Friday News Roundup: August 23, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: Read the latest headlines about the dire need for public defense reform, justice proposals from 2020 presidential candidates, life inside a prison plagued by violence, and more. 

Public Defense News

Justice Delayed: Shortage of Attorneys Leaves Poorest Defendants in Jail as Cases Drag On

In Wisconsin, the farther individuals are located from Dane and Milwaukee counties, the more difficult it is to find lawyers willing to take on public defense cases. This means that people are spending time in jails waiting for representation. This story is part two of a three part series from the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, “Broke in a Broken System,” calling for justice system reform, parts one and three cover bail issues, and probation and parole. (Madden, Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, August 21, 2019)

Our Justice System No Longer Thinks You’re Entitled to a Zealous Legal Defense

This opinion piece from The Washington Post discusses the importance of effective counsel. Adnan Syed, whose name you might recognize as the first subject of 2014’s hit podcast Serial, was found to have incompetent public defense, but Maryland’s highest court ruled against him stating the effect was not so bad as to violate his Sixth Amendment rights. Allowing Adnan Syed’s conviction to stand could undermine the rights of potentially innocent defendants. (Miller, The Washington Post, August 20, 2019)

How Judicial Conflicts of Interest Are Denying Poor Texans Their Right to an Effective Lawyer

For decades, Texans who can’t afford a lawyer have gotten caught in a justice system hindered by inadequate funding and overloaded attorneys. Marvin Wilford is one of those Texans. This article looks into the attorney shortage, and with a growing body of caseload data, and a recent lawsuit, also points to the unchecked power of Texas judges as a place for reform. (Satija, The Texas Tribune, August 19, 2019)

2020 Elections and Criminal Justice Reform

The Criminal Justice Debate Has Changed Drastically. Here’s Why.

A shift in public opinion has lead liberal and centrist candidates to back system overhauls like decriminalizing marijuana, reversing mass incarceration, and ending the death penalty. Some progressives are going further, pushing boundaries with proposals like ending solitary confinement in jails and prisons, paying individuals a living wage for work they do while in prison, and legalizing supervised injection sites for intravenous drug use. (Williams, Kaplan, The New York Times, August 21, 2019)

Warren Calls for Repealing 1994 Crime Bill, Decriminalizing School Truancy

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released her justice reform plan, which called for the repeal of the 1994 crime bill, and for the federal government to push states and localities to decriminalize school truancy, contrasting the records of other candidates. Warren’s larger argument calls for decreasing incarceration levels and combating crime by investing in education, housing, and other anti-poverty programs. (Thompson, Politico, August 20, 2019)

Sanders Unveils Proposal for Massive Overhaul of Criminal Justice System

Bernie Sanders (D-VT) released a nearly 6,000-word justice system reform proposal to remake the nation’s prisons, police departments, courts, drug laws, and treatment of people who have mental illnesses. The plan also calls for banning cash bail, solitary confinement, and civil asset forfeiture, and proposes to legalize marijuana and abolish the death penalty. (Otterbein, Politico, August 18, 2019)

Millennials Overwhelmingly Support Criminal Justice Reform

A survey from the University of Chicago’s GenForward Project reveals that millennials, across lines of race and ethnicity, are concerned about the relationship between police and the people they are supposed to serve and protect. Findings indicated that African American millennials avoid cops, millennials are divided on how to keep communities safe, 75 percent want more oversight, and more. Over 40 percent of the people surveyed said that criminal justice issues will influence who they vote for in the 2020 election. (Chisolm, Colorlines, August 16, 2019)

Criminal Justice News

Inside the Prison Where Inmates Set Each Other on Fire and Gangs Have More Power Than Guards 

Mississippi, despite getting national praise last year for 2014 justice reform, is seeing the prison population rise, and violence is reportedly worse than it has ever been. This investigative piece is looking inside the facilities, including one where individuals have been on perpetual lockdown for seven months and gangs enforce rules. “With frequent beatings, burnings, and escapes, the prison has become a violent tinderbox.” (Mitchell, Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, ProPublica, Mississippi, August 19, 2019)

Opportunity Costs: Unequal Justice in Alabama’s Community Corrections Programs

In Alabama, which has the country’s most overcrowded prison system, state officials are trying to address prison conditions and violence with community-based programs. But an eight-month, in-depth investigation of Alabama’s community corrections program reveals serious flaws in a loosely regulated, user-funded system that, in many locales, seems to be focused more on raising money than on rehabilitation or public safety. Reform is needed to shift from a pay-to-play model that drains millions of dollars each year in fees from participants under the constant threat of jail or prison if they’re unable to pay. (Casteel, Tucker, Southern Poverty Law Center, August 15, 2019)

Juvenile Justice News

More Than Half of Michigan Juvenile Lifers Still Wait for Resentencing

Three and a half years after the US Supreme Court ruled that juvenile lifers should have the opportunity to be resentenced and come home, more than half in Michigan are still waiting to go before a judge, according to a Free Press analysis. In 2012, the court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that juveniles should no longer be sentenced to mandatory life terms, and the high court doubled down on the decision in 2016, ruling in Montgomery v. Louisiana that the Miller opinion should be applied retroactively. The application of the ruling is left up to each state; there is little agreement on what this process should look like. (Gross, Detroit Free Press, August 16, 2019)

What Juvenile Justice Needs: Care, Not Cages

Read this opinion piece from the Director of the District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, Clinton Lacey, about juvenile justice reform. Lacey evaluates current practices and proposals, and feels the recent shift in public opinion and surge in criminal justice reform often overlooks youth involved in the justice system. (Lacey, Voices of the Governing Institute, August 16, 2019)