The case for capping all prison sentences at 20 years
Vox By German Lopez :: Feb 12, 2019
America’s prison sentences are far too long. It’s time to do something about it. America puts more people in jail and prison than any other country in the world. Although the country has managed to slightly reduce its prison population in recent years, mass incarceration remains a fact of the US criminal justice system.
It’s time for a radical idea that could really begin to reverse mass incarceration: capping all prison sentences at no more than 20 years. It may sound like an extreme, even dangerous, proposal, but there’s good reason to believe it would help reduce the prison population without making America any less safe.
PBS :: Terun Moore on prison as a teen and getting a second chance
March 18, 2019
At age 17, Terun Moore was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole. But in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled such sentencing of minors unconstitutional. Now on parole after 19 years, Moore is enrolled in community college and working with the People's Advocacy Institute, which aims to reduce violence in Jackson, Mississippi. He offers his brief but spectacular take on second chances.
Profiting from prison
Axios: Stef W. Kight and Dan Primack
June 8, 2019
A handful of American businesses have their fingers in almost every aspect of prison life, raking in billions of dollars every year for products and services — often with little oversight.
The big picture: Taxpayers, incarcerated people and their families spend around $85 billion a year on public and private correction facilities, bail and prison services, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.
BONUS The prison labor you benefit from
Prison labor is behind some products and services Americans use every day — from call centers and Whole Foods goat cheese to farmer's market fruit, Stef writes.
June 13, 2019
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Releases Report:
Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption and the Effects on Communities
WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released its report,Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption and the Effects on Communities. Each year, federal and state prisons release more than 620,000 individuals, and even after completing their sentences, these individuals still face potentially thousands of collateral consequences upon reentering society. Individuals can face barriers to voting, jury service, holding public office, securing employment, obtaining housing, receiving public assistance, getting a driver’s license, qualifying for college admission and financial aid, qualifying for military service, and maintaining legal status as an immigrant. The impact of each consequence extends past people with felony convictions to affect families and communities.
Chair Catherine E. Lhamon said, “These collateral consequences impose heavy burdens on formerly incarcerated persons’ ability successfully to reintegrate into free society and in so doing render all of us less equal and less safe. Congress, and local communities, should heed the call documented in these pages to lift unnecessary restrictions and speed effective reentry for formerly incarcerated people.”
Key findings from the Commission majority include:
· Collateral consequences exacerbate punishment beyond the criminal conviction after an individual completes the court-imposed sentence. Valid public safety bases support some collateral consequences; however, many are unrelated either to the underlying crime for which a person has been convicted or to a public safety purpose.
· Evidence shows harsh collateral consequences unrelated to public safety increase recidivism by limiting or by completely barring formerly incarcerated persons’ access to personal and family support.
· The general public, attorneys, and courts often lack knowledge of what the totality of the collateral consequences are in their jurisdiction, how long they last, and whether they are discretionary or mandatory, or even if they are relevant to public safety or merely an extended punishment beyond a sentence. This absence of awareness undermines any deterrent effect that might flow from attaching such consequences, separate and apart from the punishment itself, to criminal convictions.
Key recommendations from the Commission majority include:
· Collateral consequences should be tailored to serve public safety. Policymakers should avoid punitive mandatory consequences that bear no rational relationship to the offense committed, and impede people convicted of crimes from safely reentering and becoming contributing members of society. Jurisdictions should periodically review the consequences imposed by law or regulation to evaluate whether they are necessary to protect public safety and if they are related to the underlying offenses.
· Call on Congress to limit discretion of public housing providers to prevent them from categorically barring people with criminal convictions from access to public housing; lift restrictions on access to student loans based on criminal convictions, except for convictions related to financial fraud; eliminate restrictions on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits based on criminal convictions; and require federal courts to give comprehensive notice of federal restrictions on individuals’ rights before guilty plea entry, upon conviction, and upon release from incarceration.
Collateral Consequences is based on expert and public input, extensive research and analysis, and testimony, findings, and recommendations from Commission State Advisory Committees in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
HUGE Celebrations for Monica Cosby:
FIELD FOUNDATION ANNOUNCES ITS FIRST LEADERS FOR A NEW CHICAGO AWARD RECIPIENTS -- The Field Foundation today announced the 14 recipients of its inaugural Leaders for a New Chicago award, supported by a $2.1 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to expand the definition of leadership in Chicago.
“In Chicago we have no shortage of brilliant minds working every day to change lives and reshape our city,” said Angelique Power, president, the Field Foundation. “We are so honored to be in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation as we hand over a megaphone, share resources, and then sit back and watch as these incredible people continue to soar, bringing our city to more just and beautiful places than we could’ve ever imagined.”
THE 2019 LEADERS FOR A NEW CHICAGO AWARDEES ARE:
• Monica Cosby, a leader of the participatory defense work at Westside Justice Center and one of the leading advocates for incarcerated women and the fight for post-incarceration rights in Chicago.
California Programs Helps People On Parole To Function In Society
Heard on Morning Edition by Elissa Nadworny
May 2, 2019
A re-entry program in San Bernardino, Calif., for released offenders is like a bridge between the world of corrections and the world of social services. The program helps people on parole transition.
The United States has the largest prison population in the world, and a big part of that is re-offenders. One way to get those numbers down is to give people on parole the tools they need to function in society. In San Bernardino, Calif., there is a promising effort to do just that. Here's NPR's Elissa Nadworny.
Listen to more
Supporting the Coalition to End Money Bond and Chicago Community Bond Fund
On April 10, 2019, the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices announced it will be hosting three listening sessions on pretrial justice and accepting written comments through June 30th of this year. This is a direct result of the Coalition to End Money Bond and our allies’ demands for a process for public input into this important conversation. Over the last several months, we collected nearly 1,000 signatures in support of a public hearing and sent in hundreds of postcards from individual supporters calling on the commission to hear the voices of impacted communities. Thank you for your part in making this happen!
The currently scheduled hearings are:
If you are interested in a deeper dive into the Coalition to End Money Bond's statewide campaign and the Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices, you can join us
Tuesday May 7th for a teach-in at
Grace Place (637 S Dearborn) from 6-8pm!
More details are on the facebook event page.
Currently, the best way to support our work is sharing this petition calling on the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices to hold a public hearing. You can also share this facebook post and twitter post that promote the petition with the video produced by Tom Callahan. There is also a video explaining a bill we are supporting, the Equal Justice for All Act, which was created by Danbee Kim. You can share using this twitter post and this facebook post.
Beyond Guilt: Reducing mass incarceration by reducing excessively long sentences
Cincinnati Enquirer By Mark Curnutte
If the country is ever going to get serious about reducing mass incarceration, David Singleton says criminal justice reform must begin to address the issue of people in prison who've been over-punished and are serving excessively long sentences. To that end, Cincinnati-based Ohio Justice and Policy Center law firm, where Singleton is executive director, will introduce its Beyond Guilt program on Tuesday. "Beyond Guilt is our answer to criminal legal system reform that focuses narrowly on the lowest-hanging fruit of the reform movement – freeing innocent prisoners and people convicted of low-level non-violent offenses," Singleton says.
UU Prison Ministry - New Self Led Learning Pages
The following are collections of articles, videos, and books that are the first step in seeing beyond the reality that the dominant culture believes is the only reality. Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place where all are free to thrive.
New pages include article, Books and multi media entries to help us all learn more about this egregious system and the call to reform.
Dear Governor Pritzker,
We applaud the interest you have shown in reforming the Illinois prison system. You have said that you place much of your focus on “not just avoiding recidivism and reducing the prison population by perhaps having different sentences, but also keeping people out of prison in the first place.” We implore you to remember that these are deeply related; the welfare of people currently incarcerated impacts their loved ones who remain at home both in their absence and their eventual return to their communities. How people are treated while in prison has human repercussions that powerfully impact recidivism rates and also the opportunities of those close to them, most importantly, their children.
As you move to appoint the next Director of Corrections, we urge you to consider candidates who are skeptical about current uses of segregation (also called solitary confinement) for adult prisoners. It is inspiring to realize that heads of correction in three states have spearheaded and effectively implemented strict limits on segregation. Significantly, such efforts have indeed often been led by prison officials themselves, giving the lie to those who maintain that curbing solitary endangers prison staff or removes a necessary disciplinary option. A limit of 15 consecutive days on segregation has been adopted by legislators in New Jersey and Canada; that would be a laudable goal for Illinois.
Members of the Unitarian Universalist Prison Ministry of IL : Steering Committee
CC: Lieutenant Governor Stratton
The following is supplemental and anecdotal evidence of the success other states have achieved in this matter:
In 2015, the Association of State Correctional Administrators, the leading organization for the nation’s prison and jail administrators, called for sharply limiting or even ending solitary confinement for extended periods. Since the ASCA was largely responsible for past increases in the use of solitary confinement, this represents a significant change of course. Colorado, Mississippi, and Maine serve as successful examples where changes launched by the executive branch of state government, with the help of progressive Directors of Corrections.
Colorado, under the supervision of their director of corrections Rick Raemisch, has led the way nationally in implementing the most aggressive limits on solitary confinement. Raemisch’s agency has limited the use of solitary confinement in Colorado to 15 days at a time. As Raemisch writes, “The problem is that [solitary confinement] was not corrective at all. It was indiscriminate punishment that too often amounted to torture and did not make anyone safer.” Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2012, noted what his department had accomplished: “The Mississippi Department of Corrections administrative segregation reforms resulted in a 75.6% reduction in the administrative segregation population from over 1,300 in 2007 to 316 by June 2012.” Commissioner Joseph Ponte of Maine was inspired by Mississippi’s solitary reform efforts. Once he heard the story of Epps’s success, he felt, “if he can do that in Mississippi I know we can do that in Maine.” The Department of Corrections in Maine overhauled its use of long-term isolation without being ordered to by a judge or a piece of legislation. Maine, too, can serve as an example for what is possible in solitary confinement reform.
As you know, the 2015 settlement of the federal lawsuit concerning the use of segregation in Illinois juvenile prisons requires that the juvenile prisoners spend at least eight hours per day outside their cells and that young people in isolation continue to receive education and mental health services. Adults in prison, many of whom are young themselves, deserve the same opportunities for growth and healing. When changes in segregation policy can be enacted by Directors of Corrections, as has been accomplished in Colorado, Maine and Mississippi, Illinois should not have to wait for another lawsuit to do what is right, and what is most effective for rehabilitation purposes—by limiting the use of solitary confinement.
This session there is a bill, HB 182, that would limit solitary confinement to not more than 10 days in any 180 day period while also guaranteeing prisoners in solitary access to classes, recreation, visits and group therapy. Whether or not this bill becomes law, the support of the new head of IDOC and of you, Governor Pritzker, is crucial to getting Corrections staff trained and on board for significant prison reform and for success in implementing any changes in corrections policies.
International law also recognizes the importance of limiting solitary confinement. In 2014, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) released a report reviewing U.S. compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. That report cites the excessive use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails as a violation of the Convention Against Torture and suggests major reforms. Meanwhile, in New Jersey and in Canada, officials have decided to abide by the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners (also known as the “Nelson Mandela Rules”). These rules prohibit solitary confinement (defined as isolation of a prisoner for more than 22 hours per day without meaningful human contact) that is longer than 15 consecutive days (Rule 43 and 44). In 2016, New Jersey lawmakers voted to stop isolating prisoners for as long as 23 hours a day for months or years on end after deciding it was abusive and it hampered their return to society. Now, use of solitary confinement is a last resort in New Jersey, limited to no more than 15 days at a time. In addition, a physician, clinical psychologist or psychiatric nurse monitors anyone subject to solitary confinement. In 2017 the Canadian federal government decided to phase in a cap of 15 days of solitary confinement.
As the Vera Institute of Justice noted in its 2018 annual report: “Every day, approximately 60,000 people are held in solitary confinement in America’s prisons, and since the 1980s, our prisons and jails have increasingly relied on this cruel practice to maintain order. But solitary can damage, sometimes irreparably, people who experience it for even brief periods of time, and it stops incarcerated people from developing the skills they need to successfully return to their communities.”
On a practical level, segregation is also expensive to administer. Solitary confinement has been shown to exacerbate mental illness and incite inmates to repeated self-harm, including suicide attempts. It should not greatly surprise anyone that when people are isolated in small cells for 23 hours per day, they begin to behave like animals. “If you treat people like animals, that’s exactly the way they’ll behave,” said Mississippi DOC Commissioner Epps, in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He added that transitioning prisoners in Mississippi’s Unit 32 out of solitary confinement “...worked out just fine. We didn’t have a single incident.” As the ACLU noted, “solitary confinement jeopardizes our public safety, is fundamentally inhumane and wastes taxpayer dollars. We must insist on humane and more cost-effective methods of punishment and prison management.”
In sum, changing how solitary confinement is used is imperative for the mental and physical health of prisoners, for the well- being of their families and the communities they will re-enter, and for the safety of all prisoners and correctional staff. Whatever the eventual fate may be of HB 182, we urge you to be inspired by states from Colorado to Maine and to appoint a Director of Corrections for our state who has demonstrated a commitment to prison reform, specifically enforcing a maximum of 15 days in solitary confinement per year, or, as Representative Ford's legislation mandates, a maximum of 10 days in solitary confinement per 180 days."
***** References ******
Brian Mackey, Here and Now, “J.B. Pritzker Interview – On Criminal Justice, Higher Ed, Taxes, And Legislative Ethics,” npr Illinois, Jan 13, 2019, Feb 20, 2019, http://www.nprillinois.org/post/jb-pritzker-interview-criminal-justice-higher-ed-taxes-and-legislative-ethics#stream/0
Timothy Williams, The New York Times, “Prison Officials Join Movement to Curb Solitary Confinement,” Sept, 2, 2018, Feb 20, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/03/us/prison-directors-group-calls-for-limiting-solitary-confinement.html
Rick Raemisch, Speak Freely, “Why I Ended the Horror of Long-Term Solitary in Colorado’s Prisons,” ACLU, December 5, 2018, Feb 20, 2019, https://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights/solitary-confinement/why-i-ended-horror-long-term-solitary-colorados-prisons
Vera Annual Report, “Embracing Human Dignity,” Vera Institute of Justice, 2018, Feb 20, 2019, https://storage.googleapis.com/vera-web-assets/downloads/Publications/annual-report-2018-embracing-human-dignity/legacy_downloads/embracing-human-dignity-annual-report-2018-2.pdf
Alex Friedmann, Prison Legal News, “Solitary Confinement Subject of Unprecedented Congressional Hearing,” Prison Legal News, Oct 15, 2015, Feb 20, 2019, https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2012/oct/15/solitary-confinement-subject-of-unprecedented-congressional-hearing/
ACLU, “We Can Stop Solitary,” ACLU, Feb 20, 2019, https://www.aclu.org/issues/prisoners-rights/solitary-confinement/we-can-stop-solitary
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive