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
The Love Story that Upended the Texas Prison System
Texas Monthly by Ethan Watters
October 11, 2018
In 1967, a 56-year-old lawyer met a young inmate with a brilliant mind and horrifying stories about life inside. Their complicated alliance—and even more complicated romance—would shed light on a nationwide scandal, disrupt a system of abuse and virtual slavery across the state, and change incarceration in Texas forever.
On November 9, 1967, Fred Cruz was in his sixth year of a fifteen-year robbery sentence and starting yet another stint in the hole. Of the many punishments the Texas prison system doled out to inmates, solitary confinement was one of the most brutal on the body and the soul. It wasn’t Cruz’s first time there, but it wasn’t something one got used to. The Ellis Unit, about fourteen miles north of Huntsville in a boggy lowland area of East Texas, was known as the toughest prison in the system, and there was no worse place to be in Ellis than solitary.
The cell’s darkness was so complete it made the eyes ache. On some occasions, Cruz was given a thin blanket and nothing else—no clothes and no mattress for the steel bunk. His toilet was a hole in the floor. He’d receive only three slices of bread a day with a full meal twice a week, and had shed multiple pounds from his already thin frame. After two weeks, an outer door to the cell would be opened, allowing in light from the hallway. This would be considered a “release” from solitary. Then the warden or an officer would come by and assess the sincerity of Cruz’s contrition. If he failed that yes-sir-no-sir encounter, the solid steel door would be shut again and the days of darkness would recommence.
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.
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.
Is Prison the Answer to Violence? -
The Marshall Project
I think there are a handful of reasons we have to think differently about how we approach the question of violence. The first relates to what you just said, which is that we will not end mass incarceration without taking on the question of violence. We have a choice. We either give up the aspiration of ending mass incarceration or we steer into the question of what to do about people who commit harm.
The other reason is that if you ask survivors of violent crime what they're worried about, it’s people who may hurt them. And many don’t trust police to protect them. We know that fewer than half of victims of violence call the police in the first place when they're hurt. That's a profound indictment of our system.
Let me pick up on that. In your report, "Accounting for Violence," your first principle is that the response to violent crime should be survivor-centered. What if the thing the survivor really needs in order to feel safe is to just lock away the bad guy for a long, long time. How much should that weigh in the outcome?
A survivor-centered system is not the same as a survivor-ruled one. We never would argue that what a crime survivor wants should be the only factor we take into account. If a crime survivor wants somebody free and we have real reason to believe that person will go on to hurt other people, then we may have an obligation to incarcerate that person.
California will offer parole for 4,000 'three-strike' prisoners facing life sentences
Pacific Standard by Emily Moon
October 19, 2018
In a reversal of a controversial rule that disproportionately sentenced mentally ill and African-American inmates to life in prison for petty crimes, California will allow all non-violent prisoners under the Three Strikes Act to seek parole.
...Californians launched a decade-long attempt to correct this, starting with Propositions 36, 47, and now 57, which rolled back the Three Strikes Law and sought to solve mass incarceration. The latest ruling, as well as the governor's compliance, marks a success for advocates of criminal justice reform.
I Can Be Free Again': How Music Brings Healing at Sing Sing
I've seen firsthand how music can restore what's missing in prison: a respect for humanity.
Pacific Standard by John J. Lennon
October 24, 2018
In Concert at Sing SingThe Sing Sing cellblocks are piles of brick and slabs of metal and steel and concrete, built on a hill of prime real estate overlooking the Hudson River. At four open tiers high, with two sides of 88 cells that stretch the length of two football fields, Cellblock A is the largest in the world, per the Sing Sing Prison Museum. Pipes snake along the wall hissing heat; cell radios tuned to Hot 97, New York City's hip-hop station, bump Nicki Minaj rapping about her privates being wetter than puddles; Bloods yell out roll calls ("Whoopti!" to responses of "Can't stop! Never stop!"), while the rest of us wait impatiently, screaming out cell numbers for corrections officers to open.
ACLU Report to reduce IL incarceration rate:
Illinois has 40,922 people in prison, We can reduce that number.
If Illinois were to follow these and other reforms in this Smart Justice 50-State Blueprint, by 2025 it could have 24,898 fewer people in its prison system, saving over $1.5 billion that could be invested in schools, services, and other resources that would strengthen communities.
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive