Friday News Roundup: June 28, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: Read about the push for free phone calls while in jail, how the BOP withdrew its plans to construct a US Penitentiary in Kentucky, 2020 presidential contenders take on criminal justice reform, the call to deconstruct private, for-profit prisons, and more. 

Criminal Justice News

Spotlight: Reactions to Free Jail Calls Demonstrate ‘Status Quo Bias’

This human interest story speaks to the debate on free jail calls. Beginning next week, people in jail in San Francisco will be able to call their loved ones for free. Last year, people in the city’s jails spent $1.7 million on phone calls and commissary, of which half a million went to GTL, a major corrections telecommunication company. For Mayor London Breed, who introduced the provision in the San Francisco budget, jail calls are personal: Her brother is incarcerated. “It’s something that has never sat well with me… When people are in jail, they should be able to remain connected to their family without being concerned about how much it will cost them or their loved ones.” (Lustbader, The Appeal, June 25, 2019) 

Bureau of Prisons Cancels $505 Million Project After Pressure from Activists

The US Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) withdrew its plans to construct a US Penitentiary and Federal Prison Camp in Letcher County, Kentucky, on Thursday. A group of federal prisoners and advocacy groups, including the Abolitionist Law Center and Green Justice, challenged the construction of the new prison in a federal lawsuit. The complaint outlined the environmental concerns raised by the proposed construction of an 800-acre prison over a former coal mining site and asserted that the public, especially federal prisoners, ought to have had an opportunity to comment on BOP’s proposal. The complaint further noted that a $505 million investment in a new prison would likely be rendered unnecessary by Congress’s passage of the First Step Act, projected to significantly decrease the federal prison population. (Thompson, Jurist, June 21, 2019)

The Supreme Court Just Showed a Way Forward on Criminal Justice Reform

In a little-noticed case on Friday, the Supreme Court held 7–2 that undocumented immigrants charged with possessing firearms must know their unlawful status to be convicted of a crime. And while this might seem like an issue of narrow semantics, Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas’ vigorous dissent suggests a broad array of implications, including the release or retrial of some of the many people convicted each year for violating federal firearm possession laws. (Fleischman, Slate, June 21, 2019)

How 2020 Contenders Are Approaching Police Brutality and Criminal Justice Reform 

In a diverse and crowded Democratic race, candidates are bringing their records of managing cases of police brutality and criminal justice reform with them. In this article, read where several of the front running Democratic candidates fall in regard to creating or ensuring reform for police brutality and our justice system. (Hatch, HuffPost, June 22, 2019) 

Elizabeth Warren Wants to Ban ‘Corrupt and Inhumane’ Private Prisons

Senator Elizabeth Warren is now running on what people have been saying about her for months: she’s got a plan for that — for student loan debt, for expensive child care, and now, for private prisons. On Friday, she released a new plan that would, she says, ban private prisons. Warren isn’t the only Democratic presidential candidate to criticize private prisons, or to suggest an end to their use. As the Los Angeles Times reported on Friday, Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) has also criticized them, despite her record as California’s attorney general. And Senator Bernie Sanders wrote on Medium that we must “end the existence of the private for-profit prison industry.” (Jones, The Cut, June 21, 2019) 

Bernie Sanders Has Dodged Criticism for Crime Bill Vote While Others Have Not

As a presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has often defended his vote for a controversial 1994 crime bill as a hold-your-nose compromise that included measures popular within the Democratic Party, such as a ban on assault weapons. As a result, Sanders’ support for the massive anti-crime package hasn’t come under the same level of scrutiny that has at times stuck to other Democratic candidates. But an NBC News review of his past statements shows that Sanders also backed some of the legislation’s key get-tough-on-crime provisions, which he now says “created a very broken system,” — a part of his public record that may surprise some Sanders supporters. Read more here. (Przybyla, NBC News, Washington, DC, June 23, 2019) 

Criminal Justice Reform in Colorado Gets Bipartisan Support 

There have been a lot of bills on the table this legislative session in Colorado. Specifically, Colorado Representative Leslie Herod (D) would like to restore voting rights to individuals who have served time and are now out on parole. She would also like to reduce certain drug charges from felonies to misdemeanors. Additionally, Herod aims to remove bail costs for those charged with minor offenses that, under the current system, cannot afford to return home with their families. Other bills the Representative has sponsored include one that would provide free feminine care to women in custody, and another that would prevent potential employers from asking about a person’s criminal history. (Blue Virginia Press, Blue Virginia, June 22, 2019)

New York State Deconstructs Private Prisons; Becomes First State to Make Move

This article discusses the steps New York is taking to deconstruct private prisons — making them the first US state to take such measures in this direction. According to The Sentencing Project, in 2016 there were 128,063 people incarcerated in private prisons in the US. This totals up to 8.5 percent of the total federal and state prison population in the nation. Over the last two decades, this number has increased over 50 percent and most of those people are black and brown. Read more about the three steps New York plans to take to try and stop the harmful increase here. (Smith, The Source, June 24, 2019) 

Public Defense News

US Senators Introduce Legislation to Expand Legal Representation for Victims of Violence

On Tuesday, US Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) introduced S. 1959, the Ensuring Representation for Survivors Act, legislation to ensure that all survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault have access to a lawyer if they need it. Because studies have shown that when victims of abuse are represented by an attorney, their ability to break out of the cycle of violence increases dramatically. (Sierra Sun Times, Washington, DC, June 26, 2019) 

Juvenile Justice News

New Orleans Youth Crime: The Epidemic That Wasn’t 

In rhetoric reminiscent of the ‘superpredator’ scare of the 1990s, the New Orleans District Attorney warned of “a brazen population of delinquent teens.” But advocates and crime analysts alike say the data doesn’t support his fear-mongering claims about youth and crime. Read this human interest story counteracting the DA’s message that youth crime is not just rising but is at “epidemic” levels. (Hayes, The Appeal, June 27, 2019)