Friday News Roundup: A Justice System for Her…

Friday News Roundup latest news

This week in the news: When indigent defendants in criminal cases don’t get a public defender, some of the 2020 candidates hold a town hall in a former prison, women and the justice system, and more. 

Public Defense

Despite Common Belief, Floridians Can’t Always Get a Free Public Defender

According to a little-known Florida statute, criminal defendants who are not facing jail time have no right to a state-appointed lawyer in court. Lazaro Rodriguez was given an attorney to fight a felony charge and two misdemeanors, and was close to winning his case when prosecutors dropped all but one of the misdemeanors, stopped seeking jail time, and the judge ruled he was no longer entitled to his attorney. Rodriguez attempted to advocate for himself, but with little English and no one there to translate he barely understood what was going on. Without a lawyer to fight on his behalf, Rodriguez was convicted and forced to pay court fees. The criminal conviction went on his permanent record. (Ianelli, Miami New Times, October 29, 2019)

Women and Justice

Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019

This new report on women’s incarceration from the Prison Policy Initiative looks at the 231,000 women in jail and prison. Nearly half of all incarcerated women, 114,000, are held in local jails. This means women are incarcerated in jails, not prisons, at far higher rates than men. Of these women, 61,000 are in jail pretrial, detained while presumed innocent. Avoiding pretrial incarceration is uniquely challenging for women as bail can typically amount to a full year’s income for them. Even once convicted, the system funnels women into jails, with 80% being mothers and most the primary caretakers of their children. (Kajstura, Prison Policy Initiative, October 29, 2019) 

Can We Build a Better Women’s Prison?

Lauren Johnson, formerly incarcerated herself, is part of a committee planning a new building, one that aims to set a higher standard for a women’s jail. The American prison system was built with men in mind. The uniforms are made to fit male bodies. About 70 percent of the guards are men. The rules are made to control male social structures and male violence. Even though the female prison population has grown twice as fast as the male prison population over the past 35 years, about 90 percent of incarcerated adults are men. The system still needs to account for differences. (Blakinger, The Washington Post Magazine, October 28, 2019)

Running Group Offers a Different Kind of Escape for Women in Oregon Prison

A running program at Wilsonville’s Coffee Creek Correctional Facility offers incarcerated women a healthy outlet, with physical and mental benefits, and support as they cheer each other on. “It allows them to accomplish something many never thought possible,” said Trisha Swanson, founder of Reason to Run, a nonprofit that works with volunteers who go into the prison to help women learn to run. It began as a one-race event that was so successful it became a recurring program, and it also raises money for breast cancer. (Hallman Jr., The Oregonian, October 27, 2019)

Criminal Justice

The First Presidential Town Hall Hosted by Formerly Incarcerated Leaders

On Monday, formerly incarcerated people moderated a presidential town hall for the first time. They questioned 2020 Democratic candidates Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Tom Steyer about their positions on issues such as mass incarceration and racial bias in policing before an audience of other justice-involved people. The Justice Votes 2020 Town Hall was held in Philadelphia at the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, a former prison. (TMP, The Marshall Project, October 28, 2019)

The Weeks after Getting Out

This photo series follows Scott Ortiz, 58, who in 2006, was sentenced to 15 years to life (as opposed to the two- to four-year minimum) for burglary. Ortiz struggled with heroin addiction and was diagnosed with HIV and hepatitis C. In sentencing him, the judge relied on judicial discretion and stated that, “if released, he may well return to the life of a street addict, thereby endangering the public health through the exchange or sharing of dirty needles.” Photojournalist Joseph Rodriguez, who himself struggled with heroin addiction and was in the justice system as a juvenile, witnessed the journey of a man working to overcome health issues while reuniting with his family and a changing city. (Rodriguez, The Washington Post Magazine, October 28, 2019)

New Court Ruling Could Make Expungement Unaffordable for Some Kentuckians

The Kentucky Court of Appeals earlier this month upheld a Jefferson Circuit Court ruling in which a Louisville man who qualified as indigent was denied a waiver for the fee required to expunge a felony charge from his criminal record. It means that people who can’t afford to pay expungement fees might be prevented from clearing their criminal record. Attorneys, legislators, and expungement advocates worry this will stifle access to expungements and undercut years of criminal justice reform efforts to return basic rights to thousands of people whose convictions have long passed. (Ryan, Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, October 25, 2019)

Juvenile Justice

Whitmer Signs Bill to Raise the Age of People Automatically Charged as Adults to 18

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a plan Thursday to automatically try people 17-years-old and younger as juveniles. Known as ‘Raise the Age,’ the plan changes the current state law that automatically charges 17-year-old offenders as adults. Michigan is one of four states to still do so. (Frost, WWMT, October 31, 2019)