Justice news and updates 4.28.22
NYC public defender and frequent TV commentator Olayemi Olurin has launched a substack, which I anticipate will be excellent.
John Oliver did a great segment on false confessions. It’s a super helpful explainer!
In case you missed it the first time around, I highly recommend reading Fwd.us’s People First report about how language used in media has a huge effect on public perceptions of CJR.
I appreciated this excerpt by Piper Kerman from The Sentences That Create Us: Crafting a Writer’s Life in Prison.
Solutions and progress
In a time of rising gun violence, a randomized control trial of 2,500 men in Chicago found major reductions in gun violence (79% fewer arrests and 47% fewer victimizations for shootings and homicides) for people referred by community groups to a violence interruption program. The program costs a tiny fraction of what the city spends on policing.
The St-Louis Dispatch reported that the city jail population has fallen by half in the past 3 years, thanks to a number of policy changes and the combined efforts of the Mayor, DA and others who are on the side of reform. Action St. Louis has done very good work here!
Police almost never solve low-level property crimes; the clearance rate is often <5%. When people do report these crimes, it’s often just for insurance purposes. Reflecting this reality, Baltimore will turn over the investigation of property crimes to civilians.
The LA Times editorial board has published some excellent pieces lately: one urging California to treat prison as a health hazard and adopt a care first model; a surprisingly intelligent, nuanced editorial on bail; and one setting the record straight on a recent shooting in Sacramento. I don’t know another major newspaper working as hard to get it right.
You may not follow all the links in this memo, but you really should read this brilliant and gripping investigation by the NYTimes on the gross corruption of Crime Stoppers in Houston. The organization, flush with cash stripped from impoverished people and lavishly supported by the Governor and DA, took aim at reform judges in the last election.
The San Francisco Chronicle urged SF voters to reject the recall of DA Chesa Boudin in the June 7 election. In their endorsement, they noted that crime problems faced in San Francisco aren’t unique, and that violence in the city has decreased under his tenure even while going up in many cities.
Knock LA, in partnership with organizers from Justice LA and others, hosted a Sheriff’s candidate forum in L.A. The incumbent, Villanueva, is a disaster, going so far as to launch a criminal investigation into an L.A. Times reporter who broke the story that Villanueva knew about abuse in the jail and lied about it in a coverup. Watch a recording of the forum here.
After weeks of pointed questions about substance abuse and absence from the office, Maricopa County (Phoenix) District Attorney Allister Adel resigned last month. She had faced heavy critique from the right for making an error that resulted in the dismissal of 180 misdemeanor cases. Her seat will be filled with another Republican per state law, but the next election is soon: the primary is in August and general in November this year. Organizers on the ground such as Mass Liberation Arizona have been very active in calling for her ouster.
Austin voters are voting now on a measure to decriminalize marijuana and ban “no-knock” warrants by police. There has been no organized opposition.
Sade Dumas, ED of the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, reflected on the momentous election of Susan Hutson as New Orleans Sheriff.
For tons of great political coverage in criminal justice and beyond, make sure to regularly check out Bolts.
John Pfaff identifies and talks about the schism between anti-reform Mayors and progressive DAs in various major cities. We have this dynamic in Chicago, NYC, SF, and New Orleans, for example. It’s a problem: the people with the best tools to address the drivers of crime and to build health infrastructure are Mayors.
If you’re looking for citations and research on the impact of the criminal legal system on health outcomes, here is an incredibly handy document compiled by Partners for Justice.
A court of appeals stayed the execution of Melissa Lucio, a mother of 13 in Texas who was convicted of killing her 2 year old child. She has always maintained her innocence, and experts, jurors, and advocates are calling for a new trial. Lucio gave a confession in this case after relentless questioning. False confessions are very common in innocence cases (see also).
James Doyle argues that we should treat wrongful convictions like plane crashes, intensively investigating where errors and misconduct occurred to prevent future tragedies.
A Texas woman was prosecuted for murder based on a claim that she induced an abortion (after medical staff at the hospital where where she sought help reported her to police). After massive outcry and public pressure, the prosecutor dropped the charges. I worry that this is just the beginning. Yet another reason why prosecutor elections matter!
Legacies of slavery
The Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama is expanding. If you haven’t been to this phenomenal memorial and museum, you absolutely must go!
Harvard University released a 134-page faculty report on the legacy of slavery at Harvard and announced a $100million commitment to an endowed fund to “redress” past wrongs. Harvard can start by divesting from private prisons, as urged by undergrad Hana Kiros in a detailed column in the Crimson.
A Pittsburgh jails’ medical director changed a man’s status to “do not resuscitate” without permission from the family, and now the man is dead.
The NYTimes continues to dig into unchecked brutality at Rikers island jails and the failure of corrections staff to document or fix the problems.