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.
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.
I'm Honestly Fed Up With all the Bad News So I Illustrated the Best News of 2017
Bored Panda by Mauro Gatti
I'm honestly fed up with all the bad news everywhere. I am not a journalist or an influencer, but I want to use my art to spread some positivity. I wanted to create something positive as an anti-venom to the vitriolic rhetoric that pervades our media. That's why I want to share some of this year's positive news from around the world in the hope that it brings you some happiness and inspires you to spread some good news yourself! Art, technology, food, science, animal rights, human rights... we have progressed in so many categories and it's necessary to let the world know that, despite having much more to do, we've accomplished some amazing things in 2018.
#18 Dutch prison population is the lowest in Europe and its prisons are being turned into homes for refugees.
But read the rest of them for some potentially needed inspiration...
Education Opportunities in Prison Are Key to Reducing Crime
Center for American Progress
Education can be a gateway to social and economic mobility. This vital opportunity, however, is currently being denied to a significant portion of the more than 2.3 million individuals currently incarcerated in the United States. Compared with 18 percent of the general population, approximately 41 percent of incarcerated individuals do not hold a high school diploma. Similarly, while 48 percent of general population has received any postsecondary or college education, only 24 percent of people in federal prisons have received the same level of education. In 2016, the Vera Institute of Justice reported that only 35 percent of state prisons provide college-level courses, and these programs only serve 6 percent of incarcerated individuals nationwide. In 2015, the Obama administration announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot program—an experimental program allowing 12,000 qualifying incarcerated students to take college-level courses while in prison. The future of this program is uncertain as Congress decides whether to include Pell Grants for prisons—which currently receives less than 1 percent of total Pell program funding—in their reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Receiving a quality education continues to be out of reach for much of the prison population due to a lack of funding for, and access to, the materials needed for the success of these programs.
Transgender inmate gets rare transfer to female prison
A transgender woman serving a 10-year sentence in Illinois for burglary has been moved from a men's to a women's prison in what could be a first for the state, her lawyers announced Thursday.
Deon "Strawberry" Hampton , 27, was moved after a yearlong legal battle and resistance from the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Hampton, of Chicago, requested the transfer in 2017 on grounds she'd be less vulnerable to the sexual assault, taunting and beatings she was subjected to in male prisons, according to federal lawsuits filed on her behalf by the MacArthur Justice Center and the Uptown People's Law Center in Chicago.
She was moved within the past week from an all-male prison in Dixon, in northern Illinois, to the women's Logan Correctional Center more than 100 miles away in central Illinois, her lawyers said.
#NoMoreShackles: Why Electronic Monitoring Devices Are Another Form of Prison [OP-ED]
In his recent New York Times video essay “Prisoners Deserve a New Set of Rights,” rapper Meek Mill lists the many ways that the criminal legal system fails to protect and uphold the rights of the accused—from arrest, through sentencing and all the way up to release. Mill says, “We had the right to be silent. Now it’s our right to speak up,” as he goes on to describe how formerly incarcerated people are systemically barred from a range of resources.
One thing to add to Mill’s powerful set of demands though is the right to return home freely without being digitally imprisoned.
It is well known that the United States has the highest prison population in the world, however our system of mass incarceration extends beyond the lives of those who are locked away. At this time, there are 5 million people under some version of correctional control—usually within the form of probation or parole. This expansion of parole in particular is ushering in a new wave of technological incarceration with a heavy reliance on electronic monitors.
As with any attempts to transform the criminal justice system, the First Step Act is complicated. While we rejoice that several thousand people will likely be treated more humanely, and some released slightly sooner, because of this legislation, we also stand in solidarity with those opposed to this act. We wonder with them if this will actually be a first, or last, step? Will we congratulate ourselves on having an impact on ~10 % of the prison industrial complex population while 2 million people, their families and friends still wait to be treated with dignity and respect?
Please read some of the articles and statements below to begin understanding the response to this current work.
Congress just passed the most significant criminal justice reform bill in decades - Vox News
First Step Act has Sinister Implications for the Poor and Marginalized - Truth Out
Movement for Black Lives Statement
JustLeadershipUSA statement - signed by the UUA
November post of several articles on the First Step Act
We will continue to work for more radical and complete change and hope you will join us in the struggle.
He Was Sentenced to Life for Selling Crack. Now Congress Wants to Reconsider.
The New York Times
Alan Blinder and Jennifer Medina
Edward Douglas is serving a life sentence for selling crack cocaine. He cannot go to church with his mother, a pastor in Chicago. He cannot take his grandchildren to the park. He dreams of working as a mechanic again.
It’s a possibility that seems increasingly likely.
Under bipartisan criminal justice legislation that won final approval by Congress on Thursday, Mr. Douglas, 55, could have his sentence reduced to less time than he has already served. He was convicted at a time when crack cocaine offenses were handled far more harshly than those involving powder cocaine.
The Movement for Black Lives Position on the First Step Act
Statement - December 2018
The Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 150 Black-led organizations, opposes the First Step Act. Despite a few positive measures, the First Step Act further harms incarcerated people and does little to stop or correct the state-sponsored intergenerational violence our communities experience.
Since the First Step Act was passed in the US House of Representatives, the Movement for Black Lives leadership has engaged in internal discussion, debate, and exploration of the bill’s proposed and potential impact to deepen our understanding about how the bill would advance or deter the objectives articulated in the Vision for Black Lives Policy Platform, a foundational 21st-century proposal for how to pass legislation that liberates, not further denigrates Black people. Through this process we have determined that the First Step Act, despite the few positive reforms, is a dangerous bill that if passed will cause further harm to many people currently incarcerated, continue the long history of violence against our communities, and introduce new ways to rob our people of the freedom and justice we deserve.
We recognize that the positive aspects of this bill are the product of the tireless work of advocates who have worked to create inroads for meaningful reforms in a moment of heightened attacks on ALL Black people. Our opposition to the First Step Act is not directed at those who support this bill and whose hopes are rooted in seeing their loved ones free. Our opposition is directed towards a bill that we believe will do more harm than good. We believe that in addition to not reaching far enough to ensure our peoples’ freedom from all forms of incarceration, the First Step Act is an intentionally divisive bill that authors a dangerous future for all of our families and communities.
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive