This week in the news: the hidden costs of incarceration for the holidays, voting rights restored for over 200K voters, how to rethink drug dealing and punishment, and more.
National data on how much families pay into the corrections system is rarely gathered. So to better understand the hidden costs of incarceration, The Marshall Project asked people to document their spending and nearly 200 people responded. Many families said they shell out hundreds of dollars each month to feed, clothe, and stay connected to someone behind bars, paying for health care, personal hygiene items, and phone calls and other forms of communication. Ms. Hayes, one of the respondents, said she spends double that around the holidays. (Lewis & Lockwood, The New York Times, December 17, 2019)
More than 200,000 people with criminal convictions regained the right to vote over the past week, as Kentucky (read the story we reported on last week) and New Jersey struck a double blow against felony disenfranchisement. On Wednesday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law a bill to enable any adult citizen, who is not incarcerated, the right to vote. People on parole and probation were disenfranchised until now. The law, effective by the 2020 presidential primary, will restore the voting rights of about 80,000 people. (Nichanian, The Appeal, December 18, 2019)
This is an interesting OpEd on how to alter perspectives and change the conditions of what happens inside prison walls — and it is to let the public in. Specifically, writer Neil Barsky suggests that we need a broad national effort to recruit and place volunteers to educate and counsel people who are incarcerated. For example, the public should meet the men and women who reside in our prisons, to look them in the eye, shake their hands, and teach them skills they can use once they are released. Retired school teachers could teach literature or science classes. Local college students could receive credit for prison work. Ultimitaley, Barsky recognizes that some prisons have programs that allow outsiders inside the walls for teaching and counseling, but there aren’t enough of them. (Barsky, The Marshall Project, December 17, 2019)
Michigan’s crime rate presently sits at a 50-year low and its prison population at a 20-year low. So it should be assumed that the state’s jail population would also be declining, as it has on a national-level since 2008. Instead, Michigan’s jail population has tripled since the 1980s — with no sign of abating. Read more on why. (Guenthner & Safavian, The Hill, December 13, 2019)
Criminalizing those who sell drugs by enacting more punitive laws may lead to more dangerous drug use and will disproportionately affect communities of color, a new report suggests. But now Congress is under pressure to make the DEA order classifying fentanyl-like substances, or analogues, as Schedule 1 drugs permanent, by passing a bill before year’s end called the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act. The DEA, DOJ, and the National Association of Attorneys General are in favor of passing the SOFA Act, and believe it would make a dent in the illicit fentanyl supply by going after traffickers who sell analogues that chemists manufacture to skirt US drug laws. At the state level, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed legislation to schedule new analogues. (Siegel, The Appeal, December 17, 2019)
So-called “precision policing” aimed at cracking down on gang violence has subjected thousands of youth to “harassment, intimidation, surveillance, and threats,” according to a recent report entitled “Gang Takedowns in the de Blasio Era: The Dangers of ‘Precision Policing,” released last week by the Policing and Social Justice Project. According to the report, between August 2003 and August 2013, over 20,000 people were added into the NYPD’s gang database, of whom 99 percent were non-white and 30 percent of them were children. (TCR Staff, The Crime Report, December 17, 2019)
The growing support for public defense funding highlights a glaring missed opportunity: the inclusion of this issue on policy platforms. In counties and cities around the country, campaigning and newly elected prosecutors have highlighted plans to end cash bail, increase diversion programs, stop prosecuting certain drug or minor cases, and stop seeking the death penalty. These policy changes are all important. But many of them won’t have nearly the impact they could because a critical piece of the infrastructure is missing: resourced public defenders. This is the perspective you will read in this OpEd. Click here for more. (Dharia, Salon, December 14, 2019)