to suppress the protests, which are only growing.
The local press is beginning to show more skepticism towards the city’s plan.
Philadelphia’s Will Bunch visited Atlanta to learn about what was driving ‘cop city’, and concluded that it’s a war for the future of urban America.
Radley Balko profiled the town of Golden Valley (outside Minneapolis), where half the police force quit in protest when a Black police chief was hired. Following their departure, crime went down. A key factor here seems to be trust in police.
42 Women, including 10 minors, are suing the West Virginia State Police department alleging sexual harassment at the West Virginia Police Academy. One allegation is that staff secretly recorded women participating in a ‘junior trooper program’ while they were in the locker room.
Keechant Sewell, the first woman to lead the troubled NYPD as police commissioner, who was popular with officers, has resigned. Mayor Adams had intensively micromanaged her, blocking her promotion choices and interfering with her disciplinary oversight.
Oakland police paid a homeless woman $30,000 to testify about a homicide she didn’t witness. Two young men were sentenced to serve life in prison for a murder they did not commit. The real killer was never caught. Three children grew up without a father. (h/t @davidminpdx)
The Philadelphia police union sued DA Larry Krasner and lost. The court says he can indeed maintain a ‘do not call’ list for police officers accused of misconduct, who his office will not call to testify.
In a clean sweep, Virginia voters enthusiastically reelected three reform prosecutors in the Virginia primaries, rejecting their regressive challengers. When people ask me about ‘backlash’ against criminal justice reforms, I remind them that voters want reform, notwithstanding gloomy media.
Life as a Black woman elected prosecutor has been really tough, especially for those who set out to transform the job. Capital B spoke with the most prominent among them about how it’s gone.
Solutions and Wins
Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg vacated over 500 old convictions, mostly drug cases, tied to corrupt and dishonest police officers.
NY prisons were all set to massively censor artists and writers, until a NY Focus article embarrassed them into withdrawing the policy.
I don’t get tired of repeating this: giving cash to people is a really good idea. It dramatically reduces crime and can make major progress on ending intergenerational poverty, even in the face of many other limitations such as folks having criminal records.
Maine became the latest state to end prison gerrymandering! (Prison gerrymandering is when people are counted as residents in their prison cells for census and districting purposes, meaning that rural areas with prisons get counted as being larger than they really are for budget allocation and apportioning representatives). Prison Policy has the rundown.
Action St. Louis (a grassroots organizing group) built a coalition of community groups called We The Tenants, and led those groups in community member canvassing, training, and education. They recently won the right to an attorney for all tenants in St. Louis going through eviction proceedings, which will force landlords to follow the law and provide proper documentation (often missing in cases without representation). Studies show that when tenants have legal representation, they are ~3x more likely to stay housed, providing some security against criminalization and incarceration. See also: the Debt Collective’s Tenant Power Toolkit
Larry Moses, 68 years old and from New Orleans, is a free man after spending 30 years in prison. At trial, prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that the sole eyewitness was mentally ill and had a motive to lie. The defendant said he wasn’t in town when the crime occurred.
The topic of improving mental health care often seems daunting, huge, and complex. But some solutions can be simple, like “peer respite sites,” locations where people under mental stress can rest and reconnect. I hear from organizers on the ground in L.A. that they work well, and should expand. We don’t need to wait for someone to reach a crisis point of a mental health break before we intervene!
The Durham City Council (North Carolina) will add nearly $2 million into its alternative crisis response program, dubbed “HEART.” The program has already become so popular that community members have been putting up yard signs in support. The department currently employs around 20 people who aim to assist with and de-escalate 911 calls, sometimes just on the phone and other items showing up in person. The team's work saved officers at least 1,500 hours this past year. The program is identifying gaps in services that other city agencies need to provide in order to further reduce emergency calls. For information on more programs like this, subscribe to the Safer Cities newsletter; here’s the link to their rundown on this program.
In a hugely important step, Illinois, Minnesota, and New Mexico abolished life sentences for juveniles this year, though there’s a lot of work to do on implementation.
Wall of shame
“The Justice Department accused the Minneapolis Police Department of rampant discrimination, unlawful conduct and systemic mismanagement in a scathing 89-page report,” writes the New York Times.
Keri Blakinger continues to write outstanding exposés on the violence and neglect that pervades the L.A. county jail, run by the Sheriff’s department.
I was shocked to learn that 18 people died in the Riverside County jails last year, just one less than in New York City, despite having ⅓ the population. Riverside is in southern CA, and is often neglected in discussions about justice, but that’s going to need to change. It’s the 10th largest county in America.
The Supreme Court ruled that people held illegally in federal prison after a judicial mistake (improperly applying a criminal statute, or giving sentence longer than permitted by law) have no recourse.
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