justice from the frontlines: Nov. 19, 2023

D.C. unleashes opioid and youth solutions

Facing a surge in opioid-related fatalities, especially impacting Black men and specific wards, D.C. Mayor Bowser declared a public emergency, aiming to enhance data-sharing and deploy outreach teams to address the crisis. Additionally, responding to a rise in youth violence, the mayor’s second order empowers the District to expand youth placements, engage in cooperative agreements, incentivize private providers, and expedite renovations for better rehabilitation and support. DC News Now (Nov. 13, 2023)

Ex-Baltimore cop’s punishment for misconduct

Retired Baltimore police sergeant Ethan Newberg, sentenced for misconduct involving false arrests, expressed frustration that his positive career was defined by “a handful of videos.” He received six months of home detention and two years of probation, highlighting the perceived deterrent effect on proactive policing. The judge aimed to address public trust issues, sentencing Newberg to an alternative to incarceration, despite prosecutors seeking three years in prison. The Baltimore Banner (Nov. 14, 2023)

Small biz theft and legislation skepticism

Logan Circle small business owners are doubtful about Mayor Muriel Bowser’s crime bill, arguing that it favors corporate chains and doesn’t address the distinct theft challenges faced by local businesses. While larger retailers see benefits in the proposed legislation, some question its relevance to their situations, highlighting a divide in perspectives on the impact of theft and the bill’s efficacy in tackling broader societal issues. The Wash (Nov. 14, 2023)

DAT’s troubling trend

Shogun Dowling’s arrest by Baltimore’s District Action Team (DAT) reflects a pattern of alleged unconstitutional traffic stops reminiscent of the discredited Gun Trace Task Force. Advocates and defense attorneys raise concerns about the DAT’s methods and accountability, especially given Baltimore Police’s federal consent decree. Dowling, initially facing drug charges, now confronts federal charges, underscoring ongoing issues with the DAT’s approach and impact on the community. The Baltimore Brew (Nov. 10, 2023)

Juvenile detention crisis peaks

In D.C.’s Youth Services Center, incidents of injury and assault have surged to a two-year high. Advocates claim conditions are the worst in years, citing increased youth-on-youth assaults, critical incidents, and self-injury rates. The facility’s capacity challenges and staff shortages, coupled with a rising number of detained youth, face heightened scrutiny. The decision to sunset the independent oversight office adds uncertainty to accountability in the juvenile justice system. DCist (Nov. 14, 2023)

Prison scheme mastermind foiled

Inmate Jose Miguel Tapia, charged in a drone-based contraband scheme at a Maryland prison, now faces additional charges for forging a court document in an attempt to secure early release. Tapia created a fake commitment document, impersonated a State’s Attorney representative, and electronically faxed the fraudulent document from his prison cell, aiming for unearned time served credit. The Clerk’s Office recognized the forgery, preventing his release. The trial for the contraband case is scheduled for December. Herald-Mail Media (Nov. 15, 2023)

in other news

High court, loaded debate. The Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of a 1994 law preventing those under domestic violence restraining orders from having firearms in the U.S. v. Rahimi case. Opponents claim it violates constitutional rights, while supporters emphasize the safety of domestic violence victims. The decision could affect both intimate partner violence and child safety. The article also discusses two other gun rights cases, the changing legislative landscape around gun laws, and the effectiveness of red flag laws in preventing gun violence. The Marshall Project (Nov. 11, 2023)

Battle beyond opioids. In Kalamazoo, Michigan, Dr. Helmstetter navigates the challenges of treating individuals caught in a rising trend of “polysubstance use,” notably methamphetamine. The complexities for medical professionals are highlighted as they confront the unpredictable nature of multiple substance dependencies, especially meth, amidst a shifting addiction crisis, with the Biden administration’s focus on opioids falling behind the evolving landscape. The New York Times (Nov. 14, 2023)

Colorado’s labor freedom stalls. Five years after Colorado became the first state to eliminate the exception allowing forced labor in its constitution, forced prison labor remains widespread in the U.S., with little change in the daily lives of inmates. Advocates highlight concerns about penalties for refusing work and the economic reliance on inmate labor, prompting a reevaluation of strategies in various states, including ongoing efforts in Colorado. NPR (Nov. 13, 2023)

Supreme silence on prisoner rights. The Supreme Court declined to hear a case on the alleged mistreatment of an Illinois prisoner, Michael Johnson, who suffered severe conditions in solitary confinement. Liberal justices dissented, arguing that Johnson’s prolonged confinement in a windowless cell without outdoor exercise constituted cruel and unusual punishment, challenging the appeals court’s ruling that deemed the treatment acceptable. The Hill (Nov. 14, 2023)

Thomson prison turmoil. Former officials at the Thomson penitentiary in western Illinois, including ex-warden Thomas Bergami, have described a culture of abuse and impunity at the prison, where attempts to address issues such as officer misconduct and inmate abuse were hindered by bureaucratic obstacles and resistance from the officers’ union. The accounts, supported by internal documents and interviews, depict a challenging environment where efforts to enforce accountability faced opposition, leading to ongoing mistreatment of inmates. The Marshall Project (Nov. 15, 2023)

community board

  • Read | Study: We studied jail conditions and jail deaths − here’s what we found
  • Read | Editorial: One simple change to make South Carolina’s death penalty less random
  • Read | Opinion: Addiction Ravaged My Family and Tribe. I’m Fighting to Get Them Back.
  • Read | Commentary: Young Black men in areas of Chicago, Philly more likely to die from guns than troops in battle
  • Read | Editorial: Being a Corrections Officer Is Hard Enough. Doing the Job While Pregnant Is a Nightmare.

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Research and Reporting Intern