Criminal Justice News

Podcast watch; some states have reduced prison populations

Podcasts to follow

On my podcast, One Mother’s Voice:In the Name of Justice (on hiatus until January 2019), my message is: to bring about meaningful reforms in our criminal justice system, those of us affected–either directly or indirectly–should understand how its laws, policies, and practices impact our families and communities.

Two podcasts with differing approaches to educating their audiences are Serial and Pearl329’s Start the Conversation.

Serial

According to Huffington Post, “The new season returns to the show’s criminal justice roots by chronicling the criminal court system in Cleveland, with new episodes launching each Thursday.”

In its first season, the award-winning team, headed by Sarah Koenig, examined whether Baltimore teenager, Adnan Syed, was wrongfully convicted for the murder of  his girlfriend. Earlier this year, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Syed has the right to a new trial based on his claim of “ineffective assistance of counsel.”

The third season, which begins September 30, “will track several storylines over multiple episodes, following criminal cases from the courtroom to defendants’ and witnesses’ homes.”

Start the Conversation

Start the Conversation is the brainchild of Eve Pollard, who describes herself as “wife and mother,” “soldier,” and “athlete.”

The podcast is dedicated to the memory of her brother, Eric “Maze” Moyler, who died suddenly in March, at age 30; he had served time in two New York State prisons.

Her podcast focuses on airing the experiences of those affected by the incarceration of a family member.

She believes that “it is important for families of inmates….(to have) conversations about the toll that prison takes on families.”

The show’s intimate feel derives from Pollard sharing her personal observations and experiences and speaking with the parents, siblings, and children of inmates.

The podcast is part of her overall mission, which includes sponsoring an event, “Run to Reform.”

Through sharing resources on wealth-building, goal-setting, healthy living, and personal growth, she hopes to empower individuals and communities to make positive changes.

Slow, but steady, progress

Reductions in some states’ prison populations is cause for measured optimism.

The Sentencing Project reports: “Since 2016, most states have modestly reduced their prison populations. These prison population reductions have come about through a mix of changes in policy and practice designed to reduce admissions to prison and term lengths. Changes in New Jersey led to a prison population reduction of 37% in 2016 from its peak in 1999.

New York’s prison population also peaked in 1999, and through a combination of policy and practice changes that largely affected drug enforcement and sentencing in New York City, declined by 31% by 2016.

Connecticut’s 28% decline in prison population since its 2007 peak has been attributed to policy shifts such as reducing prison admissions for technical parole and probation violations as part of the Second Chance Society Initiative and reclassifying drug possession offenses to misdemeanors.”

For a more detailed look at other states that have reduced their prison populations visit The Sentencing Project website.

 

 

 

 

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Criminal Justice News

News: prisoners trapped inside mandatory evacuation zone in SC; bad news out of Nevada

Prisoners in more ways than one?

Why am I not surprised that prisoners in three South Carolina prisons will not be among those removed from Hurricane Florence’s destructive path, even though they are within the mandatory evacuation zone.

The welfare of prisoners is seldom a priority, only the perception that administrators are doing their best. According to prison officials, it’s “safer” for prisoners to stay put. They also cite public safety and the possibility for escape as reasons for their decision.

While these might be legitimate concerns, the plight of those trapped in cells should take precedence.

An article in yesterday’s The New Yorker, states: “During Hurricane Katrina, people were trapped in flooded cells with nothing to eat or drink. Last year, after Hurricane Harvey, prisoners reported flooding in cells; a man in a Texas prison told me that he lost access to functioning toilets and running water.”

Families of prisoners say that they could not get any information about the South Carolina Department of Corrections’s plans for evacuation.

No surprise here.

Bad news out of Nevada

In a decade, when advocates are striving to reverse policies that led to mass incarceration-from mandatory minimum sentencing to unfair bail practices–my home state, Nevada, is bucking the trend with an imprisonment rate 15 percent above the U.S. average. 

The Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) released a report on Wednesday, which states:

  • NV prison admissions have increased 6 percent in the past decade;
  • the female population (less than 10 percent of the inmate population) has increased 39 percent;
  • slightly more than 50 percent have been identified as having mental health issues.

On another note, Nevada Department of Correction Director James Dzurenda is battling a lawsuit for authorizing the use of midazolam, a sedative, for the lethal cocktail used in executions. Alvogen, which manufactures the drug, does not want it used in unintended ways.

(Midazolam was not purchased from Alvogen but from third a party, after the state’s supply of a similar drug ran out.)

In the meantime, Scott Dozier’s twice-delayed execution for the horrific killings of two drug-associates is postponed until the Nevada Supreme court hears oral arguments on September 21.

Dozier’s execution will be the first in ten years.

Ask One Mother’s Voice

If you are the mother of an incarcerated son and have questions or concerns, please contact me at omvforyou@gmail.com or on Twitter @onemothersvoice.

 

Criminal Justice

A personal mission; prison reform vs criminal justice reform

My Mission

Many years ago, when my (now deceased) son was incarcerated, I knew next to nothing about criminal justice policies, rates of incarceration, or racial disparities in sentencing.

I paid little heed to his complaints about overly punitive judges, ineffective lawyers, or prison conditions. In actuality, I believed he was just venting his frustrations.

With a better understanding of the political and social factors that have led to mass incarceration, I might have been more proactive, perhaps even joining an organization that tackled criminal justice issues.

Doing so, could have helped me cope with my anxiety and worry.

Hence, in 2016, I created a podcast, One Mother’s Voice: In the Name of Justice to provide for mothers with sons in prison “… accurate information about U.S. criminal justice policies and their effects on families and communities, and to promote activism as an antidote to hopelessness and helplessness.” (OMV is on hiatus until January 2019)

The podcast featured topics from community bail funds to health care in prisons as well as my commentary on criminal justice issues and news.

My goal for the revamped OMV is to give mothers a platform to share their experiences with the criminal justice system, their concerns, and their strategies for coping with emotional pain.

If you have a story to share, contact Wista Jeanne Johnson at omvforyou@gmail.com.

The (Trump-approved) First Step Act debate

2016 was an encouraging year for federal sentencing reform. There was bipartisan support in Congress for changing minimum mandatory sentence laws for low-level drug offenses. (Good news.)

In May 2018, the First Step Act (FSA), a prison reform bill, passed the House in May 2018. Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior advisor to President Trump, has been the major proponent of the bill.

(Some believe that Kusher’s advocacy was prompted by the fact that his father, Charles Kushner, spent two years in federal prison for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering.)

Critics of FSA say that the bill is “back-end” reform that affects those already incarcerated rather than “front end” reform that seeks to affect policies that keep people out of prison through preventative measures. Its provisions include:

  • encouraging inmates to participate in vocational and rehabilitative programs
  • authorize more funding for these programs
  • increasing “good time credits”
  • using algorithms to determine inmate eligibility for these credits.

However, Vox reports “…algorithms can perpetuate racial and class discrimination; for instance, an algorithm that excludes someone from earning credits due to previous criminal history may overlook that black and poor people are more likely to be incarcerated for crimes even when they’re not more likely to actually commit those crimes.”

FSA faces opposition from Republicans (Sen. Tom Cotton–AK) and Democrats, including Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

In his Wall Street Journal op-ed, Senator Cotton said, “This naive policy ignores the reality of recidivism. Five out of six prisoners end up rearrested within nine years, according to a recent Justice Department study…(m)ost criminals will commit more crimes after being released from prison, even with improved rehabilitation programs.

The last thing Congress should do is shorten their sentences or allow them to “serve time” in home confinement.” (Of course, he makes no mention of the causes for recidivism.)

According to a Marshall Project article, “Opponents, mostly on the left, say any criminal justice reform bill should also reduce mandatory minimum sentences or give judges more discretion to make the punishment fit the crime. A bipartisan Senate bill, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, is also making its way through Congress. It includes “back end” reform—services for prisoners—and “front end” reform—reducing sentence time. Its supporters believe that the House bill is stealing support and momentum from the more comprehensive bill.”

FSA only affects federal prisoners.

Let’s hope that, despite its limitations, it proves beneficial for incarcerated persons who seldom get second chances.