Friday News Roundup: May 17, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: Read about the increasing populations of women in prison, the justice reform said to protect those who confront hunger and poverty upon reentry, a blueprint designed to help policymakers combat a mass incarceration, public defense for migrants and refugees, and more.

Criminal Justice News

Criminal Justice Includes Food Security – We Can’t Ban the Social Safety Net

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has signed justice reform legislation that will ease reentry for people returning home from prison. Among the most notable elements of the new law is an opt out of a 23-year-old federal ban on food stamps and financial assistance for people with felony drug convictions. The change will help protect the many people who confront hunger and poverty upon their release from prison. Mississippi is the latest state to amend or rescind this federal policy, which emerged when the political consensus of the 1990s supported punitive and racially charged approaches to both drugs and poverty. (Gotsch, The Hill, May 16, 2019)

Harris knocks Biden on Crime Bill: ‘It Did Contribute to Mass Incarceration in Our Country’

Sen. Kamala Harris confronted Joe Biden on Wednesday after the former vice president said the 1994 crime bill he helped write, that has recently re-surfaced in the news, did not lead to mass incarceration. With respect, Biden’s Democratic opponents disagree, saying that, among other things, the legislation offered states financial incentives to impose stricter sentencing laws and enacted a three-strikes rule that imposed mandatory life sentence if a person with two or more prior convictions was found guilty of a violent crime. Critics have also said the bill led to a spike in incarceration, particularly for African Americans. (Axelrod, The Hill, May 15, 2019)

Harvard’s First Black Faculty Deans Let Go Amid Uproar Over Harvey Weinstein Defense

Harvard said on Saturday that a law professor who has represented Harvey Weinstein would not continue as a faculty dean, bowing to months of pressure from students. Many students expressed dismay, saying that his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women disqualified Mr. Sullivan from serving in a role of support and mentorship to students. Mr. Weinstein is scheduled to go to trial in September in Manhattan on rape and related charges. The controversy around Mr. Sullivan’s representation of Mr. Weinstein highlighted a conflict between the legal principle that every accused person deserves a vigorous defense and students’ demands that college officials show support for victims of sexual assault. “Whose side are you on?” demanded one of the spray-painted messages directed at Mr. Sullivan earlier this year. (Taylor, New York Times, Cambridge, MA, May 11, 2019)

ACLU of Indiana Releases Blueprint for Cutting Incarceration by 50 Percent

The ACLU of Indiana released a report that outlines how they can cut the number of people behind bars in half. The Blueprint quantifies the positive impact of revising extreme laws and policies, such as the reduction of extraordinarily long sentences for low-level drug offenses, and expanding evidence-based opportunities for release, including those who have not yet been convicted of a crime. The Blueprint is designed to help policymakers combat a mass incarceration crisis that has damaged families, harmed communities, deepened racial disparities, and bankrupted local governments. The report is a part of the ACLU’s Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints project, a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of how states can transform their justice system and cut incarceration in half. (WBIW, Indianapolis, IN, May 13, 2019)

Mass Incarceration of Women, Minorities a New Crisis

This article suggests that despite a narrowing disparity between incarcerated black women and white women, females have emerged as the new face of mass incarceration. As the number of women in prison increases, the Prison Policy Initiative suggests it is because avoiding pretrial incarceration is uniquely challenging for women. Another answer is that incarcerated women, who tend to have lower incomes than incarcerated men, have an even harder time affording cash bail. “While we are a long way away from having data on intersectional impacts of sexuality and race or ethnicity on women’s likelihood of incarceration, it is clear that Black and lesbian or bisexual women are disproportionately subject to incarceration,” Prison Policy Initiative author Aleks Kajstura said. (Brown, Pride Publishing Group, May 12, 2019)

Juvenile Justice News

Juvenile Lifers Struggle to Navigate Reentry After Release

In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that youth automatically sentenced to life without parole must have a chance for release. But “juvenile lifers” who left prison say society wasn’t prepared for them. In this human interest story, Foster Tarver (among several others) is interviewed on his experience being released after spending 49 years in prison for being an accomplice to a fatal bank robbery. Tarver, like many reentering society, had difficulty obtaining housing and a job, though he actively pursued both. (Herring, National Public Radio, May 12, 2019)

Drug Court News

Family Recovery Court Helps with Addiction and Stabilizes Home Life

In this interview heard on NPR  Morning Edition, reporter Barb Anguiano questions a participant offered a position in family recovery court, when faced with the possibility of losing custody of his daughter for crimes related to his opioid use. Many states are turning to family recovery courts in attempt to keep families together while also keeping defendants out of the regular criminal justice system. Listen here. (Anguiano, National Public Radio, May 14, 2019)

Harford Adult Drug Court to Address Addiction-Based Crime

Harford County, Maryland has launched its first adult drug treatment court and is now looking for qualified participants. Judge Mahoney, who spearheaded the program, stated that a significant majority of the crimes they see are rooted in substance use disorder and due to limited resources in the community, they saw a direct need for this form of treatment in Harford County. The Director of the Maryland Judiciary Office of Problem-Solving Courts, Gray Barton, added that, “There is a huge push for drug courts, not only in the state of Maryland but also across the entire country…We have the ability to build this new drug court from the ground up and help those who need it most.” (News Desk, News Partner, Patch, May 15, 2019)

Public Defense News

Lawsuit Accusing DHS of Blocking Migrants’ Right to Counsel Can Proceed in D.C., Judge Rules

A federal judge ruled Friday that a court case accusing the Department of Homeland Security of blocking migrants’ right to counsel at a facility in Louisiana and two facilities in Georgia can proceed as one case in Washington, D.C. The lawsuit, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), claims that there are barriers to accessing attorneys at immigrant detention facilities, arguing “The totality of barriers to accessing and communicating with attorneys endured by detainees in these prisons deprives SPLC’s clients of their constitutional rights to access courts, to access counsel, and to obtain full and fair hearings, in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.” Friday’s ruling will now litigate the merits across all three detention centers so there is nationwide enforcement of standards governing access to attorneys for people in detention. (Frazin, The Hill, May 14, 2019)