COOK COUNTY CHIEF JUDGE RELEASES NEW REPORT ON BOND REFORM SHOWING OVERWHELMING SUCCESS
Coalition to End Money Bond
Late last week, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans released a new report about bond reform and its impact in Cook County. Notably, the court also released case-level data for the first time, which will allow independent analysis by people outside the court system. The central conclusion from the new report is simple: fewer people are being incarcerated in Cook County Jail and increased pretrial releases “did not increase the threat to public safety in Cook County.”
What this truly means is that releasing more people pretrial in recent years has, in fact, increased public safety. In addition to the fact that reforms have not been shown to increase already low re-arrest rates, jailing fewer people will ultimately reduce crime because pretrial incarceration increases recidivism. The changes have also meant that, on any given day in Cook County, thousands of people who are members of the public are spared the inherent harms—physical, economic, emotional, legal—that necessarily occur in jail.
The report analyzes data about tens of thousands of bond decisions made in Cook County in 2016 and 2018, both before and after the implementation of General Order 18.8A, the local court rule requiring judges to set money bonds only in amounts people can afford to pay. According to the report, the Order has had clear positive effects: money bonds have been used less frequently overall, the median money bond amount has dropped significantly (from $5,000 to $1,000), and the average daily number of people in Cook County Jail has declined from 10,064 in January 2014 to 5,799 in December 2018. Despite the Order’s stated goal of ensuring “no [one] is held in custody prior to trial solely because [they] cannot afford to post bail,” however, approximately 2,000 people were locked up in Cook County Jail for just that reason on the day of the report’s release.
Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind
The New York Times by Rachel Kushner
April 17, 2019
There’s an anecdote that Ruth Wilson Gilmore likes to share about being at an environmental-justice conference in Fresno in 2003. People from all over California’s Central Valley had gathered to talk about the serious environmental hazards their communities faced, mostly as a result of decades of industrial farming, conditions that still have not changed. (The air quality in the Central Valley is the worst in the nation, and one million of its residents drink tap water more poisoned than the water in Flint, Mich.) There was a “youth track” at the conference, in which children were meant to talk about their worries and then decide as a group what was most important to be done in the name of environmental justice. Gilmore, a renowned geography professor (then at University of California, Berkeley, now at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan) and an influential figure in the prison-abolition movement, was a keynote speaker.
She was preparing her talk when someone told her that the kids wanted to speak with her. She went into the room where they were gathered. The children were primarily Latino, many of them the sons and daughters of farmworkers or other people in the agriculture industry. They ranged in age, but most were middle schoolers: old enough to have strong opinions and to distrust adults. They were frowning at her with their shoulders up and their arms crossed. She didn’t know these kids, but she understood that they were against her.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“We hear you’re a prison abolitionist,” one said. “You want to closeprisons?”
Gilmore said that was right; she did want to close prisons.
But why, they asked. And before she could answer, one said, “But what about the people who do something seriously wrong?” Others chimed in. “What about people who hurt other people?” “What about if someone kills someone?”
Whether from tiny farm towns or from public housing around Fresno and Bakersfield, these children, it was obvious to Gilmore, understood innately the harshness of the world and were not going to be easily persuaded.
“I get where you’re coming from,” she said. “But how about this: Instead of asking whether anyone should be locked up or go free, why don’t we think about why we solve problems by repeating the kind of behavior that brought us the problem in the first place?” She was asking them to consider why, as a society, we would choose to model cruelty and vengeance.
Lawsuit: Conditions horrific for women at south Fulton County jail
Atlanta Journal - Constitution by Bill Rankin
Mentally ill women are being held in isolation at a jail in south Fulton County under horrific conditions that increase their risk of serious psychological harm and strip away their human dignity, a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges.
The unsanitary and degrading conditions “can result in dramatic worsening of symptoms, decompensation, psychosis, self-mutilation and suicide,” the suit said. The women are being denied necessary health care and are kept in “an environment that deprives them of meaningful social interaction and therapeutic activities.”
The lawsuit was filed by the Georgia Advocacy Office, which protects the legal and human rights of people with disabilities, and two women being held at the South Fulton Municipal Regional Jail in Union City. The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of all mentally ill women being held under similar conditions.
My jail stopped using solitary confinement. Here's why.
The Washington Post by Tom Dart
April 4, 2019
Tom Dart is sheriff of Cook County, Ill.
Recent criminal-justice reform ended the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. Now a group of lawmakers including Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) are pushing to limit solitary confinement in federal prisons more broadly.
However, the realities of solitary confinement playing out in other correctional institutions across the country — including county jails, like the one I run — remain unaddressed and misunderstood.
Whether termed solitary confinement, disciplinary segregation or something else, it is almost always the same thing and produces the same disturbing and, too often, grave consequences. Individuals are confined alone in roughly 7-by-11-foot concrete cells for up to 23 hours a day with little human contact and no access to natural light. For as few as 60 minutes a day, they are allowed out of their cells to pace about another concrete area no larger than a dog run. In some cases, it’s outdoors; in others, not. This punishment is meted out for reasons ranging from disobeying an officer’s order to violent assaults on staff, and it can last anywhere from 24 hours to years. Most facilities make no accommodation for detainees suffering from severe mental illness.
And the damage solitary inflicts on people is indisputable. Years of research have demonstrated that the effects include mental illness, anger, despondency and self-harm; psychiatrist Stuart Grassian concluded that solitary can cause a specific psychiatric syndrome that includes hallucinations, panic attacks and paranoia.
Of course, some kind of disciplinary mechanism is needed, because jails are inherently volatile. Unlike prisons, jails generally don’t house people who have been convicted and sentenced — the population is overwhelmingly made up of people awaiting trial. At my jail in Cook County, Ill. — one of the nation’s largest, with about 5,500 detainees — we have seen an increasing length of stay for individuals in our custody, for many reasons including a painfully slow-moving criminal-justice system. Several of our current detainees have been here nearly 10 years without adjudication. Add to that frustration, the presence of members of fractious Chicago street gangs and society’s de facto decision to jail the mentally ill, and it’s easy to see how jails can become violent places. However, the solution to that violence is not solitary confinement.
I know there is a better way. I know because we have been doing it differently here in Chicago for nearly three years now. After years of handling violence just like most other jails, we realized that solitary was not solving the problem. It was contributing to it. And so, since May 2016, we have not housed any detainee in a solitary setting, not for even one hour.
Instead, we created a new place in the jail called the Special Management Unit (SMU) to house detainees who resort to violence and/or break the rules. There they can spend time in open rooms or yards with other detainees — as many as six or eight at a time — under direct supervision by staff members trained in conflict deescalation and resolution techniques and with precautions in place to ensure safety. Mental-health professionals provide weekly sessions on anger management, coping skills and conflict resolution. We also changed the disciplinary process for infractions to include other programming including thoughtful hearings and increased classes and activities .
Staffers, though skeptical at first, have been amazing. They have bought into this alternative to using isolation as a cudgel. After all, these new practices have not just benefited our detainees, they have also improved our working conditions. Since we introduced this model to our jail, detainee-on-detainee assaults have dropped significantly and assaults on staff plummeted. Last year we recorded the lowest number of total assaults since the SMU was established.
While the national discussion on criminal-justice reform tends to focus on sentencing, we must also reexamine the conditions of confinement we employ in jails, particularly the use of solitary. No reputable study has ever documented any positive effects from solitary confinement.
Regardless of your position on criminal-justice reform, you should realize that more than 70 percent of our jail detainees do not spend the rest of their days in prison — rather, they are released and return to their communities. This may be because charges against them are dropped, bonds are paid, plea agreements are signed, or they go to trial and are found not guilty. In all those cases, the result is the same — they are released from jail. What are we doing to our communities when we send them people, suddenly unmonitored, who have spent the past few months of their lives in a concrete room, devoid of any human contact?
The results often involve violence, volatility and recidivism. It is time solitary is addressed and eliminated in jails around the country.
Should a pregnant person ever go to prison?
Quartz by Zoe Schlanger
April 6, 2019
Siwatu-Salama Ra knew it was time to go to the hospital. As the early stages of her labor began on a day in late May 2018, officers placed handcuffs on her wrists and lead her into the transport van. She arrived to the hospital and to a delivery room where, inside, armed guards would wait all day and night and watch her give birth.
It was awful, but not as bad as it could be. Many other women in her position are taken to the hospital with handcuffs, chains across their waists, and shackled to the floor of the transport vehicle. Then they are shackled to the bed by their ankles while they give birth. Ra on the other hand was not cuffed in the delivery room.
The doctors and nurses in the maternity ward at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan, an hour west of Detroit, were used to taking patients from the nearby Huron Valley Correctional Facility, Michigan’s only women’s prison. But Ra’s arrival was a little different; her incarceration a few months earlier was covered by the local news. Hospital staff kept coming into her room to see her, to ask if she needed anything. One nurse said she just wanted to hug her.
There was a trade-off for the lack of restraints, though, she thinks today: increased security once she got to the hospital. Those armed guards—sometimes four, never less than two, always armed and wearing bullet-proof vests—stayed in her delivery room the whole time.
“She was my ultimate punishment.”One of the officers in the hospital room was particularly jumpy. She would clutch her gun every time the doctor or nurse walked in, Ra says. “When she heard the door opening, she would jump up and have her hand on her gun,” Ra remembers. “And I’m sitting in my bed, holding my stomach, you know?” What was the officer worried about, she wondered—that she was going to run away while in labor? It was a bigger insult than the handcuffs in the van, to have that woman with that gun in the room. “She was my ultimate punishment,” Ra says.
Ra, now 27, went to prison on March 1, 2018, when she was six-and-a-half months pregnant with her second child. Her first child, Zala, was two, and up until that day the mother-daughter pair were attached at the hip. Before prison, Ra worked as an organizer for a local environmental non-profit in her hometown of Detroit, where she and her mother, Rhonda Anderson, are both well known in the tight-knit activist community. Detroit is a city where families in majority-black neighborhoods are inundated by a constant mist of industrial pollution and where water shutoffs are so frequent the UN has called it a human rights violation; the circumstances have birthed a vibrant environmental activism community with Ra’s family more or less at the center.
The Next Step: Ending Excessive Punishment for Violent Crimes,
by Senior Research Analyst Nazgol Ghandnoosh,
The Sentencing Project
As President Trump and Congress celebrate their criminal justice reform achievement, passage of the First Step Act, a new report from The Sentencing Project points to limits on excessive punishments for violent offenses as the critical next step in ending mass incarceration.
[This report] highlights 15 reforms in 19 states implemented over the past two decades that have produced more effective, fiscally sound, and humane policies for people convicted of violent crimes. These reforms include: shortening excessive prison terms for violent convictions, scaling back collateral consequences, narrowing overly broad definitions of violence, ending long term solitary confinement, and rejecting the death penalty.
Recent reforms in Mississippi and California exemplify this next step in criminal justice reform. Mississippi legislators reformed the state's truth-in-sentencing requirement for violent crimes in 2014, reducing the proportion of a sentence that individuals with certain violent convictions have to serve before becoming eligible for parole from 85% to 50%. In 2018, California expanded specialized parole hearings that account for immature brain development to young adults under age 26.
Nationwide criminal justice reforms have reduced the number of people imprisoned for drug crimes by 22% between 2007 and 2015. But they have yet to meaningfully reduce excessive penalties for violent crimes. Nearly half of the U.S. prison population is now serving time for a violent offense, including assault and robbery. Although the violent crime rate has plummeted to half of its early-1990s level, the number of people imprisoned for a violent offense grew until 2009, and has since declined by just 3%.
We hope you will help us spread the word about this new report on social media. You can use the sample social media posts below:
#TheNextStep in ending mass incarceration must focus on reducing excessive penalties for violent crimes. Learn more in the @SentencingProj's new report: sent.pr/2FJoYjt
It is possible to undo excessive penalties for violent crimes while also promoting public safety. 19 states are already taking #TheNextStep in ending mass incarceration. sent.pr/2FJoYjt @SentencingProj
While the First Step Act and other criminal justice reforms have limited the number of people imprisoned for drug crimes, they have yet to meaningfully reduce excessive penalties for violent crimes. The Sentencing Project's new report highlights 15 reforms over the past two decades that have scaled back penalties for violent crimes while also promoting public safety. This is #TheNextStep in ending mass incarceration. sent.pr/2FJoYjt
What happened during my first visit to a prison since being released from one
Washington Post by Jason Razaian
On my latest trip to the Bay Area, I did something a bit different from what I usually do when I visit the area in which I grew up: I went to prison.
I had the opportunity to meet with inmates at San Quentin State Prison, the California penitentiary that sits on the southeastern edge of San Rafael, the city I called home for my first 33 years.
I had driven past San Quentin thousands of times. As a boy at Marin Country Day School, I looked out across the bay to see the prison’s sand-colored walls just across the water. During my childhood, my dad, his sister and a cousin all had retail businesses in an outdoor shopping mall less than a quarter of a mile from the prison.
This, though, was the first time I was going inside. It was my first experience at a prison since being released from Evin in Iran, which was also eerily close to my home in Tehran.
Program allows inmates to see their kids outside prison
CNN by Poppy Harlow
CNN's Poppy Harlow takes you inside the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York to meet the mothers locked up there -- and into an innovative new program through the Children's Museum of Manhattan that allows a select group of female inmates to spend a few precious hours outside of jail with their children.
Incarcerated people have a lot to teach us about preventing crime and violence. I listened, and you can, too.
Incarcerated people have a lot to teach us about preventing crime and violence. I listened, and you can, too.
NBC News by Jeffrey Wright
The transition from incarceration to reintegration into society is very much at the center of what our story is about in "O.G.": I play a man who's been incarcerated for 24 years, who is in the final weeks of his sentence. As a result, I had many conversations with folks on the inside, since we filmed in a working facility, and largely worked with men who are incarcerated in the roles of the other incarcerated men.
Almost to a man, they described what they feel is a universal period of anxiousness — of confusion — about what lies on the other side of the wall because, in many ways, time has stood still for them while they've been incarcerated, and the world outside has become foreign. But it's also because they've lived within an institution that has made every day-to-day social choice for them, and so their decision-making skills have really atrophied.
That's a real danger to someone who's reintegrating into society after having committed a serious crime, as the men that I worked with have. Reintegrating into society with your social skills having atrophied, but with your survival skills having been honed in a dangerous setting, is not necessarily the best combination for the general public, let alone for them.
Opening Minds Behind Bars
NPR-IL by Dusty Rhodes
Ro’Derick Zavala grew up in Chicago at 21st and State Street — the northern tip of a four-mile corridor lined with 8,000 units of public housing. His mother worked three jobs, including one at Walgreens, where she would pick up the Disney and Hanna Barbera books that inspired Zavala to fall in love with reading at a young age.
That passion should’ve made him a successful student. But on Chicago’s south side, in the 1980s, it was hard to find a safe place to go to school.
“My mother was always trying to get me out of the neighborhood I grew up in, so we constantly moved a lot. I was never in a school longer than a year," he says. "So you take me from one neighborhood to another school … to her, the school seems like a better place to go. But there still is a neighborhood around it that I have to operate in. So I continued to get in trouble in school and get kicked out of school.
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive