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.

 

Commentary

Why do mothers support incarcerated sons?

Years ago, when my 20-year old son was locked up at New York’s infamous Rikers Island, I would visit regularly despite the long commute from Brooklyn to Queens, two or three hour waits in the crowded, noisy reception area, and short, but bumpy, rides on dilapidated buses to various “houses” on the island; most times, I had just completed an 8-hour workday.

My landlord at the time–an obnoxious, nosy man–once questioned why I bothered to visit my son. “If he did the crime, I’d let him do the time.”

At the time, his words irritated me; however, in retrospect, I think his comment reflected the opinion of the public, and even, some family and friends.

Nonetheless, I had promised myself, I would not–could not–abandon my son to the custody and control of the city’s notorious jail system.

Like my former landlord, others might wonder mothers continue to support sons involved in the criminal justice system, often in the face of societal disapproval.

The answers are as varied as the mothers themselves.

One mother might have a son with a mental illness–often a factor in the commission of a crime–who worries about how he will fare in jail or prison if appropriate treatment/medication is not available.

Another mother might have a juvenile son tried as an as an adult and sentenced to time in a dangerous adult correctional facility, probably hours away from her community.

A mother could have a son who did not commit the criminal act for which he was arrested but was at the scene. She wonders why he received the same 10-year sentence as the perpetrators.

Our rationale for standing by them is simple. Our sons need advocates.

In spite of their wrong choices or bad acts, we nurture the hope that our sons’ lives can be salvaged.

For much of the public, the term, “inmate,” evokes images of violent, (mostly) black young men with gang affiliations, drug histories, broken families, or low morals.

Hence, many politicians see no need for sentencing or bail reform, increased drug rehabilitation funding, in-prison job training or educational programs. No need for comprehensive post-release assistance or services.

As mothers of incarcerated sons, we do not see our sons as state-issued ID “numbers,” but as “Junior” or “Davey,” or “Little Man.”

We remember our sons’ 6th Grade Math Award or love for animals or dream of playing for the NBA.

We are not apologists for them, but know that when wives, girlfriends, buddies, or relatives, stop visiting or communicating, we are left to bolster fragile egos.

Criminal justice research shows that when inmates lack contact with family, they are more likely to create discipline problems for prison administrators or suffer depression.

Often I was afraid to upset my son by denying him some request or by not providing everything he wanted; I had not learned that I could not save him from the hardships of prison by acceding to all his demands.

The most I could do was reassure him that he was loved and that better days were possible.

Unfortunately, in 1999, my son died prematurely in prison, so I can only imagine what his future might have held.

I take comfort in the knowledge that he knew that I was always there for him.

Having a son in prison can be all-consuming emotionally, psychologically, even physically, yet mothers muster the strength to carry on.

That’s just what we do.