justice from the frontlines: Oct. 22, 2023

Unlocking hope through the SLAA

The Second Look Amendment Act (SLAA) came into effect on April 27, 2021, allowing individuals under 25 at the time of their crime, who have served at least 15 years in prison, to request a reduced sentence. This initiative focuses on offering second chances and has demonstrated that some of these inmates have successfully transformed during their incarceration, with support upon release from family and friends. It aligns with the growing trend of reevaluating long prison terms. Forbes (Oct. 14, 2023)

Fighting prison exploitation

A coalition led by the ACLU and civil rights groups is calling for the application of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act to incarcerated workers in Baltimore County Jail. They seek to expose the historical connection between modern prison labor practices and the enslavement of Black people, aiming to rectify exploitative practices and their detrimental effects on families and communities. The Davis Vanguard (Oct. 15, 2023)

Degrees behind Baltimore bars

Five men incarcerated at Jessup Correctional Institution celebrated their graduation with bachelor’s degrees through the University of Baltimore’s Second Chance College Program, highlighting the value of higher education in prison, which has been associated with reduced rates of reoffending and improved rehabilitation efforts. The program’s success showcases the potential for expanding educational opportunities for incarcerated individuals, particularly in communities with high rates of incarceration like Baltimore. The Baltimore Sun (Oct. 16, 2023)

Youth carjacking epidemic in D.C.

Teenagers in the Washington, D.C. area allegedly operated an organized carjacking ring, targeting victims with guns and later selling the stolen vehicles, some of which were purchased by undercover police officers. Carjackings in the region have spiked significantly, with over 770 incidents reported in the current year, up 108% from the same time in 2022. Three teenagers, aged 17 to 19, have been arrested in connection with the ring, with federal prosecutors describing the breadth of their criminal conduct as staggering. The Washington Post (Oct. 17, 2023) 

Contentious D.C. crime debate

House Republicans held a hearing in which they highlighted rising violent crime in D.C., characterizing it as a “culture of lawlessness” and pushing for harsher punishments for violent offenders. Republicans used D.C.’s crime statistics to criticize liberal approaches to crime reduction, while Democrats dismissed it as a political stunt. The consensus, however, was that the crime had reached a crisis point, with increasing homicides and a 40% rise in violent crime compared to the previous year, despite decreasing rates in other major cities. The Washington Post (Oct. 12, 2023) 

Injustice settled for wrongful conviction of “Harlem Park Three” 

The Baltimore spending board approved a $48 million settlement for the wrongful conviction of three men in a 40-year-old homicide case, marking the largest payout in Baltimore’s history. The trio, known as the “Harlem Park Three,” were wrongfully convicted in 1983, spent 36 years in prison, and were exonerated in 2019. The settlement will be paid through a risk management fund, and City Council President Nick Mosby expressed concern about potential future settlements and called for more accountability for police misconduct, including examining pensions as a source for settlements. CBS News (Oct. 19, 2023)

Community concerns over Baltimore policing

A community survey by Morgan State University indicates that Baltimore residents feel somewhat safe despite a high crime rate but believe the police are ineffective at reducing crime and lack positive community relationships. Racial disparities in perceptions were noted, with white respondents reporting more positive interactions. The survey is part of federal court oversight efforts to reform the Baltimore Police Department. The Baltimore Banner (Oct. 19, 2023)

in other news

Death penalty debates persist in Texas. Federal appellate Judge Jerry E. Smith published a dissenting opinion supporting Texas’ execution of Jedidiah Murphy, even though he was in the minority on the three-judge panel. Smith’s unconventional move resulted in confusion and potential mis-citation of the “fake” opinion. Despite concerns about Murphy’s mental illness and potential wrongful convictions, the Supreme Court ultimately sided with Texas, executing Murphy, and highlighting the uncertain legal ground where mental illness intersects with the death penalty. The Marshall Project (Oct. 14, 2023)

Death row clemency denied. The Louisiana Board of Pardons rejected clemency hearings for five death row prisoners, despite emotional testimonies, legal challenges, and political debates over the death penalty in the state. The board’s decision leaves the prisoners’ sentences intact, preventing potential commutation to life imprisonment and setting the stage for possible executions, which have not occurred in Louisiana since 2010. Louisiana Illuminator (Oct. 14, 2023)

Peer support for justice in NYC. New York City’s Court Navigators program in Manhattan courts connects individuals arrested with mental health or substance use issues to peers with similar experiences to reduce recidivism. The Fortune Society, funded with seized money, runs the program seven days a week in the Manhattan criminal courthouse as part of the city’s efforts to decrease reliance on jail and bail by connecting individuals with necessary support services. Bloomberg (Oct. 16, 2023)

Prison book crackdowns across the U.S. Some U.S. states are implementing stricter regulations on sending books to prisoners due to concerns over drug smuggling, with prisons rejecting books based on various criteria such as the source or packaging, leading to concerns about de facto book bans. Critics argue that these policies limit inmates’ access to information and education while doing little to address the issue of drug overdose deaths in prisons. The Marshall Project (Oct. 18, 2023)

Tragic end for exonerated man. Leonard Cure, wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years and later exonerated, was fatally shot by a Georgia sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop after a speeding incident. Cure had been trying to rebuild his life and had recently bought a home, highlighting the ongoing fear experienced by many wrongfully convicted individuals when encountering law enforcement. DC News Now (Oct. 17, 2023)

community board

  • Read | Study: One in Five, Ending Racial Inequity in Incarceration
  • Read | Commentary: The Right Way to Address D.C.’s Gun Crime Problem
  • Read | Study: Criminal Justice Professors Challenge Claim Strip Clubs Reduce Crime
  • Read | Opinion: Probation and Parole Do Not Make Us Safer
  • Read | Study: Murder Fell 6 Percent in 2022
  • Visit | Event: Unlock the Box DC: Advocacy Training Day
  • Read | Story: Here’s How I Use My Story to Teach Incarcerated Kids That Writing Matters

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Research and Reporting Intern