Friday News Roundup: July 26, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: Read human pieces like the story of Gloria Williams, one of Louisiana’s longest serving females in prison and Dauras Cyprian, one of tens of thousands of Californians who has been released from prison yet is shut out of two of the most basic civic institutions, a new justice reform proposal from presidential candidate Joe Biden, a slate of policy changes to Oregon’s juvenile justice system, and more. 

Criminal Justice News

2 Brothers, Same Crime: Why One Got Out First

Lionel and Keith Henderson, tried and convicted together in 2006 of drug trafficking and conspiring, have both been released from prison but due to different criminal justice reform. Keith was sentenced to more than 24 years in prison, and Lionel to life. Though Lionel had the more severe sentence, he was released earlier, having been granted clemency by Obama in 2017. Keith stepped out of a federal prison in Arkansas last week because of the First Step Act. The story of the brothers shows the patchwork nature of efforts, by all three branches of government and under both parties, to roll back mass incarceration. (Bogel-Burroughs, The New York Times, July 25, 2019)

Justice Department Plans to Restart Capital Punishment after Long Hiatus

The Justice Department announced Thursday that it plans to resume executing federal prisoners awaiting the death penalty, ending almost two decades of the federal government not imposing capital punishment. Attorney General William P. Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions for five individuals currently on death row, the first since 2003. (Barrett, The Washington Post, July 25, 2019)

Michigan Jails Fill as Crime Sinks and Nobody Seems to Know Why

Michigan’s county jail population has tripled in the last 50 years even though crime rates have dropped lower than they have been in generations, and it’s costing taxpayers roughly half a billion dollars a year. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order in April that created the new Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, which meets for the first time this week, to find out why. It is a bipartisan group of politicians, public defenders, victims advocates, corrections officers, and others that will recommend changes to criminal justice policy. (Beggin, Bridge, July 24, 2019)

Biden, Scrutinized for Crime Bill, Unveils Plan to Reduce Mass Incarceration

Former Vice President Joe Biden has unveiled a comprehensive plan aimed at combating mass incarceration and reducing “racial, gender, and income-based disparities in the system.” Biden’s proposal seeks to address social issues affecting children that are linked with crime and future incarceration, and to reform the juvenile justice system. Aiming to reverse legacies of the 1994 crime bill, Biden called for eliminating sentencing discrepancies between powder and crack cocaine, eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing, ending cash bail, and eliminating the death penalty. (Glueck, The New York Times, July 23, 2019)

As New US Law Frees Inmates, Prosecutors Seek to Lock Some Back Up

The First Step Act, passed late last year, is currently releasing people from federal prison but might not let all of them stay out. Federal prosecutors at the Justice Department have fought scores of petitions for reduced sentences and are threatening to put more than a dozen people already released back behind bars, Reuters reports. The Justice Department said “It’s a fairness issue,” because they want to ensure that people seeking relief under the reform legislation aren’t treated more leniently than those now facing prosecution, because in plea deals they admitted to handling a smaller amount of drugs. (Sullivan, Reuters, July 23, 2019)

Nadler, Harris to Introduce Bill Decriminalizing Pot, Expunge Marijuana Convictions

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) are introducing legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or the MORE Act, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, decriminalize the drug, create federal protections, and allow states to write their own policies. The legislation would require pot convictions to be expunged or resentenced. The bill establishes a 5 percent cannabis tax to set up grants for minorities and low-income communities. (LaVito, CNBC, July 23, 2019)

States are Blocking Courtroom Recording. But Reform Requires Transparency.

This opinion piece from The Appeal advocates for greater transparency in the criminal justice system as a whole after the Philadelphia Bail Fund and a journalist filed a federal lawsuit to challenge a ban on audio recording during bail hearings in Pennsylvania where there is no stenographer present. (Lustbader, The Appeal, July 23, 2019)

People on Parole Fight to Reclaim the Ballot

Read about Dauras Cyprian, a community organizer and campaigner for legal system reform in California, with expertise in restorative justice and peer counseling. Cyprian is one of tens of thousands of Californians with felony convictions who has been released from prison, yet is shut out of two of the country’s most basic civic institutions: the jury box and the ballot box. He is also concerned about the other 50,000 voting-age adults statewide who have served their time but remain locked out of the democratic process. (Chen, Truthout, July 22, 2019)

Changes to Help Those “Lost in the System” Because of Mental Illness

Coloradans declared “incompetent to proceed in court” have long faced a catch-22 in the justice system that leaves them languishing in jails or state hospitals for months, sometimes even years, before they have been convicted of a crime. A change in the Colorado statute and new laws, Senate bills 222 and 223, could get these individuals out of jail and into community-based treatment. The goal: streamline determining competency and hold the state accountable for moving people through the system. They also require the state determines how to address the much deeper problems that have led these individuals into the justice system in the first place. (Fleming, Westword, July 22, 2019)

Louisiana’s Longest Serving Female Prisoner, ‘Mama Glo’ Gets Favorable Recommendation for Clemency

This human interest story reports on Gloria Williams, also known as “Mama Glo” at Louisiana’s women’s prison. After almost 50 years behind bars and a transformation described as exemplary, the Louisiana Board of Pardons gave Williams, now 73, a favorable recommendation to amend her 1971 life sentence for second-degree murder by giving her parole eligibility. That recommendation will move to the governor’s desk for review. (Toohey, The Advocate, July 22, 2019)

Juvenile Justice News

Governor Signs Sweeping Juvenile Justice Bill into Law

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Monday signed into law a slate of policy changes to Oregon’s juvenile justice system that will go into effect January 2020. The bill abolishes life without parole for minors, expands opportunities for early release, and restricts the prosecution of children as adults. It ends a mandatory minimum sentencing law that comes with high bail and a long prison sentence, requiring anyone between 15 and 17-years-old, who is arrested for certain crimes including murder, robbery, assault, and sex offense, be automatically charged as an adult. (Crombie, The Oregonian, July 22, 2019)

States Must Abolish Juvenile Fees. They’re Putting Families in Debt

This opinion piece from The Washington Post discusses the need for juvenile fee reform.  Almost every state authorizes courts and agencies to charge the child, their parents, or their guardians for youth detention, supervision, and electronic monitoring. Many jurisdictions even charge families for their children’s “free” public defenders. The fees can quickly add up to thousands of dollars, are racially discriminatory, harm rehabilitation, and some jurisdictions actually lose money collecting them. (Selbin, Feierman, The Washington Post, July 19, 2019)

Public Defense News

The Shocking Lack of Lawyers in Rural America

In rural areas the rate of individuals that are detained awaiting trial is three times higher than urban areas. It is also due in part to a shortage of resources—not enough funding for pretrial services, limited times when court is in session, and limited public defenders. Since 2008, urban jail populations have shrunk dramatically, while rural ones continue to rise; the highest incarceration rates are now in rural counties, and they are struggling to provide basic services. (Pishko, The Atlantic, July 18, 2019)