Friday News Roundup: August 9, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: Trafficking survivor Cyntoia Brown gets early release, data says crime and incarceration are both declining across the US, a relentless jailhouse lawyer fights for trial reform, Kent Williams reunites with his family, and more. 

Trafficking News

Cyntoia Brown Released from Prison after Celebrity Support

Cyntoia Brown, championed by celebrities as a symbol of unfair sentencing, was released on Wednesday in Tennessee, where she had been serving a life sentence for killing a man who had solicited her for sex at age 16. She was granted clemency in January by outgoing Governor Bill Haslam and will remain on parole for 10 years. (Mattise, AP, Nashville, TN, August 7, 2019)

Juvenile Justice News

Running Away or Skipping School Could Get a Kid Locked Up. Now That’s Changing

Status offenses like running away from home or constantly skipping school could get youth placed in a juvenile hall for days. Quite often, cases filed today are dismissed, but thousands of young people end up in court or in a locked facility for status offenses each year. Kentucky has joined many other states that are trying something different. Ironically, the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act prohibits jailing youth for status offenses, while also providing a loophole — the valid court order (VCO). (Corley, NPR, August 5, 2019)

Criminal Justice News

Racism Tainted Their Trials. Should They Still Be Executed?

The North Carolina Supreme Court is hearing cases to decide whether evidence of racial bias, and similar findings of systemic bias in a handful of related cases, must be taken into account in death penalty appeals. The hearings stem from the 2013 repeal of the Racial Justice Act, a law that briefly allowed death row inmates to seek life sentences without parole if they could prove that racial bias tainted jury selection in their trials. Read about Marcus Robinson’s case, where a judge ruled that prosecutors improperly excluded black jurors in the murder trial that put him on death row. (Brook, The Marshall Project, August 7, 2019)

Between 2007 and 2017, 34 States Reduced Crime and Incarceration in Tandem

This report analysis from the Brennan Center shows that reducing mass incarceration does not come at the cost of public safety. Between 2007 and 2017, 34 states reduced both imprisonment and crime rates simultaneously. The total number of sentenced individuals held in state prisons across the US also decreased by 6 percent over the same decade, and in the past year alone overall crime has declined nearly 4 percent. (Kimble, Grawert, The Brennan Center for Justice, August 6, 2019)

The Criminal Justice System Is Bad for Your Health, Warns New York City’s Health Department

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is warning the public that contact with the criminal justice system, everything from police stops or searches, to incarceration, to having a jailed relative, poses a public health risk. They find higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, drug abuse, and mental illness. The department is starting a new public health campaign focused on educating health care workers about chronic health conditions linked to these patients. (Vergano, Buzzfeed News, August 5)

A Relentless Jailhouse Lawyer Propels a Case to the Supreme Court

Read this human interest story about Calvin Duncan, a former inmate in Louisiana who had only a 10th-grade level education when entering the system and became a relentless, seasoned jailhouse lawyer. The Louisiana Supreme Court finally agreed in March to review a case about an issue Duncan has spent years working on, with two dozen failed attempts; the Louisiana law that allows non-unanimous juries to give a conviction in criminal cases, sometimes resulting in life in prison. (Liptak, The New York Times, August 5, 2019)

In Chicago, Rethinking the Link Between Crime and Incarceration

In Chicago, crime is dropping. According to a new report, the number of people sentenced to prison or jail fell by almost 20 percent last year while violent crime also dropped by roughly 8 percent under State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. Progressive prosecutors across the country are successfully reducing incarceration without any corresponding increase in crime rates. (Lerner, The Appeal, August 5, 2019)

First Inmate Released under New California Resentencing Law

Kent Williams was sentenced 50 years to life in prison for two break-ins and stealing a car because of previous felonies and three strikes law. After 16 years incarcerated, Williams’ is believed to be the first person released under a new law that allows prosecutors to review sentences they consider unjustly harsh. He is starting to rebuild his life; working, registering for college, and meeting some of his grandchildren for the first time. (Gardiner, San Francisco Chronicle, August 2, 2019)