Friday News Roundup: June 7, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: Read about the newly proposed bill that, if passed, would allow people incarcerated in Washington, DC to vote while in prison; a study done on police Facebook accounts; a new housing affordability plan meant to alleviate prohibitors to obtaining housing for formerly incarcerated individuals; juvenile justice taking place in Arizona and California; and more.

Justice System News

Felons from DC Could Be Able to Vote from Prison under Proposed Bill

A group of DC lawmakers want to make the nation’s capital the first jurisdiction to restore voting rights to people with convictions while they’re still incarcerated. Council member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), with a majority of the thirteen-member body, plans to introduce legislation Tuesday to repeal language in a 1995 law that disenfranchises DC residents upon felony convictions. Every state except Maine and Vermont has stripped voting rights from people in prison. White’s bill would thrust the District into the vanguard of the felon enfranchisement movement. Bills to eliminate lifetime voting bans for people with felonies and to restore voting rights to those on parole or probation have won bipartisan support in statehouses and at the ballot box. But allowing people to vote while serving time remains controversial. (Nirappil, The Washington Post, Washington, DC, June 3, 2019)

White House Pushing to Help Prisoners Before Their Release

The White House is planning to help an estimated 2,200 people in federal prison line up work and housing before they are released next month, according to several policy experts and prisoner advocates. Their early release is made possible by the First Step Act, a federal law passed with bipartisan support in December that is aimed at refocusing the justice system on rehabilitation. The 2,200 people scheduled for early release in July are the largest group the new act will apply to so far. Their sentences are also being reduced due to a clause that goes into effect next month, which effectively increased the amount of credit people in prison could get for good conduct while in custody. (George, The Marshall Project, June 5, 2019)

Spotlight: In a Study of Cops’ Facebook Accounts, 1 in 5 Had Posted Racist, Violent Content

On Saturday, Injustice Watch and BuzzFeed News published an investigation into racist and violent social media posts by current and retired police officers. The article came out of a collaboration with the Plain View Project, which examined the Facebook accounts of police officers from eight departments across the county. The researchers found more than 5,000 posts and comments that met their criteria. Of the officers who could be identified on Facebook, one in every five of the current officers and two in every five of the retired officers made comments that met that standard, “typically by displaying bias, applauding violence, scoffing at due process, or using dehumanizing language.” In addition, it wasn’t just the less-experienced or lower-ranked officers who were responsible for the troubling public posts. Among those identified, at least sixty-four were in leadership roles. The Plain View Project database and the Injustice Watch and BuzzFeed report force questions about the racism that is allowed to fester, unchecked, in police departments across the country, even at the highest levels, and the consequences for how communities are policed. (Gullapalli, The Appeal, June 3, 2019)

Booker Unveils Housing Affordability Plan

On Wednesday, presidential candidate Cory Booker (D-NJ) unveiled an affordable housing plan that would provide a refundable tax credit to those whose rent runs more than 30 percent of their income. Booker’s campaign says his housing plan would help 57 million people, many of those whose rent costs more than half of their income. Booker would also strengthen rules that make it harder to discriminate against those previously incarcerated and push for the passage of The Equality Act to outline discrimination against people based on gender and sexual orientation. (Caldwell, NBC News, Washington, DC, June 5, 2019)

Juvenile Justice News

Arizona’s Gault Progress Varies Greatly by County, but Reforms Underway

Fifty years after the landmark In Re Gault decision, when the US Supreme Court ruled that youth in juvenile court must receive due process protections, the Arizona judiciary invited the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) to assess the state’s implementation. In a report released in 2017, it stated that although “every state has a basic structure to provide attorneys for children, few states or territories adequately satisfy access to counsel for young people.” NJDC’s assessment of Arizona found this same thing to be true. The Arizona assessment report offers sixteen recommendations for reform. According to the article, Arizona’s juvenile court stakeholders plan to take on these reforms. (Scali, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, June 5, 2019)

San Francisco Will Close It’s Juvenile Hall By the End of 2021

On Tuesday, San Francisco officials voted 10-1 to close the city’s youth detention facility by the end of 2021 – making it one of the nation’s first major cities to take such a step. The measure also calls for expanding programs that would serve as “community-based alternatives” to detention and creating a smaller, non-institutional, “rehabilitative” center for those who must be detained by law. The ordinance directs the creation of a twelve-person working group, including city officials, juvenile justice experts, and community members, to design alternatives to youth incarceration. It will also establish a fund to redirect money previously allocated for the juvenile hall to programs, mental health support, and academic help for youths in the justice system. (Ruiz-Grossman, HuffPost, June 4, 2019)

Public Defense News

America’s Public Defenders’ Offices Are Broken. Here’s How to Fix Them.

This article, written by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), further explains her proposed EQUAL Defense Act and how it might begin to mend public defense. She emphasizes in the article that, “The consequences of inadequate representation are especially worrying for communities of color, which experience institutional racism within the criminal justice system. A staggering 77 percent of black defendants facing criminal charges in state courts rely on public defenders—when those attorneys aren’t equipped to do their jobs, it’s often our communities that suffer most.” Ultimitaley, this bill establishes new workload limits for public defenders and provides $250 million to “close the gap” between public defenders and prosecutors. (Harris, The Root, June 5, 2019)

Video Hearings: The Choice ‘Between Efficiency and Rights’

Many jurisdictions across the country perform video hearings instead of holding bail hearings in person, a practice that is now said to lead to significant consequences, according to this article. Because of low quality video and audio services, adequate representation seems to be decreasing. The Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel in criminal prosecutions, but “what does it mean to have access to representation when you’re interacting with your lawyer over video, neither of you can really hear, see?” noted Rachel Foran, tactical organizing director at Community Justice Exchange. (Covert, The Appeal, Philadelphia, PA, June 5, 2019)

Treatment Court News

5 Questions for Richard Wiener

In this interview-style article, an APA reporter questions Richard Wiener, PhD, former director of the law and psychology program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, on the importance of treatment courts and his interest in expanding similar programs to address other psychological and social issues. Drug courts have altered the justice system and offered an alternative to a revolving door of incarceration, release and re-arrest, writes the article, and Wiener is looking to increase the positive effect they are having. Read more here. (Pappas, American Psychological Association, June 2019)