Friday News Roundup: October 4, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: the suicide rate in California prisons is the highest in the nation, the law fueling mass incarceration that you don’t hear about, the impossible choice between freedom and restitution, and more.

Public Defense

A Right to Counsel is a Right to a Fighting Chance

In eviction lawsuits nationwide, an estimated 90 percent of landlords have legal representation, while only 10 percent of tenants do. Without representation, the majority of tenants lose their cases and are ultimately evicted. This can have devastating consequences for individuals and communities, and may also mean a decrease in the availability of affordable rental homes, disproportionately affecting communities of color and other marginalized groups. (Schultheis & Rooney, Center for American Progress, October 2, 2019)

Money and Justice

These Sheriffs Release Sick Inmates to Avoid Paying Their Hospital Bills

Sheriffs admit they find ways to release those “with sudden health problems to avoid responsibility for their medical costs.” This medical bond is dangerous. Michael Tidwell was released barely conscious and then spent two days in a diabetic coma in intensive care. Others’ health issues ranged from heart attacks to the results of a beating while in jail. Moreover, some were rearrested once they had recovered. (Sheets, ProPublica, September 30, 2019)

Wrongly Convicted, They Had to Choose: Freedom or Restitution

Prosecutors are making deals where those who were likely wrongfully convicted plead ‘no contest’ and are released right away, instead of beginning a new trial that could last years. But without an affirmative finding that they are innocent, the city then argues that the individuals are not able to bring a civil suit seeking payment for years in prison. Governments are struggling to field huge bills as the number of overturned convictions mounts. Read about Jimmy Dennis and Marvin Roberts, who both had to make the choice. (Clifford, The New York Times, September 30, 2019)

GEO Group Runs Out of Banks as 100% of Banking Partners Say ‘No’ to the Private Prison Sector

All of the existing banking partners to private prison leader GEO Group have now officially committed to ending ties with the private prison and immigrant detention industry. These banks are JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, SunTrust, BNP Paribas, Fifth Third Bancorp, Barclays, and PNC. This exodus comes in the wake of demands by grassroots activists, shareholders, policymakers, and investors, and lead many to speculate about the survival of the private prison industry all together. (Simon, Forbes, September 30, 2019)

Criminal Justice

The 1994 Crime Law Hogs the Legal Reform Spotlight. But a Lesser-Known Law Deserves More Attention

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 included funding for 100,000 new police officers, slightly more than $10 billion for prisons, an assault weapons ban, and the Violence Against Women Act. However, The Appeal argues that to end mass incarceration, the focus should be on other acts and judicial decisions that have restricted the rights of people in prison, like the Prison Litigation Reform Act. (Pfaff, The Appeal, October 2, 2019)

Yesterday in Georgia, Women in Prison Regained Some of Their Dignity

On Tuesday, the Georgia Dignity Act went into effect in all women’s prison facilities in Georgia. The bill finally gives more than 3,800 women access to feminine hygiene products, bans the practice of shackling pregnant and postpartum women or placing them in solitary confinement, protects women from abuse and re-traumatization by male correctional officers by limiting unnecessary strip searches or observation during showers, and more. Read the bipartisan bill in detail. (Helm, The Root, October 2, 2019) 

How Dehumanizing Language Fuels Mass Incarceration

A case is made for changing language used in the justice system to be people first, and that we should not underestimate the ability of language to undermine reform. Words like felon, convict, criminal, prisoner, offender, and perpetrator create a paradigm where the person is removed from the equation and individuals are defined by a single experience. (George & Mangla, Common Dreams, October 1, 2019)

Suicides in California Prisons Rise Despite Decades of Demands for Reform

The suicide rate inside California prisons, one of the highest among the nation’s largest prison systems, jumped to a new peak in 2018 and could rise again for 2019. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, twice as many people killed themselves in California cells than in the entire federal system during 2001-2014, and the federal system has more people. For more information and personal accounts of the systemic issue, read more. (Fagone, Cassidy, The San Francisco Chronicle, September 29, 2019)

Prison Book Bans Called ‘Arbitrary and Irrational’

Last week PEN America reported “the system of restrictions on book access in our prisons is the largest book ban in the United States,” and excessive restrictions were frequently put into place with little regulatory oversight or public scrutiny. Federal and state officials who set the book policies have said restrictions can help prevent people from getting information that leads to escapes or fights. Some of the banned books are by authors including Barack Obama, John Updike, and Joyce Carol Oates. (Zaveri, The New York Times, September 27, 2019)