justice from the frontlines: Oct. 31, 2022

doctor charged for death of inmate 

A San Diego doctor has been charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of Elisa Serna, a 24-year-old woman who collapsed in prison. A nurse who walked away from Elisa after she collapsed was also charged last November. Both medical professionals face accusations of criminal negligence as they failed to perform their full duty of care. A state auditor recently published a report revealing that San Diego County jails have one of the highest death rates in California. US News (Oct. 26, 2022)

prison chief promises reform

Colette Peters, the new Chief of the federal Bureau of Prisons, has pledged to enact reforms within the agency, including changes to hiring practices, increased transparency and accountability for employees who are guilty of sexually assaulting inmates. In her former role as Oregon’s prison director, Peters oversaw a decrease in Oregon’s prison population. Peters said she looks to hire prison staff who are interested in preparing inmates for reintegration into society. AP (Oct. 24, 2022)

nonviolent offenders stuck in cycle

A new investigation from The Marshall Project reveals that the majority of repeat defendants in Cuyahoga County’s court system are not violent offenders but rather people suffering from addiction and mental illness. Police in the area refer to these defendants as “career criminals,” but the problem is more complex than meets the eye. Data revealed that less than a third of cases involving repeat offenders involved a violent offense. Advocates are calling for alternatives to incarceration, as these individuals have fallen into a cycle of recidivism that is difficult to escape. The Marshall Project (Oct. 26, 2022)

district attorney switch-up

Then-candidate for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg took to Twitter to share his support for Tracy McCarter, a victim of domestic abuse who was charged with the murder of her violent ex-husband. After winning his election in November 2021, Bragg is now prosecuting McCarter despite having the power to drop her charges. Bragg cites plea deals he has offered McCarter and attempts to reduce her charges as signs of the understanding he once demonstrated on the campaign trail, but a Color of Change petition reveals that many people are disappointed in Bragg’s lack of legal support for McCarter. Jezebel (Oct. 26, 2022)

Texas DA believes Areli Escobar is innocent

A Texas State judge ruled that the scientific evidence which led to Areli Escobar being placed on death row is not accurate. District Attorney José P. Garza, despite initially wanting to defend Escobar’s conviction, reevaluated his case. When the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals took the case, Garza urged the court to give Escobar a new trial. His plea was unsuccessful, but Garza maintains Escobar’s innocence in advance of a potential hearing of the case by the Supreme Court. The allegedly mistaken DNA evidence had been crucial to the jury’s initial decision to convict Escobar. The New York Times (Oct. 24, 2022)

police reform stalled 

More than two years after the murder of George Floyd, violent crimes continue to increase causing police reform to be stalled. In the midst of the pressure, elected officials pledged sweeping changes to how officers operate and how they’re overseen. Elizabeth Glazer, one of New York’s leading experts on criminal justice, looked into why police reform has stalled. Glazer found that there’s a kind of built-in conservatism about the importance of maintaining the police and the movement coincided with rocketing rates of increase in shootings. She also found that “defund the police,” was really a lost opportunity. It was viewed as an existential threat to police departments and could’ve been a chance to reshape their roles in a way that focused on their core strengths and to begin to give back to other professionals the responsibility to deal with the homeless and mental illness. ProPublica (Oct. 24, 2022)

drug reform and diversion on ballot

The demands of a reform group in Hays County have become focal points in the upcoming DA race and a “Reeferendum” in Central Texas. The organization Mano Amiga has helped turn this November’s elections into a referendum on both marijuana decriminalization and pretrial diversion. Activists within the organization have gathered enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot this year that would end citations and arrests for possession of up to four ounces of marijuana in the city of San Marcos. After years of pushing for this to be on the ballot, the time has finally come. Local and state police unions haven’t taken a public position on this year’s referendum to decriminalize marijuana possession but they have endorsed Puryear, the GOP nominee to replace District Attorney Wes Mau. Bolts (Oct. 21, 2022)

missing and murdered

On Oct. 22, New Mexico had a Missing in New Mexico Day event in Albuquerque which was designed to bring law enforcement face-to-face with families searching for their missing loved ones. Two mothers, Rose Yazzie and Vangie Randall-Shorty talked directly with Raul Bujanda, the FBI special agent who leads the Albuquerque field office, and they outlined not only the timeline of the investigation but significant errors they’ve viewed during the process. Yazzie told Bujanda that it took the Navajo Nation Police more than two weeks to complete a missing report for her daughter and Randall-Shorty discussed months long delays in finding out the circumstances around her son’s death. They are both seeking information about their children’s cases but want law enforcement to come up with a strategic plan to find Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives. Source NM (Oct. 24, 2022)

kids locked up and abused

An investigation into a juvenile facility that imprisons Louisiana children revealed over 60 suicide attempts in two years and over 90 escape attempts in the last three. One escaped girl hoped to be taken to a “big jail.” The escapes and suicides are a result of repeated physical violence, sexual assault and psychological torment, the investigation found. Despite years of documented failing, the state regulators have never fined or punished the facility or threatened its contracts. Local law enforcement was described as “largely dismissive” of sexual-abuse allegations. The New York Times (Oct. 30, 2022)

extension on localizing parole 

Back in July of 2020, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser asked Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton for legislation wresting control of the District’s parole system from the federal government. But today, D.C. remains in the same position with no agreement on a path forward for a new parole system. Congress had a closed-door meeting saying it would take about two years to get done. The holdup has an impact on Black D.C. residents, who data show are overrepresented in the parole system. The longer the delay, the more prison time can result for those in jail for technical violations, losing their jobs, housing and gains they may have made. The Washington Post (Oct. 25, 2022)

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