justice from the frontlines: Oct. 1, 2023

D.C. takes action with historic pandemic prison education

A class action lawsuit brought by jailed high school students who complained about their education during COVID-19 was settled by D.C. 166 students will receive compensatory education packages, subject to court approval, and an impartial auditor will monitor compliance with special education regulations. The case highlights how the pandemic has affected students’ educational opportunities, and the D.C. jail’s high school program is now managed by Maya Angelou Public Charter School. The Washington Post (Sep. 26, 2023)

D.C.’s Focus Patrol falls short of its promises’ 

Focused Patrol, the summertime crime effort of the Metropolitan Police Department, fell short of the 30% reduction in crime that D.C. police leadership had promised. Instead, a review of the submitted documents revealed a 15.5% increase in overall crime in the targeted locations, while violent crime decreased by 3.5%. The efficacy of such initiatives was determined to depend on community involvement and data tracking, and there are still outstanding doubts regarding the veracity of the reported crime reduction. The program’s growth and efficacy are still up in the air. NBC Washington (Sep. 14, 2023)

Baltimore cop caught on camera snatching cash

Officer Eric Payton of the Baltimore Police Department, who is accused of theft and misconduct, was seen on surveillance footage stealing an envelope containing $111 from a company he had responded to as backup. Payton, a seven-year veteran, has been placed on administrative leave without pay. The incident highlights the department’s dedication to dealing with misbehavior and preserving community confidence. The Baltimore Banner (Sep. 25, 2023)

D.C. homicides soar, breaking 25-year record

For the first time in 25 years, the number of homicides in D.C. exceeded 200 before October, causing local leaders and citizens to express concern about the violence that is on the rise. 2023 has seen an increase in killings in the city, with a year-to-date total of 210; the violence has disproportionately affected underprivileged districts. Local laws have changed as a result of the spike in homicides, including stricter penalties and a drive for more money for mental health care and rental assistance programs. The city is dealing with a rise of violence reminiscent of the late 1990s despite a prior reduction in homicides. The Washington Post (Sep. 26, 2023)

The controversy behind inmate release credits

Despite serving a 30-year prison sentence, Jason Dean Billingsley, the suspect in the death of tech CEO Pava LaPere and others, was freed last October. Good behavior and participation in labor programs allow offenders in Maryland to commute their sentences, with some qualifying for up to 30 days per month of “diminution credits.” Billingsley earned these credits by serving roughly nine years and three months of his 14-year sentence, which resulted in his release. Similar systems exist in several U.S. states, and these credits try to encourage program participation and discourage infractions while confined. The Baltimore Banner (Sep. 27, 2023)

Ex-prison guard pleads guilty in brutal inmate assault

Samuel Warren, a former employee of Eastern Correctional Institution from 2010 to 2022, entered a guilty plea to charges related to the assault of an inmate in July 2021. Both one count of “deprivation of rights under color of law” and one count of record-keeping fraud were admitted by Warren. K.K., the victim, was detained, put to a strip search, and repeatedly hit in the head by Warren, leaving him visibly hurt. Two further correctional guards were charged in relation to the incident; one entered a plea of guilty to obstructing and impeding, while the case of the other is still pending. Warren could receive a 30-year prison term. The Baltimore Banner (Sep. 28. 2023)

Youth-led carjackings surge in D.C.

On the first day of school, a group of teenagers attempted to carjack a delivery driver near Maury Elementary School in D.C. A bystander intervened, preventing the carjacking, but the incident sheds light on the rising trend of youth involvement in violent crimes, particularly carjackings, with a 350% increase in the District since 2019. While some attribute the surge to thrill-seeking behavior among teenagers, others point to systemic issues such as poverty, lack of recreational spaces, and the ready availability of guns, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive approach to address the root causes of youth crime. HillRag (Sep. 28, 2023)

in other news

Mother jailed for aiding daughter’s secret abortion. Jessica Burgess, a Nebraska woman who gave her teenage daughter abortion drugs to end her pregnancy, received a two-year prison term. Police prosecuted her after finding private Facebook communications in which she discussed how she and her daughter intended to abort the pregnancy and “burn the evidence.” When her daughter was 17 years old and in the third trimester of her pregnancy in April 2022, Ms. Burgess placed an internet order for the tablets and delivered them to her. Particularly in the wake of Roe v. Wade, the case has sparked worries about the prosecution of those who seek abortions as well as those who support them. The New York Times (Sep.22, 2023)

NYPD officers face minimal discipline despite millions in payouts. The New York Police Department is under fire as officers mentioned in many lawsuits alleging police misconduct—including Sgt. David Grieco, who has been connected to settlements totaling more than $1 million—continues to receive lax punishment. Only specific findings and sanctions are published in the officer profile database of the NYPD regarding charges of wrongdoing. Officers with several charges against them continue to serve on the police despite millions in settlement payments, raising questions about accountability and public expenses. The Intercept (Sep. 25, 2023)

The fight for justice in sexual assault cases. At her Connecticut job, Nodine’s Smokehouse Deli and Restaurant, Nicole Chase was subjected to sexual assault and abuse. She reported the event to the police, but she encountered questioning techniques that forced her to give inaccurate information. Sexual assault victims can face false accusations of filing fake reports, which emphasizes the difficulties they encounter when dealing with law enforcement’s skepticism and absence of trauma-informed training. After filing a lawsuit and winning a settlement against the city of Canton, Nicole Chase changed the police department’s policies and established a legal precedent. She now leads a more tranquil life in an effort to forget the horror she went through. Reveal (Sep. 25, 2023)

Illinois eliminates cash bail, but concerns linger. Illinois has become the first state to eliminate the cash bail system with the Pretrial Fairness Act. While this move is intended to enhance fairness and public safety by allowing judges to assess risks and decide pretrial detention, concerns have been raised about potential racial disparities in this process, prompting the need for vigilant judicial oversight and ensuring equal justice under the new law. The Crusader (Sep. 25, 2023)

SCOTUS “and” dilemma unveiled. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to address a legal dispute revolving around the interpretation of the word “and” in the context of a 2018 criminal justice reform law, the First Step Act. The case involves a provision known as the “safety valve,” which determines eligibility for reduced sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Thousands of individuals, potentially over 10,000, could be affected by the court’s decision, as it hinges on whether meeting any of the three specified conditions disqualifies someone from the safety valve, or if all three conditions must apply. The decision in Pulsifer v. U.S. is expected by spring. CBS News (Sep. 25, 2023)

Georgia’s dark secrets behind bars. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation exposes extensive corruption in Georgia’s prisons, with numerous employees, including guards and high-ranking officers, involved in smuggling contraband and aiding criminal activities. This has led to violence inside and outside the prisons. Despite efforts to root out corruption, the problem persists due to a constant influx of new corrupt staff, inadequate staffing levels, financial struggles, and minimal hiring requirements, posing a serious threat to inmates and the public. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Sep. 21, 2023)

community board

  • Read | Article: Baltimore Vet Continues to Recover 1-year After Shooting
  • Read | Column: Incarcerated for Life, an Inmate Is Left Behind by Prison Reforms
  • Read | Column: The Toll on Alabama Families of Uncontrolled Violence in Alabama Department of Corrections’ Prisons
  • Read | Opinion: The Libertarian vs. Conservative Impulses in G.O.P. Policy on Crime
  • Listen | Interview: Why 1 in 4 Inmate Deaths Happen in the Same Federal Prison in North Carolina
  • Read | Letter: Rights Groups Urge Congress to Support the TEST Act
  • Read | Research Article: How to Get into College if You Have a Criminal Record
  • Read | Press Release: Justice Department Awards Over $4.4 Billion to Support Community Safety

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Research and Reporting Intern