justice from the frontlines: Mar. 13, 2023

police reform rollback

House Republicans put forward legislation aimed at reversing several police reforms in Washington, D.C following Congress’s recent measure blocking a separate D.C. crime bill. The reforms were enacted to increase transparency and limit the police union’s authority in disciplinary disputes. Among the changes were a prohibition on the use of neck restraints and more stringent limits on the police’s ability to disperse crowds. The Hill (Mar. 10, 2023)

juvenile detention horror

The Maryland Office of the Public Defender sent a letter to county leaders saying that children detained at Baltimore County Detention Center are locked up for 23 hours a day in rodent-infested cells that sometimes flood with sewage water, adding that the jail is not in compliance with federal laws governing juvenile detention. The office asked for the “immediate transfer” of detained youth to the Department of Juvenile Services. The Baltimore Sun (Mar. 10, 2023)

police officer prosecution

The Maryland Senate has approved legislation that would enable the attorney general to prosecute local police officers who are found to be criminally responsible for causing injury “likely to result” in death or killing someone. The proposed legislation would allow the attorney general to have exclusive authority over the prosecution of the officer or request that the local state’s attorney handle it. The Daily Record (Mar. 9, 2023)

families fight for justice

Families of 13 inmates who died at Southern Regional Jail gathered at the West Virginia State Capitol to demand a federal investigation into inhumane treatment and deaths at the jail and other local prisons. Bishop William Barber II and the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign supported the families in presenting a petition to Governor Justice. WV Metro News (Mar. 10, 2023)

petitions skyrocket

Virginia’s Fairfax County courts have simplified the process for record-sealing petitions due to an increase in caseload, no longer requiring a court hearing for those seeking expungement. Since March 2022, the court received 701 petitions, up from 211 the previous year. Virginia’s recent law has made it easier to seal or expunge misdemeanors and certain felony convictions, with automatic sealing for eligible charges set to begin in 2025. FFX Now (Mar. 7, 2023)

execution recordings withheld

The Virginia Department of Corrections now possesses at least 35 audio tapes documenting executions between 1987 and 2017. However, the department has refused requests to release them, citing security, privacy and personal reasons. The tapes, which offer rare insight into a secretive process, came to light when NPR aired stories that prompted the Virginia Department of Corrections to ask for four tapes in the possession of the Library of Virginia to be returned. NBC Washington (Mar. 7, 2023)

in other news

The US Justice Department opposes a bipartisan proposal to limit judges’ ability to impose longer sentences based on alleged crimes, even if a unanimous jury has acquitted the defendant of the same allegations. Reuters (Mar. 7, 2023)

After Congress blocked the new D.C. criminal law, similar efforts to bypass local governance are taking place in other states, primarily led by Republicans. The Marshall Project (Mar. 11, 2023)

The Justice Department has found that the Louisville Metro Police Department in Kentucky engaged in a “pattern of discriminatory and abusive law enforcement practices.” The report found broad patterns of discrimination against Black people and those with behavioral health problems. The New York Times (Mar. 8, 2023)

A bill in Texas proposing a mandatory 10-year prison sentence for anyone who uses a gun while committing a felony has drawn criticism from both criminal justice reform advocates and gun rights groups. The Texas Tribune (Mar. 9, 2023)

community board