Friday News Roundup: September 20, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: “How do you find your place in the world as an old man when you’ve never lived in it as an adult?” Read Haywood Fennel’s story of release after spending his adult life in prison, the call for federal leadership on civil justice reform from the Center for American Progress and the Justice Programs Office’s own Karen Lash, and more.

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Friday News Roundup: September 13, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: A Texas woman is sentenced to 5 years for voting while on supervision, Senator Kamala Harris proposes reform said to “overhaul the criminal justice system,” the resources states provide upon reentry are few and far between, and more.

Public Defense News

Balancing the Scales of Justice

The Appeal dives into and provides context for a report released by The Brennan Center on Monday covering resource disparities in public defense. The report, titled “A Fair Fight,” identifies five key contributing challenges: improperly structured indigent defense systems, unsustainable workloads, defender-prosecutor salary disparity, insufficient support staff, and disparate federal funding as compared to law enforcement. The Appeal calls for pay parity, discusses pending legislation, and what reform efforts could mean for the system. (Gullapalli, The Appeal, September 11, 2019)

Voting Rights News

The Casualties of Texas’ War on Voter Fraud

Read about Crystal Mason, who received a sentence of 5 years for attempting to vote in the 2016 election while on parole for a felony tax fraud conviction. A federal official testified that Mason wasn’t warned that she couldn’t vote in Texas while on supervision because that was considered “common knowledge,” and was sentenced. Mason is appealing this week, but prosecutors say that she must have read and understood the boilerplate warning on the provisional ballot she signed, a ballot that was actually thrown out and not counted. There is concern, says the article, that this will now discourage legitimate voters, including minorities and those formerly incarcerated. (Barajas, Texas Observer, September 9, 2019)

In Prison, and Fighting to Vote

Derrick Washington, a 34-year-old incarcerated in Massachusetts, founded the Emancipation Initiative, an advocacy group that, as one of its priorities, wants all prisoners in the US to be able to vote. Washington feels passionate that voting rights would help those who are convicted of crimes be better able to protect their rights, get through to and be taken seriously by legislators, and help rehabilitation efforts by connecting them to their communities and societies. (Liebelson, The Atlantic, September 6, 2019)

Criminal Justice News

What Gate Money Can (And Cannot) Buy

With roughly 600,000 people being released from federal and state prison each year and the first 72 hours being critical, The Marshall Project investigated what resources the state provides upon release. Of the 42 states that responded, 90 percent have some formal policy to provide funding, commonly called ‘gate money’ to cover transportation, housing, or food costs upon release. Some states provide nothing at all, others $10 to $20, and the highest is two states that allocate $200. Many individuals formerly incarcerated say the money isn’t enough, and they are forced to make trade-offs between eating or buying practical items that can help them transition back into society, such as cellphones and professional clothing for job interviews. (Armstrong & Lewis, The Marshall Project, September 10, 2019)

‘Trust Me’: Kamala Harris Makes Big Play on Criminal Justice Reform

Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) released a sweeping proposal on Monday to overhaul the criminal justice system. The plan focuses on reducing the prison population, creating national standards in policing, ensuring humane treatment for people who are incarcerated, and prioritizing historically vulnerable communities. It also embraces ending mandatory minimum sentences, eliminating private prisons, legalizing marijuana, and incentivizing states to untether themselves from a cash bail system that disproportionately burdens the poor. (Herndon, The New York Times, September 9, 2019)

State Lawmakers Push Bipartisan Expungement Reform Plan

A group of lawmakers in Detroit unveiled a bipartisan legislative reform package aimed at clearing more criminal records. The bills, six in all, would remove barriers allowing automatic expungement for certain offenses, cover more offenses, and shorten the eligibility period. If approved, it is estimated that nearly 214,000 residents would qualify in Detroit alone. (Ferretti, The Detroit News, Detroit, September 9, 2019)

The 1994 Crime Bill and Beyond: How Federal Funding Shapes the Criminal Justice System

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, has a complicated legacy, dominated by funding incentives blamed for driving mass incarceration. The Brennan Center reports on the most controversial provisions and effects of the 1994 crime bill, which was the most far-reaching crime bill Congress ever passed. It also covers the numerous proposals to undo the repercussions of the bill that have come a quarter century later. (Eisen, Brennan Center, September 9, 2019)

Juvenile Justice

Pepper Spray is Toxic, Experts Say. So Why is it Being Used on Children?

California is one of six states that allow staff in juvenile facilities to carry pepper spray. The use of different kinds of pepper spray, also known as oleoresin capsicum or “OC spray,” on young people is banned in 35 states, and seven California counties currently prohibit the use of chemical agents in their juvenile detention facilities. Proposed legislation to eliminate OC spray except as a “last resort” to “suppress a riot” in youth facilities across California failed in 2018, but in February the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to phase it out of juvenile facilities, starting this month. (West, The Appeal, September 10, 2019)

Opioid News

Purdue Pharma Reaches Tentative Deal in Federal, State Opioid Lawsuits

Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the painkiller OxyContin, reached a tentative settlement with 23 states and more than 2,000 cities and counties that sued the company over its role in the opioid crisis, according to attorneys involved in the deal. The terms include that the Sackler Family would relinquish control of Purdue Pharma and admit no wrongdoing. The company would declare bankruptcy and be resurrected as a trust whose main purpose would be producing medications to combat the opioid epidemic. The executive committee of lawyers representing cities, counties, and other groups in the federal lawsuit recommend accepting the deal, but more than half of state attorneys balked. (Bernstein, Davis, Achenbach, & Higham, The Washington Post, September 11, 2019)

Investing in Equal Access to Quality Public Defense

Stacked office filesLast month, California congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris introduced the Ensuring Quality Access to Legal Defense (EQUAL Defense) Act. If passed, the bill would create a $250 million grant program aiming to establish workload limits for public defenders and pay parity between public defenders and prosecutors. The bill would also authorize $5 million to provide training to public defenders.

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How Human Trafficking Myths Hurt Survivors

person standing in the darkDisclaimer: Possible sensitive material. The author discusses the nature of human trafficking situations and means of control.

During my undergraduate years, I embodied the enthusiastic student suddenly emboldened by the idea that I could do something to change the world. When at a campus event, I was shown a video that detailed the (fictional) story of a young woman from Eastern Europe who was kidnapped and brought to the United States for forced work in the sex industry. The woman was moved around the country and was locked in various homes, hidden away from everyone except for her captors and clients. She only managed a dramatic escape by breaking free of her chains and running towards good citizens for help. Like most Americans, this was my introduction to the issue of human trafficking.

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Civil Legal Aid Offers a Second Chance and Keeps Americans Working

A person in the shadows.

April is Second Chance Month and, with that, we celebrate the important role legal aid organizations and public defense providers can play in helping people with criminal records. There are tens of thousands civil collateral consequences of having a criminal record, such as having to disclose prior convictions on job applications, difficulty securing an occupational license, or losing one’s drivers’ license. Receiving legal services can help stabilize housing and reduce barriers to employment for the almost 75 million, or one-in-three, American adults facing these consequences.

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