Time for businesses to take the second step for prison reform
The Hill by Jerry Goodstein
This past December, President Trump signed into law the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act — also known as the First Step Act. This legislation represents a powerful bipartisan commitment to federal criminal justice reform. Following the passage of the First Step Act, there has been significant praise for political leaders and calls for Congress to take this legislation further. Not only should we be looking to Congress to continue the progress made by this legislation, but most especially, we must look to the business sector to take the critical “second step” that can make the difference between success or failure of this act.
The First Step Act advances a number of initiatives within federal prisons to enhance people’s reentry into society after their release from prison. These initiatives include job training and counseling while incarcerated, the expansion of early-release programs for prisoners earning this privilege, and the release of prisoners closer to their home communities. The legislation also provides for reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and the re-evaluation of sentencing disparities associated with crack and powder cocaine offenses.
While these are all steps in the right direction, the people affected by the First Step Act must now prepare to reenter their communities — which is no easy task. They will need to rebuild relationships, find housing, and perhaps most importantly, find employment.
Illinois Ends Medical Co-Pays for Prisoners, But DOC Healthcare Criticized
Prison Legal News by Derek Gilna
In June 2018, Illinois lawmakers voted to end the practice of charging $5.00 co-payments to state prisoners for each medical visit – a disproportionate fee, since prison wages in the state range from $0.09 to $0.89 per hour. The move came shortly before the release of a scathing report that documented over a dozen preventable deaths among the 41,000 prisoners held by the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC).
The October 2018 report was prepared by court-appointed experts in a federal lawsuit, Lippert v. Ghosh. The experts said that compared to conditions when the case was filed in 2012, prison medical care is “either no better or in fact worse in 2018.” The suit was certified as a class-action in April 2017. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.35].
Led by correctional health expert Dr. Mike Pusis, the report found that of 36 fatalities in the year ending June 1, 2014, more than one-third could have been prevented with adequate healthcare. The state chapter of the ACLU, which joined the case as a co-plaintiff in 2013, decried the unnecessary deaths.
Life Inside: I'm in Prison During the Shutdown
The Marshall Project by Seth Piccolo
January 17, 2019
We wait by the door for our turn at chow. It's Christmas dinner—really, early lunch since it's only 10:30 in the morning. Here, holiday meals are something to look forward to. They're never great, but the guys in the kitchen try hard.
The government is shut down right now so we're lucky to be having a holiday meal at all. Some of the officers here are getting a little touchy. Yesterday I saw an inmate ask one if she was going to open the music room. She stood there for a beat looking off somewhere else, then responded, "What I'm not going to do is be pushed during this shut down!" It gets a little more complicated being an inmate during these times, but finding yourself in a position in life where you have little to no power teaches you patience. We just shake our heads and laugh it off.
The phones haven't been working for the last few days. No calls are going out. It's a bad time for this to happen, it being the holidays. Everyone wants to call home, especially on Christmas.
The Boy Who Lived: What the gift of Harry Potter meant to this closeted gay prisoner
Medium by Chun Rosenkranz
I’ve been caged for seven months now, and I’m beginning to forget what it feels like to be free, to be a human being. I subsist on a diet of self-pity and molded bologna smacked between sheets of white bread. Months ago, I was the son of a guru living on an ashram eating a vegetarian diet; now in jail, I don’t know what or who I am. If I’m honest, though, I was never truly free.
Addiction does that, locks you inside a body and mind that feel foreign and hostile, a quadriplegia of the conscience. So does growing up in central Florida and hiding that you’re gay. I wonder if I’ll ever be comfortable enough to have a boyfriend, to watch badly acted rom-coms while cuddling on a couch with another man. I don’t think people like me deserve that.
The actuality of jail is designed to sever the spirit from the body, to break the inhabitant. I feel broken, and brokenness is insidious. It slowly seeps into the soul, drip after drip, drowns its vessel in hopelessness. Days drag on, one after the other, in a never-ending series of sameness. This is incarceration.
Exercising Full Powers: Recommendation to Kim Foxx on Addressing Systemic Racism in the Cook County Criminal Justice System
In 2016, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx was elected in a landslide victory that was widely seen as a referendum on Cook County’s criminal justice system. Voters rejected the “tough on crime” stance of Anita Alvarez as well as her cover-up of the police murder of Laquan McDonald. Voters chose, instead, a candidate who ran on a platform of holding police accountable and reversing some of the policies that led to massive increases in the number of African American and Latinx people incarcerated in Cook County.
Changing practices in such a large criminal justice system is a big order. The People’s Lobby and Reclaim Chicago – which organized a significant portion of Kim Foxx’s electoral operation – have been working with Chicago Appleseed to report regularly on Foxx’s progress to reduce incarceration. The following is a report on the first nine months of 2018 data released by the State’s Attorney’s Office. It includes key recommendations for how Foxx can strengthen her decarceration efforts and be a leader in rolling back the failed policies of over-policing and mass incarceration.
In this report we evaluate the performance of Foxx’s State’s Attorney Office on four major criteria we believe are vital to the advancement of criminal justice reform and overturning decades of systematic racism in the Cook County court system. We look at the role of felony charging by the prosecutor’s office and highlight limited successes in a context of rising felony charging by Foxx’s office. How people are charged within the criminal justice system has far reaching consequences not just for sentencing, but also for people’s ability to avoid pre-trial detention. We analyze how wealth and class effect pre-trial detention in light of recent reforms by Chief Judge Evans and attempts by Foxx to find alternatives to incarceration. This type of research and evaluation is only possible with regular, detailed access to data from the court system, so we evaluate Foxx’s efforts at transparency in a court system renowned for antiquated and incomplete record keeping. The most recent data release also provides a clearer window into how gun crimes are charged and adjudicated. The data suggest that a “war on guns” is now adding to the “war on drugs” with equally disastrous results.
Read the full report
Virginia prison officials say they eliminated solitary confinement. Inmates say they just gave it a new name. - Virginia Mercury
Virginia prison officials say they eliminated solitary confinement. Inmates say they just gave it a new name. 'It's all very Hannibal Lecter-ish'
Virginia Mercury by Ned Oliver
January 14, 2019
Virginia prison officials say they’re on the leading edge of corrections reform for “operating without the use of solitary confinement.”
But Derek Cornelison, a 34-year-old inmate at Red Onion, one of the state’s two supermax prisons in Wise County, says he and dozens of other prisoners have remained isolated in tiny cells for 22 to 24 hours a day for years — a level of confinement increasingly viewed as cruel, inhumane and a violation of international human rights standards.
From A Cell To A Home: Newly Released Inmates Matched With Welcoming Hosts: NPR
It's a Friday night and roommates Jason Jones and Tamiko Panzella are hanging out in the Oakland, Calif., apartment they share, laughing about an epic gym workout misfire.
"I get there and we have to take our shoes and socks off. And I'm like, oh no, she got me into yoga. She tricked me," Jones says, laughing.
What made the yoga session more jarring — it was Jones' first full day of freedom after more than a decade behind bars.
Supreme Court Concludes That Snatching a Necklace Is a Violent Felony
New York Times by Adam Liptak
January 15, 2019
Purse snatching and pickpocketing can amount to violent felonies for purposes of a federal law, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in a 5-to-4 decision featuring unusual alliances.
The case concerned the Armed Career Criminal Act, a federal law that is a kind of three-strikes statute. It requires mandatory 15-year sentences for people convicted of possessing firearms if they have earlier been found guilty of three violent felonies or serious drug charges.
Figuring out what qualifies as one of those earlier offenses is not always easy. Tuesday’s decision considered a part of the law that defined violent felonies to include offenses involving the use or threat of physical force. The question in the case was whether minimal force, as in a purse snatching, is enough.
Neuroscientists Make a Case against Solitary Confinement
SAN DIEGO—Robert King spent 29 years living alone in a six by nine-foot prison cell.
He was part of the “Angola Three”—a trio of men kept in solitary confinement for decades and named for the Louisiana state penitentiary where they were held. King was released in 2001 after a judge overturned his 1973 conviction for killing a fellow inmate. Since his exoneration he has dedicated his life to raising awareness about the psychological harms of solitary confinement.
There Are Thousands of Cyntoia Browns: Mariame Kaba on Criminalization of Sexual Violence Survivors
Cyntoia Brown was granted full clemency by Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam on Monday after serving 15 years in prison. The decision follows months of intense public pressure and outrage over her case. Brown was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of first-degree murder for shooting her rapist as a teenager. She had been sexually trafficked and repeatedly abused and drugged. The shooting happened when Brown was just 16 years old, but she was tried as an adult. We speak with Mariame Kaba, organizer and educator who has worked on anti-domestic violence programs, anti-incarceration and racial justice programs since the late 1980s. Kaba is the co-founder of Survived and Punished, an organization that supports survivors of violence who have been criminalized for defending themselves. She’s also a board member of Critical Resistance.
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive