Friday News Roundup: 100K New Voters!

Friday News Roundup latest news

This week in the news: New Kentucky Governor to sign order restoring voting rights to 100K people with felony convictions, Vera’s new numbers for people in county jails and state prisons, prosecutors are hitting roadblocks in their attempt to right past wrongs, and more. 

Voting Rights

New Kentucky Governor to Sign Order Restoring Voting Rights to 100k Felons

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) pledged to soon restore voting rights to over 100,000 people with felony convictions in his inaugural speech on Tuesday. “On Thursday I will sign an executive order restoring voting rights to over a hundred thousand men and women who have done wrong in the past but are doing right now. They deserve to participate in our great democracy,” Beshear commented. Just two states, Kentucky and Iowa, currently deny the right to vote to anyone convicted of a felony; and in Kentucky, only the governor can give back voting rights. (Frazin, The Hill, December 10, 2019)

Jails and Prisons

Soaring Female Population, Racial Disparities Drive State Incarceration Numbers

Although America’s chillingly-high incarceration rates have begun to decline, soaring female jail populations and stark racial disparities in state prisons continue to present a formidable challenge to policymakers. A new initiative examining jail and prison data in all 50 states, produced by the Vera Institute of Justice, shows that “progress to end mass incarceration has been uneven,” with smaller cities and rural counties showing sharp increases, even while the number of people put behind bars from urban areas has dropped. (TCR Staff, The Crime Report, December 9, 2019) 

Why Smaller Cities are Expanding Their Jails, and Their Populations

In 2015, after nearly a decade of jail overcrowding, rural Coffee County, Tennessee, completed a new 400-bed jail—a facility more than twice the size of its predecessor. The jail population then skyrocketed, increasing more than 60 percent between 2015 and 2018. While the number of people jailed had dipped slightly by September 2019, the Coffee County story is still one of increased incarcerations. The project cost a whopping $21 million to complete, a figure that does not include the cost of maintaining or staffing the new facility. Additionally, more than half of the people in the new jail haven’t been convicted and  are likely unable to afford bail. Coffee County’s story illuminates a troubling national phenomenon. (Jackson & Reuters, City Lab, December 9, 2019) 

Prisons Neglect Pregnant Women in Their Healthcare Policies

Prison Policy Initiative conducted a 50-state survey and found that, in spite of national standards, most states lack important policies on prenatal care and nutrition for pregnant women. Diana Sanchez, 26, gave birth without any medical aid or assistance despite footage showing she alerted jail deputies and medical staff that she was in labor. While the rate of pregnancy in prison has remained stable (around 4 percent) since the early 2000s, the additional 10,000 plus women imprisoned since then indicates that the number of women who are incarcerated while pregnant has grown, too. As long as the mass incarceration of women endures, the rate of women incarcerated while pregnant will continue to rise. (Daniel, Prison Policy Initiative, December 5, 2019)

Public Defense

Lawmakers Order Investigation Into Maine’s State-Appointed Criminal Defense Lawyer System

Maine is the only state without a public defender system. Instead, defendants who cannot afford a lawyer are appointed one from a pool of 420 private lawyers who have volunteered for the task through the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services. A report by the Sixth Amendment Center found those lawyers are overworked, underpaid, and poorly supervised. There will be an investigation into the financial management and oversight practices of MCILS, seeking to determine if fraud, waste, and abuse occurred and how to prevent it moving forward. (WMTW, Augusta, December 10, 2019)

Prosecutors Can Right Past Wrongs – If Only the System Lets Them

More and more prosecutors are trying to right wrongful convictions and restore justice in the legal system, but they’re meeting opposition on all sides. It’s a truism that no one—no matter their politics—wants to see an innocent person languish in prison. But, in this story, read how Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner hasn’t been able to win a new trial for Lamar Johnson whom she believes is innocent, let alone an exoneration. She has faced an unlikely opponent: the courts. Over the last decade, a growing cohort of prosecutors like Gardner has emerged across the country, seeking a new approach to justice. While they have aimed to reform current tough-on-crime practices, they have also begun to acknowledge the mistakes of the past. By addressing past wrongs, these prosecutors are bringing accountability to an office that has too long operated in the shadows, and restoring trust in the criminal legal system as a whole. But intense opposition is slowing the pace of reform. (Morrison & Trivedi, The Appeal, December 10, 2019) 

Drug Treatment 

New Orleans Jail Staff Supplied Fentanyl that Killed Incarcerated Man, Lawsuit Alleges

Staff at the troubled New Orleans Justice Center are accused of violating previously-incarcerated Edward Patterson’s constitutional rights by failing to treat his drug addiction. The fentanyl that killed him in December 2018 was smuggled into the Orleans Justice Center by jail staffers, alleges a federal civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of Patterson’s family. “These conditions echo the complaints of many other families who have lost loved ones while incarcerated at the facility in recent years, and undoubtedly sustains the ongoing pattern of unconstitutional standards and practices at the Orleans Parish jail,” reads the November 27th complaint. “The conditions are unsafe…They’re unsafe in the sense that people who are taken off the street and out of their homes like Mr. Patterson, awaiting trial, are subjected to conditions that put them at harm,” Wesley Blanchard, an attorney representing Patterson’s family, told The Appeal. (Gill, The Appeal, New Orleans, LA, December 11, 2019)