justice from the frontlines: Oct. 29, 2023

Corrupt VA sheriff’s reelection bid

Despite being accused of bribery and fraud, Scott Jenkins, the Republican sheriff of Culpeper County, VA, is running for reelection as an independent. He highlights his links to hard-right sheriffs groups and the MAGA movement despite his legal issues, and he has gained support from those like Michael Flynn who feel he has been unfairly targeted. Opponents of Jenkins, such as local police officer Joseph Watson and law enforcement official Tim Chilton, have expressed concerns about his involvement in programs like the 287(g) immigration enforcement program and criticized the decline in public confidence in law enforcement. Bolts (Oct. 20, 2023)

D.C. Mayor’s crime crackdown

The ACT Now Act of 2023, proposed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, would undo a number of police reform initiatives put in place following the 2020 murder of George Floyd. The proposed law would reintroduce the prohibition against wearing a mask while committing a crime, penalize organized retail theft, and declare “drug-free zones” as declared by the police chief. These measures show a shift toward stricter law enforcement tactics in response to the city’s rising crime rates. DCist (Oct. 23, 2023)

Extreme D.C. police overtime sparks safety concerns

Sergeant Tony Giles of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department worked a staggering 2,735 extra hours in the fiscal year that concluded on September 30, 2022, exceeding even the highest-paid city officials in terms of salary. His income and overtime exceeded $100,000 in 2022, making him one of 41 MPD employees who received such benefits. With some experts calling for tougher overtime restrictions, the data raises questions about officer fatigue, possible safety hazards, and the department’s distribution of overtime hours. DCist (Oct. 25, 2023)

Maryland fights mass incarceration

The public defender and attorney general of Maryland have teamed up to confront the issue of disproportionate mass incarceration in the state, which primarily affects Black people. The Maryland Equitable Justice Collaborative was formed with the goal of creating a thorough reform plan by 2025 with involvement from a variety of industries. In order to address the issue, the project aims to lessen racial disparities in the jail population, highlighting the necessity of change and teamwork. The Baltimore Banner (Oct. 25, 2023)

In D.C. LT Governors tackle gun violence

At a policy summit organized by the Democratic Lieutenant Governors Association in D.C., six lieutenant governors spoke with advocates for the prevention of gun violence about potential remedies. They talked about issues like industry accountability, assault weapon restrictions, and background checks. The occasion also emphasized the effects of gun violence on young people and the necessity of tackling underlying issues like access to education and poverty. The last panel discussed topics like domestic abuse, assault weapon bans, and “Stand Your Ground” legislation repeal. Missouri Independent (Oct. 25, 2023)

Second chance at degrees in Maryland

Bowie State University in Maryland is offering a bachelor’s degree program at a correctional facility, becoming the first historically Black university in the state to do so. The program aims to provide incarcerated individuals with educational opportunities, with students expressing a desire for more resources, face time with professors, and the ability to transfer credits to another school after their release. The Baltimore Banner (Oct. 26, 2023)

D.C. sees soaring homicide rate

The number of homicides in D.C. has significantly increased; in 2023, 227 homicides were reported, a 34% increase from the year before and the highest rate in 20 years. Mayor Muriel Bowser has introduced legislation called ACT Now to address violent crime in response to the situation. Congress has also been closely examining D.C.’s crime rate, including criticism of the U.S. Attorney for D.C.’s prosecution rates, which have improved in the fourth quarter of this year. WUSA 9 (Oct. 26, 2023)

Opioid crisis calls for action

Despite a death toll that has surpassed homicides, advocates for and users of opioids in D.C., are accusing city officials of not doing enough to confront the opioid overdose issue. They are advocating for increased access to direct assistance and the designation of a public health emergency because fentanyl is often found in overdose cases. The situation has not yet been acknowledged by city officials, and plans for a response are still being discussed. The Washington Post (Oct. 26, 2023)

in other news

Kentucky’s troubled officer returns to controversy. Myles Cosgrove, the former officer involved in Breonna Taylor’s shooting, now working as a sheriff’s deputy, was accused of ramming a resident’s truck and drawing a gun in Carroll County. Witnesses and law enforcement offer conflicting accounts of the incident, raising concerns about his conduct and previous record. Courier Journal (Oct. 20, 2023)

California’s solitary confinement debate. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is facing criticism for its handling of solitary confinement, which it now terms “restricted housing.” Despite advocates’ concerns that inmates can spend over 21 hours a day isolated for years, CDCR denies using solitary confinement. Assemblyman Chris Holden has introduced a bill to define and limit the practice, while CDCR recently announced emergency changes, including a minimum of 20 hours of outside-cell time, narrower offenses leading to solitary, and reduced isolation time, set to take effect on November 1. The Sacramento Bee (Oct. 20, 2023)

Serial rapist guard in California brought down. Gregory Rodriguez, a former guard at the Central California Women’s Facility, is accused of sexually harassing, assaulting, and raping over 22 incarcerated women during nearly a decade. Many victims were lured with promises of basic supplies and small privileges, then threatened into silence. Some officers protected their colleagues, and even the prison leadership faced scrutiny for failing to act on complaints, highlighting the pervasive challenges in addressing abuse of incarcerated women. The Guardian (Oct. 25, 2023)

Drastic prison book bans across U.S. PEN America’s report highlights tens of thousands of books being banned or restricted in U.S. prisons, with Florida, Texas, and Kansas having the highest number of bans. Most common reasons for censorship are sexual content, and even non-controversial materials are affected, such as books about ramen noodles. The report also notes the increasing use of state-approved vendors to control book access, restricting content in a “content-neutral” manner. DC News Now (Oct. 25, 2023)

community board

  • Read | Perspective: Better Call Joey: The Life of a Jailhouse Lawyer
  • Read | Opinion: Elderly and Imprisoned: ‘I Don’t Count It as Living, Only Existing’
  • Listen | Podcast Ep.: What it Takes to Make Music in Prison
  • Read | Opinion: Probation is Effective, and Better than the Alternative
  • Read | Study: Parole grant rates have plummeted in most states since the pandemic started
  • Read | Comic Report: California Corcoran Prison, Climate Change Chaos
  • Read | Report: Last Prisoner Project Receives Justice Rights Award
  • Read | Article: The Shocking History of D.C.’s Electric Chair

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Research and Reporting Intern